Monday, February 28, 2011

Pierced Columns -- An Architectural Mystery

While doing historical research for my recent post about The Siege of Vicksburg, I came across something else I thought was interesting.

It seems that there is an architectural element that is found more often in Vicksburg than in any other community — the pierced column. The column is called "pierced" because it is not a solid, round, or square support. The center section is jigsawn in a variety of patterns and split in the middle or slightly lower than middle with a boxed section which often contains a jigsawn ornament. There is a plain or molded base and capital.

Upon researching them further, I found that the first pierced columns appeared in about 1870, the height of the steamboat era and when Italianate was the most prevalent style. It has been suggested that the column was designed by a carpenter from one of the steamboats because the center sections of the columns are oftentimes a diamond, heart, or spade — the icons most associated with card playing. Perhaps the carpenter played poker aboard a riverboat and, on a whimsy, incorporated the designs into an architectural element that is still found in Vicksburg today. Unfortunately, his identity remains a mystery.

In 1987, the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation conducted an inventory of buildings which retained pierced columns, and at that time, there were 50 existing buildings and evidence through historic photographs of about 50 more buildings which, at one time, had porches supported by pierced columns. Of the existing 50, they discovered 14 different styles of pierced columns.

The Foundation also sent inquiries to state historic preservation offices throughout the southeast and north along the Mississippi River requesting information about buildings with similar columns in their states. As a result of their poll, they learned that there were single examples in New Orleans, Pensacola, and a couple of other towns, but no community had anywhere near the number of pierced columns that Vicksburg had.

According to an article from the Foundation's website, which was undated, there are only forty buildings left in Vicksburg that retain their pierced columns.

One day last week, I drove around Vicksburg to see how many houses with pierced columns I could find. In about an hour and a half, I found 13, the prettiest of which (in my opinion) is The Corners, ca. 1872-73.

The architectural style is a combination of Greek Revival and Victorian, with Italianate features. The pierced columns were handmade and each column is unique, featuring hearts and shamrocks, and rings and diamonds, representing love and marriage.

The gardens are intact as they were originally designed and laid out, including the original brick walkways which have ring and diamond patterns in the layout, repeating the signs of love and marriage found in the columns on the house.

McRaven is one of the houses I featured in my series on the Haunted Houses of Vicksburg. You can click on the link if you'd like to read its story.

Belle Fleur, ca 1872

This is Walnut Hills Restaurant, which has the best fried chicken in the whole wide world. It is featured in 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and if you are ever in Vicksburg, I highly recommend you stop by for lunch.

They are in the process of remodeling and there were guys up on the roof when I went by to take these pictures, but at least you can see the pierced columns.

It was easy to spot this house, with its unusual color scheme ...

I like the way the porch railing on this house repeats the design in the columns ...

This is one of the oldest houses I could find with pierced columns. It was built in 1830 by John Lane, who was a member of Vicksburg's founding family.

I guess the origin of pierced columns will always remain a mystery, but I think it's kind of nice that Vicksburg is home to so many beautiful examples of this unique architectural element.


Deb said...

I love your post...your photos are beautiful and I always learn live in such a beautiful area...

Jenni said...

Oh my. You have done it again. gotten my curiosity and interest up... don't have time to study the photos in detail right now, so gonna have to come look again later this evening....

Another fascinating post today.

Karen said...

Just dropping by to see your beautiful pictures. You've got me looking now for architectural features. I'm heading off to Natchitoches, LA in a few weeks - town steeped in history; I'll be looking! Have a great week!

diane b said...

Snap! I'm doing a post on Vicksberg and I remember being told about the columns being special but I couldn't remember what it was. Thanks for this super post explaining it.