Throwback Thursday: Widow's Walk
First shared as a blog post in 2014 by a previous curator.
The Lane Place is a beautiful, two-story home built in 1845 by Henry Lane. It has seen many renovations over its century in existence. Many were made by the Lane family while they occupied the home, and were continued by the Montgomery County Historical Society. Looking at the home from its grounds you see the main floor, an upstairs, the chimneys, wrought iron and wooden balconies, and a strange railing that is perched at the top of the house. Few people know exactly what structure is hidden up on the roof. The Lane Place contains a “Widow’s Walk”.
In the 1800’s along the coast of the United States ‘widow’s walks’ were quite popular structures. They were railed platforms atop the roofs of homes that sat near the water. It is said that the features were to allow wives the perfect view of the ocean to watch hopefully for their husbands’ safe return from sea. Even if they were used by mournful sailors’ wives; some say that they are merely an architectural beauty adopted by the American Architects from Italy. Italian cupolas called belvederes are very similar to the ‘widow’s walks’ of America.
We know the supposed purpose of a widow’s walk. The question is, why did Joanna Elston-Lane want this structure in her home? It is a fair question seeing as the Lane Place is located in the great plains and far from a large body of water. There are a few theories. Perhaps, because her husband Henry was always away on business, she would watch for his return and hope to see him riding toward home from the roof. Another popular theory: Isaac Elston (Joanna’s father) owned quite a bit of land around the Lane Place on which many of her siblings lived. Joanna very easily could have looked over and admired her father’s land from her roof as well as see all of her siblings’ homes. The final theory is Joanna Lane, being a senator’s wife, had wealth and liked the finer things in life. It would make sense to build a rare structure like a belvedere found in Italy that would impress house quests. Whichever theory you choose to believe; it always is an interesting discussion on the house tours.