Three blogs. Three relatively distinct and defined topics. Yet considerable overlap exists among them. William Halsey Wood, for example, has materialized in Agincourt on three different occasions—a realization that came as quite a surprise to the person in charge — me.
To be a community with any degree of promise, Agincourt had to become a county seat. The presence of a courthouse doesn’t guarantee stability but makes it more likely. As a designer it also offered a sizable building type with potential sophistication. So there I was, incidentally gathering information about Halsey Wood, an architect recognized for his church commissions and who was not known for public work, other than two Carnegie library designs. Like the Sullivan connection with the library design — Sullivan never designed a Carnegie library; Halsey Wood never designed a courthouse — the story-line was too seductive to let it pass by. Objectivity has never been my strong suit, so you should take with a grain of salt my claim that the courthouse is pretty good.
Wood must be always on my mind, because he offered one of his own designs—the long-demolished C. S. French house in East Orange, NJ—as the inspiration for aspiring young architect, Anson Tennant. The fifteen-year-old Tennant modified the French house (seen in the July 1886 issue of The Scientific American Architects & Builders Edition) to become a doll house given to his sister Claire when she was gravely ill at Christmastime 1905. If you’d like to see it, visit the AR/LA office in Renaissance Hall and look above Teresa’s door.
There was the family excursion during the summer of 1912 when Martha and the children, including Anson who was then twenty-two, visited Aunt Hester (Hester Tennant Farnham) at her annual Jersey shore rental. The chapel at Mantoloking is Saint Simon’s-by-the-Sea, a high church seasonal congregation whose building had been designed by Halsey Wood, though Anson may not have known that while he sat in a back pew, sketching the interior during a particularly steamy sermon. That program made its way back to Iowa and later that year Anson crafted a set of wood blocks in the spirit of Friederich Fröbel or Richter’s “Anker Stone Building Sets” for his sister’s kindergarten. Tennant made a brief attempt to market the “blox” through popular magazines with limited success.
Thinking of William Halsey Wood’s meteoric career, I’m reminded of Edna St Vincent Millay’s early poem “First Fig,”
My candle burns at both ends;It will not last the night;But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—It gives a lovely light!
It’s gratifying that Wood’s lovely light has shone now and again in Agincourt, if nowhere else.
Incidentally, Ed Pavek took the evocative photograph of the Wood Blox.