In 1838, Alfred Avery, an original settler to Granville, Ohio and a successful businessman with widespread financial interests, began construction on this house for his family. For his architectural design he chose the classical Greek Revival or Grecian style which he had grown to love in the architecture of St. Luke's Episcopal Church by Minard Lafever just down the street. He chose the same builder, Benjamin Morgan, to construct his own house. The Avery home was an impressive tour de force facing Broadway with the temple front and three formal parlors facing the street, along with a living area and bed chambers.
During the period from 1873 to 1875, the Downer family raised the roof on the back extension to allow the construction of a second floor behind the temple. They also added two gables -east and west- to the roof line giving it a decidedly vernacular Gothic flair.
The architect of the house, Minard Lafever of New York, published a series of pattern books on architecture and good construction in the 1830's which were being utilized at St. Luke's. Lafever's book, The Modern Builder's Guide, published in 1833 was a great source for the Avery house as well. In addition, it is becoming clear with modern measured drawings that the pattern books of Asher Benjamin, another early American architect and builder in New England, were equally utilized on the interior of the house.
The builder, Benjamin Morgan, was a master builder with some training and education in architecture. Following Lafever's "Design for a Country Villa" on the opening pages of his pattern book, Morgan assembled a masterpiece of Grecian invention and rule. The seamless integration of Ionic temple, Doric wings, and Corinthian frontispiece is brilliant and so well proportioned, that this house takes pride of place in not a few publications of world architecture and classical design. Morgan had organized an impressive group of craftsmen, many of whom most likely had completed St. Luke's, and finished the Alfred Avery House by 1842.
Avery's "temple" was constructed using timbers as thick as 14 inches square; some being as long as 42 feet. The portico two-story columns were carved out of solid black walnut and carefully fluted by hand and horse-drawn planes. Also carved out of wood were hidden gutters which were integral to the Doric and Ionic entablatures. Morgan used each corner column for a downspout, hollowing 4 inches inside from top to bottom.
The interior is embellished with extensive plaster ceiling medallions and wood moldings from the Grecian pattern books. The Foyer contains walnut woodwork with dogwood blossom carvings. Throughout the house, from the solid walnut columns to the carefully crafted interior woodwork and plaster details, the Avery-Downer House stands as a monument to early nineteenth century craftsmanship and intellect. It can only be truly appreciated by visiting and patiently examining its many impressive attributes.
The Grecian Movement
The Grecian Movement, at its peak in the mid-nineteenth century, was a continuation of the classical language which had accumulated many variations or "dialects" over the long centuries since the rise of Periclean Athens. The road that Grecian architecture traveled to arrive in the United States and Granville is one which helps us understand the nature and importance of our inherited classical civilization.
When ancient Greek architecture was measured, delineated and published for the first time in the middle of the 18th century, it opened a new chapter in classical architecture. James 'Athenian' Stuart and Nicholas Revett, members of the Dilettanti Society in England, set out on an adventure in 1751 to precisely record for posterity those antiquities. The first volume of their Antiquities of Athens was published in 1762 and the results were almost immediate. A new era of magnificent Grecian structures throughout Europe and America was begun. Its nineteenth-century permeation of America made it our first truly national architecture. Examples include the US Capitol by Benjamin Latrobe, the Tennessee State Capitol by William Strickland, plantations in Natchez, Mississippi and courthouses and stately homes from Maine to Oregon. Easily recognizable, these buildings are classically proportioned, frequently temple-like in form, and contain detailing based directly on their ancient Greek predecessors. In this tradition we find the Avery-Downer House.
Benjamin Morgan built the Avery-Downer House primarily from the Grecian pattern books of New York architect Minard Lafever (1798-1854). Lafever published several books including The Modern Builder's Guide (1833) and The Beauties of Modern Architecture (1835) detailing the antiquities of Greece and including his own designs for country houses. The temple form for the Avery-Downer House is from the elevation on plate 75 in The Modern Builder's Guide. The temple portico is drawn from the Temple of Illisus found on plates 46-47. The side porticoes are based on the Doric Temple of Hephaestos in Athens. The entry portico is from the Tower of the Winds in Athens, and the exterior pilasters, interior scrolls, and plaster ceiling rosettes are also found in Lafever's pattern books. In addition to the details, the general proportions, quality of woodwork, and the solidity of framing and foundation make the Alfred Avery House one of the best examples of how an educated craftsman could build a refined home based on pattern books and manual experience.
Rooted in a classical Palladian milieu established in the early American Republic, and emulating the "Beauties" of ancient Athens, the Avery-Downer House expresses the essence of American classical architecture.