Paul Baker Touart
George Washington Purnell House
201, East Market Street, Snow Hill, Worcester County
The George Washington Purnell House is a 2 1/2 story side passage/double-pile frame dwelling erected around 1860. Built on a brick foundation with an excavated cellar under the 3-bay-wide main block, the exterior is clad with plain weatherboards, and the steeply pitched gable roofs are covered with asbestos shingles. To the southwest gable end is attached a shorter 2 1/2-story wing, two bays wide, with the same decorative ornamentation as the main block. The perimeter of the roof of the main block is decorated with a bracketed eave and dentiled bed molding, and delicate finials rise from each gable peak. Windows throughout are 1/1 sash with louvered shutters and arched wooden lintels. Those in the cross gables of both the main block and the wing hold round-arched 1/1 sash windows. The main block gable window has two half-arched shutters, while that in the wing has a single round-arched shutter. Elaborate interior chimneys rise from near the center of each block. The entrance, flanked by two-light sidelights, stands in the southwest bay of the southeast facade. An original mid-19th century cast iron porch of grape-laden vines shelters the first floor of the main block. Attached to the back of the main house is a two-story porch and a two-story service wing trimmed with a decorative sawn fascia. The lot is enhanced by a 19th century cast iron fence along the East Market and Spence's Alley boundaries. Also on the property are a board-and-batten frame garage/workshop and a single-story frame guest house.
The George Washington Purnell House, erected around 1860, is significant as an outstanding example of Gothic Revival domestic architecture as interpreted and built in the lower Eastern Shore region in the third quarter of the 19th century. The 2 1/2-story frame house was designed with an intentional vertical emphasis with multiple steeply pitched gable roofs terminating in sharp peak finials. The exterior is layered with a variety of period embellishments including bracketed and dentiled eaves, decorative sawnwork within the gables, heavily molded window and door lintels and an elaborate cast iron front porch. All of these features contribute to the unusually well-preserved nature of the mid-19th century exterior. The interior woodwork and finishes of the G.W. Purnell House survive largely unaltered as well, presenting superior examples of Civil War-era features including many paint-decorated, faux-marble mantels, an elaborate turned baluster staircase, and period hardware and lighting fixtures. While the interior and exterior embellishments point to the influence of picturesque American design trends popular during the mid 19th century, the essential plan of the main block follows a side passage/double-pile plan, a traditional room arrangement which was well established on the lower Eastern Shore for a century before the construction of the Purnell House. This combination of popular taste and a conservative adherence to long-standing house forms is characteristic of lower Eastern Shore domestic architecture and is vividly demonstrated by the George Washington Purnell house. Enhancing the 19th century character of the property is the cast iron fence which borders two sides of the lawn.