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2021-04-13 16:11:22

    About 1755, next to his Williamsburg home on Nicholson Street, John Tayloe built himself a one-room office like no other. At least unlike any other building that survives from eighteenth-century North America. The small frame structure is a normal office with all the requisite windows, doors, and walls, and it has an S-shaped ogee-style roof, a bow in the direction of medieval architecture. Inside, its ceiling is plastered and groin vaulted, suggesting a small chamber in a castle or in a medieval chapel. You expect incense and chimes—smells and bells—in such rooms. But not in colonial North America.

    The Middle Ages and the eighteenth century are kindred eras. The medieval Gothic details on the Tayloe Office were beginning to appear in pattern books published for builders, carpenters, and furniture-makers. This little building fits easily amid the Georgian confidence of Williamsburg’s architecture. It hints at a revered and shared medieval past. The triumph of the pointed arch and interlaced neo-Gothic over the neoclassical would not fully occur until after 1834 and the postfire rebuild of the Houses of Parliament in London, but medieval building stylistics were known to English architects and travelers on the Grand Tour.