About the McAdams House

McAdams House was built in 1891 by Albert L. West and his son, William Callis West, for George and Sallie McAdams. George was a clothier and one of the partners in McAdams and Berry, a firm that operated until the 1980s as Berry-Burke. George’s wife, Sallie, came from the socially prominent Branch family.


Exterior

This house is a variation on Richardsonian closely tied to High Victorian Gothic. The façade is constructed with rock-faced Petersburg granite and red brick. This was one of Albert West’s last commissions before his death in 1892. W.O. Burton, a local contractor, provided the stone and brickwork. The house is three-and-one-half stories and is done in coursed rock-faced granite with dressed granite details. The top story and gable are of pressed red brick and were originally unpainted to create contrast. This polychrome treatment was popular during the High Victorian Gothic period. The porch contains encaustic tiles by American Encaustic Tiling Company of Zanesvile, Ohio, one of the great tile manufactures of the period. These tiles are from the High Victorian Gothic period whereas the interior tiles reflect the Aesthetic Movement.


Interior

The McAdams plan is a traditional town house plan, or a box with a hall along one side and a row of rooms along the other.

Fireplace detail

Fireplace detail.

The interior contains remarkably preserved ornamentation, particularly on its chimneypieces. As you enter the house you find an entry hall with a stunning chimneypiece that contains an American Encaustic Tiling Company surround and a cast iron fireback by Scanlan and Company of Louisville, Ky. For a brief period in the late 19th and early 20th century, tiles were not merely practical but of high artistic interest. The tiles in this fireplace can be matched up to the design in the American Encaustic Tiling Company catalog, circa 1890.

McAdams tile

Catalog page of tile.

The style of the tile is Art Nouveau, which is uncommon in the U.S. These tiles are early for Art Nouveau. The subject matter pertains to fire. This is the décor tradition of decorating a room to meet its function. The women are probably legendary creatures called Elementals. The most famous Elementals are the Gnomes, who preside over earth. The Elementals we see here may be Salamandrae — Elementals of fire.

McAdams fireback

Illustration of fireback.

Inside the fireplace is a cast iron fireback (firebacks were fireplace linings.) The fireback is copied from visionary artist Elihu Vedder. The subject matter is “Young Marsyas Charming the Hares.” Marsyas was a satyr, who was a follower of Bacchus, the god of parties. For centuries, satyrs were a favorite motif for decorating rooms for entertaining, and that is probably why Scanlan and Company copied this Vedder picture for an expensive fireback for a reception area (VCU’s Sidderding house has an identical fireback in its front parlor.)

McAdams stained glass

Detail of stained glass.

Another last decorative element of note is the stunning stained glass Aesthetic Movement window behind the staircase.

 

 

References
Illustration of tile: Catalog page, Embossed Art Tile Mantel Facing., no. 1016F. The American Encaustic Tiling Company, Artistic Tiles (New York, n.d.). Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU.

Illustration of fireback: Scanlan & Co. Fireback, Charming of the Hares, ca. 1891. Scanlan & Co. [Section No. 2.] Illustrated Catalogue of...Fireplace Trimmings (Louisville, NY, 1892). Courtesy of National Museum of American History, Warsaw Collection of Business Americana, Smithsonian Institution.