Southern plantation home exterior front.
A SOUTHERN OR PLANTATION HOUSE.-The proprietor of a plantation in the South, or South-west, requires altogether a different kind of residence from the farmer of the Northern, or Middle States. He resides in the midst of his own principality, surrounded by a retinue of dependents and laborers, who dwell distant and apart from his own immediate family, although composing a community requiring his daily care and superintendence for a great share of his time. A portion of them are the attachés of his household, yet so disconnected in their domestic relations, as to require a separate accommodation, and yet be in immediate contiguity with it, and of course, an arrangement of living widely different from those who mingle in the same circle, and partake at the same board.

The usual plan of house-building at the South, we are aware, is to have detached servants' rooms, and offices, and a space of some yards of uncovered way intervene between the family rooms of the chief dwelling and its immediate dependents. Such arrangement, however, we consider both unnecessary and inconvenient; and we have devised a plan of household accommodation which will bring the family of the planter himself, and their servants, although under different roofs, into convenient proximity with each other. A design of this kind is here given.

The style is mainly Italian, plain, substantial, yet, we think, becoming. The broad veranda, stretching around three sides, including the front, gives an air of sheltered repose to what might otherwise appear an ambitious structure; and the connected apartments beyond, show a quiet utility which divests it of an over attempt at display. Nothing has been attempted for appearance, solely, beyond what is necessary and proper in the dwelling of a planter of good estate, who wants his domestic affairs well regulated, and his family, and servants duly provided with convenient accommodation. The form of the main dwelling is nearly square, upright, with two full stories, giving ample area of room and ventilation, together with that appropriate indulgence to ease which the enervating warmth of a southern climate renders necessary. The servants' apartments, and kitchen offices are so disposed, that while connected, to render them easy of access, they are sufficiently remote to shut off the familiarity of association which would render them obnoxious to the most fastidious-all, in fact, under one shelter, and within the readiest call. Such should be the construction of a planter's house in the United States, and such this design is intended to give.

A stable and carriage-house, in the same style, is near by, not connected to any part of the dwelling, as in the previous designs-with sufficient accommodation for coachman and grooms, and the number of saddle and carriage horses that may be required for either business or pleasure; and to it may be connected, in the rear, in the same style of building, or plainer, and less expensive, further conveniences for such domestic animals as may be required for family use.

The whole stands in open grounds, and may be separated from each other by enclosures, as convenience or fancy may direct.

The roofs of all the buildings are broad and sweeping, well protecting the walls from storm and frosts, as well as the glaring influences of the sun, and combining that comfortable idea of shelter and repose so grateful in a well-conditioned country house. It is true, that the dwelling might be more extensive in room, and the purposes of luxury enlarged; but the planter on five hundred, or five thousand acres of land can here be sufficiently accommodated in all the reasonable indulgences of family enjoyment, and a liberal, even an elegant and prolonged hospitality, to which he is so generally inclined.

The chimneys of this house, different from those in the previous designs, are placed next the outer walls, thus giving more space to the interior, and not being required, as in the others, to promote additional warmth than their fireplaces will give, to the rooms. A deck on the roof affords a pleasant look-out for the family from its top, guarded by a parapet, and giving a finish to its architectural appearance, and yet making no ambitious attempt at expensive ornament. It is, in fact, a plain, substantial, respectable mansion for a gentleman of good estate, and nothing beyond it.

Southern plantation home first floor plan.



This house stands 50×40 feet on the ground. The front door opens from the veranda into a hall, 24×14 feet, in which is a flight of stairs leading to the chambers above. On the left a door leads into a library, or business room, 17×17 feet, lighted by three windows. A fireplace is inserted in the outer wall. Another door leads into a side hall, six feet wide, which separates the library from the dining-room, which is also 17×17 feet in area, lighted and accommodated with a fireplace like the other, with a door leading into it from the side hall, and another door at the further right hand corner leading into the rear hall, or entry.

On the right of the chief entrance hall, opposite the library, a door opens into the parlor or drawing-room, 23×19 feet in area, lighted by three windows, and having a fireplace in the side wall. A door leads from the rear side of the parlor into a commodious nursery, or family bedroom, 19×16 feet in size, lighted by a window in each outer wall. A fireplace is also inserted on the same line as in the parlor. From the nursery a door leads into and through a large closet, 9×7 feet, into the rear hall. This closet may also be used as a sleeping-room for the children, or a confidential servant-maid, or nurse, or devoted to the storage of bed-linen for family use. Further on, adjoining, is another closet, 7×6 feet, opening from the rear hall, and lighted by a window.

Leading from the outer door of the rear hall is a covered passage six feet wide, 16 feet long, and one and a half stories high, leading to the kitchen offices, and lighted by a window on the left, with a door opening in the same side beyond, on to the side front of the establishment. On the right, opposite, a door leads on to the kitchen porch, which is six feet wide, passing on to the bath-room and water-closet, in the far rear. At the end of the connecting passage from the main dwelling, a door opens into the kitchen, which is 24×18 feet in size, accommodated with two windows looking on to the porch just described. At one end is an open fireplace with a cooking range on one side, and an oven on the other. At the left of the entrance door is a large, commodious store-room and pantry, 12×9 feet, lighted by a window; and adjoining it, (and may be connected with it by a door, if necessary,) a kitchen closet of the same size, also connected by a corresponding door from the opposite corner of the kitchen. Between these doors is a flight of stairs leading to the sleeping-rooms above, and a cellar passage beneath them. In the farther right corner of the kitchen a door leads into a smaller closet, 8×6 feet, lighted by a small window looking on to the rear porch at the end. A door at the rear of the kitchen leads out into the porch of the wash-room beyond, which is six feet wide, and another door into the wash-room itself, which is 20×16 feet, and furnished with a chimney and boilers. A window looks out on the extreme right hand, and two windows on to the porch in front. A door opens from its rear wall into the wood-house, 32×12 feet, which stands open on two sides, supported by posts, and under the extended roof of the wash-room and its porch just mentioned. A servants' water-closet is attached to the extreme right corner of the wood-house, by way of lean-to.

The bath-room is 10×6 feet in area, and supplied with water from the kitchen boilers adjoining. The water-closet beyond is 6 feet square, and architecturally, in its roof, may be made a fitting termination to that of the porch leading to it.

Southern plantation home second-floor plan.


The main flight of stairs in the entrance hall leads on to a broad landing in the spacious upper hall, from which doors pass into the several chambers, which may be duly accommodated with closets. The passage connecting with the upper story of the servants' offices, opens from the rear section of this upper hall, and by the flight of rear stairs communicates with the kitchen and out-buildings. A garret flight of steps may be made in the rear section of the main upper hall, by which that apartment may be reached, and the upper deck of the roof ascended. The sleeping-rooms of the kitchen may be divided off as convenience may dictate, and the entire structure thus appropriated to every accommodation which a well-regulated family need require. The carriage-house is 48×24 feet in size, with a projection of five feet on the entrance front, the door of which leads both into the carriage-room and stables. On the right is a bedroom, 10×8 feet, for the grooms, lighted by a window; and beyond are six stalls for horses, with a window in the rear wall beyond them. A flight of stairs leads to the hayloft above. In the rear of the carriage-room is a harness-room, 12×4 feet, and a granary of the same size, each lighted by a window. If farther attachments be required for the accommodation of out-building conveniences, they may be continued indefinitely in the rear.

Southern plantation carriage house garage plan.



It may strike the reader that the house just described has a lavish appropriation of veranda, and a needless side-front, which latter may detract from the precise architectural keeping that a dwelling of this pretension should maintain. In regard to the first, it may be remarked, that no feature of the house in a southern climate can be more expressive of easy, comfortable enjoyment, than a spacious veranda. The habits of southern life demand it as a place of exercise in wet weather, and the cooler seasons of the year, as well as a place of recreation and social intercourse during the fervid heats of the summer. Indeed, many southern people almost live under the shade of their verandas. It is a delightful place to take their meals, to receive their visitors and friends; and the veranda gives to a dwelling the very expression of hospitality, so far as any one feature of a dwelling can do it. No equal amount of accommodation can be provided for the same cost. It adds infinitely to the room of the house itself, and is, in fact, indispensable to the full enjoyment of a southern house.

The side front in this design is simply a matter of convenience to the owner and occupant of the estate, who has usually much office business in its management; and in the almost daily use of his library, where such business may be done, a side door and front is both appropriate and convenient. The chief front entrance belongs to his family and guests, and should be devoted to their exclusive use; and as a light fence may be thrown off from the extreme end of the side porch, separating the front lawn from the rear approach to the house, the veranda on that side may be reached from its rear end, for business purposes, without intruding upon the lawn at all. So we would arrange it.

Objections may be made to the sameness of plan, in the arrangement of the lower rooms of the several designs which we have submitted, such as having the nursery, or family sleeping-room, on the main floor of the house, and the uniformity, in location, of the others; and that there are no new and striking features in them. The answer to these may be, that the room appropriated for the nursery, or bedroom, may be used for other purposes, equally as well; that when a mode of accommodation is already as convenient as may be, it is poorly worth while to make it less convenient, merely for the sake of variety; and, that utility and convenience are the main objects to be attained in any well-ordered dwelling. These two requisites, utility and convenience, attained, the third and principal one-comfort-is secured. Cellar kitchens-the most abominable nuisances that ever crept into a country dwelling-might have been adopted, no doubt, to the especial delight of some who know nothing of the experimental duties of housekeeping; but the recommendation of these is an offence which we have no stomach to answer for hereafter. Steep, winding, and complicated staircases might have given a new feature to one or another of the designs; dark closets, intricate passages, unique cubby-holes, and all sorts of inside gimcrackery might have amused our pencil; but we have avoided them, as well as everything which would stand in the way of the simplest, cheapest, and most direct mode of reaching the object in view: a convenient, comfortably-arranged dwelling within, having a respectable, dignified appearance without-and such, we trust, have been thus far presented in our designs.


The trees and shrubbery which ornament the approach to this house, should be rather of the graceful varieties, than otherwise. The weeping-willow, the horse-chesnut, the mountain-ash, if suitable to the climate; or the china-tree of the south, or the linden, the weeping-elm, and the silver-maple, with its long slender branches and hanging leaves, would add most to the beauty, and comport more closely with the character of this establishment, than the more upright, stiff, and unbending trees of our American forests. The Lombardy-poplar-albeit, an object of fashionable derision with many tree-fanciers in these more tasty days, as it was equally the admiration of our fathers, of forty years ago-would set off and give effect to a mansion of this character, either in a clump at the back-ground, as shown in the design, or occasionally shooting up its spire-like top through a group of the other trees. Yet, if built in a fine natural park or lawn of oaks, with a few other trees, such as we have named, planted immediately around it, this house would still show with fine effect.

The style of finish given to this dwelling may appear too ornate and expensive for the position it is supposed to occupy. If so, a plainer mode of finish may be adopted, to the cheapest degree consistent with the manner of its construction. Still, on examination, there will be found little intricate or really expensive work upon it. Strength, substance, durability, should all enter into its composition; and without these elements, a house of this appearance is a mere bauble, not fit to stand upon the premises of any man of substantial estate.

If a more extensive accommodation be necessary, than the size of this house can afford, its style will admit of a wing, of any desirable length, on each side, in place of the rear part of the side verandas, without prejudice to its character or effect. Indeed, such wings may add to its dignity, and consequence, as comporting with the standing and influence which its occupant may hold in the community wherein he resides.

A man of mark, indeed, should, if he live in the country, occupy a dwelling somewhat indicating the position which he holds, both in society and in public affairs. By this remark, we may be treading on questionable ground, in our democratic country; but, practically, there is a fitness in it which no one can dispute. Not that extravagance, pretension, or any other assumption of superiority should mark the dwelling of the distinguished man, but that his dwelling be of like character with himself: plain, dignified, solid, and, as a matter of course, altogether respectable.

It is a happy feature in the composition of our republican institutions, both social and political, that we can afford to let the flashy men of the day-not of time-flaunter in all their purchased fancy in house-building, without prejudice to the prevailing sober sentiment of their neighbors, in such particulars.

The man of money, simply, may build his "villa," and squander his tens of thousands upon it. He may riot within it, and fidget about it for a few brief years; he may even hang his coat of arms upon it, if he can fortunately do so without stumbling over a lapstone, or greasing his coat against the pans of a cook-shop; but it is equally sure that no child of his will occupy it after him, even if his own changeable fancy or circumstances permit him to retain it for his natural life. Such are the episodes of country house-building, and of frequent attempts at agricultural life, by those who affect it as a matter of ostentation or display. For the subjects of these, we do not write. But there is something exceedingly grateful to the feelings of one of stable views in life, to look upon an estate which has been long in an individual family, still maintaining its primitive character and respectability. Some five-and-twenty years ago, when too young to have any established opinions in matters of this sort, as we were driving through one of the old farming towns in Massachusetts, about twenty miles west of Boston, we approached a comfortable, well-conditioned farm, with a tavern-house upon the high road, and several great elms standing about it. The road passed between two of the trees, and from a cross-beam, lodged across their branches, swung a large square sign, with names and dates painted upon it-name and date we have forgotten; it was a good old Puritan name, however-in this wise:
As our eyes read over this list, we were struck with the stability of a family who for many consecutive generations had occupied, by the same name, that venerable spot, and ministered to the comfort of as many generations of travelers, and incontinently took off our hat in respect to the record of so much worth, drove our horse under the shed, had him fed, went in, and took a quiet family dinner with the civil, good-tempered host, and the equally kind-mannered hostess, then in the prime of life, surrounded with a fine family of children, and heard from his own lips the history of his ancestors, from their first emigration from England-not in the Mayflower, to whose immeasurable accommodations our good New England ancestors are so prone to refer-but in one of her early successors.

All over the old thirteen states, from Maine to Georgia, can be found agricultural estates now containing families, the descendants of those who founded them-exceptions to the general rule, we admit, of American stability of residence, but none the less gratifying to the contemplation of those who respect a deep love of home, wherever it may be found. For the moral of our episode on this subject, we cannot refrain from a description of a fine old estate which we have frequently seen, minus now the buildings which then existed, and long since supplanted by others equally respectable and commodious, and erected by the successor of the original occupant, the late Dr. Boylston, of Roxbury, who long made the farm his summer residence. The description is from an old work, "The History of the County of Worcester, in the State of Massachusetts, by the Rev. Peter Whitney, 1793:"

"Many of the houses (in Princeton,) are large and elegant. This leads to a particular mention, that in this town is the country seat of the Hon. Moses Gill, Esq., ('Honorable' meant something in those days,) who has been from the year 1775 one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for the county of Worcester, and for several years a counsellor of this commonwealth. His noble and elegant seat is about one mile and a quarter from the meeting-house, to the south. The farm contains upwards of three thousand acres. The county road from Princeton to Worcester passes through it, in front of the house, which faces to the west. The buildings stand upon the highest land of the whole farm; but it is level round about them for many rods, and then there is a very gradual descent. The land on which these buildings stand is elevated between twelve hundred and thirteen hundred feet above the level of the sea, as the Hon. James Winthrop, Esq. informs me. The mansion house is large, being 50×50 feet, with four stacks of chimnies. The farm house is 40 feet by 36: In a line with this stand the coach and chaise-house, 50 feet by 36. This is joined to the barn by a shed 70 feet in length-the barn is 200 feet by 32. Very elegant fences are erected around the mansion house, the out-houses, and the garden.

"The prospect from this seat is extensive and grand, taking in a horizon to the east, of seventy miles, at least. The blue hills in Milton are discernible with the naked eye, from the windows of this superb edifice, distant not less than sixty miles; as also the waters in the harbor of Boston, at certain seasons of the year. When we view this seat, these buildings, and this farm of so many hundred acres, now under a high degree of profitable cultivation, and are told that in the year 1766 it was a perfect wilderness, we are struck with wonder, admiration, and astonishment. The honorable proprietor thereof must have great satisfaction in contemplating these improvements, so extensive, made under his direction, and, I may add, by his own active industry. Judge Gill is a gentleman of singular vivacity and activity, and indefatigable in his endeavors to bring forward the cultivation of his lands; of great and essential service, by his example, in the employment he finds for so many persons, and in all his attempts to serve the interests of the place where he dwells, and in his acts of private munificence, and public generosity, and deserves great respect and esteem, not only from individuals, but from the town and country he has so greatly benefited, and especially by the ways in which he makes use of that vast estate wherewith a kind Providence has blessed him."

Such was the estate, and such the man who founded and enjoyed it sixty years ago; and many an equal estate, founded and occupied by equally valuable men, then existed, and still exist in all our older states; and if our private and public virtues are preserved, will ever exist in every state of our union. Such pictures, too, are forcible illustrations of the morals of correct building on the ample estates of many of our American planters and farmers. The mansion house, which is so graphically described, we saw but a short time before it was pulled down-then old, and hardly worth repairing, being built of wood, and of style something like this design of our own, bating the extent of veranda.

May be from $5000 to $8000, depending upon the material of which it is constructed, the degree of finish given to it, and the locality where it is built. All these circumstances are to be considered, and the estimates should be made by practical and experienced builders, who are competent judges in whatever appertains to it.

This house design and plan are from the eBook
Rural Architecture by Lewis Allan, 1852
appendixed at end of Cottage Residences by A. J. Downing, 1852-53
with color photos of Downing-inspired homes.

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