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John Eli Brattain House

1883


Laura A. W. Phillips
April 3, 1980

The house at 305 Main Street, Davidson, North Carolina was built ca. 1883 by John Eli Brattain. This delightful Victorian cottage displays strong influences of both the Carpenter Gothic and Italianate styles popular during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Perhaps the most unusual, and at the same time intriguing, aspect of the exterior of the Brattain House is the fact that all four elevations are nearly identical. Because of the asymmetry and relative intricacy of the design, one does not immediately notice the repetitive nature of the four sides. Only after close observation and several walks around the house does one realize the clever, almost pinwheel-type, continuity of the overall design.

The primary facade of the one-and-one-half story Brattain House faces west and Main Street. Like the other elevations, it features a gable roof with cross gable on the right-hand bay and gabled dormers above the other two bays. All gables are lavishly decorated with stylized-icicle sawnwork bargeboards and three-dimensional pendills of the same design at each corner. The bargeboard of the gabled bay enframes a 4/4 sash, pedimented window with crossetted surround. The curvilinear design in the tympanum of the pediment is repeated above the sash windows of the dormers. The overhanging eaves of the roof are accented by decorative sawnwork brackets. Even the plain wall surfaces of this fanciful house are decorative, with the major walls being sheathed in molded siding and wall spaces under the porches being covered with German (or drop) siding. The hip-roofed porch on the west facade shades both the window of the left bay and the main entrance and projects forward in front of the entrance. In the Italianate manner, the porch is supported by chamfered posts set on square plinths and with sawnwork brackets and turned pendills above the post caps. The placement of the posts is further accented by a cluster of sawnwork brackets under the porch eaves above each post. A heavily turned balustrade connects the posts. While the original front door with arched panels has been replaced with a more simple six-panel door, the original Italianate style entrance surround with its narrow sidelights and transom remains. To the left of the main entrance is a tall, 4/4 sash window with crossetted surround and projecting cornice. To the right of the doorway, as part of the projecting gabled bay, two windows of identical design to the porch window complete the composition of the main facade of the house.

Moving in a clockwise manner, the other three elevations differ little in their basic design from the west facade. In fact, the upper half-story -- with bargeboarded gable and dormers -- of each of the other three elevations is identical to that of the west facade. The first story of the north elevation has no porch, and instead, four identical sash windows of Italianate influence -- like those on the west facade -- punctuate the wall surface. (The window on the north-east corner has, however, been altered so that it is now only about half the length of the others.)

The first story of the east, or rear, elevation has been somewhat altered, with the addition of a utility room, mid-twentieth brick stairway leading to the back entrance (which utilizes what appears to have been the original front door) and alterations to several windows. The upper half-story, however, is still intact.

The south side elevation is only slightly less elaborate than the west facade. It, too, boasts a porch of similar design to that of the primary facade. Although this side porch gives the same overall impression as the west front porch, it is actually somewhat less elaborate. Its posts are turned rather than chamfered, its balustrade is slightly less heavy than that of the main porch, and while the brackets at the head of each post are almost identical to those on the front porch, the cluster of brackets above each post and under the eaves is not present. Like the front porch, the side porch features a window with crossetted surround and an entrance like that on the front, only in this case the original door with its square, rectangular and round arched panels remains intact. Between the door and main window of the porch, two small windows have been cut into the porch wall. To the right of the porch, the first story of this elevation differs from the others. Here, the projecting bay exhibits a paired window with 4/4 sash, all of which is encompassed by a crossetted surround and a triangular pediment with incised decoration matching that of the window above.

Other features of the exterior include interior brick chimneys and a brick pier foundation, now totally infilled with brick.

The interior of the Brattain House has undergone numerous alterations during the last quarter century to suit the needs of the present owners. However, several original details of interest remain. A late Victorian stairway with turned balustrade and heavily turned newel runs along the side of a transverse hall to the second story. An acorn shaped pendill decorates the corner of the second floor opening above the stairway (The south side entrance of the house leads to this transverse stair hall ). The room in the southeast corner of the house features an elaborate late Victorian mantel, perhaps moved from another room of the house. Each side of this mantel has paired, engaged, spindle like colonettes, and the pointed-arch frieze is edged with a spool-like beading. Acorn-shaped pendills, echoing the one found in the hallway, decorate the center as well as either side of the frieze. Carved roundels and half-roundels complete the design of the mantel. The bedrooms of the upper half-story have upper walls which slant inward to accommodate the shape of the roof. The north side bedroom features an early twentieth century mantel of Colonial Revival influence. Most of the interior doors have four panels and molded surrounds.

The Brattain House is situated not far back from the street, but is surrounded by a well-kept, comfortably landscaped corner lot.