The 19th Century House Project

This site is the home of The 19th Century House Project, where I post my photography of 19th Century houses along with writing about my preservation and advocacy work. The project features my photography of large Victorian houses, my work in preservation consulting, raising awareness and advocating for historic preservation.

In 2013 The Project’s first accomplishment was to secure a certification of eligibility for the William Gulick House in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for inclusion in the state and national historic registers. My current activities involving the house include direct participation in efforts to prevent demolition and to advocate for adaptive reuse and 100% preservation. (Read my blog post on it here.)

Victorian mansion at West End Ave. and Middaugh Street in Somerville, NJ

I’m interested primarily in large Victorian houses built (in the U.S.) between 1850 and 1900. My current area of concentration is in Central New Jersey where there are many of these fine structures still standing. Some are finely restored and maintained, some are a little worn, while others are in need of restoration. While there are still large numbers of these houses in existence both large and small, especially in the small historic towns I photograph, I’m drawn mostly to the enigmatic subjects; those situated away from the others. Freehold and Flemington have very fine collections of Victorian era houses lining their streets but I prefer the lone house on a large lot or tract of land. They’re not always easy to find like that, and where you have more or less free access. Most owners I’ve spoken to have been very accommodating with regard to letting me photograph their houses.

Project Beginnings

My first experience was with a large Victorian style house at the age of 11 in my hometown of Holmdel, New Jersey. One of my friends lived in the converted carriage house of a Victorian mansion which the family called, “The Big House.” The date of construction, judging by he arched windows and wrap-around veranda was probably 1860s, when such elements began to appear. The large old house mesmerized me and from then on I was hooked. 20 years or so later a developer demolished it and I’ll never forget how I felt seeing it reduced to a huge pile of rubble. It seemed a terrible thing to destroy something that had stood for so long and that was an important part of the town and its history. It was built by a family with a prominent name synonymous with Holmdel: the Stillwells. Maybe it had significant water and/or termite damage that prevented rehabilitation. I know the structure was not maintained at all by the owners.

At any rate, springing forth from my connection with that house my passion has since become manifest through my photography, writing and preservation work. I want to preserve these fine old houses, wherever they still exist through my work, and with that involvement I hope to raise awareness. I believe it’s important to save our history for future generations.

Old South TIME-LIFE book

I have also studied the architectural elements and aspects of 19th century monumental house building styles through observation in the course of my photographic work, in discussion with architects and through online research and reading. Much of that has been on Louisiana plantation houses as they are the most ornate and eclectic in style of the Antebellum southern mansions. This is also a significant source for my interest. We had a TIME-LIFE series of books when I was growing up called the Library of America and one of them, “The Old South,” (pictured, right) sparked my interest with its stories and photographs of then 120-year-old mansions from a long gone era of languid opulence and sophistication. I know so many of them from the several books I’ve had on the subject, and it is one of my strongest desires to travel the Great River road north out of New Orleans and photograph, in my own unique style, these giant ghostly and magnificent remnants of the past.

Flemington veranda
Flemington veranda

I made the photo at right in Flemington, NJ in the summer of 2012, and it is directly influenced by one of those TIME-LIFE pictures I first saw as a kid. This veranda is so perfectly preserved and maintained and looks to be mostly original; and it appears much as it probably looked 130 or so years ago.

So, that is where my interest in 19th Century houses comes from. I’m going to have my studio in a large old Victorian house in the near future, as soon as I can find someone who has the right space and will give me a start with my business there. If you or someone you know has any ideas I would love to hear them. In the meantime, please take a look at my studio plan and proposal HERE.

Advertisement