Just down the street from my current residence sits the former home of one of the patriarchs of Midland County, Mr. Button.  Misters Button and Halbert arrived in this area in 1849 and were among the first settlers of the county.  The site of his family residence, rebuilt in the 1920s, now serves as a family home and a bed and breakfast, the Buttonville Inn.

Buttonville Inn, North Bradley, Michigan

The building is large with multiple bedrooms, large kitchen and sitting areas.  The current owner as a young woman served as nanny to the former owner’s children.  This is a dwelling for people with servants.  Its size is meant to impress, but its current spare design fits in with the simpler lifestyles of the neighborhood, which was populated by farmers, a few merchants, and those involved in industries supporting lumbering.  Prior to its renovation as a bed and breakfast, the house sported Victorian style painting and architectural details with some of those Gothic revival features so common to such homes.  Those Gothic features implied a connection to the tradition and stability, as well as the wealth and privilege, of old Europe.  These implied connections in the home implied a parallel connection in the residents and sought to erase the nouveau riche reputation of so many wealthy Americans in the 19th century.

The Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago also pulls on these medieval connections with its Italian Renaissance Romanesque arches and architectural friezes reminiscent of a Medici palace.

Lower Floors of Allerton Hotel, Chicago

Also built in the early 1920s, designed by the architects Murgatroyd and Ogden, the Allerton combines the look of an Italian Renaissance palazzo on its lower floors with the more modern skyscraper towers of its upper floors.  While the Italian Renaissance style does pull on medieval associations, it more clearly pulls on connections with the merchant princes of the Italian Renaissance, who rose from lowly backgrounds to great wealth and eventually great political power and cultural influence, much like the elite of early 20th-century Chicago.  This Chicago had made its name as a world-class city through the success of the 1893 World’s Fair and, in the wake of WWI, was enjoying all of the roar of the roaring 20s, where wealth could be had by all with the nerve to speculate in the stock market–or so it seemed.

In both instances, newly rich (nouveau riche) Americans used the historical implications of medieval architectural styles to imply their own stability, cultural significance, and right to lead in wealth, politics, and culture.  The success of each can be assessed by the Allerton Hotel being considered a landmark of Chicago architecture still today and worthy of extensive costly renovations and of a similar, though smaller scale, renovation of the Buttonville Inn, as well as the naming of the village after Mr. Button (although currently the village is known as North Bradley).  Both buildings have sought to maintain those historical resonances while adding their own modern touches (flat screen televisions, large garages, wifi, etc.) to attract visitors and demonstrate their own success and legitimacy as modern businesses.

Sources:  Linked within the article