Shingle Style’s Unlikely Appearance in the Midwest

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Shingle Style has its roots in New England and it often gives off a coastal vibe. The style, which is characterized by wood shingles on the exterior walls, is echoed in west coast beach towns, particularly in Northern California and Oregon. It isn’t limited to the coasts, though: Shingle style emerged in the Midwest in the late 19th century, thanks in particular to the architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee, a native of Massachusetts and alumnus Exeter, Harvard, and M.I.T.

Does that name sound familiar? It might, particularly if you’re familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright (or if you’ve been following my blog!). Silsbee was Wright’s first employer, and it may largely have been due to this Shingle style church in Wisconsin.

Unity Chapel, located in the rural community of Spring Green, was built in 1886 by Joseph Lyman Silsbee for the Lloyd-Jones family. According to accounts, the interior of the chapel was “looked after” by a boy of the family. Of course, the boy was a young Frank Lloyd Wright, whose mother was Anna Lloyd Jones. Wright moved to Chicago not long after and built his first home, in Oak Park, in the Shingle style. His work soon departed from Shingle style but he always aimed to design in a truly American style, distancing himself from European precedents, and, echoing Shingle style, he is known for his use of clean forms and natural materials.

Shingle style may have coastal roots but, perhaps, it was a stepping stone to the Prairie style and the emergence of true American architecture under American architects like Silsbee and Wright. In a way, it all began with a Shingle style chapel in rural Wisconsin.

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Sources and Further Reading:

Visit the official website for Unity Chapel here and read their history here.

I previously wrote about this Joseph Lyman Silsbee building in Lincoln Park.

Curious about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Shingle style house? Here are some views from this past winter. You can also check out the official page for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio.

Read more about Joseph Lyman Silsbee here.

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11 thoughts on “Shingle Style’s Unlikely Appearance in the Midwest

  1. I learn so much from your posts, Susie! I’d somehow never heard of Shingle style before. Thank you for the wonderful introduction.

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      1. Now that you’ve alerted me to this style I’m sure I’ll see it everywhere, Susie. You’re right that it does evoke my summers on the beaches of the west coast, though …

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    1. The Shingle style is so classic! I’m glad you visited this chapel too. It was recommended to me at Taliesin, or I might have overlooked it, but I’m so glad I didn’t!

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  2. Living in South Coast Maine, I’m blessed with some of the best shingle style architecture to be found. Much of it from a master of the style, John Calvin Stevens. Your article does a fabulous job showing how the style could be adapted to almost any location.
    This is another spot my father and I found on our cross country trip. I believe that Mamah Borthwick Cheney was buried there and her marker was designed by Wright.

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    1. I would love to explore the architecture in Maine! Hopefully one of these days. No one does Shingle style like the East Coast. There are some wonderful grave markers designed by Wright at this cemetery but researching who is actually buried there quickly became a puzzle! There is a marker for Wright but I hear he was buried in Arizona and Mamah Cheney is in an unmarked location. As always–Wright leaves us thinking.

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