A house is much more than just shelter. Historically, homes have functioned as symbols of expression, wealth, and power – for those who could afford such brick and mortar displays – and a house on a corner lot in town commanded maximum exposure. And in the frenzy of the late-19th century, when styles and materials and shapes collided in design, a corner lot offered so much canvas for an architect. All of this was in my head as I walked down East Loudon Avenue recently, historically the northern boundary of the city of Lexington. Suburban development along the street began in the last quarter of the 19th century, prompted by the electric streetcar system. It was here, at the corner of East Loudon Avenue and Maple Avenue, that Professor John T. Patterson decided to build a house.
Patterson, at the time, was the recently retired President (and former professor) of Hamilton College, a private women’s college in Lexington that was later absorbed into Transylvania University. Hamilton College began as Hocker Female College in 1869 (founded by banker James M. Hocker), but its founder’s name proved little impediment to the re-christening of the school in 1878, due to a large donation from William Hamilton (and we think naming rights belong only to this century).
Patterson hired an architect out of Dayton, Ohio, to design his home. Charles Insco Williams opened his own architectural office in 1882, and went on to design many churches and schools in Dayton. His Sacred Heart Church in Dayton is a celebration of the Romanesque style, with three stories of stone, cupolas, domes, and towers.
The Romanesque/Chateauesque/Shingle style elements found in Patterson’s house were obviously part of Williams’ design vocabulary, as can be seen in the design of the church in Dayton. Of course, the Sacred Heart Church lacks the iconic figure of Colonel Sanders (acting as a weathervane) for its towers.
One of the chief complaints of many architecture critics – and architects – during the late 19th century was that popular architectural styles depended too much on “whimsy” and too little on academic understanding, or appreciation of the craftsmanship associated with building. The imposing asymmetry of the Patterson House, and the sometimes disjointed flow of its various cladding materials and shapes makes it appear as though Williams decided to combine every design characteristic at the time into this rambling brick house.
Brick, stone, and wood shingles compete for attention with the tower on the corner of the facade, the projecting chimneys, large gables and bay windows. The cylindrical tower at the corner of the facade (south elevation) and east elevation is a common feature of the Victorian period, but capping the base of the tower with a squared, stone bay window turns the familiar design trope on its head. In addition to the stone front porch with its paired columns on paneled piers, small inset porches pop up all over the dwelling.
Professor Patterson (and perhaps two of his sons) only lived in his impressive house for about a decade. Gus L. Macey, a trotting horse driver and breeder, lived here from 1906 to around 1935.
By 1980, this splendid house was carved into apartments and presented only a sad echo of its former quixotic grandeur. Its condition at the time was documented as poor.Windows have been shortened over the years, altering the appearance of the main elevations, but the house retains much of its original exterior appearance. Though the streetcars have long since disappeared, new energy is enlivening the North Limestone corridor, and restoration work on the Patterson House has been ongoing for several years. This pivotal corner in north Lexington once again teems with life, purpose, and is (hopefully) a symbol of revitalization for the larger neighborhood.