Architecture Around the World

Amherst Humphrey House
at Genesee Country Village, & Museum

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

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The 1797 Federal style Amherst Humphrey House, like thousands of story-and-a-half New England precedents from which it derives, is almost totally lacking in exterior ornamentation.

Entrance features an entablature with a transom window and reeded pilasters

There are no hallways - the rooms are interconnected.


Queen Anne breakfast table, ca. 1740


Federal style chairs


Federal desk on frame, case top. 1800.

Federal desk - detail

Federal desk - detail

First floor bed chamber.

First floor bed chamber.

First floor bed chamber. Chippendale looking glass

First floor bed chamber. Tilt-top table

The first floor bed chamber includes an eighteenth century country chest-on-chest

Country chest-on-chest - detail

Country chest-on-chest - detail.
Fan on center panel .....
willow mounts with bail handles

Federal fireplace

Bedroom off kitchen

A large fireplace was a necessity for cooking and an oven was needed alongside it for baking.

Beehive oven.

Amherst Humphrey's c. 1797 house, though of a type common for well over a century in his native Massachusetts, was ahead of its time in the Genesee Country. His ten-room "framed" house would remain conspicuous among the log houses of other pioneers then settling in the area.

The route along which Amherst Humphrey settled had only five years earlier been an Indian trail between Canandaigua and the Genesee River with less than a handful of families residing within the twenty-six mile stretch. Work was yet to begin on the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike which one day would carry its heavy traffic within yards of his front door.

Little is known about Amherst Humphrey, but some assumptions may be hazarded from the meager facts at hand. He was a farmer. Where today there is corn on his old farmlands, Humphrey undoubtedly raised wheat. He was elected Pathmaster of his road district in 1799 and in 1806 he became Overseer of Highways for the district. It seems historically logical to believe that he would have been closely involved with the construction of the vitally important turnpike through his district and right past his farm.

The house

More is known about the house of Amherst Humphrey than about the man himself. Houses like Humphrey's, organized around a central chimney system, were basic and logical. There were no hallways - the rooms interconnected.

A large fireplace was a necessity for cooking and an oven was needed alongside it for baking. An iron crane swung from one side of the fire chamber, supporting the kettle; on the wide hearth was room for food needing heat for its preparation or warming for its serving.

Two other fireplaces heated the two front rooms. These were smaller, nestled back into the mass of masonry needed to contain the kitchen fireplace and oven, and used the same central flue.

The central chimney accommodated a fireplace on the second floor as well, furnishing welcome heat to the largest of Humphrey's five second-floor chambers.

The great pile of masonry in the central chimney type house served as a solid anchor for the structure's heavy timber frame, portions of which might rest against the chimney. While Humphrey's fireplaces, oven, and chimney are of brick, the base beneath in the full cellar is of stone and contains its own fireplace opening - probably used for the messier business of lye-making and lard rendering. The floor of the basement is of cobblestone. There is a cistern beneath the summer kitchen (added in the 1830s) and an inside privy at the far end of the attached woodshed.

The interior features include not only paneled and molded doors, door and window surrounds and chair rails, but also mantelpieces and cupboards carried out in moldings hand-planed by a craftsman with a light touch and an eye for proportion. Remarkably, the work of the unknown craftsman survived a century and three quarters of continuous occupation as a working farmhouse.

Humphrey and his wife had raised four boys and five girls.

-- Genesee Country Village, by Stuart Bolger, 1993

Special thanks to Public Relations Manager Katie DeTar and the many helpful docents for their assistance
Photos and their arrangement 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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