Our house is a north-facing double house so light is always in short supply. The previous owners of the house–several of them–responded by adding what they called “roof windows” and we call skylights. Roof windows go way back in American architecture, to the eighteenth century, when they were of course made of wood. Thomas Jefferson incorporated thirteen of them into the design of Monticello as he wanted his house to be flooded with natural light as often as possible. There’s also a great roof window at Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine, one of Historic New England’s properties (an amazing house near my hometown of York; check out this great post by The Down East Dilettante for more information and photographs).
We have three roof windows: one on each of the house’s three floors. The first- and third-floor windows are in the back part of the house which was added on in intervals after 1860, so they are not that special. However, the second-floor opening, which is in the original part of the (1827) house, is really interesting. It cuts through the middle of the house and there is a ceiling window and a 12-foot beadboard light well that opens up to a second window in the roof. Both windows are attached to and can be opened by a metal rod and a rope (though they seldom are as birds inevitably fly in and around the house).
Hunting around for some images of roof windows similar to my own, I didn’t find much, or actually any. But I can’t resist showcasing this amazing house in Newburgh, New York which was very well-documented, inside and out, by the Historic American Building Survey. The William C. Hasbrouck House , also known as the “Tuscan Villa” was built in 1838 and is (it seems to be still standing on Google maps, though I can only see it from above; it looks like something is happening to the roof!) very impressive, so much so that the HABS photographer Jack E. Boucher takes us all through the house, including up into the attic where we can see how a quite ordinary roof window was turned into a spectacular interior skylight.