Visitors astute to architecture and history sometimes ask questions that we can’t always answer as they tour our beautiful house museum. One such question reminded us that while we know a lot, we don’t always know it all. And in the process of tracking down answers, we learn something more about the wonder that is the Greek Revival Avery-Downer House, home to the Robbins Hunter Museum.
Doug Johnson, the archdiocese of Baltimore, toured the museum on his first visit to Granville not long ago. He noticed the design of the front door differed from the drawing of the door in the book The Modern Builder’s Guide by Minard Lafever, originally published in 1833.
Why so, he asks? To answer his question, we turned to our expert, Architect Dr. William Heyer. Here’s what he said. “Because Minard Lafever was really only a consultant on the house for Mr. Avery and because Benjamin Morgan was in fact the designer/builder, it does not come to me as odd that some alternative design elements were used. This was common in the Grecian period. In fact, many of the design elements in the house were inspired by Lafever’s guidebooks and also Asher Benjamin’s guidebooks of the same date (1832-33). But they were really only a starting point and it is refreshing to see that Lafever trusted the local builders with whatever napkin sketches he provided for Mr. Avery in New York.”
Ann Lowder, director, adds “We had records noting the door itself was originally grain painted, a trompe-l’oeil, to resemble fine mahogany.” Delicate tracery of lotus vines above the door, restored to its original gold leaf, should be observed, she notes.
“The museum is grateful to Tom King, a Denison alumnus, who knew Robbins Hunter and donated his time and talent to restoring the finish to the door,” she adds.
Heyer also offers a broader perspective. “Much of the beauty of Ohio Grecian architecture resides in the inspired uses of Greek elements such as those of Mr. Morgan. That is why I—having moved here from New York—find the Grecian architecture of the “new” states after the revolution to be the most clever and original of the entire Grecian period. Look at Hamlin’s Greek Revival Architecture in America for other fun examples.”
An outstanding feature of the design of the house, perhaps another of those fun examples, is that it incorporates all three Greek column designs: Doric (found on the side porches), Ionic (found on the front porch), and the magnificent Corinthian columns that flank the front door.
Next time you step up to the front door, pause a minute and take a good look!