This perky house with Queen Anne gables (photo below) in Danville, Virginia, may be protecting a long-hidden secret.  Recently featured on the fabulous Old House Dreams, the exterior of the house has been rehabilitated by the nonprofit Danville Rehabilitation and Housing Authority (DRHA) which, according to its website, “acquires, manages, maintains, and rehabilitates vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties in order to return them to productive use.”  Sounds good to me – I wish all communities were so committed to preserving their history!

The first thing I noticed about the house was that its roof seemed to have shrunk… most Queen Annes have eaves which are a continuous extension of the roof itself, but this one was different.  The next photograph from the listing photos showed a fireplace mantel which looked to me to pre-date the stated construction date of c. 1890.   I was getting the distinct feeling that this house was built prior to 1890.  The fluted window and door casings with corner blocks were generic enough that they didn’t offer much of a clue without on-site examination; similar woodwork was used through much of the nineteenth century.  Something just seemed off about this house.

It wasn’t until I went to Google Street View that I found a potential smoking gun…


The shingled gable end evokes the 1890’s or early 1900’s. Porch detailing, however, with narrow, chamfered, posts and scroll-sawn balustrade, seems a bit older.  Image source: via Old House Dreams.


The fireplace mantel which first aroused my suspicions. It feels later than Greek Revival, but earlier than Queen Anne. More chamfered corners here… I’d guess 1870’s.  Image source: via Old House Dreams.


A similar, but more modest, mantel is found in what appears to be an upstairs bedroom.  The hearth appears to be brick – if so, it’s another clue that this house is likely pre-1890.  Image source: via Old House Dreams.


Detail of hearth. It does appear to be brick. By 1890 one would expect to find a tiled hearth.


Now I’m really curious, so I go to Google Street View to check out the neighborhood for similar structures. I find an incredibly charming and architecturally diverse street.  Our subject house, second from right, has yet to have its exterior rehabilitated in this 2012 view.  Image courtesy Google Street View.


The Second Empire style house next door appears to have had some modifications over the years (six-over-one windows and porch re-styling, but appears to be otherwise typical of the style (which had fallen out of favor by the mid-1880’s).  Image courtesy Google Street View.


This image shows the “Queen Anne” house before the exterior was rehabilitated. As I moved down the street via Street View, I noticed a commonality with the Second Empire next door. Both have the same bay window to the side, with the same bulbous bracket, the same toothed corner technique in the brickwork – and the same diminutive bracketed eave detail.  It looks to me like these two houses were probably built at the same time and once looked very much like each other.  Image courtesy Google Street View.  


These features are seen again in this photo.  The bulbous bracket on the house at right is painted black and is hard to see.  Once you see it, it becomes obvious that this house was likely built at the same time as its next-door neighbor.  Did their roofs once look alike as well?  Image source: via Old House Dreams.


Still can’t see it? The arrow points to the bulbous black bracket while the oval surrounds the toothed corner of the bay window on the Second Empire house. Both details – along with the cornice and brackets above them – match those of the “Queen Anne” next door.  Image courtesy Google Street View.


This interior view shows a six-over-six window – not a one-over-one.  That alone does not prove anything; many houses used less expensive six-over-six windows on side and rear elevations that were not highly visible.  More expensive large-paned windows would be reserved for the front.  Note the wide casing around the window.  Image source: via Old House Dreams.


These three windows are in the front gable of the house.   The casings are narrow and do not have corner blocks; this triple window might be evidence of a stylistic makeover.  Image source: via Old House Dreams.


The house at left is two doors down. This house is more typically c. 1890. Note that it has the same staggered shingle patterning in the front gable as does our subject house. Its porch, with lathe-turned supports and balusters, is much more representative of the era. This is the type of porch one would expect on the other “Queen Anne” if they were actually built at the same approximate time.


The DRHA’s real estate listing describes the the house as having “one-over-one windows with splayed jack arches and an arched main doorway.”  The house has at least two types of windows; one-over-ones and six-over-sixes.   The Second Empire next door also has an “arched main doorway”… more evidence suggesting that the two side-by-side houses were built at roughly the same time by the same builder.  Interior photos of the house next door can also be found on the DRHA’s site.  The woodwork is similar in both houses, though the doors in the Second Empire appear to be newer (5-panel as opposed to 4-panel).  The staircase in the house appears to be a Colonial Revival update, so both houses show signs of alteration.  One possibility is that both houses were a bit old-fashioned when they were built around 1890 – looking much as they do today.  The other possibility is that they are both a bit older and one was restyled on the exterior in a later modernization effort.

Update 7/6/2018:  I’ve been thinking about this house a lot… a good mystery will do that to a person.  It’s hard to precisely analyze a house from a handful of photographs, but I think I’ve come up with a scenario that makes sense:  I believe that this house and the Second Empire next door were built at roughly the same time somewhere between 1875 and 1890 – both styled in the Second Empire manner.   The current “Queen Anne” gabled roof was probably built sometime between 1905 and 1910.  The DRHA website indicates that “Beginning in 1908, this home was occupied by the Fred W. Chaney family.”  According to the Lexington Gazette, Mr. Chaney was married in 1906; it makes sense that he and his bride may have wanted to update their new home (especially given the imposing towered house next door!).  This is just speculation on my part, but such a scenario would explain the architectural discrepancies I note.



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