Santa Claus is a Bookworm: Part 1, Books about Buildings and Places

When I was growing up, there was a wonderful children’s bookstore in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Lexington called  “The Owl and the Pussycat.” The proprietors gave out bookmarks, one side of which was given over to a blank list, for the young reader to fill in wanted books. These bookmarks were magical talismans that I presented to my parents before Christmas – then began the anxious wait to see what books Santa might leave for me under the tree. The days after Christmas were marvelous –  hours and hours of uninterrupted reading.

A raincoat (seems appropriate for this Christmas too) and a new book bag to hold all of my new books! The joys of Christmas past.

A raincoat (seems appropriate for this Christmas too) and a new book bag to hold all of my new books! The joys of Christmas past.

Though that cozy bookstore is no more, Santa continues to bestow books on me, and this year I was the lucky recipient of a richness of architecture and garden books. Though I’ve yet to read one cover to cover in the three days since Christmas, I thought I would share the architecture books (with the garden books to follow soon!). These aren’t reviews, but my impressions of my Christmas booty, soon to be savored over the winter.


Classic Cracker: Florida’s Wood-Frame Vernacular Architecture by Ronald W. Haase
As a student of Kentucky’s vernacular architecture, I am always excited to learn about the local building patterns and styles of the places I visit. During our October vacation to Florida, a major attraction in the town of Apalachicola (the whole town holds great appeal to me, but that is another post) was the Downtown Books and Purl bookstore. A wide selection of local and regional books had me torn (and my credit card near melting), but this title immediately captivated me. What I know about Florida architecture wouldn’t fill a thimble, but the streets of Apalachicola offered familiar forms and types (albeit with a different landscape altogether than the Bluegrass). But often what one place names something translates quite differently in another state.

The author, a professor of architecture at the University of Florida, uses the term cracker to refer to the “unpretentious people and architecture found on farms and rural communities still sprinkled throughout the peninsular and panhandle wetlands.” Using folklorist Henry Glassie as his guide, Haase charts a path from single-pen log houses to the impact of the historic vernacular on modern design. It will be interesting to see what commonalities can be found between Cracker architecture and the vernacular buildings of Kentucky.

Out on the Porch: An Evocation in Words and Pictures with an Introduction by Reynolds Price
As much as I admire the sleek lines of a mid-century modern house, there is a part of me that always sees it – and the scores of ranch houses that marched across Kentucky after 1950, as lacking. Slightly naked. Despite many design perks, the ranch house does not typically have a porch. And I love a porch – it is another room, most seasons, and serves as a transition between the public space of the outdoors and the private spaces within the house. This book combines historic and contemporary photographs of porches with the words of southern writers celebrating the porch life.

Historic Buildings of the Smokies by Ed Trout
Any book that includes within its table of contents sections on barns and outbuildings gets my nod of approval. Published by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, this small book was written by the Great Smokies Park Historian from 1975 to 1994. Trout describes himself as a general “garden variety” historian, and he certainly witnessed a great variety in the national park. Some of the policies associated with the creation of the national parks make me recoil  – especially the belief that all traces of human occupation should be removed and not acknowledged. Not all of the cultural landscape was wiped clean, and this small book recounts the vernacular buildings of the area.

The House Book
Compact, with a cover of running bond brick, this little book packs in a global survey of 500 houses, covering “an astonishing array of architects, cultures, styles, materials and design movements.” More of a browsing or flipping type of tome, this is a refreshing trip around the globe, and I was delighted to randomly flip to page 314 and see the entry on architect John Nash, with the Cumberland Terrace at Regent’s Park featured.


Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1818-1937 by Durwood Dunn
Santa Claus appears to have had the Great Smoky Mountains on his mind this Christmas – as this community study returns to that area. I’d read sections of this book in graduate school, but never in its entirety, so I was thrilled to be able to add this book to my shelves. Rich in primary sources, Dunn’s book explores the forces that shaped this sheltered mountain community, including the role of the market economy, family life and social customs, and the impact of the Civil War. Cades Cove is one of the most popular locations within the park now, and it is fascinating to read about the Oliver family (and others) that made it their home.

I am so glad Santa is a bookworm – and I hope he doesn’t mind that I spend the rest of Christmas break with my nose buried in a book…


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  1. Beth Lowe says:

    Lucky you to have so many nice books to read and enjoy. Thank you for sharing your list with us. I want to read Cades Cove and Out on the Porch.

  2. Chris Ertel says:

    Thanks so much for this your article. It’s great to get ideas for books I might want to read in the preservation field. I too am interested in vernacular architecture. I will be adding 3 of them to my reading list. Unfortunately I don’t receive books like this for Christmas so I have to buy them for myself. I often use the Inter-Library loan at the Lexington Public Library because my appetite for books exceeds my budget. However books less than a year old are not eligible for loans. Besides your new books, I would very much enjoy seeing what preservation-related books your readers have received or bought. Here were my purchases for 2015:

    “The Philadelphia Country House, Architecture and Landscape in Colonial America” by Mark Reinberger and Elizabeth McLean, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.

    “Uncommon Vernacular, the Early Houses of Jefferson County, West Virginia: 1735-1835” by John C. Allen Jr. West Virginia University Press, 2011

    “The Architecture of William Nichols, Building the Antebellum South in North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi” by Paul Hardin Kapp, University Press of Mississippi, 2015

    “William Kent, Designing Georgian Britain” by Susan Weber, Yale University Press 2013 (my splurge, luscious and huge at 704 pages!)

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      Thank you for reading! I have that William Kent book too – isn’t it amazing? I’ve used the John C. Allen book for work in WV – I lament the lack of architectural books written about Kentucky (not counting Clay Lancaster’s contributions, which were brilliant – but we could use some vernacular stuff out there) but I’ve found even less in West Virginia. My favorite place to shop is the Charlottesville (Virginia) public library’s book sale every November – I’ve gotten some incredible books there, for very low prices. You’ve inspired me – I will start going through my bookshelves and sharing more of my treasures. You might like this link too:

  3. Dr. Ted Hood says:

    I am Dr. Ted Hood, formerly of Mt. Sterling, KY. I served on the school board with your father. I cannot tell you how thrilled with your Gardens to Gables blog. I look forward with nostalgia at each reading of some familiar place or scene of our beloved KY. While we live in Florida we still have strong attachments to KY and what is going on there. Keep up the great work you are doing.

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      Thank you so much Dr. Hood!

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