The middle sized of the three small Fairmount Federal era villas, Ormiston has a charm and understated elegance that is worth a second look.
Of the three small villas (along with Solitude and Rockland) Ormiston is easy to overlook like most middle children. Not as lavish as Solitude’s interior plaster work nor as elegant as Rockland’s Federal portico, Ormiston’s charms are easy to miss but it certainly has pedigree. Built in 1798 for Edward Burd, a prominent lawyer and Revolutionary War Major, has the classic proportions of the Federal era.
The design is symmetrical on the East and West elevation and is almost a cube – each side has three bays but the side elevations (North and South) are slightly wider than the front and rear. In keeping with Federal tradition, the house has little decoration with a simple cornice and small marble sills at the windows. There are two elegant dormers with arched top sash and curving muntins at the front and rear, and a balustrade at the top of the hipped roof.
There are references in the early descriptions to a stucco coating, which is now gone, that would have been consistent with the Federal style, particularly if scored to look stone. The front and rear porches with Tuscan details may be a later addition but were there by 1855 because they show up on an insurance survey. Interiors are much altered with some modern partitions but some original details and moldings.
Like its two sisters, Ormiston shows that Colonial era houses could be grand without being large. The cube proportions of these Federal houses would be found again in the American foursquare – one of the most enduring housing styles of the 19th and early 20th century.