Cupolas!?! What is this Jargon!?!?!

I realized the other day it’s been months since we’ve talked about architectural jargon! So guess what we’re looking at today. Some jargon found frequently in preservation talk.

Today is being brought to us by the word….druuuummmm roooolllllll pleeeessseeee…..

Cupola!

Though, you might have already guessed that though based on this post’s title. 

So anyways, you’re probably wondering what in good Italianate graces is a cupola?

Well here are some official definitions:

A History of American Architecture, Mark Gerlenter, 2001 edition, Pg. 322.

“A small tower-like element, often with a round or polygonal base and a domed roof, which accents the roof of a building.”

“The Historical Architecture of Vermont: Guide to Vermont Architecture,” Curtis B. Johnson, editor and Elsa Gilbertson, Principal Author, published by: the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1996, Pg. 25.

“Small decorative structure crowning the roof ridge, and usually used for ventilation.”

This is my definition, combining the above info with some other stuff I found online:

A cupola is a small tower-like structure that can be found on the roof of a building. The word “cupola” is derived from the Italian word cupula, which means small cup. The architectural feature can be round, square, or polygonal in shape. It typically has windows and can help with ventilation, especially in barns. Cupolas may also serve as a belfry (bell tower), a belvedere (a point to look out), or a roof lantern (provides natural light). Sometimes cupolas may be atop of a spire, tower, or another dome.

They are seen as a decorative element in the following architectural styles: Italianate, Octagon, Second Empire, and Greek Revival.

Let’s check out some images I have of cupolas!

Barn in Dummerston, Vermont
This is one of 23 buildings located at the Scott Farm Orchard in Dummerston, Vermont. The lovely ladies in the photo are former classmates when I was at UVM. The Orchard is owned and operated by the Landmark Trust USA, which is an offshoot of the Landmark Trust UK. Scott Farm Orchard was used in the filming of the film, The Cider House Rules. The Landmark Trust has a preservation philosophy of restoring their properties with traditional skills and methods, along with sustaining their buildings as “living history.” That means their properties can be rented for vacations or events; the orchards are open from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. The cupola on this barn can be seen in the center of the barn and is there for ventilation purposes. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Amherst Woman's Club
This fancy looking Victorian house with some Italianate features is located in Amherst, Massachusetts. The home was constructed in 1864 by Leonard Mariner Hills and given in 1922 to the Woman’s Club by Alice Maud Hills. The cupola on this home also has windows and most likely is there to serve as a belvedere, to look out at the surrounding land. The Woman’s Club is located down the street from the Emily Dickinson Museum.
The Emily Dickinson Museum
This is “The Homestead” of the Emily Dickinson Museum. It was built by her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, in 1813. It most likely was the first brick building in Amherst, MA and originally the home would have been in the Federal style. The home was sold in the 1830’s to David Mack. Emily, her parents, and siblings still lived at the home though; they eventually moved out. David Mack added Greek Revival architectural features to the home, which would have been in vogue at the time. In 1855, the home was for sale and Edward Dickinson, Emily’s father, jumped at the opportunity to purchase the family home. It was the late 1850’s, that the Dickinson family added the Italianate cupola to the roof, along with a number of other features including a veranda. The museum is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

This next example, is the only one I had in my collection of photos for Northern New York:

The Octagon House
This is the Octagon House located in Brasher Falls, NY. When I was younger, I lived down the street from this house. The home is the only surviving octagon style house in St. Lawrence County. It was constructed between 1855-1857 for Dr. Nathan Buck, who was the first physician in the town; eventually the home was owned by the Stevens Family, who were also early settlers of Brasher Falls. The architectural style was popular for a short time in the 1840’s-1850’s and was promoted by Orson Squire Fowler, who wrote a book on how great octagon shaped houses were. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cupola on the Octagon House
This is just a close-up of the cupola of the Octagon House. It too, is shaped like an octagon.

Here are some more examples from Canada and Saratoga Springs:

Sydenham Public School
The Sydenham Public School is located in Kingston, Ontario. It was originally opened in 1853 as the Kingston County Grammar School. It had two classrooms and could accommodate 100 students on each floor! In 876, the building was damaged by a fire but it was rebuilt and expanded. In the 1890’s it became a primary school and eventually renamed after Lord Sydenham, who was the Governor General of British North America in 1839. The building has Gothic Revival elements and a cupola in the center of it’s roof, which would have probably helped with ventilation. The really awesome thing about this building is that it still is a functioning school. Making it the oldest known structure in Ontario still used as a school!
Kingston, Ontario's City Hall
This is a view of the backside of Kingston, Ontario’s City Hall. It was completed in 1844 and was designed by George Browne. The structure is considered a Neoclassical styled building. When this building was constructed, Kingston was actually the capital of the United Province of Canada, still under British rule. In the photo you can see the dome with a cupola on top of that and to the right there is another cupola. In the summer months the square/courtyard behind the City Hall is used for a farmer’s market and antique market, which can be seen happening here.
Carriage Barn in Saratoga Springs
This is the home and carriage barn located at 198 Nelson Avenue in Saratoga Springs. You can seen that the carriage barn has a cupola with windows, which would allow natural light from above into the barn. It looks like the building might have been remodeled into an apartment on the second floor with a parking garage below.

So those are some examples of cupolas. As you can see they can range in design and look great on a variety of buildings!

If you have any comments, thoughts, or ideas about cupolas or other architectural jargon, let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

For Further Information On Any of the Above Properties:

Wikipedia’s page on cupolas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupola
Scott Farm Orchard: http://scottfarmvermont.com/
http://landmarktrustusa.org/about-us/restoration-philosophy/
Sydesham Public School: http://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/CMSImages/87/87108867-1a3b-4160-878b-a204681c3804.pdf
Kingston, Ontario City Hall: https://www.cityofkingston.ca/explore/culture-history/history/city-hall
Emily Dickinson House and Museum: https://emilydickinsonmuseum.org/homestead
Brasher Falls Octagon House: http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/slcha/id/235
The National Register Nomination for the home can be found at: https://cris.parks.ny.gov/ under St. Lawrence County and the town of Brasher Falls.
Amherst Woman’s Club: http://amherstwomansclub.org/
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