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David Hoadley

David Hoadley, Architect, Builder [1774-1839]

References of Hoadley's work ...

  1. Watertown Center Historic District, Town of Watertown, Litchfield County, CT.
  2. Orange Center Historic District, Town of Orange, New Have County, CT
  3. Monroe Center Historic District, Town of Monroe, Fairfield County, CT
  4. Norfolk Historic District, Town of Norfolk, Litchfield County, CT
  5. South Britain Historic District, Town of Southbury, New Haven County, CT

David Hoadley [†] was born in 1774 at Waterbury, Connecticut, and died there in 1839. His interest in architecture seems to have developed very early and his work is found scattered throughout the various towns and cities of New Haven and Middlesex Counties, bearing silent witness to the considerable local prestige which he enjoyed and to the ability through which he so well merited this prestige.

The entrance porch of the Bristol House at New Haven, Connecticut, presented to the Museum by Cass Gilbert, has been placed on exhibition during August (1919) in the Room of Recent Accessions. A beautiful example of early 19th century design, this porch has the added interest arising from its definite attribution to one of our early American architects, other examples of whose work, to be found in Connecticut, may be compared with it in an endeavor to establish somewhat definitely his knowledge of and taste for architecture, and to ascertain to some extent the sources from which he drew his inspiration and guidance. The house from which it comes, destroyed a few years ago to give place to the Ives Memorial Library at Elm and Temple Streets, New Haven, was built by David Hoadley, 1800-1803.

Like many of the early architects, he entered his profession by way of the associated crafts as carpenter and builder, and in fact his two activities as designer and builder were never very distinctly separated. The appellation of "self-taught architect" was applied to him from an early period in his career. George Dudley Seymour, to whom we are indebted for the information concerning Hoadley and his work, has been unable to discover any data as to the books which Hoadley owned or used, or to locate any of his drawings for buildings which were executed. However, his access to many of the various architectural publications of the time is obvious in a study of his work which, while a personal expression and free from pedantry, is yet governed by the canons of good architectural design and a refined sense of detail such as could scarcely have been obtained from a casual survey of others' completed work.

In the Bristol House porch we have an example of Hoadley's work which is representative of his use of classic motives. The delicate columns with their twenty-four flutes form the basis of the unit of proportion for the order. The bases made up of two tori and a scotia are in height equal to one half of the bottom diameter of the column, the only place where Vignola's rules are strictly applied. The shaft is crowned by a delicately carved Scamozzi capital with four volutes springing from an echinus treated with the egg and dart. A pine cone replaces the usual flower form on the center faces of each capital. The entablature is complete in its three members, with the architrave enlarged at the expense of the frieze, while the cornice is made up of a delicate line of dentils, a bed-mold and modillions below the narrow fascia and its crowning cymatium. In order to accommodate the semi-circular transom and panel treatment above it, the pediment has been omitted and only the raking cornice has been utilized. All the freedom of this use of classic motives has tended to emphasize the lightness and grace of the whole design to which the consistent refinement of the detail is largely contributory. This porch alone would tell us that David Hoadley was thoroughly familiar with Vignola's orders or the orders of Vignola's interpreters. He has, in fact, been familiar enough with such book material freely to utilize and vary the elements. The various members of the order are included in all correctness, but as in much of the work of this period, the column is attenuated, the entablature lightened in its relation to the total height, and the cornice members refined to the last degree. The cyma has disappeared from the cornice and its place has been taken by the simple echinus molding used frequently in American wooden architecture. The junction of the horizontal cornice and the rake is conventional.

Three different woods are utilized, probably for no other reason than their availability; ash for the columns, pine for the entablature, and black walnut for the door frame. In its present unpainted state, the porch suffers from lack of the proper contrast of light and shade and the small refinements, such as the delicate treatment of the tops of the flutes, and the dentil and modillion courses, do not fully accomplish their purpose of giving a sparkle to the shadows, as would be the case upon a white painted surface.

The porch is an interesting and valuable addition to the collection of American woodwork, and a pleasing record of the fast disappearing architecture of the early 19th century.

The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Are, New York, Volume 14, January-December, 1919.