Greek Revival 1820-1860

 

Private Residence, Grafton MA
Early in the nineteenth century Americans fell in love with all things Greek. The Greek War of Independence from the Turks recalled the American Revolution and the architectural discoveries of the period sparked an interest in classical architecture. At the same time the War of 1812 diminished American affection for the British influence, including the still dominant Federal style. The golden age of Greece shone forth as a model for Americans. For much of the mid 19th century, the Greek revival style dominated residential and public architecture. It was so popular it became known as the National Style. It began and ended with public buildings in Philadelphia. It flourished in towns and regions that experienced growth between 1820 and 1860.

 

 

Corinthian Column and Pediment detail

The model for Greek Revival architecture was the ancient Greek temple, in which a series of columns supported by a horizontal superstructure called an entablature, of triangular pediment. In the United States, the style was based on the Greek orders: sets of building elements determined by the type of columns that were used. The columns ranged from the simple Doric, with a fluted shaft, the Ionic, with a capital shaped like an inverted double scroll, and the Corinthian, with a capital shaped like an elaborate leaf like form. The shape of the building was rectangular with columns placed in various ways. They could be at the front of the building, full height, down the side, all around it, frequently they were indicated by flat pilasters at the corners or elsewhere on the building. The "pediment " of the temple is the narrow end of a gable roof turned to the front with horizontal bands to form the triangle.

 

Private residence, Duxbury MA

 

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Brick and stone were the favored materials, wood was often covered with a thin coat of plaster and scored to resemble stone. The doorway was usually impressive. Paired columns with a pediment over the door, transom lights, side lights, and pilasters against the wall all were used to embellish the entry. Windows were often floor length, double or triple hung. There were often small horizontal windows set in a row under the cornice and often covered by a decorative wooden or iron grille. In the early to mid 1800's you could see Greek temples springing up everywhere from Maine to Mississippi.

The most enduring legacy of the Greek Revival style is the gable-front 19th century farmhouse, often ornamented by only a flat pilaster column doorway or corners. In our area it's called the New England Farmhouse. This became the predominant form for detached urban houses in cities of the Northeast until well into the 20th century. In rural areas, the form of Greek Revival known as gable front and wing (New England Farm) remained a popular form for folk houses until the 1930's.