Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rhinecliff Autumn

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Stone steps that tumble like a woodland stream to greet dream visitors ushered through Miss Jones’ magical doorway to the castle within. Even in its current state, these brick decorations are trumpet flourishes. Since posting yesterday I’ve learned that a master mason, John Bird, was responsible for the brickwork of Rhinecliff as well as for the church at the corner of Livingston and Mulberry ten years later. 

The old town history records the building of a church, “under the direction of Father Scully, in 1864, with George Veitch as architect, and John Bird as master mason.” It goes on to list the names of large contributors to the church parish: "Mrs. Mary R. Miller, Mrs. Franklin Delano, Miss Elizabeth Jones, Mr. Horatio Miller, Mr. Edward Jones, Mr. William Astor, and Mr. Lewis Livingston.” - a church for Miss Elizabeth and the people who kept up with her and probably passed through this door regularly. I look forward to finding out how John Bird's imagination met the commission for a church.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the decorations appear to be mostly composed of standard shape bricks, but with a precise technique for cutting brick to meet immediate conditions. Each point on the sunburst arches is uniquely shaped, no two points are alike. This is a building ahead of its time, designed and executed before there was a demand for brick shaped into a variety of curves and a complement of precast decorative details. 

There is an excellent collection of documents on Rhinecliff and including a plan, here: at the Library of Congress.

The best collection of early photos I’ve found is here: ( Be sure to click through the different sets of pictures. Much of the porch (All of it on the left side) is gone now, and we see directly to the second layer of brickwork. Among the interiors is a shot looking into the central hall that is a similar view to mine where the floor was gone ( 

When you’re done looking elsewhere, come back to this picture; open it up to full screen if you can, and turn down any light around the screen or reflecting from it. Look until you’ve convinced yourself there’s nobody lurking behind the window or about to come through the opening door. Can you find Miss Elizabeth in a mansion's folly, or John Bird?

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