The use of Flemish bond as an upscale brick-laying technique lost popularity in many urban areas in the 1830’s (along with Federal-style architecture, also known as Adam), but it persisted in many smaller communities after that time. It experienced a renewed popularity in the late nineteenth- and early-twentieth centuries with the newly-fashionable Colonial Revival style. Being more labor-intensive than simpler bonds, it was often used only for the main facade of better-quality buildings. Flemish bond is easily recognized by its pattern of alternating headers and stretchers (short and long sides of a brick). Courses are staggered for a visually pleasing effect. It is commonly seen on Colonial-era houses; there aren’t a lot of those in the western Midwest!
Therefore, I was surprised to see an example of Flemish bond brickwork which long pre-dated the Colonial Revival – and in Kansas of all places! Built in 1839, the West Building of the Shawnee Indian Mission (also known as the Shawnee Methodist Mission) in Fairway is one of the oldest structures in the state. The area was sparsely populated then; building a structure with this level of refinement must have been somewhat unusual at the time as Kansas was not even officially a territory until 1854 and it did not become a state until 1861. The interior retains late Federal-style detailing. In short, this place is highly noteworthy.
In their Guide to Kansas Architecture, co-authors David H. Sachs and George Erlich describe the three surviving structures which comprise the Shawnee Indian Mission (including the West Building) in this way: “…the simple red-brick structures are representative of the sturdy, unselfconscious construction used in the frontier period.” Since when has Flemish bond been thought of as “simple” or “unselfconscious”? As if Federal-style mantelpieces with delicate moldings or 9-over-6 windows with jack arches and back banded interior casings were modest! This structure is more representative of what had been going on earlier “back East” than it is of the the Kansas frontier at that time. Truly simple and unselfconscious masonry buildings of the frontier period would not be styled, would not utilize Flemish bond and most likely would have stout lintels made of wood rather than the jack arches seen here.
No mention is made of the Flemish bond facade in the National Register nomination form for the building, either – something which should have surprised me but, sadly, did not. At some point the porch seen in a 1940 Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) photo was removed (presumably to create a more Federal-looking appearance) and a smaller, purely conjectural, porch was added! This did not surprise me, either. The second-floor window above the door – as seen in the HABS photo – is wider than adjacent windows and appears to be the same width as the door below it. It would make sense that this opening was originally a door but it, too, has since been altered – making this likelihood more difficult to prove conclusively. Houses of similar age and style with such a door on the second floor survive in adjacent Missouri, however, so it’s not wild speculation.
5/20/18 I was able to find some additional photos of the West Building – one of which does indeed show a door in the place of the second floor’s current center window c. 1920! The other photos, taken in 1975, show a ginormous conjectural porch which appears to date to a tragic attempt at a restoration done in 1968 – probably the same time that the center opening on the second story was converted into a narrow window. This makes no sense! The building has long been recognized as being of historic significance yet it ends up losing some of its architectural integrity in the name of “restoration”! Two of these photos will follow the ones already posted.
As it stands today, the house has differing window sash styles on the front, neither of which are original. An original doorway on the second floor has been converted to a window. An earlier porch, portions of which may have been original, was destroyed to create a purely conjectural porch. Then that was removed and a second conjectural porch was built. The appearance of the front today does not accurately reflect the appearance of the building during the time of its historic significance – one of the very things that such museums ostensibly exist for. Let’s take a look at an incredibly rare (is there another?), 1830’s, Federal-style, Flemish bond facade in Kansas:
The 1839 Shawnee Indian Mission’s West Building as it appears today. Visible repairs to the masonry reveal an earlier porch location. The existing porch is better than the 1968 replacement, but still relies on conjecture. Changes to the center window have been made; mortar joints below the window are lighter in color (like the infill at the sides) which suggests that originally there may have been a door in this location. The existing windows are replacements but the jambs appear to be original. I would expect to see 9-over-6 sash in the shorter second story windows (like those surviving on the rear elevation) and 9-over-9 in the taller in the taller main floor windows. Many variations of sash involving 6, 9 and 12 panes are found in Federal-style houses. Window openings below are four brick courses taller than the openings above – enough to accommodate an extra row of glass panes. The pane sizes of the transom above the door appear to match those of surviving sash on the second story of the rear elevation.
Detail of the Flemish bond facade.
Around the corner, brick coursing becomes more conventional; here it is done in Common bond though with an inconsistent spacing of header courses. Jack arches add another level of sophistication to the facade.
Detail of jack arch (also known as a flat arch). In more refined examples, the bricks may be gauged (tapered). Though these bricks are not tapered, their ends have been shaped to maintain horizontal mortar joints.
Windows on the end of the building were clearly cut in later; they rely on steel rather than jack arches to carry the weight of the brick above them. The wing to the right was an early addition.
This end of the structure retains its integrity as built; no windows have been cut into it.
9-over-6 windows may be seen on the second floor of the original structure; this is what should be on the second floor of the front. The back wing is an early addition.
The door and transom appear to be original. The visible hardware is all 20th-century. I was holding the screen door open with my foot, so this is not the best photograph possible!
This is how the house looked roughly 20 years ago when I first noticed the Flemish bond facade. The first conjectural porch had been removed, but the present conjectural porch had yet to be built. First floor windows are 1-over-1 rather than the present 4-over-4.
This is how the house appeared in 1940. Its early porch was still intact and the window above the door had yet to be narrowed. It is possible that this porch was an “updated” version of an earlier, original, porch. I see no indication of a disturbance to the masonry around the center window… I suspect that this wide opening was originally a door like the one directly below it. Or it may have originally been a wider window. It is seen here with wide 6-over-6 sash in it. It would be fun to study the original photo with a magnifying glass… I’d also like to study the jack arch above the window for clues. Unfortunately, the balustrade prohibits me from seeing what the masonry below the sill looks like – a good indication as to whether or not this was intended to be a door like the one below it. The other windows had already been changed to 2-over-2 or 1-over-1 sash styles prior to 1940; I don’t understand why the first floor window sashes on the front today are 4-over-4s… that is very odd. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey – Lester Jones, Photographer, 1940.
Another HABS image – this one of the interior! A late Federal-period mantel features delicate moldings showing that this structure was surprisingly refined for the wild “Unorganized” territory in which it was built. Kansas was not officially a territory until 1854 and did not become a state until 1861. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey – Lester Jones, Photographer, 1940.
A similar mantel in another room. Parging over the masonry has been “striped” – painted to resemble brick mortar joints. The opening, presumably once fitted with a coal burner, has been filled. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey – Lester Jones, Photographer, 1940.
This image, which likely dates to the 1920’s, clearly shows a door on the second story leading to the porch. Future research may one day reveal more about the porch seen here – portions of which may have been original.
This 1975 photo shows the purely conjectural Greek Revival (why?) porch built in 1968 as part of a “restoration”. As the old saying goes, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”! It appears to me that a cold joint is visible below the center window of the second floor indicating the jamb location of the original door… It’s hard to believe that the original presence of the door was not known about in 1968. Photo credit: Stephen Lissandrello, 1975. National Register of Historic Places Property Photograph Form.