The American Widow’s Walk: Explaining Victorian-era Architecture for Steampunk Writers – Part One

An Old House Idiosyncracy from the Cogpunk Steamscribe blog

Cogpunk Steamscribe

Located in Oak Bluffs (East coast), featured on an episode of This Old House, via Flickr. Wrap around porch and a widow's walk on the roof.

The Widow’s Walk is mainly found on Northern American Victorian-era architecture, though there are examples in other countries. It is called the Widow’s Walk because it is supposedly a place from where wives could keep an eye out for their husbands’ ships. However, since their are many examples of this architectural feature on inland houses without a glimpse of the sea, this is most likely a fabrication.

The Gothic flavour of this myth has all the earmarks of the Victorian obsession with sentimentality:  the patience of the faithful wife; the possibility of lost love; the implied promise of the husband’s return; the gloomy yet poetic name. It was also another excuse to add gingerbread and fretwork to ornament the house; which I suspect was the real reason behind the design and construction of the Widow’s Walk. The classic Widow’s Walk is an ornately fenced rooftop platform often with a enclosed cupola, painted in contrasting colours to the rest of the house…

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