Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Yesterday evening, I was reminded that my becoming a resident at Sewanee was strongly influenced by a successful architect whose book signing I attended at the Gailor Cabin here on the campus of the University of the South. I’ve known Sarah Boykin, co-author of Southern Homes & Plan Books, The Architectural Legacy of Leila Ross Wilburn, for over 40 years as she spent her teen-age years in New Iberia, Louisiana, my Louisiana home city where I winter. She graduated early from New Iberia Senior High so that she could work on a degree at the University of the South and has been an unofficial ambassador for Sewanee and the University since her graduation.

Boykin holds a master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin, and has spent two decades researching and writing about the work of Leila Ross Wilburn, an abiding interest that culminated in the handsome volume that features the design and philosophy of this architect. Yesterday’s book signing was a banner event that took place in an authentic log cabin, another of Boykin’s interests in diverse types of architecture, (she lives in a similar cabin near Gudger Road). Interested readers filled the Gailor cabin, porches, and spilled out into the gardens of the cabin.

Sarah Boykin with Diane Moore at book signing

Sarah Boykin has maintained a family presence with us — she discovered our home here at Sewanee and presented us with the idea of living half the year in this cottage here on The Mountain. She also assisted my grandson Martin in preparing a portfolio of his landscape designs and helped him find his first job as a landscape architect in Atlanta, Georgia. 

As a blogger who is an omnivorous reader, I try to read the output of all writers I know personally and review their literature, but I don’t have the space to do a definitive review of Southern Homes & Plan Books. However, I can promise that readers, both professionals and laypersons, will enjoy the text and photographs featuring nine plan books and smaller offprints of house styles, from bungalows to colonial and ranch houses, included in Southern Homes and Plan Books

As a native Louisianan, I was interested to read that the Southern Pine Association, headquartered in New Orleans, once commissioned and published plan books similar to Wilburn’s for distribution to lumber yards. The American South was targeted by Wilburn for her plan books, and Boykin’s and Hunter’s book includes beautiful photographs of homes constructed according to Wilburn’s plans and drawings from the plan books distributed throughout the South.. The authors’ research reveals how Wilburn’s designs helped develop many of Atlanta’s historic neighborhoods: Candler Park, Druid Hills, Morningside, and others, as well as those in the Decatur, Georgia District. 

Of interest to me was Wilburn’s sleeping porches, “a southern adaptation originally built nationally as a preventive measure against tuberculosis in the early twentieth century.” I have published several poems about both my maternal and paternal grandparents’ sleeping porches, which Boykin and Hunter report were accepted as important components of any proper middle-class home in the early 1900’s. Twelve percent of house designs in the 1918 Sears Roebuck catalogue, published in Chicago, included sleeping porches, but in the Southern Pine Association, published in New Orleans, 40 percent of the designs included sleeping porches. These structures were a predominant feature of southern homes, and in the case of my grandparents, both grandfathers slept alone in these enclosures during humid Louisiana nights!

Southern Homes & Plan Books is divided into four chapters with descriptive headings; e.g., Chapter One, “A man’s Profession, a Woman’s Domestic Domain,” which describes Leila Wilburn’s Architectural Practice and Plan Book Business; Chapter Two, “Southern Comfort, American Style: Leila Ross Wilburn’s Early Plan Book Houses;” Chapter Three, “From 1930’s Small to 1950’s Ranch;” Chapter Four, “Learning from Wilburn in the Twenty-First Century.”

An interesting end note: From 1917-1918, Wilburn served in the Army civilian service as a draftsperson for the War Department doing architectural drafting, and during World War II, Wilburn again served as a civilian in the war effort, sometimes working in the development of maps while stationed in Tampa, Florida; and in Washington, D.C., she developed architectural plans and construction drawings for utilitarian structures.

Southern Homes & Plan Books contains an appendix, notes, bibliography, photography credits, and illustration credits. The amount of research work devoted to this project is formidable and showcases the work of two talented architects — Leila Wilburn and Sarah Boykin. Boykin has been recognized for outstanding contributions in the development of arts facilities, preservation of historic sites and cultural landscapes, as well as sustainable design. Susan Hunter has completed doctoral work in art history at Emory University and is a resident of a Wilburn house in the Atlanta area.

Brava Sarah and Susan for showcasing the legacy of Leila Ross Wilburn in this handsome volume published by the University of Georgia Press. May your interest in historic preservation continue to inspire more exceptional writing about architectural traditions.

Photograph of Sarah Boykin and Diane Moore by Victoria Sullivan.

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