Clue in a Window
HOW OLD IS THAT HOUSE? LOOK TO WINDOWS AS KEY TO AGE
There is a curious way to put an approximate date on old houses in this area of the country. Architectural historians might find fault with this simple method, but you can pretty well date the construction of an old house by the size and number of its window panes.
The window we are most familiar with in the South is called double-hung sash window. The sash is the part of the window that holds the panes in place with wooden slats. The slats are known as mullions.
Double-hung refers to the face that the two sash es are hung within the window frame, one over the other, so that both sections might be raised or lowered on a track within the frame for ventilation.
Houses along the Eastern seaboard with were built in the early 1700's had solid wooden shutters. Later, glass was more widely available, so it was used in very small panes to allow for illumination.
Historic Columbus operates the 1828 Walker-Peters-Langdon House at 716 Broadway as a house museum of this early period. The style of the window here is double-hung sash, and the small panes, with their flaws and uneven quality, were obviously handmade.
To further identify the window style of the Walker-Peters-Langdon House, count the number of panes in the top and bottom sashes. Since this early window has 9 panes in each sash, it is called 9 over 9.
Many of the small, early cottages in Columbus still have 9 over 9 windows. Even the numerous shotgun houses, with their side halls and narrow fronts, testify to their early age and long usefulness with their distinctive 9 over 9 window pane configuration.
By the 1840's when the next architectural style appeared, advances in glass-making provided larger panes. Windows of the period from 1840 through 1870 usually featured 6 over 6 sash construction.
These can be found in great numbers in the small one-story Greek revival cottages which also feature a front porch with six columns, a central doorway flanked by two windows, and a triangular-shaped roof.
In the same 6 over 6 category is The Folly, or Octagon House, at 527 First Avenue, as well as a small Greek Revival cottage at 16 E. Sixth Street. On Sixth Street, however, the builder wanted a fancier look for the front of the house, so he used floor-length windows with the same size panes, which then became 6 over 9.
When Columbus's Greek Revival mansions such as the Lion House on Third Avenue and the Swift-Kyle at 303 12th Street were built in the 1850's, the ground-floor windows were 6 over 9.
The progression continued. As technology permitted production of large panes of glass, people used them in their new homes. The Herin House at Broad and Sixth Street is an example of 4 over 4, as are many other houses in the Historic District which were built from the 1870's and 1890's.
Another interesting thing happened. As families grew and expanded their houses, they built fancy new wings to the front, and left the original one and two room cottages on the back.
One of the many examples of this is the two-story house at 637 First Avenue. The front two-story addition features 4 over 4 regular windows, while the fancy windows opening on to the front porch are full length and are actually 2 over 2 over 2. In back, the original one-story cottage retains its 9 over 9 windows.
Really big sheets of glass were the thing at the turn of the century, as can be seen in the windows of various sizes in Jan Lauderdale's house at Broad, which was built in the late 1890's. Another example is the Lucius Morton House at 723 Broad, where the 1 over 1 pane reaches its greatest size. This one-upmanship continued through the 1910's.
Later periods also reflect the same ability to date a house by the style of windows. However modest, houses were built to fit the climate of the region with the best available building materials.
Eventually, however, air-conditioning eliminated the necessity for 12 foot high ceilings and double-hung windows. And the standard-size, mass manufactured building units caused individual architectural details to lose their fascination.
Another phenomena, remodeling, or REMUDDLING as the "Old House Journal" calls it, made structures seem to tell lies about themselves. The integrity of a house was often sullied with a modern picture window, or degraded by a fake "Colonial" shutter. But in a Historic District, even remuddling is preferable to demolition.
So when you next have the opportunity to date a house by its window panes, please take the following advice: 1. Get out of your car and walk around the Columbus Historic District. Its definitely more enjoyable that way. And, 2, dating an old farm house by its window panes is a dangerous preoccupation while driving down a country road at 55 miles per hour.
Nine over Nine 1828 – 1840
Six over Six 1840 - 1860
Four over Four 1870 – 1880
Two over Two 1880 – 1898
One over One Turn of the Century
Originally Printed in 1979 in the Columbus Chamber of Commerce Newsletter.