Sunday, January 30, 2022

Fences at Courtyards & Private Homes

Green Spring by Benjamin Latrobe, Showing Fences & Walls Surrounding the Court Yard at the Entrance Facade. (The garden was at the rear of the house.)

Yards & Courtyards at Private Dwellings

The term court yard usually referred to a public or private entrance greeting and meeting area. Because most courtyards were built to receive carriages and horses, they usually were located on the road side of coastline houses, not on the water-facing facade. The word yard appeared in the British American colonies in 1647, when a tenant agreed to "maintain the old dwelling house and quartering houses and Tobacco houses in repair, as well as the pales about the yard and gardens."

In Virginia in 1686, a visitor noted of Green Spring, the former home of Governor William Berkeley, that the orchard was "well fenced in with Locust fence, which is as durable as most brick walls, a Garden, a hundred feet square, well pailed in, a Yeard where in is most of the foresaid necessary houses, pallizado'd in with locust Punchens."

In 1687, hungry French visitor Durand of Dauphine in A Huguenot Exile in Virginia, wrote that "There are also many doves, turtle-doves, thrushes, partridges in such numbers that they come into the court-yards; they are smaller than those of Europe, but taste the same."

The 1746 South Carolina Gazette carried a notice about a missing horse, "SRTAY'D or stolen out of my Court -Yard formerly belonging to Mrs. Sarab Frott, a Roan Horse, with a black Bow Main, branded on the mounting shoulder B, shod his Fore Feet, and is brown by ten Name of Firefly."

Peter Kalm noticed on his travels throughout the colonies in 1748,"Mulberry trees are planted on some hillocks near the house, and sometime even in the court yards of the house."


In the Pennsylvania Gazette of 1753, a house-for-rent ad noted, "To be lett, A large commodious house, 4 rooms on a floor, 3 stories high, with neat court yardgarden and good orchard, conveniently situated on Germantown road, about a mile distant from Philadelphia. "Several months later, this description appeared, "a large commodious brick house, 40 feet square, 3 stories high, four rooms on a floor, a genteel court yardneatly pailin, a brick wash house, necessary house, and pump in the yard, a good garden and orchard."

In an issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette of 1761 was a notice for a "A commodious Country Seat... a new Stone House three Stories high, being 41 Feet front, and 24 Feet deep, with Cellars under the whole; a Court Yardin the Front of the House, a Piazza joining the House, and a new Stone Kitchen, with a Pump before the Door."
Entrance to Court Yard at Mount Clare in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, as in most instances, the court yard was at the public entrance facade of the dwelling. The more private garden facade was usually on the opposite side of the house. Virginia visitor Mary Ambler in 1770, observed at Mount Clare in Baltimore, "There is a Handsome Court Yard on the other side of the House."

In 1777, in his Virginia letter book, George Braxton recorded, "I agreed with Alexander Oliver Gardener to make a Court yard before my Door according to Art."
Courtyard at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Just outside of Philadelphia in 1785, a country seat went on the market. "An elegant seat for a Summer residence of a genteel family, situated on the main street in Germantown, just beyond the six mile stone. This healthful retreat consists of a spacious house, two stories high, with four rooms on a floor, a piazza in the rear, 36 feet in length and 12 feet wide; a court yard about 80 feet square, neatly gravelled, sodded and surrounded with trees."

In his diary for August 30, 1785, at Mount Vernon, Virginia, George Washington reported that the workers had" Finished gravelling the right hand Walk leading to the front gate from the Court Yard."
1791 Edward Savage. Mount Vernon from the Court Yard Carriage Entrance.

Elbridge Gerry, Jr. visited Mount Vernon, about 14 years after Washington's death noting that, "On one side is an elegant garden, which has a small white house for the gardener, and a row of brick buildings back of it. All these are enclosed by a wall in an oval form, and leaving a large area before the house for the yard."

When artist Robert Edge Pine died, in Philadelphia his property went for sale in 1789. including "an elegant new Brick House 42 feet front by 50 feet deep, completely finished, and well accommodated either for a large family or for a public house; a good pump in the yard; a neat garden in the rear of the house, and a court -yard in front."
The Plantation 1825 Virginia.
Private Yards

In 1753, the South Carolina Gazette reported a dwelling for sale in Prince William Parish which included"a garden at the south front, and yardlately paved in."In the South, especially at urban sites, the yard was often paved with brick, tile, or crushed shells.
18C Thomas Banister House with front yard.

The Moravians who settled in at Salem, North Carolina, wrote in 1772,"The family houses are to fence in their yardsin order better to keep the children at home and not let them run around the streets. Also, if the open building-sites could be fenced in, the cattle could be kept out of town."
Early Houses and Fenced Yards at Old Salem, North Carolina.

New England tutor Philip Fithian Vickers was working at Nomini Hall, Virginia in 1774. He reported, "From the front yard of the Great House."

Henry Wansey toured New England in 1794. He wrote of Worcester, Massachusetts, "most of the houses have a large court before them, full of lilacs and other shrubs, with a seat under them, and a paved walk up the middle." And in Connecticut, he wrote, "I arrived at Newhaven...Many handsome well looking houses, though chiefly built of wood and separated by a court or garden from its neighbour."
1796 Ralph Earl. Detail Houses Fronting on New Milford Green with fenced yards.

Elizabeth Drinker wrote in her diary in 1796 of her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,"Our Garden looks most beautiful, the Trees in full Bloom, the red, and white blossoms intermixt'd with the green leaves, which are just putting out flowers."
Fenced Utility Yard "Well Paled In" at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

Court Yard

Jonathan Schoepf reported on the toilet facilities in 1783, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,"a little court or garden, where usually are the necessaries, and so this often evil-smelling convenience of our European houses is missed here, but space and better arrangement are gained."
Necessary House in Colonial Williamsburg.