MissPres Word of the Week: Pigeonhole Corner

Drum Roll Please . . .

This is the first MissPres Word of the Week for 2013 and among other improvements, we are taking requests. So If you’ve been eying an element or technique on a Mississippi building snap a photo of an example (if you can send multiple examples that is very helpful) and drop me a line. To get the ball rolling, E.L. Malvaney submitted the inaugural request. Malvaney emailed along the photo below saying,

“…working on catching up on my photo organization, and found this picture of a corner on Murrah Hall at Millsaps. Don’t know the term for it although I probably should…”

Pigeonhole Corner Detail,Murrah Hall, Milsaps College, Jackson, Hinds County.  Photo by Malvaney, MissPreservation.com 11-06-2010  retrieved 01-06-2013.

Pigeonhole Corner Detail, Murrah Hall, Millsaps College, Jackson, Hinds County. Photo by E.L. Malvaney, MissPreservation.com 11-06-2010. Retrieved 01-06-2013.

According to Cyril M Harris and his Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, the above is a Pigeonhole Corner.

Pigeonhole Corner: (ˈpi-jən-ˌhōl ˈkȯr-nər) An acute angle formed in a brick wall, using square-ended bricks that have not been shaped.

I looked for other examples in my photos and ran across several brick structures in Natchez that utilized a Pigeonhole Corner. The examples I found were higher style Queen Anne structures dating from 1890 to 1902, which are a little bit earlier than the 1914 construction date of our Beaux Arts Murrah Hall example. The best use of the Pigeonhole Corner in the Natchez bunch was the old Adams County Jail. Built in 1891 it uses a Pigeonhole Corner on some, but not all, of its corners as a decorative element.

Outside obtuse angle corner with standard brick(Pigeonhole Corner) Illustration.  Figure 4,240, Page 1,784-238. Audels Masons and Builders Guide No. 1 1963 printing.  Scanned from Authors copy.

Outside obtuse angle corner with standard brick (Pigeonhole Corner) Illustration. Figure 4,240, Page 1,784-238. Audels Masons and Builders Guide No. 1. 1963 printing. Scanned from Author’s copy.

In Theo Audels 1924 Masons and Builders Guide No.1 it says that Pigeonhole Corners are “only used in cheap work and should not be tolerated for it leaves ledges for the lodgement of snow and dirt, decreases the thickness of the wall and besides is rather unsightly… with result that the brickwork rapidly deteriorates and more over is unsightly.

Do you think it’s unsightly Mr. Audel? I think you mentioned that.

Well Mr. Audel, from a maintenance standpoint I sympathize with the created nightmare of crevices for dirt, water, and animals to congregate. But I disagree that Pigeonhole Corners would only be used in cheap work and are unsightly. It’s obvious that a cost savings is made by not having to purchase specially shaped brick or spend on masons to cut bricks on site, though both our examples are fine, high-style buildings that use the element as a focal point. I don’t think the quality is decreased as I’ve never heard that anyone broke out of the Adams County Jail through the corners.

Bay with  Pigeonhole Corners and Gable with Montross Shingles, 212 Pearl Street, South, Natchez Adams County, Photo by T.Rosell, MissPreservation.com Nov. 2012

Bay with Pigeonhole Corners and Gable with Montross Shingles, 212 Pearl Street, South, Natchez, Adams County, Photo by T. Rosell, MissPreservation.com Nov. 2012. Retrieved 01-10-2013

Have you got a favorite Pigeonhole Corner on a structure in Mississippi? Then share it with us! If you run across a Pigeonhole Corner this week take a photo and up load it to the Preservation In Mississippi Flickr page.

Pigeonhole acute angle corner, Fig. 4248 Page 241-1787 Audels Masons and Builders Guide No.1.  Scanned from Authors Copy.

Pigeonhole acute angle corner, Fig. 4248 Page 241-1787 Audels Masons and Builders Guide No.1. 1963 Printing. Scanned from Authors Copy.



Categories: Historic Preservation, Jackson, Jails, Natchez, Universities/Colleges

23 replies

  1. Drum roll & Tah Dah & Wow! on photos & info. I’ve never noticed this masonry technique before. Perfectly delighted to see MissPres AWOTW continues.

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  2. I can’t be certain, but I think Mr. Audel didn’t like Pigeonhole Corners?

    On the other hand, without using the word “unsightly,” I just noticed how raggedy that Murrah Hall corner is looking straight up.

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  3. I’m familiar with the detail but not the term, although it seems apt. I was a little confused interpreting Mr. Harris’ definition, which cites acute angles. From that, it seems that the term “pigeonhole corner” would refer to the individual voids in the masonry, which are acute, rather than the building corner itself, which in every example shown (and every one I’ve seen), is obtuse.

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    • I agree It seems that the term refers to a corner with holes alternating every course. At the end of the post Ive added an example from Audels of an acute corner with Pigeon holes as was described by Mr. Harris

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      • Wow that’s a cool image–I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the acute angle corner. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

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      • That’s a terrific detail, and one I don’t think I’ve seen in the flesh. Interesting to note that in this instance, while the building corner is acute, the angle of the “pidgeonholes” in 90-degrees – neither acute nor obtuse. I wonder, then, whether the “acute” in the definition is extraneous and inaccurate.

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        • I cannot be sure why acute was singled out in the Harris definition. Audels labeled the acute but not the obtuse as “pigeon hole” so it was not a singular oversight on Harris’s part. I guess the question remains why name one angle without naming the other? The elements that one would think gives the corner its name is found both in acute and obtuse corners.

          Looking for other published examples I checked the 1904 Rivington’s Building Construction, 1969Architectural Graphic Standards, and the 1999 Fundamentals of Building construction. None mention the technique.

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  4. Does the technique weaken the corner brick joint? Seems like it would.

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  5. And the style might look better with limestone or mortar colored (contrasting with the brick color) triangular bricks laid in the pigeonholes?

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    • I think our examples look handsome as they are but what you described would be visually interesting as well. I’m sure that a building with limestone or mortar colored (contrasting with the brick color) triangular bricks laid in the pigeonholes exists some where in Mississippi and for your homework this weekend encourage you to find it for us!

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  6. My very favorite pigeonhole corner is on the Bank of Mound Bayou building. Each side on the canted wall where the double front doors are illustrates the pigeonhole corner. I never knew what that was called before, and there is at least one other building in Mound Bayou that has the design! Awesome word of the week! I will upload my photos when I get back to Mississippi–right now, I am in cbyer purgatory for a few more days.

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