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History of Early American Landscape Design

Dovecote/Pigeon house

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A dovecote, dovehouse, or pigeon house, was a structure for breeding and housing domestic pigeons.1 Because pigeons provided meat and eggs as well as fertilizer, dovecotes were constructed to ensure the birds’ safety and to aid in the retrieval of eggs. A key element in their design was an elevated position for roosting niches. Some dovecotes consisted of boxes mounted on the side of a building or placed on poles, as described in 1842 by Edward James Hooper. Others were free-standing structures, such as the outbuilding noted by William Fitzhugh in 1686. Still others were located on top of another structure, as in the 1736 South Car.olina plantation advertisement listing a dove-house above a brick necessary. While all had multiple entrances and roosting niches, the designs for dovecotes ranged from simple utilitarian structures to more elaborate designs, such as the circular brick dovecote at Shirley on the James River [Fig. 1] and the neoclassical design for a temple and dovecote at Monticello [Fig. 2]. Jefferson’s design, which was never executed, proposed access holes in the frieze for the birds to come and go.2

Conclusions regarding the chronology and regional use of the term “dovecote,” particularly in relation to pigeon house, are difficult to make given the limited sample of references and images. The term “pigeon house” was defined synonymously with dovecote by Noah Webster (1828) and J. C. Loudon (1838). Moreover, the term “pigeon house” in American usage seems to have been increasingly preferred over dovecote during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by such writers as Col. Landon Carter (1764) and Martha Ogle For-man (1819).3 The term “dovecote” was not abandoned altogether however, as evi.denced by Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1852 description of Riversdale, George and Ros.alie Stier Calvert’s estate in Maryland: “The kept grounds are very limited, and in simple but quiet taste. . . . There is a fountain, an ornamental dove-coat, and ice-house.”4

The number of American references is small, and they derive mostly from the south and mid-Atlantic. Charles Willson Peale’s mention of his pigeon house at Belfield was one of the more colorful accounts of the fea.ture. He wrote in 1814 that “once a pair of Squabs was taken to the Kitchen, but the Parent came after them and alighting on the Kitchen window, Mrs. Peale’s delicate feel.ings could not suffer them to be killed and accordingly they were returned to the Pidgeon-house.”

-- Elizabeth Kryder-Reid






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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Dovecote/Pigeon house," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Dovecote/Pigeon_house&oldid=17220 (accessed June 1, 2023).

A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts

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