Among the handful of architects who’ve had a presence in Agincourt, two stand out: William Halsey Wood (designer of the second Fennimore Co. courthouse) and in a subtler way Lawrence Buck, who created two client-specific houses, one for Aidan and Cordelia Archer and another for Miss Rose Kavana, long-time principal at Clarence Darrow Public School. There is a third Buck-designed house, however, which opens the door to a discussion of the various ways the community’s housing stock came about.
We are, I think, to quick to conclude that houses come from two sources: big architect-designed single-family houses and smaller vernacular pattern-book designs that have no particular author. While doing a National Register nomination some years ago for a flood-damaged house in Grand Forks, I was confronted with explaining how the house had come to be. And the exploration of those origins exposed me to a much wider spectrum of possibilities than I’d imagined. Briefly single-family homes can be traced to several sources:
- Unique (one-off) homes, where the client has chosen an architect and worked closely with him/her to achieve a custom-designed property.
- Homes built from plans secured at the lumberyard or from a local builder; these are often repeated multiple times in their community or more broadly.
- From Pattern books or periodicals which could be available (and probably still are) from news stands; the plans can be purchased for a small price.
Situated between these “extremes” there have also been hybrid sources that bridge the gap between high fashion and vernacular:
- Architects themselves have published collections of their designs — often including plans pirated from better known designers, without appropriate credit. Knoxville architect George Barber published several volumes of his work, offering both inexpensive plans and a custom design for making alterations. Modern Artistic Cottages of 1887 was such a volume. But Barber was just one of several architects with a mail-order practice; others include the Pallisers and Morrison Vail.
- A handful of architects pushed the idea of architecture as a mail-order business by publishing their own monthly magazine. Regionally, the best example was Minneapolis architect Walter J. Keith, whose monthly included plans as well as hints to the homebuilder concerning a range of interests, from furnaces to landscaping. It was Keith who had provided plans for the Grand Forks home whose NR nomination I was preparing.
- A third source (which hardly exhausts the topic) was the so-called women’s magazines, House Beautiful, Ladies Home Journal, House & Garden, etc. In the case of the LHJ, for example, the magazine asked architects to provide plans for homes of moderate cost, published them, and then made copies of the plans available for a modest cost. This was a mechanism used by both Lawrence Buck and Frank Lloyd Wright in the early years of the 20th century.
Wright’s “Fireproof House for $5000” received wide distribution through this LHJ program, as did Lawrence Buck with far less notoriety or fanfare. It’s Buck’s design for the Charles Reeves house in Oak Park, Illinois that interests me today.
Appearing in both the LHJ and the House Beautiful within a matter of months, the Reeves design was built in at least four places: Norwich, NY, Rockford, IL, Wichita, KS, and Williston, ND. All were built circa 1910-1911, with or without Buck’s awareness.
Such widespread dispersion of the Reeves design [one wonders what the Reeves family felt about all of this] opens the door to one more iteration, this time in Agincourt, Iowa for a client named Clark.
“Mr and Mrs Clark”
As is often the case, the relationship between a real architect, Lawrence Buck, and imaginary clients, Mr & Mrs Clark, is obtuse. It goes something like this:
- Lawrence Buck and his near contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright each used the Ladies Home Journal as a marketing tool for the early 20th century practices.
- Buck and Wright actually knew one another, both having office in Chicago’s Steinway Hall on East Van Buren Street, where they undoubtedly shared elevator rides a few times a week.
- Frank Lloyd Wright was associated with publisher Ralph Fletcher Seymour, whose print studio was around the corner in the Fine Arts Building.
- Seymour was an artist and designer of fine print books.
- Wright and Seymour collaborated on the publication in English of a book by noted Swedish feminist Ellen Key.
- Lawrence Buck designed a house for Seymour.
- Wright discovered that Buck had designed a house for Seymour and wrote to hope that the client would get something other than a “pretty drawing.”
- One of Seymour’s etchings came into the Community Collection in the former Agincourt Public Library.
- The print is inscribed to “Mr and Mrs Clark”, who must obviously have been the clients for another of those Reeves house duplicates.
[NB: Statements in red are entirely truthful; the greyed portion, not so much.
Make sense? It does to me. Now I just have to invent the Clark family.