Architecture of Bayne Library
Andrew Bayne’s daughter Amanda married James Madison Balph, a prominent architect of Allegheny County. James designed their home, which would one day become our library, in the Italianate style of the Victorian Era.
The home was built in 1875 on a hill overlooking the Ohio River Valley in Bellevue on a large plot of land that Andrew Bayne had previously deeded to his daughter. The architect’s initials JMB are etched into the design on the glass transom window above the entry door.
The son of a contractor, James spent years with his father acquiring practical knowledge of building and construction. Exhibiting an aptitude for Architecture, he chose to devote four years to study beneath Charles Bartberger, an eminent architect of Pittsburgh. In 1860 James opened his own firm and designed churches, schools, theaters, hotels, stores, and residences- including his own.
Formerly the Balph home, Andrew Bayne Memorial Library was designated as a Historic Landmark in 1976 by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. The bronze commemorative plaque is proudly displayed on a bookshelf near the circulation desk next to a portrait of Amanda.
The Italianate style (1840-1885) was part of the Romantic and Picturesque movement, which strove to create architectural forms evoking a romanticized region or earlier period of history. This style indulged a desire for greater freedom of architectural expression and was comprised of more organic forms which were intended to complement their natural settings.
While other styles referenced the past for design inspiration based on the formal classical buildings of ancient Rome and Greece, the Romantic movement offered a welcomed departure from the strict adherence to the classical form.
Much of the popularity of the Italianate style can be attributed to Andrew Jackson Downing. His own Italianate style home designs were among those featured in two pattern books he published, which were eagerly consulted and enjoyed by both architects and the public, Victorian Cottage Residences in 1842 and Architecture of Country Houses in 1850.
Another advocate of the Italianate style, Clavert Vaux also put forth an influential book titled Villas and Cottages in 1857 which features a suggested floor plan with notable parallels to the design of the Balph Residence.
With the progression of the Industrial Revolution, populations exploded in America’s cities. Pittsburgh was on the rise towards becoming one of the great industrial centers of the world. With ever-increasing dirt, disease, and pollution, the city became an unappealing backdrop for family life.
The surrounding suburbs and countryside offered fresher air and an opportunity for expansion. With the public’s increased interest in healthier lifestyles and greater appreciation for aesthetic beauty, Italianate style dwellings were envisioned in generously spaced naturalistic landscapes with bountiful vegetation and towering trees.
A wave of Italianate home building was set into motion by the growth of the country, increased prosperity and optimism of the era, and the influential books.
While the overall form and layout of Italianate style buildings may vary greatly, the style is primarily defined by the lavish exterior details and ornamentation that creates a veritable feast for the eyes.
Italianate style architecture is characterized by a visually balanced asymmetrical façade and is known for featuring an abundance of decorative brackets. Buildings are typically two or three stories tall with a low pitch roof.
This view of our dignified red-brick building surrounded by trees showcases the decorative bracketed cornice with deeply projecting eaves.
Italianate porches are restrained in their size and decoration, compared to other Victorian styles. Our single-story column-supported porch protects the main-door entrance. The square post columns feature chamfered corners and are topped with brackets.
The side porch is much smaller but lacks none of the detail, facing out onto the lawn overlooking North Balph Avenue. The stained glass window above the porch depicts the Lone Sentinel, a historic elm tree that once stood on this property.
The two bay windows at Bayne Library duplicate the look of the decorative bracketed cornice at the roofline. They are embellished with wooden panels and decoratively topped with iron crests. Curve-topped windows were popularized in America by the Italianate trend.
The windows are tall and narrow and are often paired. The central window in the gable is rounded at the top.
Decoratively painted projecting hoods shaped like an inverted letter U cap the windows like a crown.
Italianate Roofs tend to be lower pitched, but there are also some with extremely steep gable roofs. James Madison Balph made a savvy choice to design their home with a steeper roof, as snow can easily accumulate on lower sloped roofs tending to cause issues in our northern climate. Slate shingles cover the roof.
In older photographs the building’s brick facade was painted white. Could the white paint have been a trend influenced by the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 featuring stark white buildings? More recently, in the 90’s the library building was restored and renovated over the time-span of six years in which all traces of white paint were removed to reveal the original brick, and the brackets and projecting window hoods were recreated and decoratively painted victorian red, sandy beige, hunter green, and sage green.
Homes of the Italianate style are known for their flexible floor plans with clearly defined public areas, multiple doors with access to the outside, cozy nooks, and larger family gathering spaces with free-flowing passages between rooms.
Upon crossing the entry threshold into the gracious entry hallway, one immediately notices the high ceilings, spacious rooms, tall windows, and dual parlors with bay windows.
Due to the grand spaces, Italianate houses were exceedingly difficult and expensive to heat. In an effort to provide even heating throughout the residence, every room was graced with an Italian marble fireplace.
Italianate houses often feature fine woodwork and large bold moldings, Bayne Library is no exception. The interior of Bayne Library features mahogany woodwork, impressive painted moldings, and the original grand mahogany staircase. On the stair landing, a beautiful stained glass window was installed and dedicated in 1998 to honor the memory of Bellevue residents, Mary and Harry O’Hare. The tree shown in window design depicts the Lone Sentinel, a historic elm tree that once stood on this property.
An ingenious feature that you may not immediately notice is the interior embrasured shutters that fold into pockets when open. At first glance they become a nearly undetectable part of the woodwork surrounding the window. Brick homes built during this time period exhibit walls of exceptional thickness, as the walls were built with solid brick instead of thin brick veneer. This wall thickness creates a deep window jamb, which serves to conveniently and sleekly store the shutters when they are hinged to the open position. The shutters can be folded across the windows for privacy, shade, and insulation from the elements.
The lighting was originally fueled by gas, but is now powered by electricity. In the largest room on the second level there is still evidence of the old gas lines.
Bayne Library is a delight to experience for its architecture and details. With its history, one can take time to envision the domestic family life the building once contained. Stay tuned for the future release of our Interactive Timeline and be sure to visit the Bayne Family Tree to learn more about the Bayne Family.
In addition, the surrounding landscape of Bayne Park provides an exceptional setting for admiring the views of this Historic Landmark from beneath the shade of the magnificent Trees of Bayne Park.
Written by Linda 10/27/2020