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Seventeenth-Century Replica Houses

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1962–1967, Armand La Montagne. 381, 391, 399, and 405 Bungy Rd.

This astonishing row of four replicas of seventeenth-century houses by the builder-craftsman Armand La Montagne recalls, in order of building, a gambrel-roofed house demolished around 1960 in nearby Glocester, Rhode Island; the Parson-Capon House in Topsfield, Massachusetts; the Ashley House in Deerfield, Massachusetts; and, best of all, La Montagne's final house in this group, a personal adaptation of a Rhode Island “stoneender” derived from the Eleazer Arnold House in Lincoln ( LI6).

La Montagne's building career began with his desire to restore a seventeenth-century house; but the right house was either unavailable or in the wrong place. So, using as a model what had become a drearily sited, dilapidated house in Glocester which was about to be destroyed, he built his own “seventeenth-century house” on a site in Scituate. Trees from his property provided most of the timbers and boarding. He used old tools and techniques (as well as power tools and modern construction equipment) to make de novo what he was unable to attain by restoration. After living in his Glocester gambrel for a while (number 381), he replicated the Parson-Capon House next door (number 399), moved into the second house, and sold the first. (A subsequent owner augmented the Parson-Capon replica with an attached two-car garage which can loosely be described as in the seventeenth-century manner.) While living in this house, La Montagne successively built the Ashley replica (number 391) on speculation and the Arnold stoneender (number 405) as his third and final house for himself. The latter is a more vertical, compact version of the original, with an added workshop wing.

What elevates these four houses above routine replication and technical achievement is the intensity of La Montagne's feeling for the originals, the sensitivity of his craftsmanship, his eye for detail, and a subtle theatricality. This last results, it would seem, from the heightened sense given to even the smallest details when they are so meticulously and affectionately valued as signs of a past way of life which he meant to regain and relive against all odds. Inside as well, he employed the ancient ways, but inflected original plan types to more open and picturesque treatment derived from modern planning. His own house is furnished throughout by his replicas and variations of seventeenth-century furniture. The handsome field-stone walls, a full three feet thick and frequently photographed as splendid examples of colonial walling in a state famous for them, are, like everything else, La Montagne's doing. “I like the masculinity of seventeenth-century building,” he says. (Jack Sobon and Roger Schroeder's Timber Frame Construction[1984] uses La Montagne's houses and methods in discussing a modern revival of this ancient mode of construction, and credits him with an important role in initiating it.)

Eventually, having built twelve houses in his favorite style (eight at scattered sites, mostly on commission), La Montagne abruptly stopped house building altogether, although he has some disciples. He turned to sculpture in painted wood, contemporary celebrities meticulously depicted life size from multiple photographs, down to the crinkled surface of the skin: General George Patton for the Patton Museum; President Gerald Ford for the presidential library, Ted Williams for the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with sporting greats for other halls of fame. Meticulous replication and admiration for masculine qualities seem to link La Montagne's disparate worlds. Still, it is disconcerting to step into a seventeenth-century Rhode Island stone-ender and confront Larry Bird crouched, life size, a basketball on his fingertips moments before delivering another two points to the Celtics, being readied for immortality in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Seventeenth-Century Replica Houses", [Scituate, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-SC6.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 267-268.

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