Andrew Jackson Downing and 1000 Main Street - A work in progress

We know very little about the builder of 1000 Main John J. White, and while research is continuing, we are
working to improve the appearance of the building and seeking to meet with the RDA and the Borough about the
future of this remarkable building. We believe it is of much greater value to Darby and the citizens of Delaware
County as a functional building, rather than another vacant lot.

Recently, Darby contractor and Darby resident  Ken Johnson told us that 1000 Main reminded him of the work of
architect Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) who popularized the idea of the American front porch like the
one on 1000 Main.   We found an article on "when and why the front porch became popular in American
architecture." The article speaks of countermovements spurred on by rapid industrialization and changes to our
cities brought on by the industrial revolution. Such countermovements included landscaped parks, efforts to  
preserve urban enclaves of nature like Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, and the rural cemetery movement.       

In the midst of these social and technological forces, the landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing
contributed the most to the growth in popularity of the American front porch. In his widely read and distributed
pattern books, Downing advanced the idea of landscape architecture, which resembled many of the ideas
heretofore discussed. Yet, he took the idea further, linking the American house to the American landscape. In
these books, Downing became the first to articulate the necessity for and meaning of the front porch. He stated
first that "a porch strengthens or conveys expression of purpose, because, instead of leaving the entrance door
bare, as in manufactories and buildings of inferior description it serves both as a note of preparation, and an
effectual shelter and protection to the entrance."

Article Popularity of the front porch

One of Downng’s most popular and influential books was "
The Architecture of Country Houses" first published in
1850.   1000 Main was built in 1852, the year of Downing's death at age 36. We, and it is not beyond possibility
that carpenter J.J. White had a copy of Downing's pattern book and was possibly  influenced by it, especially in
the choice of board and batten siding and the front porch extending along the entire front of the facade.See

Andrew Jackson Downing was born in Newburgh, New York in 1815 at a time the industrial revolution was
changing the face of America. The son of a wheelwright turned nurseryman, he specialized in landscape
architecture, designing the landscaping for the Smithsonian in Washington DC for example, and promoting
domestic architecture as a different kind of structure that goes beyond mere utility to elevate itself and its
surroundings “Domestic architecture.” he says “is only perfect when it is composed so as to express the utmost
beauty and truth in in the life of the individual.” Pg 25.

Downing said, “there are three most important truths which all domestic architecture should present, and without
which, it must always be unsatisfactory. The first is, the general truth that the buildings intended for dwelling
house; the second, the local true that is intended for town or country house; and the third, the specific truth that
is intended for a certain kind of country house – as a cottage, farmhouse, or Villa page 31

Downing believed a building should be in harmony with its surroundings and tells a story “During a drive on Long
Island last autumn, (when) we saw with pain and mortification, a suburban villa of a wealthy citizen, a narrow,
unmistakable “six story brick,“ which seemed, in its forlornness, and utter want of harmony with all about it, as if it
has strayed out of town, in a fit of insanity, and had lost the power of getting back again.” Pg 33

Downing appears to follow the three pillars of architecture first set out by Vitruvius Pollo of strength, usefulness,
and delight  with usefulness being a matter of convenience, cost, and quality of materials. On all three, J.J. White
may have followed Downing's advice for 1000 Main.

1000 Main has board and batten (vertical) siding (now covered with stucco) which has been used in barn
construction for years, but it’s use in domestic architecture MAY have been a Downing innovation. Investigation
is continuing. Downing said

“For all wooden cottages, therefore, we recommend weatherboarding of sound inch or inch and a quarter pine,
tongued and grooved at the edges, nailed on in the vertical manner, and covered with neat battens”Pg 52

“We greatly prefer the vertical to the horizontal boarding, not only because it is more durable, but because it
has an expression of strength and truthfulness but the other has not. The main timbers which enter into the
frame of a wooden house and support the structure, are vertical, and hence the vertical boarding properly
signifies to the eye a wooden house.” Pg 51

“In the horizontal boarding, the weather is kept out of the joint by the upper board overlapping the under one; in
the vertical boarding, it is kept out by a narrow strip, called a batten, about 2 inches wide, which is nailed over
the joint formed by the meeting of the two boards. Pg 50

“Besides this, there is not only greater economy in vertical boarding, but, being a bolder mode of construction, it
better expresses the picturesque – a kind of beauty essentially belonging to wooden houses.” Page 52

With regard to a porch or veranda, Downing says: ”A much higher character is conferred on a simple cottage by
a veranda then by a highly ornamented gable, because one indicates a constant means of enjoyment for the
inmates – something in their daily life beside ministry to necessities.” Page 47 and

“The larger expression of domestic enjoyment is conveyed by the veranda or piazza. A veranda is a positive
luxury and all the warmer parts of the year, since in mid summer it is the resting place, lounging spot, and place
a social resort, of the whole family at certain hours of the day…… But the moment the dwelling rises so far in
dignity above the merely useful as to employ any considerable features not entirely intended for use, then the
veranda should find its place.” Page 120

Downing’s life itself is fascinating, as is his death. He died July 28, 1852 at the age of 36  in a fire on the
steamboat Henry Clay that was having a race with the steamboat Armenia. According to the preface to the
Dover addition of Downing‘s book, “ Downing was last seen on the upper deck, throwing deck chairs down to
survivors in the water to help keep them afloat. “