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Bob Sudduth

His 5206
Early Republic
Dr. Specht
Spring, 2009
Summary of
“Frontier Elegance and Democratic Plainness:
Two Churches as Historical Documents”

Strassburger, John R and David R. Anderson. “Frontier Elegance and Democratic Plainness: Two
Churches as Historical Documents.” Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Vol. 4, No. 1
(Winter, 1990), 29-43.

The Congregational Church was built at the end of the Federal Period of American

history. The architecture was of the Federal style, a combination of Ionic and Doric architecture.

Some contribute this amalgam of architectural technique as “frontier ignorance,” (30) but the

authors consider this unlikely due to the overall elegance of the finished products. The Federal

style emphasized vertical dimensions and elegance.

This style was prevalent in New England during the Early Republic. The use of this style

on the Ohio frontier was demonstrative of strong ties to New England. Even though the builders

used rustic material in the construction, the “building, however, dispels any lingering notions of

the frontier as a place of mere primitive squalor.” (32) The Federal style was greatly influenced

by the Scottish brothers, Robert and James Adam. The Adam brothers serviced the English elite

in the late eighteenth century. This combination reveals the lasting influence of England upon the

new country.

The architectural similarity to England’s aristocracy is paralleled by some of the social

structure within the church organization. The church’s original seating was in slips, or boxes.

These family-sized slips were sold to families for the duration of the family-head’s life. The

townspeople bid on the slips, with those at the front of the church (nearest the pulpit,) going for

the highest price. The pulpit, which was elevated several feet, to half the gallery’s height, stood

in the center of the front wall. With this arrangement, each Sunday the families sat in order of
Bob Sudduth

wealth and influence, towered by the pulpit. This seating arrangement changed in 1849. The

pulpit was lowered and moved to the wall opposite the entrance. Pews replaced the slips, and

these pews were now rented for yearly periods, instead of sold for life. By 1870, an open seating

arrangement replaced the renting/selling of pews. This progression is evidence of increased

egalitarianism in the social order.

The Freedom Church, built in 1844, followed Tuscan architecture. This style was much

less elegant, emphasizing the horizontal over the vertical. Compared to the church at Tallmadge,

the Freedom Church had large pilasters mirroring the columns (and the pilasters connected to the

columns with huge beams,) the windows lacked any arches, and the steeple-less tower sat

forward on the portico. All these changes gave “an overall sense of strength and massiveness.”

(39) The Tuscan style also exhibits an idea of American independence instead of replicating

English aristocracy.

The comparison of the two churches and the changes within the church at Tallmadge help

to reveal the progression of democratic ideals on the American frontier. Particulars of the two

buildings and the social structure within the church body help us to understand the evolution of

American society within this region and, eventually, across the country.