Surviving the Test of Time: The 10 Oldest Awnings We Can Find

Awnings have been around in one form or another since ancient times. The earliest ones were made of hand-woven mats attached to poles, unlike the modern awnings that are attached directly to the facades of homes and businesses.

Though there aren’t many images of ancient awnings floating around, there is some visual documentation of awnings from days gone by. Here are 10 of the oldest ones that we could find.

The first image is an artist’s rendering of an awning, since cameras were in very short supply in 1817. That’s especially in India, where this structure sits. This is the Diwan-i-Khas, or the Hall of Private Audiences, at the Red Fort in Delhi. Here, the emperor held private meetings with important guests and courtiers.

As you can see, awnings were very popular on Larimer Street in Denver, Colorado in 1870. Practically every storefront on this busy street had an awning of some sort to shade customers who were strolling along the sidewalk — back in the day when the only Broncos in Denver were on ranches instead of football fields.

The awnings on Second Street in 1841 were constructed a bit differently. Notice that the leading edges of the awnings were actually attached to horizontal bars that spanned poles which stood on the side of the street. Unsupported front edges weren’t prevalent until later in the century.

This may be a photo of one of the first “retractable” awnings in America. Installed over a Richmond, Virginia storefront in the 19th century, it had hinged extension arms, which could be raised and lowered to expand or retract the fabric depending on the weather.

Awnings weren’t just for retail businesses in the U.S. in 1940. The county courthouse in Morgan County, West Virginia used individual awnings over first-floor windows to shield workers from the sun’s glare. Here, awnings were much more functional than fashionable.

The caption on this photo gives the location as it looked in 1913. You could probably surmise that Shriver’s and Whitman’s were doing a good business since they could afford to have their names printed on their large corner storefront awning.

This stretch of the same boardwalk in Ocean City illustrates the generous use of awnings in front of businesses and the Strand Theatre back in 1928. You can probably guarantee that if you gazed upon this spot today, you would see considerably fewer suits, ties, and long dresses.

Here’s a front view of the same Strand Theatre during a different time period. As you can see, the drugstore advertised its wares on its awning. Nowadays, people tend to buy their drugs in the alley back behind their local theater.

Some awning companies in the U.S. have been around for over a century, like this namesake business in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This 1925 shot of the ritzy Arlington hotel displays individual awnings across the front side of the lower floor.

This awnings is not remarkable for its appearance, but rather for its makeup. The Native American woman, known only as Mrs. Jones, made the awning out of old Army coats and placed it above a window of her modest log cabin in 1936.

Written by Harry Helmet

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