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The Victorian Home

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The Victorian Home

Noyes Family
Built in 1869, the Oliver Noyes house has been donated to
the International Community Foundation.
Photo by Ralph P. Stineman, ca. 1911-15. ©SDHS
It took approximately a year and a half to build, completed in 1896, when completed it provided a 360o view of San Diego County. It was a Victorian home, defined as Princess Anne since it was not as elaborately decorated as the Queen Anne style. It had thirteen rooms including a maid’s room. Built of redwood and cedar, it was probably not archeturally designed but rather a mail-order house plan which included not only the floor plan but specific details such as how much wood to order, details and cross-sections of millwork and ornamentation for interior wood door frames, window sills, and banisters. Explanation of what hardware would be needed, even the design embossed on the doorknobs was included. The preliminary step in creating these mail-order plans was the development of balloon framing. This was a new type of house frame which used the lighter and more transportable 2”x4” lumber. Once this flexibility was introduced the Victorian could be built easily.20 This method of house framing continued into the twentieth century.

The house builder could now be his own general contractor and had the information available to assure him the work done was of good quality. By the 1880’s these mail-order design books held advertisements for mantels, grates, furnaces, water closets, paint, hardware, and millwork. Warren Kimball opened the Warren Kimball Planing Mill with machinery making interior and exterior decorated woods for homes.21 (Phillips, p. 7)

British architects at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia first displayed the Queen Anne style of home to the American public.22 The style became popular quickly because of the prominence of architectural pattern books of house design introduced just before the Civil War. Technological improvements and development of transcontinental railroads made it possible to order required goods for home building from across the country. The Queen Anne style was predominant among the new rich in America through the 1880’s and 1890’s. American towns that developed wealth by the early 1900’s usually had a predominance of Queen Anne homes.23 This architecture was the symbol of the Gilded Age.

As the embodiment of the highly competitive new rich by its very nature the architecture had to be bold, obvious, apparent, and gaudy–and it was. The characteristics of the Queen Anne were steeply pitched roofs, an irregular shape, front facing gables, patterned shingles (fish scales), cut-away bay windows with large panels one over the other, the upper panel with small set-in panes, wide porches that run the length of one or two sides of the house, and towers.24 Other characteristics included “brick-a-brack” and gingerbread decoration, stained glass, often the in-set panes above the bay window.25 Geometric shapes in woodworking were introduced by modern machine techniques soaring in the industrial age.26

The Noyes House is considered a Princess Anne home, one with simpler lines and less decoration.27 It does have many of the features of a Queen Anne, asymmetrical design, the northern rooms are larger and fewer than the southern rooms, stained and etched glass is used in the panel above the bay window in the front living room and in the master bedroom immediately above. The porch is wide and long running half the length of the front of the house and half the northern side of it. The roofs are steep and the siding trimmed in “fish scales.” But the decoration inside and out is modest, not presumptive of wealth. The Noyes family had been with status and financial security long enough that it wasn’t necessary to display its success to the community in an ostentatious manner.

The truly unique features in the home are the two mantels and hearths of the fireplaces in the formal living room and the family room. The mantels are made of birds-eye maple with identical decoration of swirling branches and finely cut open shelves. The marble of the hearths is green and white. Both the maple and the marble were brought around the Horn from New Hampshire and are beautiful examples of period workmanship.28

The Queen Anne style was unique to the industrial age. It came from mechanical improvements and was paid for by profits from industrialism. It could be big and bold or, in the case of the Noyes House, quiet and subtle, but it was always American. Because of the mail-order architectural pattern book, and instructions, and factory-made, precut architectural parts could be transported throughout the country on transcontinental railways. The Queen Anne style of architecture is found throughout the United States. The upper-middle class and the wealthy were not the only ones to prosper, between 1865 and 1890 the average middle-class income rose about 30%, and that included dealing with two depressions.29 That economic security led to greater independence for women. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the development of the women’s club movement. Women were gaining the vote, at least west of the Mississippi River and the right to hold private property while married. Employment opportunities were available for the first time in large numbers. Women wanted to know more about home care and gardening as well as learn of national and local political concerns.

  1. James Garvin, “Mail-Order House Plans and American Victorian Architecture,” Winterhur Portfolio 16:4 (Winter, 1981): 10. (back)
  2. Phillips  7.(back)
  3. “Architectural Style:  Queen Anne,”  www.fredbecker.org/News%20Letter/Q%20Anne%Arch.htm, 1.(back)
  4. “Queen Anne 1870-1910,” Zachman Information Systems Architecture, www.realviews.com/homes/qu.html., 1. (back)
  5. Queen Anne 1870-1910  1 (back)
  6. “Architectural Style:  Queen Anne”  2. (back)
  7. “Queen Anne Style,” Answers.com http://www.answers.com/topic/queen-anne-style,  8. (back)
  8. “National City Heritage Days Home Tour.”  National City Chamber of Commerce, 28 October 2000. (back)
  9. Esther Newlan, personal interviews, 1947 through 2005. (back)
  10. Gary Nash, The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society, v.II  6th edition (San Francisco:  Pearson Longman) 2008, 553. (back)