The Phase I Restoration project specs call for installing new half-round (5″ on the third floor pavilion and tower roofs, and 6″ on the second floor roof) galvanized steel gutters and downspouts to channel water away from the house. A portion of the original Federal built-in gutter system is also scheduled to be repaired during the project.
These new gutters will replace rusted out gutters of similar form (dating probably to the early twentieth century) that have failed in many places, adding to our water-related woes.
An interesting question to consider is what was A.J. Davis’s original solution to water run-off at the Dr. Oliver Bronson House. A roof probe on the North side of the house suggested that the original Federal built-in gutters were simply covered over when the second floor roof eaves were extended in 1839. But did Davis specify the installation of some type of early hung gutter system in their place, or did he view his design for “bolding projecting bracketed eaves” as sufficient to keeping water away from the house?
In Cottage Residences (1844), Davis’s friend and collaborator Andrew Jackson Downing praises extended bracketed eaves as offering functional as well as aesthetic benefits. In describing Design V, A Cottage in the Bracketed Mode, he states that “the protection afforded by the projection of the roof, will give complete security and dryness to the walls.”
Assuming that Davis shared this view (which is likely given Davis’s and Downings’ close association in this period) then no additional rainwater conductor system would have been needed. From a technological perspective, an attached metal gutter system for a residence, rather than a commercial structure, in 1839 would be a rarity (Although attached metal gutter systems are documented as early as the 1820s, they didn’t become widely used for houses until the late nineteenth century).
Since the house has been re-roofed multiple times and the eaves partially reconstructed in some locations, it is difficult to know for certain whether a Davis-era hung gutter system ever existed. But, perhaps, additional roof probes will tell us more. In the mean time, below are a couple more photos of the gutter hangers being installed: