The Details Behind the Details

East entrance to the State House. This entrance opens onto the courtyard.

My Thursday Doors post about Connecticut’s Old State House was very well received – it’s easy when you have great material – and several people commented on some of the various architectural details. The building is full of details. I had wanted to share some information, especially explanations for some of the descriptions, but there just wasn’t room. So, let’s go back and visit the Old State House, with an eye toward some of those details. Most of this information is taken from the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form.

The building was completed in 1796. There were some major changes in the early years, but not many after the mid-1800s. The original structure featured an open arcade on the ground level, connecting the east and west pavilions. In 1854, the arcade was enclosed at each end, forming one large room on the ground floor. The east entrance is the grander of the two sides, and it was from there that speeches would be made to a crowd gathered on the green. The west side of the building is very close to Main Street. Other additions to the building included the wooden balustrade at the roof line. As is often the case in buildings of this era, the railing wasn’t added purely as ornamentation. The balustrade was designed to protect firemen in the event they had to work on the roof, or the cupola (which was also added to the original building).

One of the details I like are the arched window surrounds on the lower level. These help to carry the arched theme of the two main entrances, without the use of arched windows. The lower level is Connecticut brownstone while the upper floors are brick. Above the second floor, a beltline in the masonry hints at the floor line between the second and third floor, however, there is no third floor. The uppermost windows only serve to allow additional light into the second-floor chambers of the House and Senate. At the entrance on the east side, the tripartite arched entrances are matched by a series of three large arched windows. These allow a tremendous amount of light into the gallery where the center staircase stands.

If you’re familiar with Greek and / or Roman architecture, you’re likely familiar with the terms describing column styles. The three main styles are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, and all three can be found in the Old State House.

Doric columns are large diameter, smooth and rest directly on the supporting structure without the need for a base component. You can see these in the columns supporting the portico at the east entrance. Ionic columns are narrower, and typically fluted. Since they are narrow, they require a base to distribute the load that they carry. Corinthian columns are more similar to Ionic than Doric but include elaborately carved capitals.

Again, from the nomination form:

“The walls of the Senate Chamber are decorated by fluted pilasters representing a combination of Ionic and Corinthian orders supporting the cornice and gallery-balustrade.”

The other two architectural details that I like are the modillion brackets (like an exaggerated dentil molding) that serves as a frieze on the second floor, and the pocket shutters. Dentil molding is a favorite of mine, and I incorporated a small segment in a narrow bookcase I made about 20 years ago.

I, and according to the comments Thursday’s post gathered, many of you find the pocket shutters to be one of the most interesting details in the building. When open, the shutters appear to be paneled wall segments, which are found in entrances throughout the building. The shutters fold out over ¼ of the window. A second section then folds out to cover ½ of the sash. A shutter on the other side completes the protection.


The gallery includes more pictures from the Old State House, a couple are annotated to point out some of the details described here.

65 thoughts on “The Details Behind the Details

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  1. Such a beautifully maintained building too! Thanks for the details. That modillion cornice reminds me of legos. 🙊I love the staircase! OMG. So eone has to polish all that wood. And your bookcase is gorgeous as well. Mollie looks a lot like Maddie from behind. But her fur looks darker. Have a great week Dan! Try to stay dry. 😏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cheryl. I had the same thought about Legos :-) I should have included a photo of a Lego version of the State House. I bet the modilllions were easy.

      Mollie had a beautiful coat, but she was also on medication, and it messed with her weight and her coat from time to time.

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    1. Thanks Joanne. I had to look that word up after originally thinking it was just a large form dentil molding. I’m glad you like the book case. When I think about making and applying the moldings to that small structure, this building becomes even more impressive.

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  2. The staircases and molding is what catch my eye. I’m not big on large ornate chandeliers. The bookcase certainly fills that wasted space out perfectly plus adds more character having the dental molding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. We had been looking forever foe something to put in that small space, and giving my wife a bookcase is never a bad idea. As you can see, it was well received. Making that molding gave me a taste for what it was like to work in the period in which this building was built. For the record. I am a fan of electricity and power tools.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. I don’t know what surprised me more in your posting, Dan–it was either seeing the “photography encouraged” sign, a sign that I have never seen, or learning so much about architectural details (I didn’t expect to see so many new words). :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew that sign would impress a number of my photographer friends. It’s so rare that we see that. I’m always upset when places prohibit photography. I can understand prohibiting flash photography, but pictures are only going to help spread the word about your business.

      I had to look up a few of those terms, Mike. It’s interesting to see so many details incorporated into one building.

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    1. Thanks Pam. I did try on the top hat. I’ve always wanted to know what I would look like wearing one. It was way too small for my fat head. The book case is cherry, reclaimed from an old waterbed I had made. The stain is an aniline dye stain that colors the wood without masking the grain. It was a fun project, and you’d have to fight the Editor to get it out of the perfect place she has for it.

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    1. Hmmm, I thought I replied to this. The building is in good shape, and it has been leased to the City of Hartford for 99 years, under the care of the State Legislature. A city that almost went bankrupt and a group of self-serving politicians, isn’t the best situation to be in, but I wish this building luck. It’s too important to ignore.

      I’m glad you like the bookcase. It’s one of my favorite pieces.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There ya go. If your goal is to learn one new thing each day, you can kick back and relax. I didn’t know that either, but I was educated about decoration vs. serving a purpose, by a man in our church in the 1980s who had apprenticed as a joiner in the early 1900s. There was often a purpose for what we consider ornamentation, so this wasn’t a total surprise.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. And here I thought balustrades were purely ornamental! Your posts are not only fun, but so informative. I would’ve learned so much more in school if you had been my teacher. You explain things in English…you know….I can understand it!!

    This building is so beautiful with all its architectural detail. And you got great shots of all those details.

    LOVE that bookcase! I can’t tell if the cat in the bookcase is a painting or crafted from fabric, but it’s great! Mollie looks like she was another beautiful girl. We had an Irish Setter years ago….Rusty….now that name took a lot of thinking!! He too had a boatload of issues.

    Rain, rain and more rain here. Sigh….. Maybe I should set up a roadside stand and sell the mushrooms!! Hope today is setting up to be a terrific week for you.
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. I wasn’t too surprised to find that the balustrades had a useful purpose, but I also thought they were decoration. I guess, after they added to cupola, they were worried about firemen.

      Mollie was the sweetest Setter we ever had. Even our cats miss Mollie.

      The cat looks very much like our first cat (The Editor’s favorite) Oreo. The book is a fabric covered address book (that has never had an address written into it).

      We have a wonderful crop of mushrooms growing here. There are probably some in the tarps on my roof at this point. Looks like rain is the theme for this week, too.

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  5. I really appreciate the detail descriptions you provided on the photos. Cornice? Gable? I get confused.This is one heck of a gorgeous building. Dan–I can see you hanging out your ‘woodworker’ shingle after you retire. That bookcase is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. I do hope to be able to do more woodworking after I retire. I’m glad you liked this. I took a chance that people could take a bit more about all the stuff going on in this building. It is amazing to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wendy. You would also appreciate the art collection on display in the building. That’s what ultimately caused the legislature to restore funding, the fact that the artworks were all going to have to be put in storage because conditions were no longer adequate in the building.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love moulding, and columns, but I doubt I’ll ever master the knowledge of knowing their types and names! Well, I might remember dentil because it does look like a row of teeth.

    No widow’s walk then. The Balustrade’s purpose was a surprise to me! I learned a lot from this post today!

    It’s so nice to see a sign welcoming photography!

    Your bookcase is lovely. It’s impressive work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. No widow’s walk. There is a spiral staircase on the west side of the 2nd floor that goes up to space in the 3rd floor level, so it’s possible that you can enter the cupola. It’s certainly big enough. That staircase is closed to the public.

      I knew you would like that sign – I think more places should encourage taking and sharing photos.

      I’m glad you like the bookcase, it’s one of my favorites.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As David Letterman might have said, “I don’t have a joke here, I just like saying ‘fluted pilasters’.” xD Great pics, Dan, as always! I really like your narrow bookcases. As someone who owns way too many books, I like the idea of anything that enables more storage and display options. Henry Bemis would approve, no doubt!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Phenomenal post, Dan. Your history lesson took me away to another time and place. Your photographs … I was looking at them for a LONG time. I actually could feel the “energy of the place” within each image. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. And that bookcase is gorgeous. Outstanding!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Amy. I had about an hour or so before my train, and I thought it would be a good place to spend part of that time. I ended up almost running late for the train, and I feel I need to go back. This is from a time when craftsmen ruled the day and construction was more than “put tab-A into slot-B” they cared about their work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is why this type of architecture to me personally is so fascinating. Craftsmanship was taken seriously when these buildings were created. Everything in our home and on our property is build with craftsmanship. I suppose I belong in a different era then present time because I still do believe in working with my hands creating Beauty putting as much quality in what I am creating. I know from reading your posts you feel the same way I do and the way hubby does too. Unfortunately we are a Dying Breed.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think we might be in for a bit of a resurgence of these feelings, Amy. Our slaughter thinks much like we do, and she has several friends who feel the same way. I hope craftsmanship comes back in style.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. You can’t go wrong with the classics. I had taken this picture of the bench because I really liked it. When you mentioned it, I decided to include it. The furniture is all appropriate to the period. I’d like to go back and study some of it more closely.

      Thanks for the comment on the bookcase.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Dan – love the photos and the fact you’ve ‘educated’ us a little with the architectural details. The white dentils with the ‘hole’ moulding … perhaps made similarly to bricks … but the staircase with the tiled floor too. Thanks for the great descriptions etc … and yes Mollie, pre Maddie, and your wonderful bookcase made from old cherry – looks lovely, no wonder you’re proud of it – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hilary. There were so many fine details in this building that I wanted to share. also, the excerpts from the Nomination Form were pretty technical, so I thought this might help. I could write about three more posts about this building, but this isn’t an architectural blog.

      Mollie was a sweetheart. We still miss her. The bookcase was the perfect use of an old waterbed :-)

      Like

  10. Modillion brackets- it looks exactly like a grander dentil molding. Stunning! The arched windows, and pocket shutters (which I have always known to be Indian shutters) are wonderful. You know what I like the most? The wood; the honey colored wood with an aged patina that makes me feel as warm as the wood. Only happens after at least a hundred years or more. The staircase is a case in point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never heard them referred to as ‘Indian Shutters’ but I like the sound of that. Wood just keeps getting better over time. The staircase is just amazing to me. Building that requires a lot of work, patience and very accurate craftsmanship. And they were building it with hand tools!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thursday Doors get even better this time for me. So much to learn about those columns. Thank you, Dan. I loved that book case it is perfect for my tiny apartment. Right now, all my books are packed in a box and under my bed. Oh! I must tell you this. A couple of Sundays ago, I and Sarah were just strolling in the town and there was this Wholesale Book Fair. I bought a fairly thick Oxford Dictionary. I know most people think who buys dictionary these days, but it was there in the corner in good condition and Printed in Great Britain. It just called me and I bought it for $3. I also bought Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I like the bookcase being narrow and the stain is so nice here.
    I love Maddie looking over the baby gate.
    The statehouse was a beautiful Thursday’s Doors post but I need to go back and click it for like. . . Catching up with my very nice friend, Dan. Thanks for letting me fly through the posts but still get a sense of you and your family, plus critters’ lives. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robin. I know you’ve been busy, I’m glad to see you drop by whenever you can. I like that narrow bookcase. It was fun to make and it filled an annoying little space.

      The critters (inside and out) are fun to watch.

      Like

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