Saturday, February 28, 2009

For symmetry's sake

The front steps at Morris House lead to a window, instead of the door -- which is to the left.

This house, visible at the right of Cyrus McCormick in my post of two days ago, was built in the early 1840's as one of a set of four faculty residences. It is now used as a seminar and reception center, as well as guest accommodations at Washington and Lee. The designer of these varied houses made rather free with classical proportions in the porticoes, for starters, (as can be said of many such buildings in Lexington, including Washington Hall and Stono,) and you can view such deviations as charming un-academic improvisations, or provincial ignorance, (or both,) as you prefer.

(Posting rather late today, due to computer trouble.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Where Lee died

A magnificent old tree - one of many on the Washington and Lee campus - stands in front of the house of the President.

The house was built for General Robert E. Lee when he was chosen as president of W&L after the end of the Civil War. Since then it has served as the house of the President of the University. Research has shown it to be not an original design, but one adapted from a plan book of the time. The large porch, with its low, almost transparent railings, was for the benefit of Martha Custis Lee (Lee's wife, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington), who was confined to a wheelchair. She is said to have enjoyed watching and talking with students from her vantage point on the porch.

Lee died in 1870, at 63, in the dining room of this house.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Westward the course of empire...

The statue of Cyrus McCormick at Washington and Lee faces southeast, actually.

McCormick invented the first mechanical reaper in 1831 - when he wasn't much over 20 - and patented it in 1834. He was born in 1809 not far from Lexington, in northern Rockbridge County. (The family farm is worth a visit.) His father is reported to have worked for many years on a horse-drawn reaper, without success, and then passed his work down to his son.

McCormick left this area in 1839 for Chicago (where he founded a forerunner of International Harvester), but maintained ties here, including to Washington and Lee, to which he was a generous benefactor.

The W&L timeline states that when this statue of McCormick was unveiled in 1931, thousands of spectators turned out for the occasion.

(In the background you see the Lee-Jackson House - left - and Morris House - right - on the W&L campus. At far left is a portion of General Robert E. Lee's house, built for him when he arrived in Lexington after the Civil War. Stay tuned tomorrow for a photo.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bachelor's quarters

A huge, fantastic tree casts a black shadow on red-gold brick as the sun goes down.

One last post from Stono, for now: I believe this is the former office, now listed as "bachelor's quarters" under faculty housing at VMI. Not a bad bachelor's pad.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stone, brick and wood

Materials mellowed by time give this old outbuilding at Stono a romantic quality.

A number of Stono's dependencies have survived. This fascinating circular one was the ice house.

Monday, February 23, 2009


The double portico of Stono, in the morning light.

Stono faces east, overlooking the Maury River at Jordan's Point from high above. It was built in 1818 by and for Colonel John Jordan (1777 - 1854), one Lexington's most productive and best-known builders and businessmen.

In addition to Stono, Jordan (with his business partner from 1815 - 1824, Samuel Darst) is responsible for building part or all of numerous Lexington structures, including Washington Hall at W&L, Beaumont (home of Samuel Darst) and The Pines on Lee Avenue, the Dold Building, the former Rockbridge-Botetourt Library at 312 S. Main St., the Ann Smith School at Nelson and Lee, and the foundation stonework for the original VMI Barracks. (He is also thought to have executed brickwork at Jefferson's Monticello -- an 1805 letter exists in which he requests payment from the sitting president.) Jordan and Darst are credited with having been central in bringing the classical revival, and particularly Jeffersonian classicism, to Lexington.

According to The Architecture of Historic Lexington by Lyle and Simpson (from which most of the details in this post have been gleaned), Jordan also built roads and canals - including work on the canal from Richmond that eventually terminated just below his house at Jordan's Point - and the first covered bridge over the Maury at East Lexington.

Though presently owned by the VMI Foundation, and used as overnight accommodations for visiting "VIPs," almost 200 years ago Stono was surrounded by Jordan's "cotton, woolen, flour, grist, and lumber mills." That part is hard to imagine now:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Church on Sunday: Dissent

The stained-glass cross in front of St. Paul's Anglican Church, at Nelson and Davidson streets.

As I understand it, St. Paul's was formed a decade or so ago by a group of dissenting parishioners from R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal. They considered that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. had strayed too far from the true teachings of the Church, and, among other things, were concerned about changes being made to the Book of Common Prayer. The new congregation allied itself with the more orthodox Anglican Church in Africa.

The church was designed by local architect Hans Schweitzer, who died last year. Its low lines, board-and-batten siding and metal roof give it a rather homey aspect, with a Swiss (or is it Scandinavian?) flavor. So, this church appears to bring together influences from England, the United States, Africa and Switzerland -- neat trick.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Shenandoah fortress

The southeast facade of the VMI Barracks against a backdrop of Hogback Mountain.

This photo was taken from the high point on Maury St., shooting out over the playing fields, Main St., and Cocke Hall to get a clear view of the Barracks. It is a very low resolution image, due to the fact that I had to zoom the maximum to get it, and still had to crop about a third of the width to get the composition I wanted. But I like the clouds and shadows on the mountain, and I managed to get out early enough in the morning to catch some east light. So here it is.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Delicate ironwork

A lantern atop one of the pillars of Washington and Lee's Memorial Gate, at Jefferson and Henry.

Greg at Liege City Daily Photo has kindly given me the Kreativ Blogger award. Thank you very much! (For readers of my blog who don't already, it's well worth regularly stopping by Liege City Daily Photo to see Greg's always interesting posts.) I've been too pressed for time lately to do much commenting on the blogs I follow, and I'm afraid I may not get around to passing on this award, but the recognition is most appreciated.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Around back

Additions and an outbuilding make for appealing lines and massing at the back of Stono.

I especially like the chimneys in this photo. I'm working my way around to showing the front of this landmark Lexington house from 1818 (now part of VMI). When I can get myself out there in the early morning, I'll get a shot of the imposing double Tuscan portico that faces the Maury River.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feel better?

The very angular lines of the entrance to Stonewall Jackson Carilion Hospital.

So-called because, until 1954, the Stonewall Jackson House on Washington St. (the house Jackson lived in while teaching at VMI - photo to come) served as Lexington's hospital, this much newer facility on the hill behind Col Alto is now part of the Carilion group of hospitals. I understand why an up-to-date hospital wants to project an image of cutting-edge modernism, but in many respects it seems to me that the atmosphere of modern architecture is not conducive to healing. (Others may disagree.)

I look forward (perhaps in vain) to the fashion in hospital architecture coming back around to structures that look more like yesterday's post, for example.

At least from inside the hospital one can look out on a restorative view.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A very civilized infirmary

The portico of the "new" VMI hospital.

This building, originally the house of Samuel F. Jordan (a local builder, son of prominent Lexington builder John Jordan), was purchased by VMI in 1870, and enlarged in 1909. At some point it replaced the old hospital, a relatively small building that has since been torn down.[*] (It had been completed just in time for an 1849 mumps epidemic in the corps, according to The Architecture of Historic Lexington.)

Yesterday's house is visible at the right.

Tomorrow I'll post a photo of the entrance to the recently renovated and expanded Stonewall Jackson Carilion Hospital, which serves the general area. I'll then let you decide where you would rather convalesce.

*[Update: The old hospital has certainly not been torn down as I had been told -- I just spotted it in one of my photos! Will post a picture of it at a later date.]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Camera tricks

The chaplain's residence at VMI appears very lonely on the hill above North Main St.

It's interesting that this photo seems to represent a solitary house in somewhat wild surroundings, and even might be thought to have an air of Gothic melancholy. In truth, this gracious house sits rather convivially between two others (you can see the roof line of one of them at left), overlooking the old VMI stables across Main St., and not far from the center of town.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Church on Sunday: Old and new at R. E. Lee

The steeple of the R. E. Lee Episcopal Church with the twilight moon.

The stone church dates to 1882 (see it from the front in an earlier post, here), but the steeple was replaced in 2007. The new steeple is 57 feet tall and covered in 1,800 hand-pressed metal shingles. The crown of the weathervane (salvaged from the original steeple), which was newly-covered in gold leaf by church parishioners, still shows bullet holes, reportedly from soldiers discharging their weapons a final time upon returning home from war. (More details on rebuilding the steeple here.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Near Stono

A stone pillar and walls near Turman House (also known as Stono) at the Virginia Military Institute.

This part of the VMI Post is like a trip back in time. You can walk an abandoned road up from the far north end of Main St., to a small lane along the side of the hill above Jordan's Point. From there, among the handsome 19th C. houses, it is not hard to imagine that it is 150 years ago, if you train your eyes to the right views.

Friday, February 13, 2009


The American flag flies over the door of an 1857 brick Federal style house on South Main St.

A truly American scene (as was yesterday's post, come to think of it). It's for sale, too -- it can be yours for $1.05M.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Football on the lawn

Tossing a football on the lawn between Doremus Gymnasium and Elrod Commons on the campus of Washington and Lee.

I took this picture a little while ago, but it's appropriate for the sort of weather we've had the last few days, as well. Last week: snow; this week: temperatures near 70° F (21° C).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From tiny acorns...

Iron oak leaves embrace the acorn logo of J.F. Brown Real Estate on Washington St.

This beautiful and imaginative sign went up a couple of years ago, and really raised the bar for business signs in Lexington, I think.

I became aware of the advantage to a town of a talented sign maker when we bought our first house (in New Hampshire, fifteen years ago) from a young man who had been running his sign making business from a shop on the property. (He also had built the house and shop himself.) We soon noticed that many of the best signs springing up in the nearby town of Keene were his. Today, he can walk down Keene's Main St. - and many another street - and see his work on all sides. His signs have contributed significantly to the distinctive character of the place. (If you're curious, you can see some of them here.)

Lexington clearly has access to talented sign makers, too, and when I find out who made the one above - perhaps one of the local blacksmiths? - I'll update.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Red bollard

A red bollard (one of a row along the street) and a modern sculpture in a front garden on Stonewall St.

I'm impressed by the marvelous color of these bollards, punctuating a wide bed of liriope between the lawn and the street. I'm not sure what I think of the sculpture though. What do you think it is?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blue and gold II

The "carpenter Gothic" central gable of the St. Patrick's parsonage.

Built in 1840, the painted brick parsonage predates the church it serves by 113 years. It's possible there was another church on the site before the present one, but I haven't yet found evidence of it. (A small church on Henry St. - now the Gospel Way Church of God - is referred to as "Old St. Patrick's," which suggests that the congregation moved here from there at some point.) It seems likely that this was originally a private residence adapted by St. Patrick's for its purposes.

Whatever its history, the parsonage has charm. Here it is, tucked beside and behind the more modern stone church:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Church on Sunday: St. Patrick's

An image of Saint Patrick before the Catholic church bearing his name on Nelson St.

Lexington's sole Catholic church is St. Patrick's, built in 1953. (Like much of the valley, this area was settled by the Scots-Irish; as a result, Protestant churches - particularly Presbyterian - are much more numerous than Catholic.) The parsonage that adjoins the church is much older than the church itself, having been built in the Gothic Revival style in 1840. A glimpse of that tomorrow.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A more recent past

The neon sign for the Southern Inn on Main St.

Much of Lexington brings to mind past eras: the Colonial, Antebellum, Civil War and post war periods in particular. This well-known sign in the center of town is a relic from a more recent past. The Southern Inn restaurant is celebrating 75 years in business this year. That would date it to 1934, and the sign looks to be of that vintage, as well. You can tell how proud the business is of it by how prominently it is featured on their website.

Lexington's sign ordinance would not allow this sign to be installed today, which I think on the whole is a good thing. One such in a town this size is enough. But it does make an interesting contrast to the 18th and 19th century history that dominates here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kentucky Coffee tree

A Kentucky Coffee tree against the sky, above a lilac bush heavily laden with snow.

I'm very attached to this tree, though it's not mine (or ours), but our neighbors', as it is growing in their backyard, and only generously spreads its branches and roots over our way. Our neighbors (who are most excellent neighbors) take particular care of this beauty, which is spectacular in every season, but perhaps especially so in winter.

This uncommon tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) was first encountered by Europeans in Kentucky, but it appears from Canada to Louisiana. It is said that early settlers broke open the distinctive seedpods and used the roasted seeds to make a substitute for coffee. The seeds do smell a little like coffee, and they contain a nicotine-like substance that can be fatal in high doses. The tree's roots will compete successfully with the lawn, it drops pods and twigs all over the place from fall to spring, and the tiny leaflets (on compound leaves similar to the Honey Locust) are so small that they slip between the tines of any rake. But these nuisances pale in relation to its gifts: broad, dappled summer shade and a striking winter silhouette.

I've tried in vain for several months to take a photo that captures the many attractions of this species of tree: the stately height; the rugged bark; the fascinating and vigorous branching habit; the purplish, dangling seedpods; and particularly, the levels of scale that exist in angular progression from the thick trunk out to the super-numerous delicate twigs.

But what the eye can take in at one glance, the camera (or, at least, my camera) can not. So here's another shot, showing the seedpods against the twilight:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Blue and gold

Hay bales off Route 11 several miles north of town.

The invention of the round hay-baler was a boon for lovers of the picturesque.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

White on white

White house, white picket fence, and snow.

We finally got a snow that stuck, though only an inch or two, and very wet, at that. The beauty of wet snow is that it sticks to everything -- though you need to be quick, in this climate, to enjoy it.

I had promised some morning light in January, and failed. Here's a little, four days late.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lowering the streets

The Alexander-Withrow Building at Washington and Main, seen from the steps of the old courthouse.

The building at left was one of two to survive the fire of 1796. (I posted earlier about it, here.) From the old courthouse steps you get a good view of the exposed foundation, which is part of one of the more unusual stories in Lexington history.

Prior to 1851, the streets leading to the center of town were so steep that at times, particularly in wet weather, it was difficult for heavily-laden horse-drawn vehicles to make the climb. The townspeople decided the lower the grade - most markedly in the area shown above - at great difficulty and expense. The Alexander-Withrow Building gained an entire story that had been below grade, as did several other buildings. Structures in the vicinity built before 1851 show the evidence of the street-lowering, including the Dold Building across the street.

Not a few Main St. residences ended up with their front doors five or six feet off the sidewalk! (I'll show you how they adjusted to that in an upcoming post.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Second place

A steel walkway bolted to the north side of the Nelson Street bridge over Woods Creek, shot from below.

This was my second choice (albeit a distant second) for yesterday's "paths and passages" theme. I may be alone in my interest in the underside of this bridge (I posted earlier about it, here), though many Lexingtonians pass below it every day while walking or running on the Woods Creek Trail.

In the future, I plan to post the interesting underside of some other bridges (for instance, the I-81 overpass on the Chessie Trail), so bear with me. Sometimes I like to look up.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Theme Day Feb 2009: Paths and Passages

Jackson Arch, entrance to the Barracks, Virginia Military Institute, taken from beside the pedestal of Moses Ezekiel's Stonewall Jackson.

Today is the first of the month, the day that city daily photo bloggers from around the world post on a single theme. February's theme is "paths and passages."

One of the most significant passages we have in Lexington is Jackson Arch, through which pass, each fall, new VMI cadets to begin their four years of rigorous physical and mental training. First year cadets, nicknamed "rats" since the 1850's, will endure for the entire year a demanding system of initiation known as the "ratline." The VMI website states: "The system is designed to remove wealth and former station in life as factors in one's standing as a cadet, ensuring equal opportunity for all to advance by personal effort, and to enjoy those rewards that are earned."

Upon entering the first day through Jackson Arch, each cadet will see the words of Stonewall Jackson inscribed within: "You may be whatever you resolve to be."

To see the paths and passages of other bloggers, click here to view thumbnails for all participants.