The American Life Foundation Library of Victorian Culture (1978) facsimile republication of Oliver P. Smith's The Domestic Architect (1854). 125 pp. including glossaries, plus 42 plates of illustrations. 8.5 x 11 inches. Paperbound. ISBN-10: 0-89257-042-3.
The Domestic Architect by Oliver P. Smith is a curious Victorian amalgam of the plain, the fancy, and the exotic; Greek Revival houses, Downingesque cottages, and Italianate villas; practical advice, technology, lessons in architectural drawing, and two glossaries of terms. Architectural historians will instantly recognize it for what the trade calls a transitional piece — it is part “builder's guide” (popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) and part “stylebook” (popularized by A. J. Downing in the 1840s).
In addition to its considerable interest to architectural historians, what also recommended it to us for reprinting was its place of publication. During the decade of the 1850s, Buffalo, New York was an architectural book publishing center. Buffalo's building boom of the 1850s encouraged the publication in Buffalo of an edition of William Brown's The Carpenter's Assistant (1851), Oliver P. Smith's The Domestic Architect (1852 and 1854), and Charles P. Dwyer's The Economic Cottage Builder (1855 and 1856) and The Economy of Church, Parsonage and School House Architecture Adapted to Small Societies and Rural Districts (1856).
Like Dwyer's books, Smith's Domestic Architect must have been influential in southern Ontario, western New York State and Pennsylvania, and the Old Northwest Territory. At least one copy, however, went east: The American Life Foundation's copy was purchased in eastern Massachusetts where it had descended through several generations of Salem carpenters into the twentieth century!
An inquiry in 1974 to Professor Daniel D. Reiff, of the Art Department at State University College in Fredonia, New York, yielded the following information which he acknowledges as coming from Fredonia architect and teacher David G. Smith: “Oliver P. Smith practiced in the Ashville and Panama region, and is probably the architect of many of the fine Greek Revival houses in that area which are not documented. In Jewel Conover's Nineteenth Century Architecture in Western New York (1966) one house, p. 142 is given to O. Smith, and possibly the house on p. 131.”
Hopefully, the republication of this rare book will help identify some of the historic buildings in the areas in which it was influential as well as illumine another corner of our Victorian architectural heritage.
(The above commentary is provided by The American Life Foundation Library of Victorian Culture.)
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Copyright © 2008 Patricia B. Mitchell.