Kicking off a new series covering strange and unusual items currently held by the Principia Archives and the Principia Collection

Over the doorway of the Principia Archives is bolted an architectural element conspicuously out of place on the mid-century cinderblock wall it adorns. This hand-carved bargeboard, its flaking paint exposing the bare wood underneath, has undergone a long journey to find itself bolted to this particular wall.

“I think we are the only office on campus to have a piece of another building on display,” said Sally Bown of the Archives.

This garland of stylized grape leaves was brought here two years ago from the basement of School of Nations, in what was once the School of Nations Museum, where it had been kept in the possession of the Principia Archives.

So what exactly is a bargeboard? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this common architectural element is a “board, often ornamental, running along the edge of the gable of a house.” These boards were taken to the height of ornamentation in Gothic-revival architecture, a popular style in America during the mid to late 1800’s. As Gothic-revival was refined throughout the nineteenth century and its popularity spread, farmhouses and cottages—particularly in the Midwest—often featured the elements of this style, with hand-carved bargeboards, windows, and banisters as identifiable features.

This particular board, according to accounts in the Archive, was most likely carved sometime around 1880 when the E. M. Fuller farmhouse was built on a site high on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The house stood on that location for nearly fifty years until, in 1930, it was moved a few hundred yards by the Maybeck and White Company to make way for their latest project, the Principia College chapel. While examining the building for removal, Maybeck may have drawn inspiration from the farmhouse, as suggested in 1978 by respected local historian and Principia professor Dr. Charles Hosmer (Elsah History, vol. 25-26). Hosmer noted a similarity between the grapes on the bargeboard and the grapes on the chapel shudders.

With Maybeck reorienting the house and placing it in the center of the chapel green, the farmhouse entered a new phase of its history as the administration building for the new college. It remained there until 1963 when it was made redundant after all administration offices were moved into the newly completed School of Government. Piece by piece, the farmhouse that had stood, in one spot or another, for nearly 85 years, was removed, leaving no trace.

One effect of archival research is that it often places our own perceptions in a new and interesting light. It is hard for modern Principians to imagine an administration building being in the center of the focal point of our campus – the Chapel. However, the Chapel Green, as such, did not exist until the completion of the School of Nations and School of Government buildings in the mid-twentieth century, when the offices housed in Eastover could be relocated and the building dismantled to make way for all that luscious grass.

So, next time you are in the Library, pop into the Archives office on the first floor. Take a look above the door and enjoy your first-hand connection to Eastover. I suggest taking this knowledge with you on a springtime picnic on the Chapel Green, where you may be resting in the vanished shade of a piece of Principia history.






Section of the bargeboard

Image courtesy of Taffiny Kablay