Falmouth Field Guide
21 Duke Street
William Canup with Edward Chappell and Emilie Johnson
In 1780, carpenter Thomas Hanlon purchased this parcel, Barrett lot 87, on which this stately home would later be built ca. 1805-1825.1 While we do not know if he built on the site, used it as a shop, or simply purchased these lots as a real estate investment, Hanlon’s ownership does speak to the complex diversity of folks who purchased lots along the town’s major coastal road in the late eighteenth century. The mix of people who acquired lots on Duke Street between Princess and Market Streets offers a cross-section of the demographic makeup of the town in the late eighteenth century. In three blocks along Duke Street, most of which sold between 1775 and 1785 (early in the development of Falmouth), there were four carpenters, three gentlemen, two spinsters, a merchant, a planter, a tavernkeeper, a butcher, a mason, a free mulatto woman, and three free mulatto men.2 Record are less clear about how much that diversity persisted into the nineteenth century when this house was built.
The exquisite masonry of this early 19th century Georgian house is perhaps its most distinguishing feature. The three-bay façade contrasts yellow brick with the rose brick of the jack arches and painted white keystones. All four walls are laid in Flemish bond with generous use of closers and employment of soldier brick where needed under the first floor windows, and a two-course strap course –one course with all headers– separates the first and second floors. This Georgian house also features a base composed of squared limestone blocks and raised joints, resembling those at the Baptist Manse/Masonic Hall on Market Street.
It appears that the front double doors originally opened into what was the largest room, running the width of the house; a 20th century partition wall was later added to create a waiting room to satisfy the needs of a physician’s office. This large room is spanned by two planed and beaded traverse summer beams, which carry beaded longitudinal joists. The interior molding varies greatly from room to room and even from opening to opening, caused by replacement and renovation over the years. The earliest and most prevalent type of molding is a double architrave with an extra fillet or quirked ovolo and beaded backband which dates to 1805-25. The upper windows retain their original external frames with backbands similar to those inside. They have quirked moldings that resemble ovolos sliding into beads, in an ambiguous manner that suggests cymas and a relatively late neoclassical design influenced by Greek moldings, perhaps c.1820-35.
A plain, open neoclassical mahogany stair rises in two runs at the southeast corner of the house. It has molded rails carried by square balusters and column-and-urn newels similar to those on the richer but now derelict stair at 20 Duke Street. This staircase at 21 Duke Street cuts across a first story window because of the insistence of the Georgian style on the preservation of the window bay alignments and façade symmetry. At the top of the stairs a pair of wide double doors with sunken-panel pilasters, turned bull’s eye blocks at the intersections, and crown mark the entrance to a more stylized reception room. This Greek-flavored detail is repeated inside the reception room with a costly dentil cornice which contrasts with familiar double architraves present in much of the rest of the house.