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A solid foundation

Writer recognized for architecture book

June 16, 2012
By Beth Christian Broschart Special to The Inter-Mountain , The Inter-Mountain

By Beth Christian Broschart

Special to The


Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
John C. Allen Jr. looks through his book, ‘Uncommon Vernacular: The Early Houses of Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1735-1835’ on a recent visit to his parent’s home near Elkins. Allen was honored earlier this month during the 2012 IPPY Awards in New York. His book is the gold award winner in the architecture category.

When we think of the history of an area, we usually tag it with the families or the genealogy of the people who lived there.

Local writer John C. Allen Jr. decided to look at the area of Jefferson County and study it through a history of its architecture.

"Uncommon Vernacular: The Early Houses of Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1735-1835" focuses on the buildings and why they are the way they are. It also focuses on the architecture of the area and how it differs from nearby areas.

Allen was recognized earlier this month in New York at the 16th annual IPPY Awards Ceremony and Reception. The contest is designed to bring increased recognition to the independent publishing industry and all its members. This year, IPPY received 5,203 entries.

Allen's book was chosen a gold-medal winner in the category of architecture.

He said he always has loved older homes and was particularly fond of a converted one-room school house in Harrison County.

"I always loved to visit family who lived in older homes," Allen said. "To me they always felt more real and more like a home."

He said he enjoys driving around and looking at homes tucked into the woods. He tries to understand why homes were oriented a certain direction and built a certain way.

"I believe you can learn about the people who lived in an era by the homes they built and left behind," Allen said. "The people are gone, but the homes remain a tangible item representing those people."

He said the book required seven years of research.

"We would go out and knock on doors and meet the folks who lived there, gathering information," he said. "Black and white photographs were taken by noted architectural photographer Walter Smalling Jr., giving readers a way to compare styles."

Meeting the folks who lived in these homes gave Allen a great introduction to the county and its residents.

"The people who live in old homes really love them," Allen said. "They are expensive to heat and are drafty, and the folks really appreciate them to stay there."

Allen said illustrator Andrew Lewis did a wonderful job.

"Sometimes the drawings were necessary to convey the idea, where a photograph just would not do," Allen said.

His book will be featured in the 2012 Book, Jacket, & Journal Show premiering at the Association of American University Presses Annual Meeting in Chicago this Monday to Wednesday. The show will be exhibited around the country from September 2012 to April 2013; dates and locations will be announced in late summer.

Davis & Elkins College will host a lecture and book signing for Allen's book in October.

Allen said one of the goals of his book is to inspire preservation.

"I would hope looking through this book would help the reader have a better appreciation of the past," Allen said. "I hope people will put a new roof on an outbuilding and help take care of it rather than tearing it down."

"Uncommon Vernacular" chronicles 250 buildings, including plantation homes and log houses. It contains 700 photographs, more than 80 drawings and features 120 floor plans.

Allen works as a preservation coordinator and architectural historian near Shepherdstown.



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