Thursday, April 8, 2010

Legend of the Widow's Walks


If you have visited our Southern Cottages House Plans site, you may have noitced a few of our cottages featuring the popular widows walk. But have you ever wondered why they call it a widows walk? You may be surprised where this architectural detail actually originated from.

You may be familiar with the most common legend of the widows walk. It goes something like this:

"The faithful and dedicated wife, performing her daily circumambulations on the cold and lonely widow's walk: The next sail to top the horizon may well carry her husband, gone to sea these many years. But not today. the sun sets, bring to a close her lonely vigil for this day. Perhaps, though, the much anticipated vision will appear tomorrow and if not tomorrow, the next day."

Recently we read an article from the Fisherman's Voice titled Widow's Walk which discusses the evolution of this popular architectural detail. The author, Tom Seymour, believes that the legend of the widows walk may be nothing more than a "sentiment-laden myth". Here is a summary of his article and his idea of where the widow's walk originated.

Originally, widows walks served as an access point in the roof located near the chimney. Back when houses were generally heated by wood, the residents ran the risk of chimney fires. The widow's walk provided a quick and safe route up to the chimney in which water or sand could then be poured downed the chimney to douse the fire.

The actual appearance of the widows walk has gone through a lengthly evolution. On most colonial structures the widow's walk was nothing more then a simple hatch opening to the roof. At this point in time the widow's walk was strictly used for practicality and lacked any aesthetic appeal.

When the New England economy had begun to improve in the late 1800's, and budgets for buiding increased, more stylized and ornate widow's walk started to become the trend. These newly altered widow's walks were generally fully enclosed with windows that were able to open to allow for ventilation during the warm summer months. They also provided a great place for people to have their afternoon tea or evening cocktail while enjoying the view.

In the late 19th century after the advances of highly stylized widow's walk came about, the legend of the lonely wife waiting for her captains safe return from sea came about as well. Since then this has became the most popuar origin of this popular architectural detail found in many historic homes, and homes still being built today.

The modern version of the widow's walk can regualry be seen in seaside towns. Since the price of ocean views comes at a premium, many have chosen to build a little farther back from the shoreline, and still take in the ocean view a top the widow's walk.

Our Widows Walk House Plan Designs incorporate a roof-top windowed cupola or "widows walk", which we refer to as an observation loft, accessed via spiral stair from the second story hallway. This observation loft is a great place to glimpse a distant view, to survey the landscape or to find a special place to read a book or to work on a project in your personal studio.



1 comment:

  1. Thank you for such a great article explaining a widows walk! I've always wondered about this term.

    ReplyDelete

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