House Site Selection
A guide to good house site selection for building homes.
¶ Nothing is more important in the preliminary arrangements for building, than the selection of a proper situation. And upon this the question arises, what is a proper situation? The answer may be embodied in general terms as follows: a situation that will not be detrimental to the enjoyment of health or comfort, that is easily accessible from a public highway, and that commands a view of the best scenery which the country affords.
¶ As our houses are built for the enjoyment of comfort, convenience and pleasure, we do injustice to ourselves, if we neglect anything conducive to these ends. First of all, it is well to note whether the neighborhood in which we propose to build bears evidence of the healthfulness of its climate by the sanitary condition of its inhabitants.
¶ If we are satisfied on this point, the next thing to be considered is the location of our own particular home; desirable results can be insured by the exercise of a well cultivated judgment on this too frequently neglected point; indeed, the finger of Nature points unerringly to the proper qualifications of a spot intended for human habitation, and asserts in the most positive language to even the moderately educated perception, that the low marsh or foggy "bayou" is not the place for the physical comfort of man.
¶ The advantages of placing a residence on rising ground (and by this we mean a gentle elevation, not a high hill or mountain) are too numerous and self-evident to need extended comment here; but we will briefly touch on sonic of the prominent benefits attending such a choice. And here, with all deference to the pioneers who so nobly laid the foundation of our present greatness as a people, let us remark that their example in the location of habitations was not such as we could wish the people of a more enlightened age to follow. The limpid stream, followed to one of many gushing sources, was the index that pointed out to the hardy settler his place of sojourn. Very convenient indeed was it to drink water from the living fountain that bountiful Nature had prepared far back in the course of her undisputed reign, and no wonder that the rude cabin was projected and built on a site within a moderate distance of the "spring", whether it issued from the steep hillside or meandered quietly forth through the low, damp valley.
¶ This accounts for the present unhappy location of many homes throughout the country; the spot thus consecrated to home and its associations is not readily or willingly deserted by the succeeding generation who wish to build a permanent and handsome residence; there are charms in that old site and its surroundings that cannot be sacrificed for any new scenery, or abandoned on account of malarious emanations or exposure to the bleak winds of winter. But a day of change is coming, and we hail its dawning with delight; instead of being entirely concealed or disagreeably obtruded on the view, the homes of the country population are taking their proper places in the landscape in which they neither serve nor govern, but form a constituent part.
¶ Instead of taking the house to the "spring", the "spring" is brought to the house, an easy triumph in this scientific age. Montgohfler did more than invent the balloon; he made as near an approach to the vainly sought "perpetual motion" as scientific records can yet show: we allude to his invention of the "hydraulic ram", an apparatus for impelling water to a great height without the application of extrinsic force. We know of one of these in the neighborhood of West Chester, Pa., that sends a sufficient quantity of water to the house for all the domestic purposes of a moderate establishment, and supplies the stock-yard with water besides, and this through about 1200 feet of pipe, the home-house being at an altitude of at least 175 feet above the "spring" or source from which the water emanates. Another method of obtaining a supply of this indispensable article, is the sinking of wells; in some sections, however, this is attended with considerable cost, and not unfrequently with ill success in the procurement of a suitable quality of water; in such a case, the remaining alternative is the collection, in cisterns of suitable dimensions and construction, of the rain-water thrown off the roof during the copious winter rains. During a late tour in the South, we observed that water for domestic purposes is obtained almost exclusively by this method, and were at first surprised, on calling for refreshments, to have set before us a goblet of ice water that surpassed in transparency the far-famed Schuylkill or Croton.
¶ We make these remarks to show that important as it is to have a natural fountain near the house, it is not a sufficient inducement for braving the evils arising from a bleak summit exposure or a low unhealthy valley.
¶ Convenience to a line of public travel is a point that needs no argument to make its importance apparent. It seems to be one of the fixed habits of mankind, to locate near the wayside, and there is no demand for any change rendered necessary by the advancement of society. The progress of public improvement generally, and the facilities afforded by railroad and steamboat for travel and the transportation of commodities, are hastening the day when stage-coaches and road wagons will be forgotten, and ill which the once well beaten highway will be but comparatively an obscure by-way. But the more permanent public thoroughfares, the river and the railroad, stand in no danger of such abandonment; and in selecting a country home, we should assert as a fixed condition that a river or railroad must be convenient, and within view, if possible. We build not for ourselves alone; the stranger passing by, whether he be countryman or foreigner, or whether he travels by coach, boat, or car, is delighted by the sure tokens of the influence of social progress exhibited in the landscape dotted with houses, and that delight is infinitely increased by the taste manifested in the location of those houses with relation to surrounding scenery.
¶ It then should be borne in mind that a country house is built to be seen, and after the ruling principle of salubrity of air and convenience of access, this consideration is secondary in importance only to the fact that it is to see from; to be conducive to the enjoyment of its inmates by being so situated and arranged as to afford the most happy prospect of the beauties of the surrounding country, for each individual landscape has its own peculiar beauties, if we only take the pains to seek them from a proper point of view. Now, although no specific rules can be given, each particular section of country requiring for itself a local investigation, attention to the following hints may be profitable.
¶ Avoid, as you would a pestilence, damp situations; the effluvia from such are injurious to health in all seasons; proper drainage being if not entirely impeded, greatly embarrassed, the quantity of malarious exhalation is greatly increased by the consequent accumulations of foul matter.
¶ Never build in the heart of a thick clustered wood, where the influence of the sun would only prevail a few hours of each day. A wood on the north or northeast side is admissible, and even to be sought for shelter; but this should be as clear as possible from the under-growth of noxious plants so common in the more fertile lands of the United States. A few shade trees tastefully disposed are a desideratum, but the influence of thick shade close around a house, whether natural or artificial, tends to humidity and the generation and retention of vapors, alike injurious to the durability of the house and the health of its inmates. It fosters dampness in the walls prornotive of chilly interiors, discolored paper, loosened plaster, decayed timbers, and a train of evils ending in premature decay. Another reason for not surrounding a house closely with thick foliage, is its consequent concealment from the public eye. Every building, and particularly every human home, deserves to occupy a position in its particular landscape in proportion to the pretension it makes as the offspring of human effort. To the finest production of art should be accorded the most prominence, while those of less importance should be comparatively quiet in asserting their claims to notice, and, collectively, all should be in consonance with and in subordination to the natural aspect of the country.
¶ The summit of a mountain or high hill is to be sedulously avoided, on account of the prevalence and force of bleak winds, and the greater difficulty of access. To some very aspiring and imaginative people these reasons may be insufficient; and indeed we must confess that the pleasure derived from the occupancy of a summit residence when nature is clothed with the verdure of spring, the gay flowers of summer, or the melancholy autumnal "sere and yellow leag" is scarcely outbalanced by the unmitigated rigor of the winter winds, or the probable cost of approach. To look upon a great expanse of country stretched out before and around you, bounded by the blue horizon; to contemplate the endless variety of scenery, and the different effects of light and shade on the verdant wood, the cultivated field, and the silvery winding stream, are not only sources of superior pleasure, but have a tendency to an elevation of mind that no effort of art can rival. But a gentle eminence should be preferred. Far enough above the streams or marshes -of the vicinity to be exempt from the heaviest exhalations of injurious tendency, and slidtered by high grounds or timber on the northern aspect, would be our beau ideal for a site, on the principles we have enunciated.
¶ Then let us be within a few hours drive of some railroad or navigable river. Next, seek the best possible view of the landscape around us; if not a navigable river, let us have in view a running brook to glitter in the morning or evening sun on its "clear winding way to the sea", and as great a variety of field and forest as can be brought within the scope of vision. We must see, too, as many of our neighbors as possible, and allow them to see us; in short, we must, in a land like ours, where equality is an element of society, strive to make ourselves agreeable without being immodest, and contribute our share to the stock of universal advancement with an exhibition of judgment and taste, and without manifestation of either extravagance or parsimony.
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