Craftsman Style in Mississippi

At long last I have finally gotten around to starting a series on the Craftsman style in Mississippi, something I promised to do two years ago. Hopefully, having it percolate around in my head for that long will make the series better than it would have been. One thing I know the delay did was allow Virginia McAlester’s long-awaited update to the seminal Field Guide to American Houses to be published (ok, I know that was a year ago . . .), and we’ll use her definitions and identifying features as our jumping-off point to start the series.

Merigold CraftsmanI’ve wanted to do this series for several reasons. First, if you were around that long ago, you may remember that according to a November 2010 poll, MissPresers said their favorite architectural styles were Craftsman and Art Deco. Second, Mississippi has Craftsman bungalows in almost every community, big or small, a reflection of the growth in the state’s middle-class population in the early 20th century. Third, even though the first two are true, I think these little gems get overlooked because they are seen as ubiquitous; and as simple buildings, they are susceptible to being messed up with just a few alterations, such as vinyl siding (which tends to cover the wood detailing so important to Craftsman houses), crummy replacement windows (which obliterates the geometry that was integral to the design), or enclosed porches (which is just a horrible, horrible sin against any house, but especially a Southern house. For a great pictorial essay on how a Craftsman bungalow can be changed and “maintained” into something less than its original self, see McAlester’s latest edition of the Field Guide, pp. 18-19).

To start the series, let’s look at the Field Guide’s instruction on the Craftsman style. If you don’t have a copy of this book and you’re interested enough in historic buildings to be reading this blog, I recommend getting a copy (the hardcover has come down to $36 on Amazon, and it’s a brick–completely worth that price). In addition to text, the Field Guide is filled with detailed line drawings to point out specific features on each style. About the Craftsman Style’s “Identifying Features,” it has this to say:

Low-pitched, gabled roof (occasionally hipped) with wide, unenclosed eave overhang; roof rafters usually exposed; decorative (false) beams or braces commonly added under gables; porches, either full- or partial-width, with roof supported by tapered square columns; columns or piers frequently extend to ground level (without a break at level of porch floor); commonly one or one and one-half stories high, although two-story examples occur in every subtype.

Regarding the style’s “Occurence”:

This was the dominant style for smaller houses built throughout the country during the period from about 1905 until the early 1920s. The Craftsman style originated in southern California and most landmark examples are concentrated there. Like vernacular examples of the contemporaneous Prairie style, it was quickly spread throughout the country by pattern books and popular magazines. The style rapidly faded from favor after the mid-1920s; relatively few were built after 1930.

As with almost every other style, Mississippi doesn’t quite fit those dates, with our examples mostly dating to the very late 1910s and continuing into the 1930s. It’s not uncommon to even see Craftsman bungalows from the late 1940s–these aren’t high-end examples of the style, but are still in the style so they count in my opinion. I suspect this later range of dates holds true for other Southern states like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana, so if I could change one thing about the Field Guide it would be that the date ranges for each style would reflect all regions of the country, not just the cutting edge regions.

Belhaven Heights Craftsmen01A photograph of this beauty in Jackson’s Belhaven Heights neighborhood was used in the original Field Guide to demonstrate the “Front-Gabled Variant” (you may remember it from an “Architectural Twins” post) and it was re-used in this edition. The caption highlights the triangular knee braces in the front gable and the slightly tapering porch-roof supports extending from ground level. In the latest edition, another Mississippi Craftsman has joined the crowd, this one from Canton but without an address. I’ll have to head up there and find it one of these days.

Now that we’ve set the stage, we can begin our weekly (or bi-weekly as the case may be) series of Mississippi Craftsmen (Craftsmans?) and I hope help all of us take a second look at these ubiquitous buildings. Look around your town and see what you can find!

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Can’t get enough of Craftsman?



Categories: Architectural Research, Jackson

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8 replies

  1. Come to New Albany! You’ll be pleasantly surprised!!

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  2. I can think of one on Center Street, Canton.

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  3. I’m glad you mention dates in this post. Having grown up in the South, I’ve always associated Craftsman with the 20s and 30s, and anything before circa 1915 was uncommon.

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  4. A craftsman house from Canton that was featured in the original Field Guide was on Liberty street (I think the address was 3461 N. Liberty). Haven’t spent much time with the new book so I can not recall if the same image was used again. I’m anticipation the digital edition publication. Its going to have LOTS more pictures than the print edition!

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  5. Poplarville, MS has quite a few of these. A few on Main Street were ordered from a Sears catalog. The current Alumni House on the PRCC campus was formerly the President’s home. It’s definitely a Craftsman, but done in red brick.

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  6. I’ve always loved this style of architecture. We have many cool and good examples of them in Laurel.

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  7. My husband’s hometown, McComb has some great examples as well and our first home there was a Sears bungalow-like home that my father-in-law actually saw being hauled in to be built as a young boy.

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