American Colonial Architecture


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Little exists of early American Colonial Architecture, but a small number of houses from the early- and pre-nineteenth century still stand strong as preserved, historical landmarks throughout the United States.

 

One impressive example is the Wylie House (photo shown above), located at 307 E. 2nd St in Bloomington, Indiana.

The Wylie House was built around 1835 by Andrew Wylie, Indiana University's first president. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building represents a grand-looking mix of Federal and Georgian architectural styles, more often found in southwestern Pennsylvania, where Wylie grew up.

This house is one of only a few pre-1840 homes remaining in Bloomington.

Wylie House, which is now a museum, contains an outstanding collection of early to mid-19th century American furnishings, including many Wylie family artifacts.   


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Degas House, shown above, is currently a charming bed & breakfast inn, and a former home of the great French Impressionist painter and sculptor Edgar Degas. It was designed in 1852 by architect Benjamin Rodriguez, and is now considered America's most treasured piece of impressionist history.

The house is located at 2306 Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana, not too far from the famous French Quarter. Degas lived there for two years in the early 1870s, while visiting relatives. During this time he created 22 unique and masterful works of art.

The original Mansion was cut in two during the 1920s, and one wing was moved twenty feet over, effectively dividing the structure into two separate houses. The main house has been lovingly restored to its original airy magnificence. This effort earned a number of prestigious restoration awards, inclduing the rare Golden Hammer for Historic Preservation, awarded by the City of New Orleans. The smaller portion of the house, which contains Degas' bedroom and studio, is currently being restored.

The elegant rooms inside the main house are beautifully furnished with period antiques, and adorned with dozens of splendid reproductions of the artist's greatest works. His favorite subjects were dancers and horses, though he produced a number of family portraits during his brief time in New Orleans.

 





The Crites farmhouse is a rare surviving example of the Octagonal design, a funky architectural style that was popular in the 1840s, gracing not only homes, but schools, churches, barns, and military structures. The style has been described as somewhere between a mansion and a wigwam.

The Crites House was built around 1855 in Circleville, Ohio, a town that was named for its rounded street formation. It may have been built to resemble the octagonal court house that was at Circleville's center when the town was originally laid out. The home features a large, free-standing spiral staircase in it's center. The rooms are divided like a sliced pie. Every room has a door on each side for easy access to adjecent rooms.

The Crites house stood undisturbed and virtually abandoned until the 1990s, when Walmart bought the property. By then, downtown Circleville's uniquely rounded roadways had already been redesigned to the more modern city grid pattern. In 2004, the Crites House was moved several hundred yards to a piece of donated land, at a cost of about $200,000. It now stands behind the Walmart Supercenter, defiantly cutting its original angular shape against the vast, untamed sky.



The Alden House in Belfast, Maine, is a beautiful Greek Revival home built in 1840. Striking architectural details include stately columns, high ceilings, carved moldings and imported German silver hardware on the doors and windows.

The house is locatedat 63 Church Street, in the heart of the historic district, along with many other pre civil war era homes. The Belfast Historic Walking Tour invites you to explore them all.

The Alden House was completely restored in 1997. It has seven lovely bedrooms, five with private baths and two with a shared bath. The inside of the home, which is now a bed & breakfast inn, features a cherry wood circular stairway, original wood flooring, several marble fireplaces, and a handsome library with floor-to-ceiling, built-in, oak bookcases. There are also two spacious parlors on the upstairs landing. All the rooms are charmingly decorated with antique furnishings, including a grand player piano in the North parlor.


American Colonial Architecture is largely a thing of the past. 

But one of Pittsylvania County, Virginia's earliest existing homes, thought to have been built in the 1770s, is called Cedar Hill (not to be confused with an unincorporated town of the same name in Frederick County). The house stands on the side of a hill overlooking the Banister River, five miles east of Chatham.

The main house (pictured above) has four rock chimneys and many other original features, including beaded clapboard, Cross and Bible doors, H and L hinges, mantels, and wainscoting. Many interior door facings are carved into the structure itself, rather than applied to the flat surface of an existing frame, as is usually the case. The house and its adjoining farm have been extensively restored by the current owners.

There were no grand Georgian mansions built in this area prior to the American Revolution, and the few large-scale houses built in the years soon after the war were of the more restrained Federal style. For quite a few years after the Revolution, both public and private structures in Pittsylvania County were more modestly constructed, and more functional than fashionable.

The Carrollton Inn, located at 50 Albemarle Street in downtown Baltimore, consists of a central courtyard surrounded by a series of interconnected rowhomes, some dating back to the early 19th century.

Next door to the inn is an "1840s Plaza," featuring several prominent historic buildings in the heart of Baltimore's Museum Row. The most unique of these is the Phoenix Shot Tower, built in 1828. It was the tallest building in the United States until 1846, and was used until 1892 for the manufacture of shot for game hunting. Today, the tower features free light shows and guided tours.

The Carroll Mansion is a public museum named for its most famous occupant, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, known for being the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Tours cover all aspects of the building's history and the lives of those who lived here. The promenade leading up to the Carroll Mansion is lined with boxwood and flowers appropriate to the era, as well as a beautiful herb garden.


Owen Lovejoy (1811-1864) was an outspoken abolitionist who once lived in this house in Princeton, Illinois, and used it as a depot on the Underground Railroad. It became known among fugitive slaves as "the Lovejoy Line."

Lovejoy was a minister who used the pulpit to further the abolitionist cause, and faced prosecution for openly using his home to harbor slaves on their way north. During a congressional speech in 1859, he famously addressed his role in the Underground Railroad:

"Owen Lovejoy," he said, "aids every fugitive that comes to his door and asks it. Proclaim it then from the housetops. Write it on every leaf that trembles in the forest, make it blaze from the sun at high noon...I bid you defiance in the name of my God!"

The house now known as the Lovejoy Homestead was built in 1837, mostly of black walnut from the local sawmill, though white oak was used for sills, studs and floor joists. Timbers were connected by mortise and tenon, then secured by heavy wooden pins. The east section of the house was added during the 1850s.

For many years, the building stood vacant and abandoned, until 1967, when concerned citizens of Princeton formed a Restoration Committee, and the home was purchased by the State of Illinois. The Lovejoy Homestead was restored to its antebellum glory in the early 1970s. In 1997 the house was designated a National Historic Landmark.

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American Colonial Architecture and More

For more unusual architectural styles, see Shipping Container Homes

 

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ABODE is a colorful, informative book of architectural elements and styles.

 

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