Vol. II, No. 1, Summer 1988

Ozarks Dwellings

as seen from the


Information for Viewers

by Robert Flanders

Driving Ozarks roads provides an opportunity to look at houses, especially older ones, so as to understand them better -- what they are like, and where their historical antecedents may lie. Looking at houses, and learning to identify and categorize them by style or type, can become a source of unending interest for connoisseurs of the Ozarks.

Houses conform to visible patterns. Describing the patterns of old buildings is something architectural historians do. But one need not be a scholar to participate. To begin to understand those patterns requires definition of a few terms and discussion of their meaning.

Style implies not just what is modish, but what is grounded in art, especially European artistic traditions, and in the work of master architects and builders. The progression of styles over time may be seen in most cities in the march of architecture from the earliest, near the old centers, to the latest in the new suburbs. Styles all have names. In St. Louis, for example, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Romantic eclectic, Queen Anne Revival (and other historic or "period" revivals including so-called "Colonial"), Bungalow, Prairie Style, International Style, Ranch, and now "Post-modern," may all be observed. These are only prominent examples.

National styles is a term for architectural styles that became so fashionable and popular that they were adopted nationwide. National styles became popular in the Ozarks quite late. Bungalows, a twentieth century style, are the first of the national styles to be popular in the countryside and rural villages. In the late adoption of national styles, Ozarks conservatism and traditionalism is evident.

Regional Types refers to traditional building forms that characterize a provincial region and the various locales within it. Around the world, most people have throughout history provided their own housing, rather than buying dwellings built by others. Most of the time they have built according to traditional, rather than innovative, patterns of design. Traits of different cultures always include the particular, often distinctive, patterns of their houses. The different house patterns of different cultures may usefully be termed "types" as differentiated from "styles," because they derive from tradition rather than innovation, the intention to build the familiar rather than the novel, and indifference to any artistic tradition other than their own.

In The United States, national styles overspread, but did not immediately replace, the housing of common people, the forms of which were inherited from traditional, or "folk" design. (Folklore includes study of folk housing). All regions possess traditions of folk design deriving from the immigrant streams which came bringing their house patterns, often ancient ones, with them. In the Ozarks, as in other regions of the upland South, the primary immigrant streams were British, especially English and Scotch-Irish, and German.

Single Pen
Roof and porch variants, here shown on the hall and parlor type
The Central Passage type
The Hall and Parlor House type
Ingenthron homestead, near Forsyth, Taney County, Missouri, 1891. A German house in the Southern upland idiom: single log pens, external chimney, cube-like form. The fine stonework of foundations, cellar, and drainage system, however, are German vernacular. The two structures, erected in separate building episodes, were joined by roof and floor to provide an open central passage, or "trot." (Photo taken during recent restoration.)
Vernacular farmhouse near Buffalo, Dallas County Missouri, illustrates the character of vernacular: a combination of tradition and innovation, type and style. A traditional exterior chimney (dressed stone firebox topped with brick flue) and one-room-deep, central passage plan, are joined with a "new" Queen Anne-style brick stove flue atop the ridge. Dressing the whole is a simple porch which exhibits the full, if absolutely plain, triple order of the stylish Classical architrave: entablature, frieze, and cornice.
The one-story Georgian-Plan house type
Ray House, 1852 (National Register of Historic Places). On the Wilson Creek National Battlefield near Springfield, Greene County, Missouri. Recently restored by the National Park Service after exhaustive research, it represents an early folk expression: the conjoining of two 16' x 16' pens to create the characteristic two-front-door, double pen, mirror image facade. Note the absolute symmetry.
The Thomas-Hitchings House, near Belleview, Iron County, Missouri, c. 1832. A limestone hall-and-parlor house built by Virginia-Kentucky immigrants to the Belleview Valley frontier of the Ozarks with the aid of their slaves, it is typical of a folk type common in Virginia and England.


May old, traditional British and German folk houses be found then in the Ozarks? Yes, and no: the matter is complicated by the interplay over time of many influences which blend traditions and bring change. Especially complicating is the interplay of national styles and regional types. The result is the vernacular.

Vernacular is a term adopted from linguistics, where it means the speech of ordinary people, or the common speech of a linguistic group. In architectural history, the term identifies the common buildings of ordinary people that characterize a place or region. "Vernacular" includes the spectrum of buildings between the poles of high style design at the one extreme, and the most traditional folk expressions at the other. In the Ozarks, most houses are vernacular.

Though common, vernacular houses are finally complex. For example, descriptions of vernacular houses may include the whole range of their forms, plans, decorative elements, materials, workmanship, cost, and functions, the same as descriptions of high style, architect-designed houses might do.

Despite the complexity of vernacular building, however, we observe that conscious concern for design, especially for design according to style, may have been but little involved in the planning and construction. A vernacular house was likely copied more or less directly from another in the locale -- indeed, copied from all others of similar type. Thus is tradition continued. Changes in the vernacular are evolutionary, and tend to occur slowly. As an Ozarks contractor once told me, "Now, your ordinary country carpenter is like an old cow going to water, down that same path every time. The only way to get that cow to another path is to beat on it with a stick. Now, carpenters are the same. They don't like to build things different."

Vernacular houses are the ones we see from the road in the Ozarks most of the time-- especially the older ones. Typically they exemplify traditional folk building forms with some influences of style, often naively incorporated- a primitive Palladian portico here, a shingled gable there, often a front porch with simple, carpentered "Greek" columns. Sometimes, as in the Blansit house, vernacular expression results when a house of national style prominently incorporates a local or regional element (see accompanying picture).

A six-bay double house, near UIIman, Miller County, Missouri. Called a "grout house," its construction of formed cement and creek gravel befitted the apparent prosperity of its owner-builder on the fertile UIIman Prairie.
German vernacular expression of the double pen mirror image form: engaged interior end chimneys, two-and-a-half stories, two-room-deep plan. On the old Ste. Genevieve-Meramec Mine Plank Road, St. Francois County, Missouri.
Blansit-Kelly house, Walnut Shade, Taney County, Missouri. Built in the early twentieth century by the Blansits, a cattle ranching family in Bull Creek valley, this house exhibits the then popular craftsman bungalow style. Note the decorative eve bracketing and crafty stonework of chimney and porch pillars. Yet the characteristic regional type of two-front-room, two-front-door facade was scrupulously maintained.
(Two pictures) Identical expressions in frame construction of the double pen, mirror image configuration: the one with interior chimney serving double fireplaces, one in each room (saddlebag type); and the other with exterior chimney. Near Swan, Taney County, Missouri, and Harrison, Boone County, Arkansas, respectively.
Gothic Revival vernacular cottage, Christian County, Missouri: styled detailing in the porch and steep roof pitch of a double pen, mirror image house.


Ozarks vernacular is Southern. Little if any of our region's vernacular housing is unique, but is to be found below Mason's and Dixon's Line from the Chesapeake to the Rio Grande -- indeed, wherever Southerners have gone and built. (Some of that vernacular is north of the line as well, in Southern-settled areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois). But not all Southern vernacular types are common to the Ozarks. Our regional house types are fewer than the totality of Southern ones. In particular, the ubiquitous Southern one-room-deep "central passage house," a vernacular adaptation of the British-Colonial Georgian form, is uncommon, especially in the Missouri Ozarks. An Ozarks vernacular parallel to the Georgian form utilizes the same floor plan without the central passage and centered front door. It is the very common "two front doors" type, presenting a double pen, mirror image facade. This two-front-door arrangement, absolutely symmetrical, has had such a grip in the region that it is repeated on the facades of houses with many different kinds of floor plans, including bungalows. It has been built for more than a century, and, apparently, continues to be built (see illustration top right).

Symmetry, as exhibited in the facades of the double pen mirror image type, is a common element of Ozarks vernacular (a major exception is Ozarks German vernacular, often slightly askew). The commonest Ozarks houses present symmetrical facades, as typical of log or timber frame houses in remote places as they are of more sophisticated, town-influenced houses. Explicitly asymmetrical facades probably indicate at least the intention to follow a national style, especially those popularly, if imprecisely, called "Victorian'' (see the Love House in "The Preservation Corner"). Symmetry is everywhere in the Ozarks vernacular. It is a persisting element of the earliest house forms brought here, beginning almost two centuries ago: the careful symmetries of vernacular Georgian and Greek Revival dwellings of the early American republic.

The Meyer House, near Iberia, Miller County, Missouri, c. 1867. This clapboard-sided black walnut log house is in plan almost identical to the Ingenthron Homestead (see p. 9) save for its full two stories, elaborate porching, and stone pedestal. The central passage is open and contains the staircase to the second floor. A detached two room saddlebag-plan kitchen is out of view behind the house. Captain Meyer, a German Civil War veteran of the Union army, wanted his new house red (brick porch pillars), white (painted siding), and blue (painted trim), a scheme maintained by his descendants.
The Ratcliff House, Morgan County, Missouri, 1864. A traditional one-room-deep, Southern central passage plan, it is German in its massive, refined stonework. Built during the Civil War in part for protection against marauding bushwhackers, the front walls are 18" thick (note deeply inset portico) and its end walls, an astounding 30".
Near Sparta, Christian County, Mo., c.1978.
An uncommon seven-bay, triple pen facade near Salem, Dent County, Missouri. The concept of a separate outside front door for each room, worked out in scrupulous symmetry is evident.
A town-lot bungaloid cottage in the two-front-door vernacular. A common sight in Ozarks villages as in the countryside, this house is in Clever, Christian County, Missouri, and was probably built in the 1920s.
A four room, square, raised cottage in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Its floor plan, roof, and dormer are virtually identical to the schematic drawing of the Georgian Cottage (see p. 9), except that it has no central passage, and consequently two front doors rather than one.

The drawings on pages 8 and 9 are adapted from Doug Swaim, editor, Carolina Dwelling: Towards Preservation of Place: In Celebration of the North Carolina Landscape, The Student Publication of the School of Design: Vol. 26, North Carolina State University, 1978.

For additional reading see:

Foley, Mary Mix. The American House. New York: Harper and Row, 1980. Glassey, Henry. Patterns in the Material Folk Culture of the United States. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971. McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Pierson, William H. Jr. American Buildings and their Arthitects: The Colonial and Neoclassical Styles. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1970.


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