American Foursquare Architecture
in Historic Chatham, Virginia

By Jonathan Mitchell

Law-Dameron House

The Law-Dameron House, 114 Whittle Street (see further information below).

Ignoring the fact that it was without, and would be without, a proper title for nearly the next century, the Foursquare reconfigured American city neighborhoods in the 1890's, and by the early 20th century, had found and founded a new home in nationwide suburbia. Variations on the American Foursquare theme are the most evident design to a traveler passing through Chatham along Main Street.

Like the Bungalow and Craftsman styles, the Foursquare was built to be simple; the delicacies of Victorian and Queen Anne houses were beginning to wear on the American middle–class in search of a home, rather than a wooden doily. Unlike the Bungalow and Craftsman styles, the Foursquare plan did not gallivant around between interior and exterior living and entertaining areas – it encouraged a comfortable confinement familiar to post-Civil War homes.

Despite having originally been such a defiantly simplistic architecture compared to most other styles of the era, it managed to eventually bear the garnishings of any such style with unusual versatility. The rules of the American Foursquare were relatively few and lax:

(Chatham's examples vary widely, and take considerable liberty with the “rules” of Foursquare construction.)

From this typical but flexible starting point, architects had the freedom to do as they wished. Although shunned since post-Egyptian times, concrete blocks acquired a new vogue with the Foursquare's rendition of California Craftsman homes (and the aid of Sears Roebuck's on–location block–makers). Stucco, too, became popular with the Prairie style, as did stressed shingles on Victorian. Building materials (and whole houses) were many, inexpensive, and mass-produced by Sears Roebuck, Alladin, William Radford, and the Chicago Housewrecking Company, not to mention many local companies' own styles. Families often specified their own adornment, and occasionally even planned the entire house without an architect, making for consistantly divergent results through any given neighborhood, despite the houses' industrially–created counterparts.

When the Depression struck, however, construction of every sort stopped, particularly that of houses. By the time it began again, the “classic box house” had largely expired its design life. Nevertheless, 60 years later, when finally named the American Foursquare, it was evident that, in quality, quantity, and the appeal of unlimited variety, the style had easily survived as an architecture defining the sheltered lifestyle of its time.

In Chatham, American Foursquares are seen in the areas where the town expanded during the early 1900's. One is especially aware of them on North and South Main Streets, just beyond the bounds of the early village. A few are found in Whittletown (Chatham's first “suburb”), and one is seen on Hargrave Boulevard.

(See also architectural pattern books from the period, containing American Foursquare examples.)

A Visual Tour

By Henry, Jonathan, and Sarah Mitchell

610 South Main

610 South Main Street: Bennett-Bishop House

This shingle-sided frame-construction home is thought to be the only architect-designed American Foursquare in Chatham. J. Bryant Heard and Aubrey Chesterman designed the house for local hotelier A. D. Bennett in 1921, and it was built for $10,000. Its gabled dormers and pergola-like porch help to create a surprisingly delicate impression for such a massive home. Its millwork was created in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

At about the time the house was under construction, Mr. Bennett passed away. His oldest son Henry G. Bennett had the design altered to create an apartment upstairs, so that his widowed mother Mrs. Bennett and her youngest child, daughter Nilla, would not be living alone in the house.

Later the home was owned by Nilla Bennett and her husband Louis Tredway, both of whom served as elected Treasurer of Pittsylvania County. The current owners are Mr. and Mrs. Winn Bishop.

219 South Main

219 South Main Street: Jones-Bloomer House

This home was built around 1910 by Chatham's Haymes Brothers construction company for pharmacist John Jones and his family. Thus it became best known as the boyhood home of Judge Langhorne Jones, Sr., local jurist and historian. It is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Bloomer.

The columns on this house are unique among Chatham's Foursquares, capturing some of the airiness of the Bennett-Bishop design above, yet retaining the massiveness typical of Foursquares. The columns have a decorated open construction above solid bases which extend up to the level of the banister.

73 North Main

73 North Main: Bennett-McGrath-Smith House

This brick home, built around 1910 by Dr. Coleman Bennett, shows more early influences than most of Chatham's Foursquares. Of especial note is the Eastlake-style porch trim. Owned by the Bennett family throughout most of the 20th century, it is now the home of Marci McGrath and Chris Smith.

144 North Main

144 North Main Street: White-Overbey House

This upscale Foursquare has an eclectic mix of influences. The filled-in porch railing is typical of many basic American Foursquares. Decorative rafter ends and several double windows show an informal Craftsman/Prairie School influence, whereas the pediment-and-tympanum peak in the porch roof is a reminder of classical formalism.

This house has been owned by only two families. The first was a merchant who lost the house in a foreclosure during the Depression; the Overbeys have lived there since.

624 South Main

624 South Main Street: Whitehead-Motley

Echoing its near neighbor to the north, the Bennett-Bishop house, this Foursquare is of slightly smaller scale and simpler detail. Its single dormer is the more typical hipped design, rather than gabled. Some original features of the house, including the dormer window, are now obscured by overlays of siding, etc.

The house was built around 1922 by Ed Whitehead. In its eight decades it also has only had two owners, its second being Mr. and Mrs. O. D. Motley. Extensive garages to the rear house were built to house the Motleys' antique auto collection.

230 South Main

230 South Main Street: Marshall-Motley House

Here are seen similar influences to the structure above, but to greater extremes. The decorative rafter ends are more elaborately scroll-sawn, and the porch is actually absent in favor of a formal portico, with more massive (and fluted, as well) Tuscan columns than seen on other Foursquares in Chatham. The doorway with sidelights and fan window further strengthen the impression of neoclassical styling. The upper story of the house has different siding from the lower story, emphasizing a Georgian-style beltway effect on the house. The lines of the dormer are an aesthetic echo of the triple window and portico pediment directly below.

The house was built for banker Frank Marshall. Later owners have been the Robert Grubb and Tom Motley families.

236 Whittle

236 Whittle Street: Guyer-Lacks House

Elizabeth Watson Guyer, daughter of the Watson family next door and widow of a local Methodist pastor, built this comparatively austere Foursquare around 1915. Of all the Foursquares in Chatham, this may be the one with the most lookalikes in other locales. The right front quarter of first floor is a large entrance hall with staircase; the same space on the second floor contains a small bedroom with window in its front section. The structure is unusual compared to others in Chatham in that its original clapboard siding is said to have been of imported balsa wood. During various periods, the upstairs of this house has been a separate apartment, with entrances on the northeast (right) side into its front and/or rear (kitchen access) staircases. The front porch has simple round Tuscan columns.

After Elizabeth Guyer, the house was purchased by Bettie Whitehead Watson. Later owners and occupants have included local dentist Dr. Ernest Overbey; his brother, equestrian enthusiast Landon “Lemon” Overbey; journalist/writer Stuart Wells; and Driskill, Lucy, Baradell, Cooper, Keith, Hudson, and Lacks familes.

235 Whittle

235 Whittle Street: Guyer-Ward House

Elizabeth Watson Guyer is said to have contracted for the construction of this house as a rental unit. It is a smaller stylistic twin which mirrored her own home across the street (see above), with slightly more diminutive dimensions throughout. Its construction was of yellow pine, locally typical in comparison to the exotic balsa said to have been utilized across the street.

For many of its early years it was associated with its residents the Fretwell family. In recent decades it was well-known as the home of late school administrator and gardening enthusiast Mary Rutledge Clement Ward, and recently her son Henry Ward. (The kindred Foursquare home of Mary's grandparents Nathaniel and Maud Carter Clement is seen below.)

114 Whittle

114 Whittle Street: Law-Dameron House

From the front, this house appears to be typical Foursquare, but its floorplan is quite otherwise. Instead of four rooms over four, there are five rooms downstairs and three upstairs. An L-shaped roof covers the top story, leaving two lower-roofed rooms on the first floor.

It was constructed by Roy Law, who at the time owned a lumber yard and building supply company on Depot Street. The quality of both construction and materials are noteworthy. It is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Dameron.

32 Hargrave Boulevard

32 Hargrave Boulevard: Sanford-Vines House

At the time that Chatham Training School/Hargrave Military Academy was being established on the nearby hill, this house was constructed for Dr. Ryland Sanford, first president of the school and pastor of Chatham Baptist Church. It was later the home of Embry Friend (long-time Clerk of Court for Pittsylvania County), and then of Judge Robert P. Vines.

The house has the general configuration of a Foursquare, but its wrap-around neoclassical Tuscan-columned porch adds a welcoming formality which would have been appropriate for its early owners.

North Main

241 North Main Street: Clement-Kahler House

This home is said to have been first constructed as a one-story bungalow starter house for attorney Nathaniel Clement and his bride Maud Carter Clement (see an account of their wedding), who was later renowned as an author and historian. As their family grew, a second story was added. The front porch is appropriately large for outdoor seating, and has numerous relatively dainty Tuscan columns. That neoclassical touch is not surprising in view of Mrs. Clement's fascination with history and her tendency toward Anglophilia that was typical of the period of the World Wars. A quite remarkable Anglophile embellishment is found at the rear of the house, where the Clements arranged for a Colonial Williamsburg landscape architect to re-create the formal garden pattern of William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, for whom this town had been named.

209 Whittle

209 Whittle Street: Carter–Stutz–Pattisall House

This structure greatly predates the period of American Foursquares, but at its last major restyling took on some attributes of the Foursquare appearance which was currently popular. Its origin is thought to be in the early 1800's. After the Civil War it became the home of Confederate veteran Ross Carter and his wife Sally Lucke. After several apparent renovations and a reconstruction of the upper floor after a fire, around 1920 it assumed its approximate present appearance with (asymmetrical) hipped roof and a porch extending nearly across the front. Although it never sported dormers, it otherwise somewhat resembles a Foursquare from the front. However, from the side it can be seen that it incorporated several additions and a kitchen dependency in a string to the rear.

The home remained in the Carter family until the death of descendant Florence Stutz. It was purchased and extensively reconstructed and restored during the 1990's by the Pattisall family.

Lower-Rise Structures with Similar Configuration

714 South Main

714 South Main.

232 North Main

232 North Main.



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