Andrew Jackson Downing ([October 30, 1815 – July 28, 1852) was a prominent landscape designer, architectural critic and advocate for romantic architectural styles in the United States. His pattern books Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850) were widely read and introduced Americans to revival styles popular in England. Jackson’s advocacy for the English pastoral picturesque, Gothic Revival and Bracketed Style helped bring about a shift from the regular, classical shapes of the Greek Revival to more organic, picturesque forms. Instead of angular, temple-like shapes that stood in contrast to the natural surroundings, Jackson proposed that Americans should build homes that harmonized with the shapes and colors of the natural environment.
The William G. LeDuc House, located in Hastings, MN, is one of America’s best examples of a home based on a design from a Downing pattern book. This home design, which Downing calls “a cottage in the Rhine Style” was designed for J. T. Headley, a prominent clergyman, author, historian and politician, and built along the Hudson River in New York State. Downing writes that the cottage:
“was built in a picturesque and highly appropriate position, where its steep roof-lines harmonize admirable with the bold hills of the Hudson Highlands. Though spirited and irregular in composition, it is simple in details, Mr.Headley’s object being to erect a picturesque rural home in keeping with the scenery.” (A J. Downing, Cottage Residences p. 174)
William G. LeDuc, an Ohio Attorney, moved to Minnesota in 1850 and settled in Hastings, Mn. He acquired land near the Vermillion Falls as payment for legal services rendered in a dispute over a mill on the Vermillion River. William and his wife Mary used Downing’s design as a model for their home, which was built of local limestone between 1862 and 1865. The LeDuc house closely resembles the Headley, except that it is stone rather than brick and the floor plan was flipped.
Although different from the example found in his pattern book, the vergeboard on the LeDuc is representative of Downing’s emphasis on naturalism. Carved in the round to resemble living vines, the vergeboard serves as a link between the house and its wooded setting.
The front door, which is built of heavily molded white pine, combines the vine motif from the vergeboard with a Gothic arch in the transom. The arch is topped with a stylized quatrefoil.
William Leduc was an ambitious man who’s finances never keep pace with his plans. He was harried by financial difficulties while building the house, ran low on dressed stone, and wasn’t able to finish the interior. On the rear wall (the right side in the photo) you can see the change from the well-dressed, regular sized limestone blocks to smaller, irregular and more rusticated stonework.