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.