Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fanlights at the Sinclair Inn Museum

I had a few minutes to visit with our staff at the Sinclair Inn Museum earlier today. Every time I am in the Sinclair Inn I have the chance to remark on the large number of interesting architectural features. From the wattle and daub (torchis to an Acadian) construction in the back to the foundation which fits neither the front nor the back of the building this is a unique structure. What caught my eye today were the fanlights.

To give a somewhat technical description, a fanlight is a semi-circular window with mullions radiating out from the center in a fan like pattern. These windows are often placed over a door or another window although they can be found on their own as they are at the Sinclair Inn Museum. When used over a door fanlights were usually installed to allow light into a hallway. Locally, this style of window was quite common on buildings built in the late Georgian and early Victorian periods. At some point, I will post a sampling of fanlights found along the Granville Road. There are a surprising number of fanlights along that particular road.

The Sinclair Inn is made up of two houses which were built in 1710 and 1711. When the two sections of the Sinclair Inn were joined in 1781, Frederick Sinclair decided to add various bits of contemporary decoration to improve the look of his building. A second floor was added and an attempt was made at Neo-Classical symmetry. The roofline of the building was changed so that the gable faced the road and a gable dormer was added to the side of the structure. In both gables, Colonel Sinclair placed decorative fanlights as an additional Neo-Classical touch. These fanlights were sided by pilasters and surmounted by a peaked entablature which mimicked the pitch of the gable. (By the way, pilasters are decorations which look like pillars but do not support any weight and an entablature is the part which tops a window or door). The image at the side shows this treatment above a door. For the next 100 years the Sinclair Inn had 4 very attractive fanlights. As styles changed, later owners of the Sinclair Inn began to alter the windows and doors. Doors were moved and windows were replaced with larger square windows. While these may have allowed more light into the building, archival photographs show that they did not help the aestetic appeal of the building.

When restoration work began in the 1980s, a decision was made to restore the exterior of the building to its 1781 appearance. This decision meant that fanlights needed to be built and reinstalled. The reproductions were built based on archival photographs and physical evidence inside the building. When the restoration work was complete, the exterior of the building looked much more appropriate for a 1781 structure. An interpretive panel inside the museum shows how the reproduction fanlights were assembled.

We were actually lucky enough to find one of the original 1781 fanlights stored in the building. This window has been placed in an acrylic box where it can be safely displayed. The frame of this impressive piece of craftsmanship is carved from a single piece of wood. The frames of the reproductions were made from two pieces secured with a wooden pin.

All for now,
RGS

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