Wednesday, July 17, 2019


A cupola (kyo͞o-pə-lə) is the little dome or square-shaped addition that we see today atop a house, barn, or gazebo. It can also be a larger windowed area accessed from inside an Italianate-style home popular in the Victorian era.

None of this sounds very Western in the 1800s American-West sense of the word. But that’s exactly what my character Elizabeth Beaumont (An Unexpected Redemption) saw on her way home from the train station in 1881—the cupola rising romantically from the top of Maggie Snowfield’s boarding house.

When Elizabeth and her friend Sophie Price were growing up, they imagined what it would be like to secretly meet their sweethearts in a cupola, high above the town with a panoramic view and unparalleled privacy. At least they thought there would be a view. Young girls imagine all sorts of things, you know.

The term cupola comes from an Italian word derived from Latin for little tub. Italianate-style homes sprang up all over the United States during the mid- to late nineteenth century, other than in the South due to the Civil War and economic devastation of southern states.

American architects redesigned creations of British architects, who creatively recreated ideas from Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio of the 16th century. Clearly, imitation was the purist form of flattery.
Cupola ceiling in the Synagogue of Gyor, Hungary.
Emmanuel Dyan, Wikimedia.
The cupola is an integral part of that design and can be traced even farther back to 8th-century Islamic architecture on minarets, often with balconies. It later appeared in ancient Roman architecture. The dome-shaped styles were also found in India.

Cupolas were used to provide natural light and ventilation to space just below the roof, particularly in more humid regions. Those on barns often supported a weather vane from their highest point. The square-shaped style was sometimes referred to as “lantern.”
Old barn at Brookwood Farm, Canton, Massachusetts.
Jameslwoodward, Wikimedia Commons
But the larger, windowed cupola is what I envisioned atop Maggie Snowfield’s opulent home. Often, such a space is accessed via a stairway inside the house, as it was in Maggie’s. A very romantic hideaway, indeed, for a certain couple in my book.

The image below of John Muir’s home in Martinez, California, is close to what I envisioned as the Snowfield Boarding House in An Unexpected Redemption. Without the palm trees, of course. 
John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California.
Victorian residence of scientist, philosopher and conservationist Muir
from 1890 till his death 1914. National Park Service photo.Wikimedia.
Historians tell us that Italianate architecture was favored for new Victorian construction because technology of the time made reproduction of cast-iron and metal decorations quite affordable. Not only homes employed the style, but also rooming houses, train stations, town halls, and libraries.

However, homes, barns, public buildings, and gazebos were not the only place cupolas made an appearance. Cabooses had them as well.

History lovers will know that trains once pulled a caboose with an “angel seat” from where workers had a clear view of the track and the rest of the train.
A former Milwaukee Road cupola caboose on display at the
National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. Photo by Sean Lamb, Wikimedia.
When my family and I first moved to Colorado, an open pasture bordering our property held a deserted train caboose left beneath a giant cottonwood tree. My son often went there to play and explore with a neighbor boy. We always supposed it had served as a line shack or cow camp, though it was not the typical shelter for cowboys.

To this day I regret not going out with my camera and photographing the old “dinosaur.” When the property owners got rid of the caboose, I felt as if a little bit of untold history went with it. Especially its angel-seat cupola.

An Unexpected Redemption

From the shelter of the cupola, Elizabeth could see the whole of Olin Springs. The railroad twisted away into the foothills, a silvery ribbon in the moon’s thin light, and to the north, the Big Dipper stood on its handle, spilling countless stars across the sky.

Tears spilled across her cheeks.

She hated Garrett Wilson. She hated him for stealing her heart when she wasn’t looking, for making her want to love again. For making her wonder what life could be like with a man like him.

But she hated him most for being right.

Davalynn Spencer can’t stop #lovingthecowboy. As the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters, she writes romance for those who enjoy a Western tale with a rugged hero, both historical and contemporary. She holds the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Inspirational Western Fiction, teaches writing workshops, and plays the keyboard on her church worship team. When she’s not writing, teaching, or playing, she’s wrangling Blue the Cowdog and mouse detectors Annie and Oakley. Learn more about Davalynn and her books at

May all that you read be uplifting.


  1. Very interesting. Wouldn't have thought cupolas would show up in the western areas. For that matter, they show up in New England away from the coastal areas as well. Strange what catches our fancy and becomes a trend, isn't it?

    1. Absolutely, Connie. There are so many influences on our designs and desires.

  2. It's funny how you don't really think of things like cupolas until someone mentions them. I've seen plenty of them in the Midwest, but I never thought of their importance or how one could be a romantic hideaway. Interesting fact: my home state of Oklahoma had the last state capitol to get a cupola. We just got one about fifteen years ago.

  3. Interesting, Vickie. As an author, you know how things pop into your mind while you're writing. The cupola in my novel did that, and I had to go hunting to learn about them!

  4. My Grandfathers barn had 3 nice ones on it when I was a girl, wish I could have bought them when the barn was taken down so many years ago. I remember them sitting on the lawn, they seem so much larger when down then up on top the barn! This is so interesting and made me think of them. Memories
    Linda Marie Finn
    Faithful Acres Books @ gmail dot com