Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: January 1996 Volume 34 Number 1, Pages 20–28

Gingerbread in Berwyn

Megan Fruchter and Hob Borgson

Page 20

Gingerbread . . . Carpenter Gothic . . . Eastlake Style Scroll Work. They are all names used to describe the decorative trim on porch supports and the vergeboards along the eaves or gables of many rural houses built in the last quarter of the 19th century. And they are just as much a feature of "Victorian" architecture as the steep gabled roof, the pointed Gothic windows, stained glass transoms, and wide porches or piazzas and verandas.

This decorative trim, as John Maass has pointed out in his book The Gingerbread Age [New York: Bramhall House, 1957], "was cut out by a scroll saw, worked by a foot pedal or driven by steam." Various designs were also illustrated in architectural pattern books, to be reproduced by local carpenters or woodworkers. The designs were sometimes rather simple; in other cases they were quite elaborate and intricate.

The term "gingerbread" was used to describe "anything showy or unsubstantial" as early as in 1605, almost 400 years ago, and is defined as "elaborate, gaudy, or superfluous ornamentation;" its etymology is not certain, but it may have derived from the fact that gingerbread cookies were often fashioned in fanciful shapes. "Eastlake Style", a descriptive term used since the mid-1870s, takes its name from Charles Eastlake, an English furniture designer who "advanced somewhat similar design elements" in his furniture.

The term "Carpenter Gothic", incidentally, is sometimes also used to describe an entire "Victorian" house made from lumber rather than stone or masonry. The style is also more properly known as "Queen Anne", so named by a group of English architects who developed and popularized it in the last quarter of the century.

On the following pages are sketches, done by Megan Fruchter, of some of the gingerbread still found on the porch supports of homes in Berwyn.

Page 21

58 Bridge Avenue 30 Bridge Avenue 731 Berwyn Avenue

Page 22

49 Bridge Avenue 42 Bridge Avenue

Page 23

227 Warren Avenue 43 Bridge Avenue 736 Berwyn Avenue

Page 24

26 Waterloo Avenue 20 Knox Avenue

Page 25

817 Old Lancaster Avenue 17 Knox Avenue 1033 Lancaster Avenue

Page 26

77 Waterloo Avenue 708 Berwyn Avenue 733 Berwyn Avenue

Page 27

1033 Lancaster Avenue 38 Bridge Avenue 700 Berwyn Avenue

Page 28

72 Waterloo Avenue 741 First Avenue 21 Walnut Avenue


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