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Buildings to Know in American Architecture – English settlement and the Rise of
Stratford Hall, Virginia; 1737-40
The formal “H” shape plan both carries on with a Tudor building tradition and looks
forward to the Georgian symmetry of the 18th century. The arrangement of the
house is still based on rooms leading off of rooms and exterior stairs but the
arrangement of the grounds with the house strictly centered in the midst of
designed outbuildings intended to compliment the big house is fully Palladian.
Williamsburg Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg, Virginia; built 1706-10, destroyed
1781, rebuilt 1935
An early American example of the symmetrical Palladian-inspired architecture
promoted in England by Inigo Jones. The high hipped roof and symmetrical façade
reflect fashionable building in England. This was the largest and most ornate of
buildings known to have been constructed in the British colonies to that date; by the
time of its destruction by fire it was considered old-fashioned and uncomfortable.
Adam Thoroughgood House, Virginia, ca. 1725
It is a carefully crafted brick house using the traditional “cottage” form found in
countless English and American colonial building, but executed in a fine material. It
is an expression of prosperity in Virginia some 100 years after first settlement, but it
also reflects a lack of knowledge of the advancement in floor plans and interior
arrangements made in England during that time.
Adam Keeling House, Newport, Virginia, ca. 1730s
Along with the Adam Thoroughgood house and a cluster of others in Princess Anne
County, Virginia, the Keeling House demonstrates the use of brick in a modest house
form. The interior is divided into a hall with staircase, separating two main rooms
on the first floor. The refinement of the floorplan is more sophisticated than the
contemporary, but much grander Stratford Hall, showing the incremental and
irregular adoption of Palladian ideals of exterior symmetry and controlled
circulation within a house.
Abel and Mary Nicholson House, Salem, New Jersey, 1722
An outstanding example of a distinctive American vernacular house form developed
in southern NJ and along the Delmarva Peninsula. It is the tall, narrow, one-room
deep house type known as an “I” house. Although located in rural settings, the end
gable walls are left windowless and used for expressive patterns of brickwork, often
incorporating the initials of the husband and wife who built the house and the date
of its construction. It is a powerful form of “ownership”, marking the house and all
the land, as the house is visible in these flat agricultural landscapes for some
Hancock House, Salem County, New Jersey, 1734
Another patterned end brick house, notable for the “diaper” or diamond pattern on
its sides that is, perhaps unconsciously, a replication of the Tudor-era designs at
Hampton Court Palace.
St Luke’s Church, Virginia, 1732
A brick English parish church, mostly Gothic in its conception, but with the addition
of a small pediment at the front tower, indicating a new awareness in the colonies of
the English interest in Classical architecture.
“Old Ship” Meetinghouse, Hingham, Massachusetts, 1681, remodeled 1750s,
restored 20th century
The oldest continually used house of worship in America? Its heavy timber
construction demonstrates the transmission of English timber-building technology
and skills, particularly to the New England colonies. The meetinghouse is the
“invention” of the religious dissidents who first settled New England, and who
turned their back on the Anglican Church and its Gothic forms. It is a “modern”
building in creating a large, clean, open space for community gathering and hearing
the spoken word, made possible by the traditional technology of complex roof
trusses to open up the large span.
Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Massachusetts, 1783
A New England heavy timber frame house using the traditional, medieval English
wood building system of heavy timbers pegged together with mortise and tenon
joints, and the overhanging “jetty” where the second floor projects over the first
floor. A massive central chimney with fireplaces on both sides for the two principal
rooms of the space defines the characteristic New England colonial vernacular plan.
John Whipple House, Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1677 and 1680s
The first building of the house was followed only a few years later by significant
enlargement, creating a large timber-framed house with steep gables. The house
was altered again in the 1720s to express a more fashionable, almost Georgian
design on the exterior, but these significance changes were lost in a, 1898
restoration of the house to express its earliest period of construction. Its leaded,
diamond-pattern windows have been restored; these were common in the 17th
century and seem not to have survived in any house to the present without
restoration and reconstruction.
Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks House, Dedham, Massachusetts. 1638
Dendrochonology (measurement of tree-ring growth in the timbers that form the
frame of the house) has confirmed that this may actually be the oldest surviving
timber-frame house in North America. The small window openings, irregular
placement of windows and doors, unfinished-looking original siding surviving
within an indoor closet, and the large roof extending from ridge to nearly the
ground on the shed (or “saltbox”) addition to the rear all point to the traditional,
vernacular characteristics of the 17th century First Settlement houses of New
Hancock House, Boston, Massachusetts. Erected 1734-37; demolished 1863.
Built a century after the Fairbanks House, the Hancock House shows the influence of
the Palladian-Georgian style, and marks the beginning of a change toward
“modernity” in American architecture. Although grafted onto building skills taught
and learned through a craft apprenticeship tradition, details and decorations begin
to be created that are learned through books. The Hancock House was a powerful
expression of one family’s wealth; the house was made of cut stone and
incorporated several Georgian design features including a swan’s neck pediment,
balcony off the second floor front of the house, and large windows. The house was
demolished in the mid-19th century after a failed effort to preserve it; we know it
only through photographs and engravings.
Colony House, Newport, Rhode Island, 1741
A public building for colony governmental affairs, the gambrel-roofed structure
illustrates some of the ideals of mid-18th century Georgian design in New England.
It is brick, with large window openings, composed of multiple small panes of glass
held in a wooden sash (up and down opening) window. The use of red brick with
white trim is very much a fashionable expression of the first half of the 18th century;
first promoted in English architect Christopher Wren’s expansion of Hampton Court
Palace in the late 1690s. Quoins, pediments, and a center balcony mark this as an
important building of its time and place.
Colony House was designed by Richard Munday, a prominent Newport, Rhode
Island architect-builder.
Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), Philadelphia, 1731-53
Designed by Edmund Woolley and Andrew Hamilton, the State House was an early
expression of the Palladian style in a public building. The gentlemen architects must
have used English builder’s books to develop their exterior plans; the interior
woodwork is of a very high quality and owes much of its design to James Gibbs Book
of Architecture of 1728.
MacPheadris-Warner House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1716
This is the earliest surviving urban brick house in New England, and an early use of
Palladian design ideas at the very start of the “Georgian” era (named for the time
when Kings George 1, II, III and IV were on the throne of Great Britain, 1714-1830).
The house was constructed by the English master-builder, who had trained in
London, and was familiar with the symmetrical houses introduced during the early
18th century. The house is also notable for the restoration of eye-popping interior
decoration, including a mural in the hallway depicting Native Americans and early
British settlers in New England, and a second floor chamber finished with “smalt”, a
ground cobalt producing a vivid purple effect.
Finally, you should know at least these three southern “plantation houses” that
represent some of the best interpretation of Palladian design of the Georgian era in
America. All three benefited from the immense wealth of the owners who were the
American-born descendants of early settlers of the 17th century. All would have
considered themselves “gentlemen” and were educated in English traditions and
with an awareness of English fashions, manners, and building styles. Direct trade
from southern plantations to London meant direct, and fairly frequent contact
between plantation owners and their families with family and merchants in London,
and the means to access current fashions in clothing, furniture and household
goods….and architectural books and prints.
- Drayton Hall, outside Charleston, South Carolina, 1750s
One of the outstanding surviving examples of Palladian design in America, notable
for the main house which has direct design influence from Palladio’s “Four Books of
Architecture” (first fully translated into English in 1721), and for the creation of
service wings and connecting passageways that are also directly from Palladio.
The brick house has been preserved, and never underwent a major restoration
campaign, though it is now a museum property.
- Mt Airy Plantation, Virginia, 1764
This Palladian-Georgian plantation house takes its design from the Palladian Villa
type as presented in James Gibbs Book of Architecture. The main house is a rare
example of cut and shaped stone used for the elevations, with dark stone as the
main body of the house and the projecting pedimented center section highlighted by
limestone. The house and grounds remain privately owned.
- Westover, James River, Virginia, ca. 1750
The house is less up-to-date than Drayton Hall, in that its plan is not perfectly
symmetrical, and the high hipped roof recalls design of 50 years earlier, but the
perfectly proportioned swans’ neck pediment and arrangement of the estate speaks
to a familiarity with Palladian design. Westover also remains in private hands.