This ordinary-looking Italianate house with oversized brackets is actually an extraordinarily early example of concrete-block construction. Concrete construction was relatively rare in the United States until the development of the Portland cement industry in 1871. As early as the 1820s, however, a few enterprising builders experimented with solid concrete blocks, using naturally occurring hydraulic cement, and in the 1840s, Joseph Goodrich and others in Wisconsin experimented with concrete grout (see RO21). In 1868, the Frear Stone Manufacturing Company of Chicago introduced concrete blocks with hollow cores. Precast with metal presses, these lightweight blocks proved to be moisture resistant, and their hollow centers provided excellent insulation. Moreover, they were cheaper than stone and stronger than brick.
Although it is not known whether the Frear Company provided the block, the Tompkins House was built in the company’s inaugural year. The hollow-core blocks are long and narrow, ten inches in length and four inches high. The flattened pediments that crown the tall windows and the offset double doors are also made of concrete. The one-story porch supported on wooden posts and brackets that spans the facade is a reconstruction. The plan features a central hall with a parlor and sitting room on one side and a dining room on the other. A two-story rear addition contained the kitchen.