When we were restoring Great Oaks in the 1960s we were also building a Coca-Cola building in DeFuniak Springs. The architect was a gentleman in his 60s. I showed him some pictures of the house. When he saw pictures of the doors and windows he told me the design was Palladian. Another architect has told me the same. I never really followed up on this until the present time.
In this discussion we need to keep in mind Jackson County was formed in 1822. This area developed as a plantation area, as did most of the south. Across the south there are many houses that were built prior to the Civil War. They were typically two rooms wide with a hall between, two rooms high and one room deep. The kitchen was a separate building which was often later moved and attached to the rear of the house or some other type of structure was so added. Porches were installed at the front door. They were of all styles and they were often referred to as porticos. These homes have generally been referred to as Greek Revivals. We have two in Greenwood, the Hayes-Long Mansion and the Irwin House. In Marianna the Ely Mansion and the McKinnon House both fall in that category. You see on these the wide variety of porches. The Ely mansion architrave (the cornice work resting on the columns) is definitely Greek, but the columns are square. One reference I found said it had Ionic columns, so it may have previously had round ones.
From the time we first bought the Smith House (now Great Oaks) I have known it was designed by an architect. Here are some of my reasons. It had closets. All rooms except the parlor joined a hall. It was well planned and convenient. I had studied Greek architecture well enough to know the Greeks only used Doric columns. The architrave matched the Greek pattern. (Note its height.) I thought its hip roof was unusual, since most of the other houses and Greek temples had gable roofs but I now realize that's the architect's choice.
The term Palladianism comes from the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio, 1508-1580.He wrote four books on his work which is called the Quattro Libri and he has most always had a following. There is a great deal of information about him and if you care to really get into this go to the internet and look up Palladian Architecture. I will just get into it enough to suffice our purpose. His work moved across Europe and finally came to America toward the latter part of the 18th century. It influenced our public buildings almost from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson was one of his disciples. He considered his Quattro Libri his architectural Bible. The Rotunda at the University of Virginia and the original Monticello are all Palladian. The White House, designed by James Hoban, was started in 1792. It is also Palladian. If you look at this, especially notice the window treatment.
One of his main points was symmetry. The other was windows. I am including a few pictures of Great Oaks to show these features. Note the front view. From the center of the front doors see how each side is symmetrical with the other. If you look at the floor plans, draw a line down the center, you will notice, except for minor points, the north and south sides mirror each other. Now look at the window and door trim. We have no interior pictures of the window trim because of the drapes.
Now, we ask why was such a sophisticated home built in this rural area at such a time? I have noted in previous articles that Hamilton Bryan administered his father's estate (Elijah) from 1852 to 1873 and his reports to the county judge are in the court house. I have just spent most of two days there doing research. We need to know the Bryans were quite sophisticated and travelled a great deal. They were college educated. I just found a letter from the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City Md. acknowledging payment for Elizabeth's (Lizzie) tuition. (copy attached)
Patapsco Female Institute
Ellicott City, Md., Post Office,
Feby 22d, 1868
H. E. Bryan Esq
Dear Sir â€“ I have received this day â€“ Draft of John W. Anderson Sons & Co Savannah Ga on Gilman Son & Co New York for Five hundred dollars ($500=) which we have placed to your Credit for Expenses of your Sister (Miss E.J. Bryan) in School â€“ Academic year 1864=68
Respectfully & truly
N. C. Brooks
Secy Patap Inst
I have been trying to find the name of the architect, but have not been successful. I' m sure he was highly qualified, obviously a student of Palladio. This type design could have been a request of Hamilton. I expect we may never know the answers to the questions, but I know we have a rare jewel. I believe if this information is sent abroad by the TDC it will bring in many students of history and architecture and will cast a new light on our area.
I expect to continue study on this and may have a follow up article later.