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Past perfect: Gothic-style architecture link to history


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High above First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, steep pitched roofs and pointed arches create a stark contrast to the downtown area’s Victorian structures.

The Mount Pleasant Cemetery features the twisted ornate metal gates that have become staples of spooky imagery.

Even a simple house in downtown Edinburgh carries an architectural gloom about it.

Throughout Johnson County, excellent examples of Gothic construction have been restored and maintained. Though “Goth” or “Gothic” has become associated with the macabre, these buildings are held up by those who appreciate the unique architectural style.

“It’s really an innocent, charming style. These were popping up during the Industrial Revolution — railroads were arriving, industries were developing,” said Marsh Davis, president of preservation group Indiana Landmarks. “There was a romantic yearning for pre-Industrial times.”

All around downtown Franklin, historic homes and buildings have been refurbished and preserved to provide a glimpse into the city’s evolution.

Some have the curly-cue brackets common to the Italianate style. Others are more symmetrical and classical, marks of the Greek Revival.

But some of the more unique are those borrowing from the Gothic tradition of medieval Europe, resurrected in Victorian-era Indiana.

All those structures combined are part of what makes Franklin special, said Rob Shilts, director of the preservation group Franklin Heritage.

“This is a town that has mostly been untouched by modern development,” he said. “A lot of cities try to rebuild to make it look old. This is the real thing.”

Despite the association of the name, Gothic buildings don’t deserve their spooky reputation, Davis said. Rather, the structures created in that image are more whimsical and nostalgic than anything sinister.

“The architects were trying to express something rooted in the past. It’s a romantic harkening to a different time,” Davis said.

The style is characterized by its steep roofs, as well as references to church architecture. At the time Gothic revival came into style, architecture was dominated by the clean lines of classicism, mimicking Greek and Roman styles.

“Gothic came about from a reaction to that. It was a break from the horizontal lines, columns, things like that,” Davis said.

Instead of designing buildings to look like pagan temples, architects decided to emulate the cathedrals and monasteries of Europe.

Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis is an excellent example. The stone house of worship, with its bronze-gilded steeple and sharp, stained-glass windows, would have fit it seamlessly with the great houses of worship in Paris, England and Germany of medieval time.

But the greatest diversity of the style can be found in preserved homes throughout central Indiana, Davis said.

In the Toner Historic District in downtown Edinburgh, the multiple styles of the late 19th century are on display. At the time when the city was a hub of commerce, Edinburgh’s residents. Many of those structures have been saved and restored.

It’s a perfect place to see the hallmarks of the Gothic style — pitched roofs that pierced the sky, pointed window arches and the “gingerbread” scrollwork common to Victorian homes.

“It’s a call-back to the stonework of the great medieval cathedrals, but here in the Midwest, it’s done on a jigsaw and applied to the buildings,” Davis said.

 

Nineveh

Christian Church

Where: 1261 E. County Road 775S, Nineveh

When: 1832

Description: Built of traditional Indiana limestone blocks and flanked by a sprawling cemetery, Nineveh Christian Church might best embody the stereotype of Gothic. But it’s the subtle features of the physical building that make it an embodiment of the style.

The main entrance, where churchgoers still enter every Sunday, is a traditional high Gothic archway. The entryway is actually a series of arches decreasing in size, giving the sense as one approaches of a distant perspective.

Slanted gables also are stacked leading up to the steeple. Small buttresses on the sides of the structure recall pre-Renaissance construction throughout Europe.

 

Bethlehem

Cemetery

Where: Nineveh Township on County Road 750S

When: 1830

Description: The Gothic features of this small southern Johnson County burial site aren’t found on the small white church that it borders or the gravestones scattered throughout its wooded plot. Rather, this cemetery is bounded by a fence and gate that serve as an ideal example of Gothic metalwork.

The graveyard’s name is crafted in block letters across the top. Curled accents on the gate’s hinged openings are simple yet decorative. A pointed iron piece spears skyward at its center.

Bethlehem Cemetery was one of the earliest burial places in the county. The decorative gate were added decades later, when Gothic Revival was the dominant architectural style.

 

Toner Historic District

Where: East Main Cross Street, between Holland and Clay streets, Edinburgh.

When: About 1860

Description: Though all types of architectural styles characterize this historic Edinburgh street, a handful of Gothic homes stand out. The homes were built by some of Edinburgh’s elite families, including the Legates and the Toners, during the city’s boom in the late 19th century.

Unique aspects include the arched tripartite window beneath the second story gable of this home at 607 E. Main Cross St. The central large window is flanked by two narrow side windows, taking a concept popular in medieval times and adapting it to more modern times. Paired brackets also decorated the home’s cornice board along the gable.

 

First Presbyterian Church

Where: 100 E. Madison St., Franklin

When: 1875

Description: Franklin’s version of a medieval cathedral has deep roots in the city’s history. First Presbyterian was the first church established in Franklin, in 1824. George King and his wife founded the church the year after they established Franklin as a city.

The current structure has risen above the tree-lined streets of downtown Franklin for more than 140 years. The dominant feature is its steeple, narrow and pointed as it stretches more than 100 feet into the sky. Matching gables, with pointed arches adorning each side of steeple. The front entrance features six long, skinny, pointed windows below an ornate triangular window.

 

Halstead-

Campbell House

Where: 731 S. State St., Franklin

When: 1855

Description: One of Franklin’s finest examples of Gothic architecture sits just south of Franklin College. But it hasn’t always been in its current location. When the Halstead-Campbell house was built, it occupied a plot directly across from the college’s campus. Construction of a new street forced college and community leaders to relocate it. The structure was loaded onto a flatbed truck and slowly hauled about a mile south, to land donated by the Indiana Masonic Home.

Like many Gothic buildings, the house is dominated by its front windows — three narrow, pointed panes outlined in white. Similar windows — two on either side of the front gable and one above it — gave the building a triangular look. Molding intended to look like snaking ivy decorates the front gable.

Story and photos by Ryan Trares rtrares@dailyjournal.net

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