Books That Shaped Our Buildings

An Identification of Books on Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Related Fields, Historically Used in Nova Scotia (Pre 1900)

(L to R) Downing’s Cottage Residences, Downing’s Country Houses, Benjamin’s Architecture.

This list has been compiled over many years and is obviously not exhaustive – as it never really can be – it is a work in progress.  These books have a value as an authentic historical and architectural reference library for the study of built heritage in Nova Scotia.  These books shaped our landscape in particular ways both direct and via a modifying filter (of local interpretation).  Climate, changing fashion, accessibility of materials, and traditions (from a broad range of backgrounds) also played their part.  Most of these texts can easily be tracked down in digital form through and other internet resources.  This list provides a starting place. What is the value of a resource like this?  Manifold, including:

  • the potential for identification of specific house plans used in this province (and the associated designer or architect)
  • insight into period building technologies
  • insight into the use or recommended use of period building materials, hardware, and mechanical systems
  • insight into historic building trades and specific practices/techniques employed within the various trades
  • descriptions of rooms, room usage, room layout, interrelationships among rooms, and interior household traffic patterns of all inhabitants including domestics
  • insight into how grounds were laid out with respect to various outbuildings, lawns, fences, gardens, drives, orchards, and home industry
  • insight into social or period influences on building design and how buildings were used

In a general sense, the reason why identifying the printed material associated with our architectural history is important is that it provides a means of understanding the broad influences that impacted our building heritage in this province.

In a growing number of cases a direct line has been drawn between individuals, landscapes or buildings, and specific information contained in a book on this list.  For example, connecting the dots between A, a fresco painter; and B, his work; and C, an instructional text provide terrific insight.  The opportunities for understanding and interpretation following such a proof are multiplied.  In the same way, linking a nearly-forgotten, amateur landscape architect with an instructional book because of specific design elements evident in both the park he designed and the book in question allows one to make further observations based on the short but logical leap that the man must have read the entire book.  In short, such linkages provide the historian a valuable lens through which site interpretation can be enriched.

In the interest of retaining some degree of proprietary knowledge, Vineberg & Fulton has withheld the sources that identify how each text found its way onto this list.  The sources comprise historic catalogues of library holdings, private collections, documented bookplates, museum collections, and historic newspaper advertisements, articles, announcements, and reviews.  Over half of the books in this list have their use in Nova Scotia confirmed by multiple sources.

A New display of the beauties of England ; or, A desc. of the most elegant , 1776
An Account of Architects and Architecture, John Evelyn
A Treatise on Forming, Improving, and Managing Country Residences by John C. Loudon, 1806
Appleton’s Cyclopedia of Drawing; for the Mechanic, Architect, Engineer and Surveyor, W. E. Worthen
Architectural Designs for Rustic Cottages, William F. Pocock, 1807
Architectural Instructor, containing a History of Architecture from the earliest ages, Minard Lafever
Atwood’s Country and Suburban Houses, Daniel T. Atwood, 1871
Barnard’s School Architecture
Burns’ Architectural Drawing Book
City Architecture, or Designs for Dwelling House, Stores, Hotels, &c., by M. Field
Downing’s Cottage Residences and Cottage Grounds, a series of designs for Rural Cottages and Villas
Encyclopedia of Architecture, J. C. Loudon
Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture, J. C. Loudon
Examples of Gothic Architecture, Augustus Pugin
Half a Dozen Hints on Picturesque Domestic Architecture, Thomas F. Hunt, 1841
History and Rudiments of Architecture
History of Architecture from the Earliest Times, Louisa C. Tuthill, 1848
Hussey’s Home Building
Lakey’s Village and Country Houses
Mansion, and the Cottage by J. Wheeler
The Englishman’s House, From a Cottage to a Mansion, Charles J. Richardson, 1871
The Principles of Architecture, Peter Nicholson, 1809
Rural Architecture, Lewis F. Allen, 1852
Rural Essays, Downing
Sloan’s Constructive Architecture; a guide to the practical Builder and Mechanic, Samuel Sloan, 1859
The Architect or Practical House Carpenter, Asher Benjamin, 1830
The Economic Cottage Builder, or Cottages for men of small means, Chas. P. Dwyer
The House, – a Pocket Manual of Rural Architecture, &c.
The Palace of Architecture, George Wightwick, 1840
The Principles of Gothic Ecclesiastical Architecture by Matthew H. Bloxam, 1844
The Seven Lamps of Architecture, John Ruskin, 1889
The Theory and Practice of Warming and Ventilating Public Buildings, Dwelling Houses and Conservatories, 1825
The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, Augustus Pugin, 1841
Town and Country Mansions, W. Young, 1879
Villas and Cottages -  a series of Designs prepared for execution by C. Vaux, 300 Engravings
Woodward’s Country Homes, Geo. E. & F. W. Woodward, 1865
Gardens & Gardening
A Tour Round My Garden
Abercrombie’s Practical Gardener
Alphabet of Gardening, James Rennie
American Home Garden – Rules for the Culture of Vegetables, Fruits, Flowers, and Shrubbery, Alexander Watson
American Home Gardener, by Alexander Watson
American Rose Culturist
American Weeds and Useful Plants
Barry’s Fruit Garden
Breck’s New Book of Flowers
Brill’s Farm-Gardening and Seed-Growing
Buist’s Family Kitchen Gardener
Buist’s Flower Garden Directory
Choice Garden Flowers, their cultivation and General Treatment in all Seasons
Chorlton’s Grape-Grower’s Guide, William Chorlton
Complete Kitchen and Fruit Gardener
Every Lady her own Flower Gardener
Everyman His Own Gardener by Thomas Mawe, 1782
Fuller’s Grape Culturist
Fuller’s Small Fruit Culturist
Fuller’s Illustrated Strawberry Culturist
Fruit Gardening for the Many
Gardening For Ladies, Mrs. Loudon
Gardening For Profit, Peter Henderson
Hand Book for Gardens, Peter Henderson
Henderson’s Gardening for Pleasure
Henderson’s Practical Floriculture
How Plants Grow
Mohr on the Grape Vine
The Ladies’ Flower Garden, Mrs. Loudon, 1840
My Vineyard at Lakeview
Our Garden Friends and Foes, Rev. J. G. Wood
Pardee on Strawberry Culture
Parsons on the Rose
Plain and Pleasant Talk about Fruits, Flowers and Farming – by Henry Ward Beecher
Quinn’s Money in the Garden
Rivers’s Miniature Fruit Garden
Roe’s Manual on the Culture of Small Fruits
Roe’s Play and Profit in My Garden
Schenk’s Gardener’s Text Book
The Apple Culturist, with Illustrations, by S. E. Todd
The American Kitchen Gardener by William Cobbett, 1819
The Complete Florist, or Flower Gardener
The Garden – a Pocket Manual of Practical Horticulture, &c.
The Gardener’s and Botanist’s Dictionary by Philip Miller, 1807
The Hand-book to the Flower Garden and Greenhouse, by Glenny
The Culture of Fruits and Vegetables, by Glenny
The Properties of Flowers and Plants, by Glenny
The Suburban Horticulturalist, John C. Loudon, 1842
Vick’s Floral Guide by James Vick
Window Gardening – E. S. Rand
Window Gardening: the culture of Flowers, and ornamental plants for door use and…, Harry T. Williams
Technical Reference
A Handbook of Formulae, Tables, and Memoranda for Architectural Surveyors, John T. Hurst
A Familiar Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Perspective by Joseph Priestley, 1770
A Treatise on Masonry Construction, Ira O. Baker, 1890
Drawing For Carpenters and Joiners
Drawings For Stone Masons
Gardner’s Carriage Painter’s Manual
Gardner’s How to Paint
Leuchar’s How to Build Hot Houses
The Paper-hanger’s Companion, James Arrowsmith, 1852
Phin’s Lightning Rods and Their Construction
Home for all, or the Gravel Walk, and Octagon mode of Building
Rudiments of the Art of Building
The Art of Building, edited by John Bullock
The Carpenter’s and Builder’s Guide, P. W. Plummer
Waring’s Earth Closets and Earth Sewerage
Waring’s Sanitary Condition in City and Country Houses
Waring’s Sanitary Drainage of Houses and Towns
Waring’s Village Improvements and Village Farms
Landscape Architecture
Beautifying Country Homes: A Handbook of Landscape Gardening, Jacob Weidenmann, 1870
Cleveland’s Landscape Architecture
Downing’s Landscape Gardening
Downing’s Rural Essays
Elliott’s Hand Book of Practical Landscape Gardening
Gilpin’s Essays on the Picturesque
Helmsley’s Hardy Trees, Shrubs and Plants
How to lay out a Garden; intended as a General Guide in choosing, forming and imp. Estates – by Edward Kempt
Loudon’s Encyclopedia of Agriculture
Loudon’s Encyclopedia of Gardening
On Planting and Rural Ornament by William Marshall, 1803
Parks and Pleasure Grounds; or, Practical Notes on Country Residences… by Charles H. J. Smith, 1852
Remarks on Forest Scenery, and Other Woodland Views by William Gilpin, 1808
The New American Gardener Containing Practical Directions on the Culture of Fruits… Thomas Green, 1837
Household Management
A Treatise on Domestic Economy, 1848, C. E. Beecher
Beeton’s Book of Household Management
Skillful Housewife
Home Economics, 1898, Maria Parloa
Housekeeper and Health Keeper, Catharine E. Beecher
Housekeeping Made Easy, by Mrs. Ellis
Mrs. Cornelius’s Young Housekeeper’s Friend
Mrs. Parkes’s Domestic Duties (pub 1829)
The Complete Home by Mrs. Julia McNair Wright, 1883
The Housewife, how to economise and conduct a House
The Lady’s County Companion, 1852, Jane Loudon
Practical Housekeeper by Mrs. Pedley
The Young Housekeeper’s Friend – by Mrs. Cornelius
The Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book
Other Books on Design
Art Hints, Architecture, Sculpture &c, by Jarves
Burns’ Illustrated Drawing Book
Burns’ Ornamental Drawing Book
The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book, 1802, by Thomas Sheraton
Nicholson’s Practice of Drawing
Rural & Farm Management
Allen’s (R. L. & L. F.) New American Farm Book
Agricola Letters
Contributions Toward Improvement of Agriculture in Nova Scotia, Sir J. William Dawson, Halifax, 1856 2nd Ed.
The Farmer’s and House-keeper’s Manual (pub. Halifax?)
The Illustrated Annual Register of Rural Affairs for 1859, by J. J. Thomas
The New England Farmer
Register of Rural Economy and Rural Taste, by J. J. Thomas
Silva: or, A Discourse of Forest Trees, John Evelyn, 1801
Stewart’s Irrigation for the Farm, Garden, and Orchard
Small Farms, How they ought to be managed, by Martin Doyle
The Farm – a Pocket Manual of Practical Agriculture, &c.
What I know of farming, Horace Greeley
Young’s Letters on Agriculture


Posted by Joe Mar 20, 2020 Posted in Architectural History, Publications & Research Comments Off

What the ell?

Typical Atlantic Canadian suburban ell configurations.

What is an ell?  It is an extension often attached to the back or a side of a building at a right angle.  Historically, it was sometimes written as “L” because of the footprint that is configured in connection with the main body of the building; although it appears as though it more often produced a “T” configuration.

An ell generally has the appearance of being an addition but it would be a mistake to assume as much.  By the 1840s, the ell was such a valued architectural arrangement that house plans commonly called for its inclusion.  But why design something that looks like an afterthought?  The reasons are manifold.

One reason why an ell might exist is a matter of scale.  Having an extension at the back of a structure permitted a more or less standard, or even modest, scale of façade in building a house.  For the sake of style and aesthetics a house of a certain frontage often required a corresponding depth.  As well, the gable end of a house was generally shorter than the side under the sloped roof.  All the dimensions were important – even height demanded a proper proportion with length and width.  Symmetry too, in many cases, was not to be violated.  Roof pitch had to be considered.  With such constraints, how was a builder to accommodate a large family without scaling the house plans up to a proportion that was, well – out of all proportion?  The answer was… to build an ell.

Another reason for an ell was fashion or something called “correct taste.”  It was agreeable to have a kitchen that was, to some extent, removed from the rest of the house.  This could be achieved with a cellar kitchen, or clever room configurations that isolated the kitchen, or with an ell.  Kitchens produced smells associated with domestic work.  Odors and gases that might emanate from a kitchen sink were considered offensive and even harmful.  It was believed that food prep smells should not be wafting through the house but be confined to the domestic work station.  Nineteenth century house descriptions indicate that kitchens were typically not even considered rooms.  They were somehow ranked just below official room status – so that both physically and conceptually the kitchen was a separate entity.

It is becoming easy to see why real estate ads of the period, generally quite brief, take care to mention this feature of ells, or back kitchens, as they were sometimes called.  It was an advantageous and therefore saleable configuration.

Isolating a kitchen also satisfied the desire to isolate domestic help.  The only other components to having domestics remain unseen were to provide them with easy access to the stairs of any connecting upper or lower floors and a service entrance.

Two house plans showing different ell configurations from Downing’s Country Houses (1850) p.78 and p104.

A service entrance connected to an ell or “back kitchen” had the additional advantage of facilitating home industry.  Auxiliary rooms connected with an ell often contained workspace for the production of a variety of wares.  Dooryards off kitchens provided for easy reception of unprocessed produce into the kitchen and for finished goods out of the kitchen.  The kitchen dooryards themselves provided further workspace for home industry connected with the kitchen.

Fortunately, the ell didn’t have as many rules to follow as the front of the house.  Actually it appears it really only had one – to be subordinate to the main house body.

Now, the great difficulty with an ell is in discerning its provenance.  Is it original to the building?  Was it an addition?  Or perhaps it even predates the main building – as with a small structure moved and repurposed as an ell?  Investigation as to how an ell is connected to the main body will provide clues and likely answer any of these questions.

Posted by Joe May 18, 2016 Posted in Architectural History, Built Heritage Comments Off

Concealed Shoes and Other Apotropaic Devices

The ritual concealment of charms to ward off evil has an extraordinary but largely unknown history in the building tradition of Atlantic Canada.  Its sequestered quality lends mystery to the practice and is likely to blame for its largely undocumented existence.  Placing carefully selected objects, such as shoes, in walls, attics, floors, or cellars in the belief that it will afford the inhabitants some supernatural protection or other benefit comes to our region from Britain and its roots there likely extend across Europe and beyond.

Above: In 1981 this shoe was added to the collection of the Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia.

The Jews of the Old Testament were instructed to smear lamb’s blood on their door posts and lintels before the Spirit of the Lord was to descend on all the houses of Egypt and take the first-born of people and animals.  His Spirit passed over those houses marked with lamb’s blood on the door frame.  Did this Biblical example of household protection offer our ancestors some inspiration for other means of “marking” their homes as somehow set apart or protected?  Was placing objects in walls a physical component of Christian folk ritual or was the practice tied to pagan or non-religious traditions?  Current research does not provide definitive answers – only clues – but whatever the roots of the odd practice it appears to have been motivated by a desire to safeguard loved ones.

The practice of concealing shoes in walls enjoys slightly better than sparse awareness in our region but horse skulls, witch bottles, or even dried cats are largely unknown.   Ritual marks on framing and sheathing was another practice connected to protection and is often dismissed as carpenters’ marks. 

Collectively, these practices are termed apotropaic, a suitably mysterious word with a Greek origin that simply means to ward off evil.

So how were these charms supposed to work?  Was the intention to repel evil or to trap it in the shoe?  Did the protection relate specifically to the shoe’s wearer or to every resident – or perhaps just to the structure?  Was the shoe a fertility charm?  Did those placing the shoes wholeheartedly believe in the promises of the practice or did it eventually diminish to a mere exercise of continuing with the “old ways” simply to honour those who came before?

Now, placing a shoe in a wall and enclosing it behind lath and plaster in the expectation that it will somehow protect or bless one’s family has an endearing quality to it; but the same feelings do not easily extend to dried cats and horse skulls. The animals though are in many ways more fascinating. Most of us can recall countless experiences where a cat or a horse became spooked for some unapparent reason.  It is believed that the “sixth sense” sometimes attributed to these animals is behind the usage of their remains as apotropaic devices.  The inference being that the animal’s spirit – or simply its form – may ward off evil spirits or rodents.

The meanings behind concealed shoes, which are more likely to be retained and documented than dead animals when found, are not entirely understood.  One theory suggests that to give one protection, the shoe must be imbued with the wearer’s essence – which is one explanation for why it is well-worn footwear that is most commonly found.  A related tradition calls for burying an old shoe under a tree.

Placement is important.  Chimneys, a favoured location for apotropaic devices, were often selected because they are always open to the outside and otherwise unprotected.   Similarly, window and door openings were seen as vulnerable to entry and so adjacent wall spaces can sometimes contain a well-worn shoe or animal.

Vineberg & Fulton has endeavoured to create a database to document the discovery of apotropaic devices in Atlantic Canada and we request your help.  So far, the earliest documented find of a concealed shoe in this region occurred in Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1891.  Its discovery was lauded, and its finders marveled at its style which featured a pointed toe – a style they noted was so old that it had come back into fashion at that time!

Apotropaic practices were likely far more pervasive than we will ever know.  When we have the opportunity to peer into the “insides” of historic buildings it is helpful to know what to look for and where to look.  It is hoped that this article will raise awareness of this mysterious part of our built heritage and result in more findings being documented.  In response, Vineberg & Fulton has developed a curatorial policy and documentation sheet for recording historic concealed charms.  Please send us records of your finds so that we can add them to our Atlantic Canadian database of apotropaic objects.  The database is available in a limited format by selecting this download link.


Posted by Joe Dec 17, 2015 Posted in Architectural History, Atlantic Canada, Publications & Research Comments Off