Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America’s first professional architect, designed Adena Mansion for Thomas and Eleanor Worthington. It was the year 1805 and Latrobe had been appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as Surveyor of Public Buildings in Washington D.C. Worthington was a senator from Ohio serving on a committee to report on appropriation for completing the south wing of the Capitol Building, one of Latrobe’s projects. These meetings and other occasions would have brought the two men together.
Worthington wanted a house that would display the culture of the east on the frontier. It would be a countryseat occupied by an agrarian political leader of the young republic. Latrobe used a rational-house design which was one of simplicity and strong geometric proportions, a “plain style” home. Symmetrical Palladian wings graced each side of the structure with a raised forecourt between. The circuit villa concept was evident with perimeter doors that connected all rooms in the main block for company to circulate in a free and comfortable fashion.
It was a house-within-a-house with divided areas for family, guests, and servants that allowed for easy access and conveniences. Local golden sandstone was used for the building material which gave the structure permanence and stability. Adena represented restrained elegance of fine living that reflected the means and good taste of the Worthingtons. During this era, it was noted as one of the finest homes this side of the Allegany Mountains.
By September of 1805 Latrobe wrote Worthington that his house plans were finished and his assistant DeMun would deliver them to Worthington who was still in Washington D.C. The men had at least one meeting before the end of the year to discuss the house. In March of 1806 letters mentioned changes made by Thomas and Eleanor in communication with Latrobe. Then in April of 1806 Latrobe delivered the working drawings for Adena Mansion to Worthington in Washington D.C. Construction on the house was begun and the stones for the walls were laid in June 1806. The home was completed in 1807 without Latrobe ever having visited the frontier site in Ohio.
Adena Mansion is one of only three private Latrobe residences still in existence. There is Decatur House on Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. built in 1817. Pope Villa in Lexington, Kentucky was designed by Latrobe for Senator John Pope and his wife Eliza in 1811. It was the most sophisticated of his scenic houses. It forms a perfect square and has a domed circular rotunda on the second floor. Latrobe achieved his interior effects of the scenery houses with geometrically shaped rooms which created dramatic splashes of light and shadow.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe was born May 1, 1764 in Fulneck, Yorkshire, England. Until the age of 19 he was educated in Moravian schools where he had vocational instruction in drawing. He traveled Europe and acquired architectural knowledge in Paris, Rome, and Naples. Returning to England, he worked in the office of Samuel Pepys Cockerell where he learned basic architectural design and practice. From the office of John Smeaton, Latrobe learned engineering. He studied river control and canal building, waterworks, and road construction. It is both engineering and architecture and their connectedness that allowed Latrobe to bring these as professions to the new country of America.
Latrobe immigrated to America in 1796 and was well suited to design for an emerging nation. He and President Jefferson shared a vision of noble structures that would represent democracy to the world. Some of the greatest interiors in the history of neoclassicism in America were designed by Latrobe including the National Statuary Hall, the Old Senate Chamber and the Old Supreme Court Chamber. He set a standard for government buildings that would last for generations.
On the tallest hill in Baltimore he designed the St. Mary’s Cathedral which still stands. It was the first Catholic Cathedral in the United States; grand, bright and austere. The Bank of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia displayed a Greek Revival order which brought attention to his work. He was an architectural genius who believed simplicity was the highest achievement of art.
Latrobe engineered the Philadelphia Water Works early in his career. Later, the city of New Orleans hired him for a waterworks project based on that of Philadelphia. Latrobe worked on this project over a span of eleven years. It was in this city that he contracted yellow fever and died at the age of 56 in 1820. He was buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery of New Orleans with little recognition for a man who was America’s first architect.
Adena Mansion and Gardens
Thomas Worthington & Family
The Old Northwest Territory
Great Seal of the State of Ohio