Gardens to Gables

A Whimsical Wednesday in Summer Shade, Kentucky

When I talk to people about vernacular architecture, I catch myself comparing it to messy but delicious experiments in the kitchen, or unexpected adventures, or exploring a brand new place.  Sometimes, you might cook up some comfort food. Or you could  create something brand new.

Local builders took familiar ways of buildings, house plans they knew, and then threw into the mix (maybe) some new and popular architectural styles floating about. Being a student of vernacular architecture means every trip down a road previously not traveled is an opportunity to discover a building whose language you might understand, but one with a whole new accent.

Summer Shade, on the topographic quadrangle of the same name.

Summer Shade, on the topographic quadrangle of the same name.

One of my jaunts recently took me to Summer Shade, a small community along Kentucky 90 in south-central Metcalfe County. A post office, named for nearby Glovers Creek, was established in 1862. The community was incorporated as Summer Shade in 1876, due to the large shade trees in the area, and the post office name changed as well two years later. Located about seven miles southwest of the county seat of Edmonton, the community teems with architectural delights.

Although I had seen historic survey photos of this house, I was still unprepared for seeing it in person.

Although I had seen historic survey photos of this house, I was still unprepared for seeing it in person.

This two-story frame dwelling, built around the turn of the century (1900, that is), takes eclectic and pushes it into a series of giddy handsprings.  I think the plan, drawn in 1984 by a surveyor noted only as JD:BG, explains the form of the house best.

So it sort of looks like what we would call a T-plan (gable and wing to some folks)...but not really.

So it sort of looks like what we would call a T-plan (gable and wing to some folks)…but not really.

To me, it looks like the brow of a ship pushing through heaving waves. (Yes, that was a bit of purple prose.) Everywhere you look, there are angles. The rear one-story ell originally had porches on either side, but surely nothing could compete with that canted two-story front porch.

Another view of the house.

Another view of the house.

The house faces the original road alignment, which means the rear elevation is what you see from the current KY 90- making a walk around to the front even more surprising. According to the current owner, it was built by a local carpenter responsible for the construction of other houses in Summer Shade.  Despite changes over the years, it retains many of its stylistic details, including  the lively and intricate porch frieze.

Detail of the flourishes on the porch.

Detail of the flourishes on the porch.

A more typical form for a house of that vintage would be a dwelling like this, also located in Summer Shade.

A more typical form for a house of that vintage would be a dwelling like this, also located in Summer Shade.

Sadly, the owner did not know about the original builder, or what might have inspired this quirky design – but that is one of the drawbacks (and joys) of studying the everyday buildings of our landscapes. There might not be a historic plaque outside, or oft-told tales of the celebrated men (occasionally women, but usually men) who lived there – but these buildings still inspire stories, and wonder, and a quiet sense of satisfaction that in this place, a house built by a regular person, with a gift for woodworking and imagination, is still standing and functioning as a home.

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4 Thoughts on “A Whimsical Wednesday in Summer Shade, Kentucky

  1. Martha Parks on August 10, 2015 at 11:29 am said:

    I grew up in Summer Shade and there were so many beautiful houses there. I think that is from where my love of architecture (vernacular and otherwise) stems! The house I grew up in is now falling down and vacant. It was very similar to the 2nd house pictured. Thanks for sharing! There are many more houses to research there 😉

    • Janie-Rice Brother on August 10, 2015 at 11:36 am said:

      Thanks for reading! And I agree – there are many fascinating buildings there that deserve to have their stories told…

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