Round Arches

Anatomy of A Rowhouse
A few weeks ago, we presented a brief course on the belt course, noting that the Cockeysville marble featured in the houses on Eager Street sets them apart from houses on neighboring blocks.
Today we’re going to look at another architectural feature that makes the 2400 block of Eager Street special: semi-circular round arched windows and doorways.
But first, a word about rowhouse hierarchy. Not all rowhouses were created equal; in fact, builders would generally develop several styles that catered to clientele with varying wallet thicknesses. Within the space of a city block, these different styles were (and still are) on full display. This phenomenon is perhaps most pronounced in parts of West Baltimore- take the block just to the south of Union Square, shown below:
Imposing three-bay wide, three-story houses with top-of-the-line materials and fashionable detailing lined main streets and parks (a la the 1500 block of W Lombard below) and were intended for wealthier folks.
Smaller and less ornate three-story houses sat on parallel streets, like the 100 block of S Stricker seen below, and were targeted at folks with more modest incomes. Comparing the photos above and below, you can see that the houses on Stricker are shallower, shorter and narrower, and lack the marble stoops and substantial cornices seen on the Lombard houses.
Smaller two-story houses sat along the alleys that cut through blocks, like the 1500 block of Lemmon Street below. These homes were built as no-frills workforce housing.
lemmon st
In West Baltimore, this rowhouse hierarchy can be pretty easy to spot. Out in our neck of the woods in the Milton-Montford neighborhood, the task is made a bit trickier because almost all of the houses are two-story and there was less of a wealth discrepancy among inhabitants than there was in the West Baltimore neighborhoods of the mid 19th century. Without the gimme three-story houses denoting the creme de la creme, one must look for other cues, which brings us back to those round arches on Eager Street.
The 900 block of Bradford Street was built just before the 2400 block of Eager Street. On Bradford, you can see that the doors and windows feature flatter segmental arches with a curve that is only slightly pronounced.
On Eager Street, the doors and windows feature the round half-circle arch you see below. This is not a jaw-dropping difference, but it is significant- along with the marble stoops and belt courses, these round arches signify that the houses on Eager featured higher quality materials and more advanced building techniques than their predecessors. While it’s not as obvious as the discrepancy between the three-story monsters on Lombard the humble two-story dwellings a hundred feet south on Lemmon, these subtle architectural differences likely corresponded to small differences in price and, perhaps, clientele.
The round arched doorways were fitted with a wooden transom casing that tied into the brick. This casing was pieced together from a dozen or so curved pieces of wood.
The craftsmanship involved in creating the casing (as opposed to a relatively simple flat lintel or unsupported segmental brick arch) suggests that extra costs may have been incurred during construction to add details that might have allowed for higher sales prices. In a future post, we’ll explore why it’s also likely that the semi-circular arches were the work of a builder growing ever more confident in his craft.

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