Sunday I went on a walking tour of historic houses on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The Minnesota Historical Society sponsors the tours and has very well informed tour guides leading the groups. It is a nice way to see some beautiful homes and learn about the history of them.who built them, how much it cost to build them, what has been added, etc. There is a big variety of exterior building materials used on Summit Avenue…from stone, to brick, to cement stucco, to wood clapboard to wood shingle.
Some of the detail work on the homes was remarkable. Right off the bat we started out by looking at the gate keeper house at the James J. Hill house. The gate house is made of St. Peter sandstone just like the main house. However, even though the building is tiny, it maintains the same attention to detail that the larger home has. The hipped roof returns at the window sides, complete with roof brackets, integral gutters and lovely round downspouts is very delicate.
As we walked on Summit we saw many beautiful homes..some very large and others smaller. But again, the details on the roofs, columns, windows, and doorways was noted. I found this gentle eyebrow window with three round windows one of the nicest features on the homes. It takes a good level of skill to build such a window, as well as good design skill to get the proportions and sizes just right.
There are many fine examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture on the street. While it is a very ‘heavy’ style of architecture, it does endure the test of time well. Several people on the tour thought it looked too ‘clunky’ with the deeply set doors and windows. Romanesque often incorporates lots of arches and somewhat stubby columns in the work. The skill of the stone masons is clearly evident.
As would be expected, the wood details are usually the first things that get lost or destroyed over time. Sometimes they are removed to alter the appearance of a home. Other times they are removed because the cost to repair the detail is too much for the owner. It is nice to see that many owners of the Summit Avenue homes have researched their homes and are replacing missing wood trims and details. The gable end trim on this home in the left photo was replaced after being missing for many years. The home in the right photo recently had the exterior restored and replicated missing wood trims all over the gable end and on the frieze and eave boards.
If you like to see beautiful older homes I would encourage you to take the walking tour of Summit Avenue homes.