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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a small two‑story wooden house with a small porch supporting an upper-story balcony. The roof has two sharply pitched gables at right angles, and a chimney more or less where they intersect; the gables are decorated with an elaborately carved running trim of trefoils. On each side of the ground floor, a door flanked by a window on either side; on the upper floor, three windows: all the windows have wooden shutters. A man in a long coat and a hat stands by the door. It is the Austin House in Paris, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

Albert B. Austin House, Paris, Built 1854.

 p98  Hudson River Gothic

In selecting ancient courthouses, covered bridges, sawmills, early taverns, and old homes of Illinois as subjects for scale drawings, draftsmen of the Historic American Buildings Survey considered the architecture of these structures as well as their historic value. This was especially true of the state's venerable dwellings. Since Illinois contains almost all of the various architectural styles that prevailed in the earlier days of the republic, the federal draftsmen included in their survey representative examples of each of these styles, chosen from among the many in all parts of the state.

A house picked for this purpose by the Survey architects stands in Paris. This central Illinois city, seat of Edgar County and a community of some nine thousand population, contains numerous fine old houses but the best known, both for its architecture and the man who built it, is this dwelling which was chosen for special study.

The Paris house thus honored is called the old Austin place. It was built in 1854, or shortly after the village of Paris was platted by Judge Albert B. Austin, long a prominent citizen of Edgar County and well-known jurist of central Illinois before and after the Civil War. In addition to his service on the bench, Judge Austin helped to organize and build the schools of Edgar County and took an active interest in the county's religious affairs. He was, furthermore, the father of ten children, eight of whom grew to maturity.

Judge Austin was born in New York State in 1808. In that state he grew up, was married, became a man of some consequence, and then, in 1852, traveled westward with his family and settled at Paris. Here his outstanding abilities were soon recognized and not long afterward he was elected clerk of the county court and, later, judge of the probate court. After his house was completed, it was widely admired for its architecture.

It was this style of architecture which attracted the attention of the government draftsmen more than three quarters of a century after the house was built. For they found it to be a good example of what is known to architectural historians as Hudson River Gothic. This style, which was popular in Judge Austin's native state during the 1840's and 1850's, is marked by pointed arches and other medieval forms.

But the Austin house, as well as those in the Hudson River Valley from which it was copied, was not built of stone or brick, which were the materials usually associated with Gothic buildings. It is a frame dwelling  p99 covered with board-and‑batten siding, and its general design is like that of any other typical frame house of the Gothic Revival in America. What makes it distinctive, what sets it apart as a Gothic dwelling, is found in the scrollwork trim and ornamental detail of its exterior.

On the gables, on the east portico, and on a tall, narrow, second-story window over the portico, are evidences of the "pointed" design familiar to Americans in church architecture of the last century. The gable ends are ornamented with the tapering wooden spires that characterize the style. Traces of the earlier classic influences are found in the doorways and lintels. The house is two stories high, gable-roofed, and contains twelve rooms. There is no suggestion of the Gothic in the interior, this part being plain and conventional and having the usual fireplaces of dwellings of that era. The parlor and dining room of the house are furnished with Austin family heirlooms, such as a walnut parlor set, chests, whatnots, and an impressive Seth Thomas clock. Here, too, in old-fashioned oval frames, are faded pictures of Judge and Mrs. Austin — two persons who look intelligent, sturdy, persevering, and in general like the men and women who helped to build the Midwest.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07