York author Scott Butcher talks about regional architecture, history

Scott Butcher

(Submitted photo)

Scott Butcher is a busy man, with talents as an author (of eleven books!), photographer, historian, presenter and professional marketer. Of course, that’s on top of his full-time job as vice president and director of business development at JDB Engineering.

Despite it all, Butcher found time to canvas 3,855 square miles of architecture, spanning six counties: York, Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland and Adams. What came of his project — “Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania,” published in January, includes 180 color photos of buildings across three dozen architectural styles.

We caught up with Butcher to learn about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating a book like this.

Book Buzz: You’d previously released a book on York’s historic architecture, but this title covers six counties. How did you choose the locations for this book? How many did you include, altogether?

Scott Butcher: It’s funny – the genesis of this book is actually “York’s Historic Architecture.” That was the first local interest book I set out to write. The first publisher I contacted was not interested in the topic, but I ended up doing “York (Postcard History Series)” with them. I approached a second publisher, who also rejected the book as “too narrow,” but I ended up doing most of my books with them! Finally, the third publisher I approached with York’s Historic Architecture agreed to publish it; however, I had to cut almost half of the book because of their length requirements.

The part of the book that was eliminated was about local architectural styles, and a few years after that book was published, I came up with the concept of a “style guide” to local architecture. I again approached the second publisher (who I was working with on other projects), and they again rejected it. However, after some time passed and I spoke with a different editor within the company, they agreed to publish the book that became “Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania.” My working title was “Architecture of South Central Pennsylvania,” but they thought the appeal was not broad enough, and changed the title.

That stated, the book really is about six south central Pennsylvania counties – Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, York. Together, these six counties are roughly the geographic size and population of the Indianapolis-Carmel Metropolitan Statistical Area. As I outlined the various architectural styles, I attempted to find four examples of each within the six-county radius. Although I ended up not meeting this goal for every style, approximately 180 buildings / structures are profiled in the book.

Breeze Hill

Breeze Hill, located in Harrisburg, Dauphin County. (Photo by Scott Butcher)

BB: How long did it take to visit each location, shoot the photos and research the text? Was it a full-time devotion, or were you juggling multiple projects?

SB: I’m glad I didn’t track the time (and mileage!) that it took. That might be too depressing! Most book authors work for less than minimum wage, and it of course takes a while for the royalties to begin coming in! My book proposal was accepted in July 2010, and my completed book was turned in to the publisher in early December 2011. However, I had a lot of research from “York’s Historic Architecture,” and I had quite a few photos that I had taken when working on “York: America’s Historic Crossroads, Gettysburg Perspectives, and Lancaster County Reflections.” Most of my local interest books have a common thread of architecture, so I had a good base of information to go on.

That stated, I needed a lot more content. I have about a dozen architectural style guides, but ended up developing the book so it corresponded to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form. A lot of style guides use differing terminology and disagree on identifying particular buildings! What a lot of people don’t realize is that the research is the most time-consuming part of writing a book. I literally wandered urban streets and drove through suburban neighborhoods looking for examples of various styles. Bing Maps was extremely useful because their Birdseye Views allowed me to tour towns and cities from my computer. I also conducted countless Google searches, and trolled real estate listings. For example, when I was looking for examples of Prairie architecture, my online searches turned up a northern York County home for sale – one designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, who pioneered the style.

I work full-time as vice president and director of business development for JDB Engineering, Inc. and affiliate companies. Plus, when I was writing the book I was also serving as president of the Historic York, Inc. board of directors and later on the Board of Trustees for the SMPS Foundation – a national research foundation that provides education to marketers of architecture, engineering, and construction services. So I was juggling my job, my volunteer activities and my family with researching and writing the book!

Book writing is my hobby, and photography is a nice stress relief. Some people find peace on the golf course or in a boat; I find peace with my camera in hand. Additionally, at the same time that I was working on “Historic Architecture of York,” I was also making plans for my next book, “Harrisburg Reflections.” So as I was photographing buildings in Harrisburg, I was also taking images for the forthcoming Harrisburg book.

Because the book is geographically disbursed over 3,855 square miles, I really had to plan my photography accordingly. I had a lot of Saturday morning and after-work photo expeditions, but sometimes if I knew I would be passing close to a building as I traveled to a meeting or for pleasure, I’d allow some extra time to take photos. Sometimes, I had to return a second (or third) time because the lighting or weather conditions were not favorable. It might be sunny in York, but by the time I’d reach another county, it could have clouded over. Ultimately, my “short list” of candidates for inclusion was more than 300 buildings.

BB: Did anything surprise you in your research, about a specific building or style? Will you admit to a favorite? (Building or style)

SB: I think that one of the really cool things that I found in my research is that virtually all styles of American architecture are represented in central Pennsylvania. We don’t have all of the early vernacular types – like Spanish Colonial, which was limited to the southwestern area of the country, or French Colonial, which was built in New Orleans and vicinity. Aside from that, from the mid-18th century through today, the architecture of central PA is very representative of the architecture found throughout the country. Though this book is limited to six counties, you could use the images and narratives to identify buildings almost anywhere in the nation.

Cyclorama

Cyclorama Building, located in Gettysburg, Adams County. (Photo by Scott Butcher)

We also have some buildings that are national icons, or were designed by “starchitects” – that is, nationally or internationally-renowned architects. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who designed the US Capitol Building, served as architect for Old West on the campus of Dickinson College. John Haviland, a Philadelphia-based architect known for his design of prisons (like Eastern State Penitentiary), designed the Lancaster County Prison. Modernist architects like Louis Kahn and Richard Neutra designed buildings in Central Pennsylvania. Kahn’s contribution was the Olivetti-Underwood building in Harrisburg, while Neutra’s iconic Cyclorama in Gettysburg was slated for demolition last week. Finally, Philip Johnson, one of the best-known architects of the past half-century, designed the Pennsylvania Academy of Music Building in Lancaster (now the Ware Center of Millersville University) in the last commission before his death.

The Pennsylvania State Capitol building is recognized as one of the grandest state government buildings in the country, drawing inspiration from Rome’s Saint Peters Basilica and Garnier’s Paris Opera House. Of course, the Star Barn is known throughout the country for its unique appearance, and the Haines Shoe House in eastern York County is one of the best-known national examples of Roadside Architecture.

It is really tough to pick out favorites. There is such a great diversity of styles. I love the uniqueness of the medieval half-timber construction of York’s Golden Plough Tavern. I’m enamored with the work of the JA Dempwolf architectural firm, and captivated by the gorgeous farmers markets throughout the region: York’s Central Market, Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market, Lancaster’s Central Market, and Lebanon’s Farmers Market.

I have to confess that as I began this project I wasn’t a big fan of Modernist architecture, but I’ve developed a new appreciation for it. It has helped me to see the importance of the recent past.

With the demolition of the Cyclorama Building, the architectural community is losing the work of a master, and we’re demonstrating that we don’t yet fully appreciate the more recent styles of architecture. This isn’t new. Today we look at photos of the York Collegiate Institute and York City Market, which both stood on South Duke Street, and ask how anyone could have possibly allowed their demolition. But in the 1960s, these “recent past” buildings weren’t deemed as important as colonial architecture. And while we may claim to know better today, when such an important national work as the Cyclorama Building comes down, you have to wonder if we really have learned anything at all.

This isn’t a comment about the aesthetics of that building, or an opinion on whether or not a building should be standing on the hallowed battlefield, just a statement that such an important work of architecture was demolished – and by one of the nation’s leading stewards of historic preservation, the National Park Service.

BB: What interests you most about the architecture — its history? Its art? Its design?

SB: It’s everything combined into a single package. That is what makes architecture so intriguing. Who lived or worked there? What did they do? What architectural style is it? Are there ornate details hidden away in the gables or under the eaves? Who designed and built it? What was their inspiration? Buildings are layers of mystery, and it is fun to peel them off one-by-one.

Ask anyone who lives in a historic home, and they will talk with passion about all they’ve learned about their homes. There are so many intricacies of design that varied greatly from region to region. The German settlers built asymmetrical homes with central chimneys while the English settlers preferred symmetrical homes with end chimneys. But why? For the Germans, the internal function drove the exterior aesthetic, and the central chimney heated the home from within. For the English, however, symmetry and form were more important, so the internal layout had to match the external aesthetic. And they used the end chimneys not only for symmetry, but for heating the home from the perimeter inward.

Checkerboard House

Checkerboard House, located on route 322 north of Lititz, Lancaster County. (Photo by Scott Butcher)

There is so much art in architecture. One of the most unique finds in my research was the Checkerboard House north of Lititz, Lancaster County. Built in 1754, the Georgian house has an unbelievable level of detail and distinctive polychromatic appearance – so different from any other building in the region. One of the best examples of an Italian Villa to be found anywhere is Breeze Hill in Harrisburg, built by the founder of the American Civic Association and American Rose Society. And York County’s Indian Steps Museum in Airville is a distinctive example of Craftsman architecture with Native American artifacts embedded within its walls.

BB: What sources (or places) did you use most for your research? Did you run into any locations that simply had no information about them?

SB: I owe a debt of gratitude to several people who have passed through Historic York, Inc. Mindy Higgins Crawford, Karen Arnold, and Alycia Reiten have all served as executive director, and Barb Raid as architectural historian. They have such an extensive knowledge and allowed me to pick their collective brains over a period of many years as I worked on “York’s Historic Architecture” and “Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania.” A number of local architects also aided my research. The online listings for National Register of Historic Places properties were exceptionally helpful, as the nomination forms provided a wealth of information. I also looked to a number of local history books and numerous architectural style guides.

Sometimes I still couldn’t find much about a building, so my narrative in those instances may talk more about exemplary features as opposed to designers, builders, or occupants.


"Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania" by Scott ButcherCopies of “Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania” are available for purchase for $34.99 at www.shifferbooks.com. Email Butcher at sbutcher@yorklinks.net with questions.

 

About Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.
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