What I'm Seeing Now

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Widow's Walk

Do you know what a widow's walk is?

I am seeing them more and more in new construction.  Aware of the history the architect below has incorporated the romantic feature into this new home.

While they don't have the functional aspect they once had, the widow's walk has a very storied history.

Legend has it that widow's walks were prominent features on the seaside homes of ships' captains.

It provided a means whereby the captain's dedicated wife could stand with an unobstructed view of the sea, looking at the broad horizon for the returning sails of her husband's ship.

And then, should he never return, as a grieving widow she would wistfully stand there every day to mourn her gone husband, and privately commune with his cherished memory.

There are those who think this to only be a romantic myth.  The feature probably started in houses that were heated by wood, and afforded easy access to the top of the chimney to pour sand or water down to douse a fire.  This practical chimney access was certainly easier than setting up a long ladder, or trying to access an icy roof during winter.

Variations of the widow's walk came into prominence in the early 1800s as cupolas and belvederes.  They also allowed for the escape of indoor smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, or even summer heat from the house.  The famous air-conditioning cupola can be seen on top of Mr. Washington's home at Mount Vernon.

As the feature became more stylized they added to the charm of the house and even the ultimate sales value.  A feature is a feature!

The feature is coming back today in many forms.

Usually it appears as an upstairs porch or veranda beside bedrooms, or as room at the top of the house.

The porch affords a place for enjoying the air, or an astronomical repose.  The enclosed room at the tops of houses has become one for visiting and relaxation.

These are very popular features in new construction.  They might have such marketing labels such as "observation deck," or "master bedroom veranda."

But more and more the former, more romantic, feature as the one in the first photo is coming back.

My recommendation:  if you are designing a new house, see if your builder offers the widow's walk feature!  As a porch or room it is very popular, and very functional.  And as the more historical feature it is very pretty.

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 20 commentsJay Markanich • August 20 2015 01:41AM

Comments

 Good Thursday morning Jay. Interesting article! I knew that widows walks have a lot of historic meanings. I am starting to see that architectural feature in newer construction.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 3 years ago

I see it a lot Michael.  And when a large porch off the master bedroom opens to a private wooded area I think it's a great feature.  That new house in the photo was fabulous too.  Custom design.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

Good morning Jay.  I have seen a few of these around but had no idea of the history behind them.  Thanks for the history lesson

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) about 3 years ago

I had always heard that the widow's walk was for wives to watch for their husband's return from sea.  The other explanation above about access to the chimney was interesting!

 

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, Monroe NY, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com) about 3 years ago

Jay, a large private porch off the master bedroom is a great feature especially if it faces a wooded area for true privacy. Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) about 3 years ago

Jay Markanich We have seen many a Victorian with 'Widow's Walks' and it was certainly a feature that buyers liked.

Posted by Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI, Presence, Persistence & Perseverance (Realty National) about 3 years ago

Good morning Jay,

Growing up along Lake Ontario there are quite a few of these and always enjoyed sitting up there and watch the ships go by.

Did not know about some of the other features.

Make yourself a great day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) about 3 years ago

Good morning Jay. This history lesson is very interesting and the feature is so appealing too.

Posted by Sheila Anderson, The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133 (Referral Group Incorporated) about 3 years ago

Things happen for reasons James!

Kat - and despite that I see them in neighborhoods not near the ocean!   Go figure!

Wayne - I think they're worth the price of admission.  And see comment 2 above.

S&N - I think it's a beautiful addition to a house, particularly the large, upstairs room.

Raymond - in addition to being able to pour sand and water down the chimney, you can hit people coming up the driveway with water balloons.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

Sheila - I agree with both of those points!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

I have never seen one like the top pic, and never heard of the term "widows walk", but almost every 2 story home here has a deck at that level. Lots of mountain scenery here to gawk at.

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) about 3 years ago

That room is a form of same, Fred.  Where you are there would be no history for the architectural detail of the perch at the top of the house to view the sea!

Now, Florida is a different matter!   But also a different history.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

I think I need to add one of those to my house.  No sea around but plenty of countryside and mountains. 

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) about 3 years ago

That's where they work best Stephen, where there are views!

I've been up on Sugarloaf Mountain many times as a Boy Scout.  Some views there!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

The "Widows Walk" is a standard feature on NV model homes in MD and VA.

Of course it's an upgrade for purchase.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) about 3 years ago

But of course, Lenn!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

Jay, it is a very common sight along the homes near the shore here in New England

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) about 3 years ago

New England is where the practice began Ed.  But it was also popular in the Mid-Atlantic South.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

I've only seen a few Widows walks, and I never knew the history or story behind them.  Fascinating stuff!

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) about 3 years ago

I am seeing them more and more around here Myrl.  I think they are a very nice feature.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

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