A Look Back in History America’s early hinterland houses were built of native stone

Georgian architectural style of the period contained large “quoins” or cornerstones that architecturally gave the home symmetry and framed the random laid walls. Note the bold keystones over the windows and the English Georgian pedimented doorway which highlights the front door.
Georgian architectural style of the period contained large “quoins” or cornerstones that architecturally gave the home symmetry and framed the random laid walls. Note the bold keystones over the windows and the English Georgian pedimented doorway which highlights the front door. Submitted photo - Courtesy of American Folklife Institute Collection
Jacob Ehrenhardt, Jr. Home, also known as the 1803 House in Lehigh County, features the long withstanding practice of painting second floor shutters of a mansion a different color, usually darker to create an elongated illusion that the facade is much longer than in reality. Ehrenhardt, Sr. was one of Emmaus’ founders as a settlement of the Moravian Church in 1747. Son, Jacob was initially expelled from the Moravian Church for serving in the American Revolution, as Moravians, like other Plain religious groups are Pacifists, but later accepted back.
Jacob Ehrenhardt, Jr. Home, also known as the 1803 House in Lehigh County, features the long withstanding practice of painting second floor shutters of a mansion a different color, usually darker to create an elongated illusion that the facade is much longer than in reality. Ehrenhardt, Sr. was one of Emmaus’ founders as a settlement of the Moravian Church in 1747. Son, Jacob was initially expelled from the Moravian Church for serving in the American Revolution, as Moravians, like other Plain religious groups are Pacifists, but later accepted back. Submitted photo

America’s early hinterland houses built of native stone were more than well-constructed abodes as they reveal the desire of the frontier inhabitants to be part of the architectural fashion of the day. Even simple l8th century field-stone dwellings having no obvious Georgian architectural style for that period, may very well contain large “quoins” (pronounced coins) or cornerstones, which architecturally gave the home symmetry and framed the random laid walls. It was understandable that in the centers of the Colonial culture of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Colonists were architecturally keen and attempted to outdo each other with fashionable estates, but to the degree in which this expertise was carried out on the frontier was truly remarkable. In the Oley Valley of Pennsylvania, if one examines the Colonial structures surviving, in what was a wilderness three hundred years ago, only 50 miles away from Philadelphia, one is astonished to see the respect our ancestors had for architectural beauty.

The most common way of constructing a fieldstone home was to lay the stone walls in a random fashion that is by laying the stones in no particular pattern but just as they come out of the field. However, if one wishes to be fashionable, one can “dress” the stones (cut them square) and lay them in straight courses (rows). The dressed stone method was of high fashion in the early 1700s, and obviously, took considerable time for masons to cut each stone. When one thinks of a façade, the architectural front of a building, one is prone to think of churches and government institutions with their embellished fronts, however, even the simplest stone homes also have facades. Several early Colonial homes in the Dutch Country have facades of dressed stone, which is in direct contrast to random laid stone, and as discussed, was obviously an attempt to keep up with the fashionable architecture style of Colonial Philadelphia.

Unless one really studies a stone structure, the façade may not be apparent at all, however, easier to detect as the front of the dwelling if consists of squared stone while the sides and real walls actually have random laid stone (See 1765 White Horse Tavern). The dressing of stone was accomplished by the stone mason with a variety of stone hammers made for that purpose, but cutting ironstone was nearly impossible. For this reason, one will find few dressed ironstone facades in the entire Pennsylvania Dutch Country. In this territory, random laid stone is the rule, and architectural fashion was incorporated in the wood trim of the dwelling or with brick. For a good example of random laid ironstone one needs only to visit the Keim Homestead in Lobachsville, notably the Keim Stone Cabin circa 1740.

However, of all the practical places to have a stone wall on a farm, the most ideal was the barnyard. Normally, the barnyard enclosure was done with a five rail wooden fence; this accommodated all the animals in the yard, including the pigs. However, this manure palace was hard on the sturdiest of locust fence posts, and so if one could lay up a stone barnyard wall it would last indefinitely. Another advantage of the stone barnyard wall was that it could be incorporated in terracing if the front of the barn was too hard at the hill. One of the best examples of a terraced stone barnyard is that of Elam Fox’s near Pricetown, Ruscombmanor Township. On the farmstead of Johannes Keim, near Pikeville, there is a second stone barnyard more typical of the style to be found on the flat bottomlands of the valley, this six foot wall still contained traces of the original wooden shingle coping roof.

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In most cases, people buying stone farmsteads overestimate the durability of stone walls and terracing. In many instances, the walls have survived the last one-two hundred years, only because they have been cared for and the coping replaced or repaired. The inner construction of an old stone wall is not much more literally than mud. If the protective top of an old lime mortar wall is allowed to decay, it will not take long for the wall to be reduced in ruins. Likewise, if an abandoned house of stone is allowed to stand without a roof it will soon be reduced to a ruin. Our ancestors knew the importance of roofing, and many of them made sure a stone structure had a decent roof, if nothing else.