MissPres Architectural Word of the Week: Witch Door

Time for another MissPres Architectural Word of the Week! If you want to check out any previous word you can do that here. As always our example photographs come from the MDAH Historic Resources Database. This week’s word might sound scary but it really is not.

This week’s word is brought to you by the letter W as defined by Cyril M. Harris’s Dictionary of Architecture and Construction.

Witch Door: (ˈwich ˈdȯr) A door whose lowest panels form a capital letter X; once thought to ward off evil spirits.

Standard Lists Modular Woodwork Catalog No. 59, First Edition Cover

Our two examples are Minimalist Traditional in styling.  Typically with Minimalist Traditional structures the design of the door can set the overall style for the house, so the door is incredibly important to the integrity of the house.  The Standard Lists Modular Woodwork Catalog No. 59 (featured images above) was not a catalog for consumers to order from, but was a millwork catalog whose purpose was to establish nationally recognized specifications for millwork commercial standards.  The book gives an idea of what was being produced commercially in North America at the time.  The Hattiesburg example is a dead ringer for the Standard Lists Modular Woodwork Catalog door ND 608, while the Starkville example is very similar to ND 609.

Which Witch Door is Which?  Do you have a favorite building in Mississippi that has a Witch Door? If so please share! Get out and take a photo of a Witch Door and post it to the Preservation In Mississippi Flickr page.

Categories: Books, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Starkville

3 replies

  1. I always assumed this door type had evolved as a solution to racking. Was it instead specifically designed with witches in mind? Where did it originate?


    • Its very possible that the door type was a solution to prevent racking. In my mind I had associated the door style with “dutch doors”, but searching for an example has turned up that the Witch Door was more unique. I think the door does have a dutch parentage but cannot find any examples that I can verify as authentic. Our Mississippi examples seem tied into the mid-20th century interest in American colonial history.

      The Parson John Williams House(c. 1760) of Deerfield Mass. was featured in the 1916 White Pine Series Vol. 2 No. 3 for its Witch front doors, but the caption in White Pine dates the door to several decades later in the 18th century.

      Not sure where the reference to witches comes in. Cyril Harris doesn’t site his source or his understanding of the origin.



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