In the 1800's, the East Coast began to see additions to architecture called a Widow's Walk. Many have thought that a Widow's Walk, railed platforms across the roof tops of houses facing the sea, were a North American version of the Italian cupola or belvedere. If one digs deep enough, the Widow's Walk can actually be traced back to Italy and Italian architecture; born in Italy, brought to America.
As the story goes, the Widow's Walk used to be a viewing spot where crazy-in-love, lonely wives of fishermen, could gaze towards the sea searching the blue horizon in desperate hope of seeing their husband's ships returning to port and back into their arms. Back in the 1800's and 1900's, the fishing vessels took journeys on whaling trails for months on end, many never returned. So, as you could imagine, gazing towards the setting sun or the rising sun sending wishes and dreams of safe returns into the wafts of sea breeze certainly paint these unique architectural features with a romantic brush.
The most realistic application of a Widow's Walk had a very practical and important purpose. Most homes in the 1800 and 1900's were heated by wood or materials vented through the chimney. Many of these homes were very tall with steep roof lines that in the winter were covered with ice or snow. If there was a chimney fire, they would not be able to safely access the chimney putting the entire house at risk. Home owners would keep buckets of sand or water near the Widows Walk hatch so they could quickly access the chimney in the event of a fire and safely extinguish it.
Going into the 20th Century, additions of Widow's Walk's to houses was driven not so much out of practical necessity but instead, driven by Real Estate. As sea side shoreline real estate became valued and more of the population wanted views of the sea, Widow's Walk additions were an added feature for real estate to increase in value as view property. For this very reason, even with modern day architecture, one may still see a version of the Widow's Walk atop new construction. A Widow's Walk; a romantic piece of folklore, perhaps, an open air room with a view as well as a historical practical application and interestingly enough, an architectural credit to Real Estate methodologies to find, build or create precisely what your client is looking for in their dream home.