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Newel posts

The Old House Web

By Deborah Holmes


Enon Hall
The newel post for the stairs in this 1730 house in Virginia is a simple tapered square post. (Photo: Bill Chapman)

Ciccarelli house
This 1894 Queen Anne Victorian, also in Virginia, features an elaborate, carved newel post, topped with a lighted bronze statue. (Photo: Steve Ciccarelli)

(Click on pictures for a larger view.)

The humble definition of a newel post: the large post that anchors thehandrail at the bottom of the staircase for support belies the importanceof this architectural part in defining the character of a house.

Owners of old houses wax eloquent about stripping and refinishing newel poststhat have suffered the indignities of time -- and redecorating. Others searchthrough salvage and antique shops looking for just the right cap or light to setthe post off as the crown jewel of the staircase.

When I was growing up, our annual holiday photos always had the staging --three girls standing on the stairs, the tallest at the top and me, the youngest,smiling out from behind the newel post. That elegant piece of mahogany and pine played an even more prominentrole in our every day lives. Running downstairs from our bedrooms at breakneckspeed, we'd grab onto the newel post and swing into the living room, bypassingthe bottom two steps. This always elicited stern parental warnings aboutloosening the stair parts. Which we did. And which my ever-patient -- and handy-- father always fixed.

Quinn Chapel

Detail from a drawing of a newel post at the Quinn Chapel (circa 1891), in Chicago, Illinois. The drawing by students from the Art Institute of Chicago won an honorable mention in the 2001 Charles E. Peterson competition. Sponsored by the The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of the National Park Service, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the annual contest recognizes the best set of measured drawings prepared to HABS standards and donated to HABS by students. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Livingston courthouse

Another drawing from the Peterson competition: This entry of the newel and banister of the Second Empire Style Livingston County Courthouse (circa 1874) in Arnaudville, Illinois. This entry won 4th place in the competition. Drawing by students from the University of Illinois. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Below are a variety photosof newel posts from our collection of old house photos, and from those sent inby readers. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

Pleasant Plains
Newel post from Pleasant Plains, an 1830 farmhouse in Annapolis, Maryland.

Pleasant Plains
Details from main staircase at Pleasant Plains.


Holmes house Litchfield
An 1845 farmhouse in Litchfield, Maine, has similar stair styling to the Annapolis house.

Photos: Deb Holmes

Ciccarelli house
Details on this newel post from an 1894 Victorian house are partially hidden by thick layers of glossy gold paint.

Ciccarelli house
The same post, being stripped.

Ciccarelli house
And the finished post.

Photos: Steve Ciccarelli

Fort Western
Newel post in Fort Western in Augusta, Maine. This house was built in 1754. The newel is simple and functional.


Holmes house Hallowell
The same simple lines are evident in this newel post in a Hallowell, Maine Federal style house, built in 1801.


Holmes house Gardiner
This newel post from an 1878 Victorian in Gardiner, Maine, was never painted.

Photos: Deb Holmes

About the Author
The Old House Web

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