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CIRCA School: Bargeboards

by Jon Valalik (photo by By Tom Parnell)

Grab your No. 2 pencils, everyone! It’s time for CIRCA School, where we uncover the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details.
Have you heard of the writer and landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing? Google him now! He’s been a recurring theme in CIRCA School, and for good reason. Though the man himself didn’t invent many of the architectural elements about which he wrote, he did aid in their popularization. This week we’ll learn about fun & whimsical bargeboards, a feature that appears in numerous Downing-designed and inspired homes!


St. John’s Episcopal Church in Rippon, West Virginia. Photo by Universal Pops.

Bargeboards are a type of trim attached underneath the roofline at the gable end of a home. The purpose of a bargeboard is to block the view of purlins, which are the horizontal support beams of a roof set perpendicular to the rafters and gable. Because the bargeboard serves no structural purpose, the embellished designs carved into it are free to be as robust or delicate as needed.

Bargeboards are a defining feature of the Gothic Revival William H. Mason House in Connecticut. Photo courtesy of change.org.

As is the case with other architectural elements, the amount of elaboration in bargeboards varies drastically. From plain, uncut boards to very elaborately-cut planks, the patterns carved into the bargeboards can differ widely, and are generally informed by the architectural style of the building.

Fancy bargeboards in North Somerset, England. Photo by Kerrie Finch.


The Jeremiah Williams House in Washington, DC. Photo by Jack E. Boucher.

Purlins are left exposed in many homes, but decorative bargeboards were introduced and popularized in the United States in Carpenter Gothic homes of the mid 19th century, thanks in large part to the influence of Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing published a number of “pattern books” that were sold around the country and introduced architectural trends to those who would otherwise have no access (sort of like an old-fashioned Pinterest!). His books contained numerous examples of what were then known as “verge-boards” and inspired their use all over the country. From there, bargeboards continued to grow in popularity and began to appear in many Queen Anne as well Tudor Revival buildings.

Bargeboards on a Gothic Revival house in Bristol, Vermont. Photo by Don Shall.




Jon grew up in South Carolina and studied Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. His time in Charleston sowed a deep appreciation for both classical and vernacular styles and the importance of their conservation. He is currently working in Charlotte, North Carolina and hopes to break into the field of architectural preservation soon.


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