Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York

Date added: March 26, 2024 Categories: New York House Emerson, William Ralph
From Northwest (1976)

Tianderah is one of the finest homes in Gilbertsville, a small but prosperous village in southwestern Otsego County. Founded near the end of the eighteenth century by settlers from England and New England, the village became a manufacturing and industrial center in the early nineteenth century. When the railroad made small local industries obsolete, the village developed a summer resort trade, capitalizing on the beautiful landscape of the area. Many wealthy people established vacation homes in Otsego County during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, with several of them commissioning designs by the leading fashionable architects of Boston and New York.

The original owner of Tianderah, N.C. Chapman, was a St. Louis businessman who was descended from the founder of Gilbertsville and spent his early years there. In 1885, he bought a plot of land on the Butternut Creek overlooking the village and commissioned Boston architect William Ralph Emerson to design a summer residence. In expectation of the structure, the local newspaper declared: "The new building will be one of the largest and most complete residences in Otsego County." Local materials were used and some fifty laborers were employed in the construction. The imported talent included not only the architect, but also the landscaping firm of Ernest W. Bowditch, master masons J. Flanagan and James Mattison, building superintendent John Savage, builder John H. Watson, and a large number of masons and painters, most from the Boston vicinity. The Chapmans spent summers at Tianderah from 1887, until after Mr. Chapman's death in 1915. Although the home has changed hands several times since then, it has remained unaltered except for improvements in the heating and lighting systems and the addition of asphalt shingles to the roof.

William Ralph Emerson (1833-1918) was recognized by his contemporaries as one of the creators of the shingle style in architecture. He practiced almost exclusively in that mode between the 1870s and 1893, after which he turned increasingly to the academic revival style, his interest in which had been foreshadowed in his early endorsement of the preservation of colonial architecture.

Tianderah is a distinctive and unusual example of Emerson's work. He designed only two houses of all-masonry construction during his career, the other being the Queen Anne style Eustis house (1878), English in mood. In contrast, Tianderah is distinctively American, drawing on the vernacular tradition for its basic form and much of its decorative detail. Turning away from the picturesque tradition, Emerson designed a structure more symmetrical and compact in mass than any of his other shingle-style homes. The basic profile of the massive three-story composition derives from New England gambrel-roofed farmhouses of the mid-eighteenth century. Likewise, the symmetry of window placement, the use of wooden shingles, and much of the exterior detailing are traceable to the colonial forms which Emerson called "the only true American architecture," He depended extensively on neoclassical prototypes for the interior woodwork and the delicate front balconies.

In addition to the colonial elements, the house includes Richardsonian Romanesque motifs in the round arches of the central dormer and entrance porch, the elaboration of the gable-end lunettes, and the reticulation of the parapet and perch foundation. Stylistic input from the English Renaissance is evident in the three vertical bays which jut aggressively from the front roof facade. The Gothic Revival is remembered in the curves and pointed arch of the entrance porch.

At Tianderah, Emerson took an essentially rural, American, vernacular form and, incorporating motifs from several contemporary and revival styles, generated an eclectic but harmonious design.

The sweeping flow of roof and wall are typical of Emerson's shingle style architecture; while the delicate colonial woodwork and large areas of glass foreshadow his later work in the academic revival style. Emerson's synthesis of contrasting vernacular and scholastic motifs and adaptation of local materials demonstrate his mastery of the shingle style.

Since the time of its construction, Tianderah has been locally recognized for its great size and distinction of design.

Building Description

Tianderah is a massive stone and shingle house on the outskirts of Gilbertsville, a small village at the western edge of Otsego County near the confluence of the Unadilla and Susquehanna rivers. Built on the crest of a hill, the house overlooks Gilbertsville to the northwest, with the Butternut Creek (Tianderah or "crooked creek" being the native name) in the foreground and striking views north and south along the valley. In addition to the L-shaped house, the thirty-five-acre estate encompasses a carriage shed, a carriage house, and much of the original landscaping.

The home was commissioned in 1885 by St. Louis businessman N.C. Chapman, a Gilbertsville native, to serve as his summer residence. It was designed by William Ralph Emerson (1833-1918), an important architect of the day, credited with being one of the major contributors to the development of shingle-style architecture. The design of Tianderah draws heavily on vernacular traditions with decorative motifs traceable to Colonial, English Renaissance, and Richardsonian Romanesque design.

The house appears massive, not only because of its size (eighty by seventy-five feet at its largest dimensions) but also from the use of coarse local building materials, especially the large blocks of rock-faced blue stone. Although the house rises more than three stories above ground level, its steep gambrel roof, a full two stories high, draws the elevation earthward. The front is pierced by a variety of jutting forms: A fifteen foot deep verandah with rounded ends and a central bay runs the full length of the front elevation. Above this rise three stone dormers, spaced symmetrically along the shingled roof. Beneath its gable, the central dormer is a huge Roman arch, with rounded supports extending column-like to the porch roof. All three dormers have delicate, curving, wooden balconies at the third-floor level.

The gable ends are stone, three bays wide. The southwest end faces a circular driveway. Towards the rear of the house, the main entrance from the drive is sheltered by a small wooden porch, its pointed arch and curved brackets suggesting Gothic Revival design. The southwestern gable wall is pierced symmetrically with windows, the upper pair ornamented in stone with blind arches above them and a geometric lozenge between.

The northwest gable displays a variety of window types and sizes, asymmetrically arranged. The third floor has a triple window ornamented centrally with a blind arch to resemble a Palladian motif. A small first-floor window is also topped with a Roman arch. Four other windows have flat arches and stone lintels.

A slightly lower wing extends to the rear from the northeast side. Three windows of varying sizes on the first floor fit just under the eaves of the two-story gambrel roof, which is pierced at second-story level by four flush windows. Appended to the end of this wing is a one-story lean-to woodshed, above which the gable end is shingled.

The rear of Tianderah has an asymmetrical fenestration pattern in response to the functional requirements of its internal space. The eye is drawn to the large Roman arch which opens the rear of the entrance porch. Above this, a parapet of stone openwork encloses a small second-floor terrace. Beside it is a large triple window that lights the main interior stair. Above, the roof is pierced by several dormers, both shed and gabled. Three stone chimneys rise from the roof; one stands at each end of the rear wing, and a larger one serves the southern end of the main wing.

The interior 6f the first floor is dominated by a large central living hall, which focuses on the grand stairway at the rear of the house. Its banister is derived from colonial design, consisting of alternating swash and circular turned balusters bearing a wide handrail. The balustrade, the dado, and the fielded paneling of the downstairs hall are of finely crafted oak. The hall and many other rooms are furnished with neoclassical-style woodwork, often supplemented by stone, ceramic, and metalwork in a more modern, geometric mode.

Two outbuildings also stand at Tianderah; a long, angular, stone carriage shed and a stone and shingle carriage house. Both were designed to complement the main house in both exterior and interior detail.

No major alterations have occurred at Tianderah, except that the original wooden shingles of all three buildings have been covered over by asphalt shingles.

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York From Northwest (1976)
From Northwest (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York From South (1976)
From South (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York From Northeast (1976)
From Northeast (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York Stairway (1976)
Stairway (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York Hall fireplace (1976)
Hall fireplace (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York Dining Room Fireplace (1976)
Dining Room Fireplace (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York Shed (1976)
Shed (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York Carriage House (1976)
Carriage House (1976)

Tianderah Estate, Gilbertsville New York Stable Interior (1976)
Stable Interior (1976)