The Cross House

The Danger of Leaving Pretty Things Out in the Rain


Walter Anderson Collection - from ESU Archives.
The Cross House has built-in gutters. Each gutter is part of the huge curved cornices which are a prominent feature of the house. (Walter Anderson Collection – ESU Archives.)


When new, the house did not appear to have hardly any downspouts. Almost all the gutters fed into each other.

So, the turret gutter drains into the north gutter, which wraps around the house to become the east gutter, which wraps around the house to become the south gutter. Only then was there a downspout, which was hidden, I think, inside a wall. Today, this downspout is highly visible, and quite unattractively so, on the south side of the house.

The main porch downspouts, from what I can tell, were originally hidden inside some porch columns. Really. There are no porch downspouts visible in the archival images, and bits of surviving evidence indicate that hollow columns acted as downspouts. Hollow wood columns. Well, you can appreciate how this was so not a good idea. Over time, external downspouts were added to the main porch, which today has four. Sigh.

All the gutters eventually fed into a giant cistern, which is extant, although no longer connected.


From what I can tell, the house perhaps only had two visible downspouts originally. One, perhaps, was adjacent to the octagon tower, as seen in this circa-1932 image. But this may have been added. The other, which I suspect was original, was to the far left of the north porch (left). In this image you can see how numerous downspouts have been added to the main porch (click on picture; it hugely enlarges). (Image Mouse family archives.)


The north porch retains, I think, its original downspout. It is narrow, like 2-inches. The lower portion vanished long ago, and the pipe just splashed rainwater onto the wood water table.


Which rotted the water table, and sill. This is bad. Very bad. So, last year we tacked on a section of downspout to get the damn rain away from the house. Not attractive, but effective.


Externally, the gutters cannot be seen. They vary in depth. They start out shallow, like just a half-inch in depth, and they get…


…like 5-inches deep on the other end.


The poor porte-cochère looks as bad today as when I purchase the house. It does however have a new roof, and its gutters have been relined (as have all the gutters).
The poor porte-cochère looks as bad today as when I purchase the house. It does however have a new roof, and its gutters have been relined (as have all the gutters). To the right is the shallow end. To the left is the deep end, and the protruding pipe for downspout.


I had assumed that with all the gutters being re-lined, my gutter issues would magically vanish.

Alas, this fairy tale assumption has proved incorrect.

In the driving rain the other day, I stood before the porte-cochère with a large piece of cardboard covering my head, and stared open-mouthed at very weird things going on with the gutters.

At the porte-cochère, there was very little water coming out of the pipe for a downspout. There WAS water pouring over the edge, about 3/4 over from the right. And water was dripping over the far right edge. Oh, this was so not good.

The next day, bright and sunny, I hauled out the big ladder and climbed up to look inside the gutter.

Well, about 3/4 over from the right it dips. The dip is not obvious externally, but it do dip nonetheless. At the moment I have no idea of how to de-dip it.

Over to the far right, the gutter is shallow to the point of not being a gutter. It is just, well, a shelf. And water drips onto the shelf, then trickles down the curved cornice, and onto the 4×4 wood column below. The column is a temporary replacement for the original turned column (with decorative capital), which is now mostly rotted and stored away.

And now I understand why it rotted.

Oh, and the other side of the porte-cochère has basically the same issues. Thus, headache x 2.

There is more nonsense, too:


This is the southeast corner of the house. The large opening is for a huge kitchen window. The small opening is for a window into the servant’s hall. In 2014 this whole section was rebuilt. It was rotted rotted rotted. I wasn’t really sure what caused all the damage. Until now. See the curved cornice? To the left is where the very shallow end of the gutter is. Water is supposed to drain over to the right. It don’t. The gutter has settled. And water drains to the left. Where it falls over the edge…and rots the house. This, too, needs to be addressed.


The southeast corner again. The porte-cochère looms to the far left. The first-floor extension is the servant’s hall.


See the crazy ass downspout in the above image?

When I purchased the house all the downspouts had been long removed. This was very very very bad.

MOST of the water from the massive roof falls into the winding, contiguous north/east/south main gutter, where it all drained out a pipe (top, upper image). But without a downspout, it just slammed to the roof of the servant’s hall, destroyed all the wall shingles above the roof, and caused incredibly destructive havoc with the window and all other wood parts.

In 2014, we gathered together disparate sections of tubing to get a damn downspout back on this vital location. It, too, looks terrible, and kinda silly, but it gets the job done.

I am doubtful that there was a visible downspout in this location in 1894, but have not found any evidence (so far) of an internal downspout.

Obviously I need to install a more attractive downspout.



The Cross House is HUGELY more protected from rain now than when I purchased it.

I now need to quickly:

  1. Un-dip the east and west gutters on the porte-cochère. If possible.
  2. If not, I need to have the downspouts relocated to these low spots.
  3. The “shelf” issues on the porte-cochère also need to be fixed.
  4. The crooked gutter above the servant’s hall also needs to be fixed. Adding a downspout on the low end would be the easy solution, but there would then be another downspout on a house where essentially none were originally intended. So, I will likely pursue a less easy solution.

The above problems have been problems for a very long time. And the house has been seriously damaged as a result.

I am less than pleased realizing that more work has now been added to a VERY long To Do list, but at the same time I am a bit pleased to discover the WHY for rotted house bits, and am also kinda excited about figuring out good solutions.

So, time to put…


Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 7.51.24 PM
…my thinking cap on!





6 Responses to The Danger of Leaving Pretty Things Out in the Rain

  1. Our house also has/had internal or built-in guttering. We have always referred to it as “Yankee” guttering vs added on guttering. I wish we still had all of it working as it was built so that each level of roof drained into downspouts that went all the way under the drive and into a huge cistern. They did not drain onto the next level down. Roofers seem to love to disconnect and roof over these and often do not seem to explain to the homeowner what they are for and how they work. We have some of the guttering where wide valleys on flat areas seem to still drain into downspouts that are on the outside of the house but still tie into the underground system. We think we still hear water running through the pipe but no where is there a visible exterior opening where the water is going in. I have seen some systems where there was a way to open up the system at almost ground level where you could keep it closed and going to the cistern at the beginning of the rain when there would be roof debris and open it mid rain so that you would get water that was very clean for washing hair, etc. One of the first things we did on our house was to reroof it. I wish I had known more about our house before we had done that so that we could have replaced all of the internal system.

  2. When I saw the photo of the boy above I immediately thought of the following caption: “the sum of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side”

  3. I removed a 10’x15’three-sided conservatory with terneplate roofing and hidden gutters from a tear-down, moved and mated it to my house. A practical foster son suggested we run water through the gutter before final attachment and reinstallation of the window walls, and make necessary adjustments, using 4×4’s and bottle jacks. This was done and the 30′ length of the gutter thereafter ran well into the sole downspout–similar technique could restore proper flow to your porte cochere since you can take the columns down for trim & shim as needed. Servant’s hall gutter more challenging. From my work with my own architectural metal cornices, and looking at yours, particularly the sad “Front Porch 1999” pic in your 8/23/14 post, they appear relatively easy to detach to expose the side and bottom of the built-ins to shim up or lower the wood deck. And Ross, better downspouts, however inesthetic, than rot.

  4. Yeah, I know, 35′ not 30′ of running length of gutter. Actually more, because of a 12″ soffit. I’m a lawyer, not an engineer or a carpenter, as my lads delight in reminding me when an experiment fails in J.W.’s Bad Ideas Laboratory.

  5. Discovering new the problem is the first step in solving it, and it looks like you’re well in your way. I’m sure you’ll figure out an elegant and long-lasting solution after enough time and thought, just as you do with everything else.

    Our house was built with gutters inside the soffits as well, but over time, of course, they failed due to poor maintenance. The worst part is that the average homeowner doesn’t pay any attention to them until the soffits literally start falling off the house. Our soffits were rebuilt with a standard drip edge and K-style gutters by a previous owner. They must have been pretty bad, judging from the number of sistered rafter tails I see in the attic. Although the original construction was cool, the rebuild was done very well, and actually looks better on the house than the original construction did, so I don’t feel much loss. Certainly not enough to change it back! Your decorative tin cornices are from another world, though! You are so fortunate to still have them!

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