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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 13
Lesson 13
The Home of Ebenezer Williams

When Ebenezer Hinsdale Williams, a Harvard graduate, purchased a house in 1816 that had been built by his great uncle, Ebenezer Hinsdale, he was a successful farmer, landowner, and a man of considerable wealth. At the time, Deerfield was becoming a prosperous village, and that prosperity was reflected in its buildings. In keeping with that spirit,Williams set out to create a home that represented his affluence and status.

During the Federal period (1780-1820), civic buildings and homes in Massachusetts and elsewhere, reflected the level of importance the culture had assigned to the democratic ideals associated with ancient Greece and Rome. Imagery, iconography, and building orders, drawn from these historic civilizations and filtered through the eyes of the Italian Renaissance, were depicted in the design (both exterior and interior) of buildings and in the decorative arts. Elaborate doorways and porticos, pillars and pilasters, Palladian windows, and classically inspired scenes, all seek to recreate the democratic sensibilities of an ancient, and conceptually purer, time. Strength, nobility, freedom, grandeur, and democracy were all characteristics associated with that era. At the same time, the archaeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum filtered into the united states, adding more fuel to the fire.

Asher Benjamin, an architect from Greenfield, clearly influenced the adoption of Federal Period classical design in Deerfield. Benjamin was a student of noted architect Charles Bullfinch of Boston. In 1797 Benjamin published his "Country Builder's Assistant", which served as a pattern book for New England builders and architects.

The Ebenezer Williams house was built circa 1749 as a typical Georgian two-over-two room design . Williams remodeled it extensively between 1816-1820. He had the building raised 18 inches to enable the addition of an elaborate elliptical fanlight, a characteristic Palladian, Federal Period touch. Where the lead bars used to hold the panes in place intersect, there are small rosettes. At the bottom center of the fanlight is a sunburst. Small flat pilasters frame the entryway, one on the outer edge of each sidelights. On the inner edges are thin rounded pilasters that connect by a narrow wooden frame at the bottom of the fanlight. The cornice of the house has modillions with holes drilled in them for decorative effect. A hip roof was added as well as an ell, effectively doubling the size of the building. Williams also moved the windows, probably adjusting the balance which was altered by the new door surround. Six over six windows were framed by outside blinds, possibly the first to be found in Deerfield. Within the home, he added fireplaces with Federal-style mantels. To truly reflect his status and wealth, he had French wallpaper with a Venetian design installed. Fancy chairs, designed to accommodate the women's dresses of the period, were placed in numbers around the room. While a student at Deerfield Academy, his daughter completed a watercolor painting of Mt. Vernon that undoubtedly was displayed in one of the rooms of the elegant home. Mr. Williams left an elaborate room by room inventory, which has been invaluable in restoring the building to its Federal Period grandeur.


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