Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Greek Revival: America's First National Building Style

The Greek Revival has always been my favorite American building style.  I find its simplicity appealing while its strength and solidity remind me of the growing confidence and wealth of the new republic.  The Greek Revival was significant because it was America's first national style.  Although based on a European precedents, the American expression was unique and was found coast-to-coast during the first half of the 19th century.  This popularity was due principally to the widespread use of several pattern books, including Minard Lafever's The Modern Builder's Guide (New York, 1833) and Asher Benjamin's Practical House Carpenter: Being a Complete Development of the Grecian Orders of Architecture (Boston, 1830).  These pattern books were written for carpenters and house joiners who used the books' descriptions and lithographic plates as models for their own designs.

The Greek Revival was a favorite with the burgeoning East Coast merchant class.  The Whipple House of Salem, MA was built in 1843 and is a classic example of the new style.  Jonathan Whipple prospered after he established a factory in Salem around 1835 which sorted and processed copal,  an African resin which was used to make furniture and maritime varnish.

The house has several features typical of the Greek Revival, including Doric pilasters at the corners, a recessed doorway with rectangular sidelights and transom, and a wide entablature running the length of the front.  The trim around the front door is particularly striking and closely resembles a plate from Asher Benjamin's book Practical House Carpenter.

Jonathan Whipple House, Salem, MA, 1843

The Ard Godfrey House was built in 1849 and is the oldest remaining frame building in Minneapolis, MN.  Godfrey was a millwright who moved with his family from Maine after  Franklin Steele, a prosperous speculator and mill owner,  asked him to construct a sawmill in the small community of Saint Anthony.  Godfrey was one of the earliest settlers around Minneapolis and is notable for being the first to bring dandelions seeds to the area.

The proportions and  shape of the Godfrey House resemble those of  the Whipple.   The house is symmetrical with a  similarly pitched roof.  However, its ornament is less bold.  The Godfrey House has Doric pilasters like the Whipple, but they are narrower and molding on the capitals is simpler.  The front door is not recessed but has rectangular sidelights and is framed by a temple-like door surround with two pilasters and a simple but strong entablature.  The Godfrey has a simple frieze board along the top of the wall rather than the Whipple's more elaborate entablature.

Ard Godfrey House, Minneapolis, MN, 1849.

Although these houses were built over a 1000 miles apart, they share many characteristic features of the Greek Revival.  As such, the Godfrey and Whipple houses are excellent examples which show the national character of the building style.

For question about your own home's building style or information about how to restore, maintain or paint it, visit the Historic Design Consulting Home Page.