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Vernacular architecture of southern Indiana, part 1

August 22, 2011

This is the first in my series on the architecture of my region of Indiana. For additional entries, see and Click on any photo below to enlarge.

Vernacular architecture refers to simple house styles of the past that were built in countless numbers throughout the 1800s by ordinary carpenters who did not possess any special knowledge of architecture. If you had a tight lot, they’d build you a shotgun house. If you had the money, you could have a two-story. Living on your own, with humble means? a cottage was the answer. These are some of the styles that you will see again and again in southern Indiana.

A single pen home near Martinsville. Image courtesy

The single pen had one room (or pen) with a sleeping loft above. The word “pen” apparently goes back hundreds of years to the times when people and animals shared the same shelter.

This handsome double pen stands on West Third in Bloomington.

The double pen is a single pen that has had its floor plan flipped and doubled. Professor Emeritus Henry Glassie at Indiana University has written a book on vernacular architecture and states that this particular house form derives from the farm houses in England’s West Country. The versions there, of course, are built of stone and have thatched roofs. Otherwise their floor plans are identical.

This stretch-version of the double pen form stands in Stinesville, IN.

This version looks more like a single pen duplicated side by side, without being flipped: note the two central windows. This variant is unusual in this area.

A rare two-story double pen.

This appears to be a two-story double pen, the only one I’ve seen; but the owners had a different term for it which I cannot recall. It’s definitely NOT an I-house. The upstairs rooms have sloping ceilings, so it’s really one-and-a-half floors instead of two.

An unusual two-story shotgun.

I featured the "Pumpkin House" in one of my Herald-Times columns.

Shotgun architecture originated in the American South. This two-story version looks nothing at all like the brick shotguns in my home city, Louisville, which were one-story and decorated with ornate Queen Anne front facades; yet it’s technically a shotgun because all three rooms on the ground floor are placed in a straight row from front to back. Interior doors are aligned, so one could theoretically fire a gun straight through the house without striking anything.

photo by Sophia Travis, showing Ketcham House after rehabilitation.

The I-house is a common farmhouse style throughout Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, hence the I-name. The floor plan is a straight rectangle like a block initial letter I, often with blank end walls. It is completely symmetrical in form and often embellished with Greek Revival or ornate Queen Anne touches.


From → Houses

  1. I think I’m in love with the stretch version of the double pen…..what a cool (and funky) little house!
    Thanks for the “vernacular” info.

  2. I love your architecture posts. I always learn new things from them. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you very much! I enjoy old houses and try to identify them at a distance, like birdwatchers do with birds.

  4. Margot Leverett permalink

    I want a single pen house!

    • There are many to be had in this part of Indiana! A little house like that would be perfect for you, Margot….I can just see you sitting on your front porch, playing the clarinet….lovely!

  5. Thanks for the interesting post, but could you tell me a bit more about Ketcham House? Where is it, and do you know what branch of the Ketcham family lived there. Just begun poking around my family history and of course this intrigues me. Some of the family lived in the South Bend area, but not many.

    • Hello Jenny! Ketchan House is in lower southwest Monroe County, near where Col. John “Jack” Ketcham established a mill and a homestead around the time the county was founded in 1818. He lived in southern Indiana during Territorial days and fought the Indians and served in the war of 1812. He records being present when the major creeks of northwest Monroe County were named Bean Blossom and Jack’s Defeat (you can find info if you search online). Jack Ketcham constructed the first brick courthouse for Monroe County (and apparently encountered difficulties along the way, for it took about six years to finish the building instead of one or two). Ketcham Road was one of the first roads surveyed in Monroe County and led directly to his homestead. In his day he was one of the most outstanding citizens of Monroe County.

      Ketcham House in the photo was built around the 1850s, either by his son or a grandson, I’m not certain which; but it’s located on a part of what was originally Jack Ketcham’s homestead. Jack and all his many children are buried in Ketcham Cemetery nearby, on top of a high bluff overlooking Clear Creek.

      If you’d like more information you can write me at lorrac58 [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for writing!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Vernacular architecture of southern Indiana, part 2 « housesandbooks
  2. Architectural styles of southern Indiana: Second Empire « housesandbooks
  3. A look at the 1869 Farmer House « housesandbooks
  4. Architecture of southern Indiana: the gable-ell « housesandbooks
  5. Close up: an 1850s Bloomington double pen cottage | housesandbooks

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