Trevanion represents the transformation of the early-nineteenth-century farmhouse into a fashionable and exuberantly ornamented Italianate villa. The house began as a vernacular brick farmhouse built in 1817 in a manner typical of the southern Pennsylvania region just to the north. In 1855 William A. Dallas purchased it with the help of his brother-in-law Joshua Shorb and undertook renovations to upgrade the structure, adding elements that appeared in noted pattern books of the period. Dallas came from a highly educated family that included influential lawyers and judges, and he contributed significantly to local knowledge of the latest farming techniques and farm machinery. As a progressive farmer who had an eye toward modern trends, Dallas undoubtedly sought to update his home so that it, too, reflected contemporary practice.
Italianate and Gothic Revival villas or cottages were perhaps the most influential architectural forms to develop during the mid-nineteenth century. Generally tied to their country environs, the proliferation of such structures was part of a larger picturesque aesthetic that grew out of an English interest in landscapes. Villa and cottage designs were made popular in this country by individuals such as Andrew Jackson Downing, whose path-breaking book, The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), dominated the pattern book market and set standards for good taste and livability in housing design of the era. In fact, many of the architectural embellishments that William Dallas incorporated into his redesign match those from Downing’s book. The Architecture of Country Houses was the first pattern book to target the potential homeowner, rather than the house carpenter, which enabled and encouraged Dallas to make the changes himself. In honor of its transformation, Dallas dubbed the property “Trevanion,” a Welsh term meaning “the meeting of the streams” for its location near the confluence of Big Pipe Creek and the Meadow Branch.
At its core, Trevanion encompasses the original five-bay-wide by two-bay-deep farmhouse with rear ell, apparent in the current structure when viewed from the west side. Projecting elements such as the three-story entrance tower to the center of the front elevation and adjoining gable-front section belie its earlier form. Trevanion stands currently as a two-and-a-half-story, Flemish bond brick, Italianate villa exhibiting the less typical asymmetrical plan and incorporating elements of the Gothic Revival style. The tower, also less typical of Italianate houses, is a hallmark of the villa and is usually located (as it is here) where the two perpendicular sections of the house meet. As indicative of the picturesque, Trevanion features numerous large-scale ornamental features as well as elements intended to encourage its occupants to engage with the out-of-doors. These include the arcaded front porch, tower balcony with cut-out balustrade and trimmed hood, and the third-story tower room with windows at each elevation, covered by a flat roof ornamented by a broad, bracketed cornice. The adjoining projection includes a first-story bay window with a hooded balcony above and a quatrefoil window in the gable end. French doors open onto the balconies in both projections, and other openings include round-arched and pedimented window-heads.
In 1857, a three-and-a-half story wing was built onto the ell, which also contains elements indicative of villa architecture, such as an oriel window, steeply peaked gables, bargeboards, diamond-pattern glazing, and pendants. The most elaborate feature of the interior is the double parlor that was created as part of the new front projection. It includes ornamented marble mantels and carved wood moldings and other details. The property also includes a collection of period outbuildings laid out in a linear plan that becomes increasingly more decorative as they near the main house. Closest is a brick summer kitchen with a broad hearth and beehive oven, ornamented with bargeboards and cut-out designs. Next is a similarly ornamented cool storage building, beyond which is a brick and stone structure that may have originated as a slave quarter.
Trevanion was then, and remains today, unusual for this area. As historian Joseph Getty has noted, it is “especially conspicuous in agrarian Carroll County and it is significant that an ‘up-to-date’ structure existed in a rural area otherwise dominated by a cultural lag.”
Downing, A.J. The Architecture of Country Houses. 1850. Reprint, with an introduction by J. Stewart Johnson, New York: Dover Publications, 1969.
Getty, Joseph M., “Brick Mills, Trevanion (Trevanion, preferred),” Carroll County, Maryland. National Register Nomination Form, 1975. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.