Monday, February 15, 2021

A Cheat-Sheet History of American Home Architecture, Part 1: Native-American, Folk, and Early Colonial American Houses

* Reorganized, pictures added. 

So, we're having a snowstorm here, which is okay by me, because I can get caught up on my reading - especially on Mondays, when my work is slower :)

Mark bought me this book as one of my Christmas gifts, which I'd been wanting for quite a while.  

There are many books on American home architecture, but most are not quite as comprehensive and detailed; and clearly, Virginia and Lee McAlester knew their stuff, particularly transitional elements (which most online guides ... well, don't).  The original was published in 1984, but has since been updated a few times.  (However, they did omit German colonial, at least in the correct timeline, for some reason.)

I thought I'd create a little "cheat sheet" for myself to remember, and for anyone else interested. 

Let's start with the first Americans, the Native Americans :)

FYI - most of these pictures are not included in the book, but many are.

She spends quite a lot of time going into Native American architecture as well, but it would take me all day to focus on each of the housing types of the different tribes, but it suffices to say these are the basics, based on region ...

Folk Houses - 1600 to 1730

We'll start timeline wise, with the folk houses of American immigrants - and of course, the more rural and west you went, the less organized, using different materials.

Of course, the region and climate also affected how we American immigrants built, and it took us some time to figure that out lol - that what my work in your home country, might not work here  ;)

So, this is what I've learned thus far, as far as the timeline and which countries influenced what architecture and where.  These are just the general guidelines, of course, but there are often regional differences I won't go into, because they're plentiful, and you can just ... read the book :)

Of course, the first houses were little "wattle and daub" houses in the Plymouth and Jamestown settlements. 

They were often one room with a loft, in the British post-medieval style.   These are, of course, recreations of the homes at Jamestown ;)

Most were made of timber or half-timber, in the post-medieval style, with high-pitched, thatched rooves, but the colonists soon learned that thatch and deep pitching wasn't necessarily the way to go, in our climate ;)

But of course, the further rural and west you went, the more access they had to timber, and thus they resorted to one-room log-cabins ...

Northeastern rural style 1-room cabin. 

Midwest rural style 1-room cabin.

Southern style rural 1-room cabin 

Plains and West style rural 1-room cabin

However, a log or stone and dugout mix (or just a plain earth dugout) offered the best protection from plains winds and snow, particularly if not wealthy ...

Western/Plains dugout

However, the Spanish quickly learned that there was a reason Native-American pueblos were made of adobe - but I'll get into Spanish colonial more in a bit. 

Early Colonial (Spanish, French, Dutch, German, and British)  - 1600 to1830

As the American colonies grew and became wealthier (and more accustomed to materials and ways of internal heating), these branched into "hall and parlor" houses, which was essentially the floor plan for all Americans, regardless of your country of origin, by 1730.

*Though this floor plan shows two chimneys, in the Northeast, they typically had one central chimney in the middle or one side; but from Virginia down to the southeast, they had two chimneys, one on either end - particularly in tidewater areas.

Also, many had an attic loft - some with a window, some without.

Early British Colonial/Post-Medieval Hall and Parlor - Urban Northeast

Half timber, wood, or timber; rarely fully stone.

Early British Colonial/Post-Medieval Log Hall and Parlor - Rural

Log, smooth timber, or shingle exterior; stone less common.

Early Dutch Colonial Hall and Parlor  - Urban 

New York and Pennsylvania - wood, stone, or shingled exterior 

Early British/French Tidewater Hall and Parlor - Virginia and Coastal Southeast

Wood or brick.

(Note the two chimneys on either side, porch, and raised foundation; due to tidewater ;) 

As the country grew in both population and wealth, immigrants began building in their native country styles, with a twist, based on regional materials.

Second stories were built, but they still weren't "massed" yet - meaning both stories were still just one room deep, with perhaps a half room in the back (back two rooms on top of the bottom rooms, for four rooms total, called  an "I-House."

Mid-British Colonial: Post-Medieval I-Houses, Saltboxes, and Cape Cods - 1690 to 1740

Northeast and Virginia Colonies

Identifying Features: 

- Steeply pitched roof, side-gabled. 

- Two stories appeared, but they are "I-houses" - meaning only one room deep - i.e., each floor still only has two rooms - like a hall-and-parlor on top of a hall and parlor - for a grand total of four rooms

Vertically opened small windows, diamond-paned, often with leaded glass

-  Battened wood doors (vs. paneled)  with typically no adornment; usually in the center, though Southern examples have door to the left or right.

-  Chimneys are often very ornamental or even grouped - often centered in the North; two on each side from Virginia to the south. 



(Note the chimneys on the side in the South, versus the north, and more dormer windows ;)

Later came "saltbox" versions - which is an I-house with a back extension room, which the back roof slopes down to cover as well ... 

British Colonial  "Saltbox" 

These last two saltboxes are late British post-medieval folk/early Georgian mixes (you can tell by the loss of diamond-shaped window panes and the row of rectangular windows above the front still-battened door.)

British Colonial  "Cape Cod" 

All one story, with an attic, like a hall-and-parlor, but now with a massed floor plan - meaning the first floor was more than one room deep on each side, usually four rooms on the first floor, instead of two - the originals were found only in the Northeast.

I know we now think of Cape Cods with dormer windows, but those actually didn't come until transition into the Georgian/Federal period, rather than post-medieval dormers. 

Early Spanish Colonial - 1600 to 1730

Identifying features: 


- Earliest have wood and thick brick in Southeast Coast or coquino stone (Florida), later adobe.

-  Earliest and truest examples have low pitched or flat roof, often tiled (West, Southwest, and earlier coastal design, especially government buildings).   

- Balconies, wood or ornamental wrought iron, running the entire length of the second floor - a feature which prevailed in Western-town architecture until the 20th century (think mining town saloons, etc.)

-  Windows, rectangular or arched, often barred with ornamental wrought iron.  Shuttered on coastal areas.

-  One or two stories. 

-  Wooden posts supporting supporting roof or balconies.  
Several battened wood doors on each level as true entrances for each room, as rooms did not interconnect with each other.  
-  Ornate, elaborate arched doorways, windows, and porticos, as well as frescoes under eaves (and sometimes columns) in wealthier homes and governmental buildings. 


Coastal and Tidewater South 

St. Augustine, Florida 

Charleston, South Carolina 

This one is mixed with Georgian features ;) 

New Orleans, Louisiana 

This next photo, you're looking at the home on left more than the one on the right, as the one on the left is in the older, original style, and the one on the right is mixed with Federal features ... 

And your typical Spanish colonial townhouse (or more accurately, Creole, Spanish/French mix) 

Rural, West, and Southwest Styles 

-  One story in the early American southwest and West, and early design in coastal areas, two later in Southwest. 

-  Shuttered in coastal/tidewater areas. 

-  Several battened wood doors as entrances to each room, as rooms did not interconnect with each other. 

-  Ornate, elaborate arched doorways and porticos, as well as frescoes under eaves (and sometimes columns) in wealthier homes and governmental buildings.

Dutch Colonial - 1625 to 1840

Northeast, particularly New York and Pennsylvania

Identifying Features: 

Urban style: 

-  Brick or stone, but wooden examples and half-and-halves exist.

 Earliest have steeply pitched roof, with flared eaves in front, no eaves on sides - side gabled.

-  Two end chimneys, ornamental and parapets 

- Eaves and chimneys sometimes have distinctive Dutch "steps," but rare in colonial America.

- "Dutch" doors - wood, split horizontally in the middle, so that you can open top only.

-  Multipaned windows that open vertically. 

Small, elongated dormer windows in roof.  

- Porches almost always later additions, particularly in urban homes.

Rural Style 

- Stone, wood, and brick.

- Gambreled or "barn" roof, flared eaves. 


French Colonial - 1700 to 1830 

Southeast and Coastal Southeast

Identifying Features, both Urban and Rural: 

-   Steeply pitched but hipped roof (sometimes pyramidal), often with dormer windows. 

-   French doors and long windows which open vertically, shutters entire length (later double-hung windows after Georgian influence).  

Urban Style Only  - Most are in New Orleans, very few examples left. 

    -  One story. 

    -  Little or no porch, opening right onto the sidewalk or banqueta/banquette 

 Rural Style Only 

   -  One or two stories.

   -  Extensive porches running the length of the first floor.

   -  Tidewater homes stilted, stoned, or bricked up from ground due to flooding.   

   -  Roof sometimes double-hipped  

German Colonial - 1700 to 1830 

Particularly rural homes - New York, Pennsylvania, and rural Virginia; however, Georgian and Federal homes were also built with sandstone and often houses had mixed features.

Identifying Features - similar to Dutch, but with distinct features: 

Predominantly made of sandstone, they are symmetrical I-houses, side-gabled, with steeply pitched roofs, often exposed timber or half-timber. 

Entrance battened doors are often on right or left of the first floor rather than central. 

-  Central Chimneys (as opposed to Dutch, where chimneys often were on the sides) 

- Windows often double-hung with sashes opening horizontally (but not always).  

- Roof not as steeply pitched as Dutch, nor parapets - also eaves branch out in triangle, do not flare upwards. 

- Rare dormers - usually a later addition.


Georgian/Late British Colonial - 1700 to 1780

Identifying features, all regions:  

    - In addition to Cape Cods have massed floor plans, improvements in heating led to massed floor plan in 2-story homes as well (at least 4 rooms to a story), 

    - Pedimented, paneled front door, often with an ornamental crown atop, often with an entablature (but not an eagle, which is Federal; actually,  Federal revival/20th century, actually) -  supported with flat, straight inlay pilasters as a door frame.  

In addition to not having a covered porcha single row of rectangular windows above the door is the single-best identifying feature of a Georgian vs. Federal (unless added later); fan-shaped windows and emblems are Federal.

-     Double-hung, symmetrical windows, with 9-12 panes, sometimes with a keystone above.

    - Double-hung/sashed windows, symmetrical windows, opened horizontally. 

    - Pedimented dormer windows.

    - Dentil cornices.  

    - Later Georgian/Early Federal included a small covered porch/portico and/or semi-circular, bannistered stairs to entrance and balustrades atop.

- Though French and Spanish townhouses already existed in the Southeast, British Townhouses begin to appear in urban areas, particularly Virginia.

Northeast Colonies  

Wood with shingle or clapboard walls, centered chimney.  

Gambrel roof - *Borrowed from the Dutch, these British examples are almost exclusively found in Salem, Massachusetts, but rare examples can be found elsewhere, i.e., one in Williamsburg, VA.

Middle Colonies 

Brick or stone, chimneys on each end. 

(Late Georgian/Early Federal - rebuilt after fire with Neoclassical elements - Williamstown, VA)

Southern Colonies 

Brick with chimneys on each end, shutters on windows, sometimes mid-gabled front - many are townhouses, and most are actually a Georgian/Federal mix, often with Neoclassical features often added later (last pic). 

*Note:  Southern coastal examples - particularly in Charleston - often built the home so that the side gable is facing the street, the front entry is accessed to the side ...

American Federal  - 1780 to 1820

Identifying Features (added to Georgian), all regions:

- Semicircular "fan" window (or fan emblem) over the door rather than a row of rectangular windows.

- Palladian three-part entrance door; sometimes also another Palladian window or door on the 2nd floor (late federal/early neoclassical had fan emblems in frescoes in the frieze of the middle gable). 

- Third floor or attic smaller windows (usually urban and townhouses).  

- Ornamental "fake" gable (or recessed gable) in the middle of otherwise side-gabled house. 

- More elaborate door surround, still crowned, but often now including the American Eagle, and quoins on the corners/above the door return in some designs. 

- Small pedimented portico entry porch.

- Decorative molding instead of dentil cornices or combination. 

- Double hung, 6-paned window with thinner muntins, shutters in regular use now, not just coastal homes. 

- Lower-floor windows now had decorative pediments, not just the dormers. 

- Small cupolas and short balustrades (fencing) begin appearing atop the homes, which will increase in size and number in Neoclassical homes.

- Ornamental swags in porticos or between floors on front of home.

- Side-gable entry mostly found in Southeastern coastal houses.  

Northeastern Federal - Urban

 Still central chimney, still continued wood, shingle, and stone exterior, but brick growing in popularity. 



In early-to-late Federal order ...

These last two are federal with a few neoclassic elements mixes - i.e., ionic columns and balustrades ... 

Northeastern/Midwest Rural

    - Extended porch, sometimes a side porch (possibly Greek Revival addition).  Double chimneys near, but not at, the ends.

    -  Less pediment above windows, less shuttered.

    - Corners often smooth pilastered, like some urban homes.

    -  Some doors with fanlight window and/or palladium windows, but less so.

Late Federal/Neoclassical (leaning towards Greek Revival)

Middle (also Midwest) Federal - Urban.

- Similar to Northern, but  almost all were brick, sometimes built in 3-part or 5-part plans. 

- Semi-circular stairs with two sides and bannister. 

- Townhouses abounded. 

Southern Federal - Urban 

*New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah, often incorporated these elements into French/Spanish structures, and were early adopters of neoclassicism, so often a mix.


    - Mostly still brick or wood or shingled exteriors.

    - Extended (Spanish) porches and balconies, running the full length of a floor.  

    - *In Southeast coastal areas such as Charleston and Savannah, later examples still have the side gable facing the street;  but now, home entry is often included in the side gable as well.


Late federal/neoclassical mixes 

Early Classical/Neoclassical (Roman features) - 1770 to 1830

 Identifying features (all regions): 

- Usually brick (except in Northeast), Thomas Jefferson helped usher in this design style at Monticello.


 The White House is designed in the Neoclassical/Early Classical Style

- Porticos now included usually 4 Roman-style columns (sometimes 6), either supporting porticos that typically extended to the second floor or recessed within the wall to support a middle-front gable at the roof.  

- The portico or middle gable usually contains either a fan window or a fan emblem in the portico frieze, which would eventually give way to Greek Revival style in 1830. 

- Appearance of dome roofs, particular atop fuller cupolas, and more elaborate balustrades.  

- Oval windows for decoration rather than function.   

- Federal windows, shuttered or unshuttered. 

- Ornamental wall and portico frieze swags with emblems. 

- Some experimented with hexagonal or "bowed/rounded" walls and/or bay windows, as well as arched windows, doors, and breezeways.

- 3-part and 5-part homes first introduced in Federal design became more common.  

(Late Neoclassical/early Greek Revival mixes ... )

Part 2 will be on the "Romance" period in American home architecture, beginning in 1830 (whenever I finish this section:)

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