Liberty Residential Historic District

Liberty Town, Union County, IN

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The Liberty Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The railroad, which was completed to Liberty in 1860, ran north-south through the heart of town a block west of the courthouse square. The construction of this rail line on the west side of town enabled this area to become a commercial center, with commercial buildings extending from the courthouse square to West Street and east to Fairground Street. It also ensured that the Liberty Residential District became the preferred area for quiet residential dwellings for the town's more prosperous citizens.

The 1884 Union County Atlas shows a portion of the Liberty Residential Historic District, extending from the commercial center to Layman Street. At this time, Layman Street was the eastern "Corporation Line." In addition to the twelve residences shown on the map, there are also the public school in the 300 block of East Union Street, the Methodist Church, and the county jail in the district. At that time, lot size was irregular, ranging from 44/100 of an acre up to a twenty-acre lot owned by John S. Galbaugh (which included what is now 313 East Union Street, the John S. Nixon House). Lots along the north side of East Union Street appear larger, which is still noticeable today. However, not all residences or buildings are shown on this map. For example, the 1841 Union County Seminary and the John B. Macy House, both of which were present at that time, are not shown on the map. It is worthwhile to note that the area immediately surrounding the "College Corner & Liberty Turnpike" and East Union Street contained the majority of shown residences and buildings, making this area of town an important one.

Sanborn insurance maps illustrate that by 1892, the Liberty Residential District was nearly completely developed: a house had been built on every lot from the 100 block to the 300 block of East Union Street and on all but five lots on East Seminary Street. By 1899, all but two lots had been improved within the same area. The 1899 Sanborn map shows large homes with front porches sited on spacious lots of varying sizes. Irregular lot sizes shown on the 1884 atlas were retained, creating a mixture of large and small parcels. The location of the neighborhood close to the commercial center of the county proved convenient for local prominent businessmen and politicians to reside. This was certainly the case for John B. Macy (who lived at 102 East Seminary Street), a Civil War veteran who served as both Union County Recorder and Treasurer before becoming manager of the Union County Planing Mill.

As Liberty expanded in the first decades of the 1900s, vernacular examples of high-style architecture were continually constructed within the district. This practice continued in the 1930s and even 1950s, which indicates that this residential neighborhood was still a highly sought after place to live, even if the construction was infill or on the periphery of town. Twentieth-century Sanborn maps show that the neighborhood remained much the same with the exception of some new construction after the old Liberty Elementary School was demolished in the late 1940s.

The Liberty Residential Historic District represents a wide range of architectural styles that were popular from the mid-nineteenth century to c. 1920. These styles reflect popular choices by homeowners and builders and correspond with national and regional trends seen throughout small towns during this time period. High-style architecture is represented by several civic buildings such as the Union County Public Library (Craftsman, 1915/2003), the First Presbyterian Church (Romanesque Revival, 1889), the Liberty Methodist Church (Romanesque Revival, 1886), the Sheriff's Residence/Jail (Italianate, 1872), and the Greek Revival Union County Seminary (1841), which has been converted into a residence. However, the majority of contributing resources in the district include relatively modest examples of popular residential styles.

Few buildings in Liberty date to the town's earliest years; the former Union County Seminary is a notable exception. Most buildings in the district (fifty-one) were constructed in the second half of the nineteenth century. These mostly late Victorian buildings represent styles such as the Italianate, Queen Anne, and its classically-inspired variant, Free Classic, Romanesque Revival, Second Empire, and Folk Victorian. Most numerous of these are Italianate, Folk Victorian, and Free Classic.

Italianate-style houses are typically two or three stories and exhibit tall narrow windows with decorative crowns, decorative brackets under a low-pitched roof, and often a cupola or tower. This style was ubiquitous in the United States, especially the Midwest, during the latter half of the nineteenth century and was aided in popularity by the publication of pattern books by Andrew Jackson Downing in the 1840s and 1850s. The style diminished in popularity after the financial panic of 1873 for much of the nation. However, Italianate-style homes continued to be built in rural and small-town Indiana throughout the decade of the 1870s. Noteworthy examples of the Italianate style within the Liberty Residential Historic District include 219 East Union Street, 305 East Union Street, 210 East Union Street, and 313 East Union Street (the John S. Nixon house, which retains its basic Italianate character despite significant alterations). Italianate detailing is best shown on the John B. Macy house at 102 East Seminary Street with its tall, narrow windows with elaborate crowns, bracketed eaves, brick exterior, and low hipped roof.

The Folk Victorian style was born out of the so-called "National" style. Many of these houses were originally constructed during the mid-nineteenth century and then updated or embellished during the "Victorian" period around the turn of the century. Typical basic forms include gable-front, gable-front and wing, hall and parlor, and I-house to which embellishments typical of Queen Anne and Italianate styles have been added. These decorative touches include porches with turned ornamentation, window trim, or cornice brackets. Examples of the Folk Victorian style within the district include 107 East Union Street, 205 East Union Street, and 116 East Seminary Street. The house at 310 East Union Street is a classic example of a two-story Folk Victorian. A gable-front and wing variant with scant detail, it boasts three interior chimneys, a one-story porch with hipped roof, and plain one-over-one pane windows.

Free Classic-style houses are typically classified as a sub-type of Queen Anne-style architecture. McAlester and McAlester estimate the Free Classic-style represents around thirty-five percent of all Queen Anne sub-types, a somewhat substantial amount. This style was popular around the turn of the century, from about 1890 to 1910. Typical stylistic details include substantial columns based on classical forms, Palladian windows, and other Classically-inspired details. While related to the Queen Anne style, Free Classic detailing is much more restrained and far less decorative in nature. Free Classic-style examples within the district include 309 and 311 East Union Street (both very similar), and an outstanding example at 401 East Union Street. The home at 401 East Union Street is a large example of this style with decorative windows in the gables, a large wrap-around porch with round columns, and restrained detailing on the porch cornice-line.

The two churches in the district, the United Methodist Church (1886) and the First Presbyterian Church (1889) were both constructed in the Romanesque Revival style, which was very popular during the late nineteenth century, especially for large public buildings. These two buildings are very similar in design and materials (brick exteriors with limestone detailing, arched stained glass windows, and substantial towers) and both anchor the city blocks on which they sit. The United Methodist Church is classified as a "side steeple" design, while the First Presbyterian Church is listed as "twin tower." Although buildings representing nineteenth-century architectural trends dominate the district, there are a significant number of twentieth-century buildings constructed in styles that fall under the categories of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American Movements, nineteenth- and twentieth-century revivals. Twentieth-century American Movements include such styles as Craftsman-style Bungalow, American Foursquare, and Prairie. Twentieth-century revival styles include Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival, although several of these were constructed outside of the period of significance. There are also a few examples of modern architectural styles within the district, including one Ranch house and one mid-century eclectic dwelling. These, too, were constructed outside of the period of significance. Among the most significant of twentieth-century buildings in the district, the Craftsman-style Union County Public Library is a one-and-one-half-story structure with a raised basement and brick exterior, punctuated by concrete detailing. The roof is tile. The main entrance is accessible by a set of concrete steps leading up the original wooden doors. This design is indicative of many Carnegie libraries built during this time period throughout the state and country.

There are a few American Foursquare and Revival-style houses within the district; however, the vast majority of the twentieth-century residential buildings are Craftsman-style Bungalows. Bungalow-style homes became popular in the first decades of the 1900s. Born out of southern California and the Prairie movement, this style became immensely popular due to its inclusion in pattern books and magazines. These houses were small and affordable, further contributing to their popularity throughout the nation. Bungalows typically have low-pitched roofs, exposed rafter tails, porches (often supported by tapered columns), rusticated concrete block foundations, and windows are typically three- or four-over-one pane sashes. Most examples are one or one-and-one-half-story in height. Several fine examples of the Craftsman Bungalow style within the district include 314 East Union Street, 319 East Union Street, and 101 East Seminary Street. The resource located at 319 East Union Street is an intact example of the Craftsman-style Bungalow. It exhibits many of the common stylistic details such as a side-gable roof with a central front dormer, full-width front porch with tapered pillars, and a stucco exterior.

‡Anne M. Moore, M.H.P., Architectural Historian and Kelly Lally, M.A., Historian, Liberty Residential Historic District, Union County, Indiana, nomination document, 2011/2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
College Corner Avenue • Fairground Street North • Fairground Street South • Fosdick Street • Layman Street • Main Street South • Market Street North • Seminary Street East • Spring Street • Union Street East

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