8/31/15

widowhood way back when: widows on rooftops




An interesting architectural feature began in the days of sailing ships.

According to Wikipedia, a widow's walk (or roofwalk) is a railed rooftop platform often with a small enclosed cupola that was often found on 19th century North American houses.

A popular romantic myth holds that the platform was used to observe vessels at sea. The name comes from the wives of mariners who would watch for their spouses' return, often in vain as the ocean took the lives of the mariners, leaving the women as widows.

However, there is little or no evidence that widow's walks were intended or regularly used for this purpose.

Widow's walks are in fact a standard decorative feature of Italianate architecture, which was very popular during the height of the Age of Sail in many North American coastal communities. The widow's walk is a variation of the Italinate cupola . The Italianate cupola, also known as a "belvedere", was an important ornate finish to this style, although it was often high maintenance and prone to leaks.

Beyond their use as viewing platforms, they are frequently built around the chimney of the residence, thus creating an easy access route to the structure. This allows the residents of the home to pour sand down burning chimneys in the event of a chimney fire in the hope of preventing the house from burning down.

We wonder if those 19th century wives had deck chairs and sun block while they were up there.

2 comments:

Linda Gentile said...

I don't think those 19th century wives had time for deck chairs up there -- they were too busy pacing back and forth!

My kids and I just took a daytrip to Rockport MA (we're just outside Boston) and we saw a boatload of widow's walks, with and without the cuppola.

I found your site because I was recently widowed myself. My husband died in Februrary after an 18 month battle against gbm, brain cancer. I've started a blog, which can be found here:
http://twoboysfourcatsnodogsyet.blogspot.com/

I like your site. Thanks for sharing it.

Laurie and Ruth said...

Thanks for your comment, Linda.

And for sharing about your site, too.