How to identify types of 19th Century Architecture


The best way to begin to get an understanding of 19th century architecture is to get down to the very basics of how it came to be and why.  The very terms Elizabethan, Queen Anne, Georgian and Victorian all describe periods in which English monarchs reigned.  Georgian, for example describes the long era in which a number of kings named George ruled England.  George III was in charge when America gained it's independence.  Any literature, music, architecture of that era can be called Georgian.  Technically, in America, a true Georgian house must have been built prior to the establishment of this nation's independence.


Recipe for Change

1.   In the later part of the 18th century, reforms in higher education started taking place.  A new focus was placed on sciences and literature.  Prior to this time, universities were more like monasteries. The majority of one's study was based on religion.  This change meant that architects were beginning to become exposed to classic art and literature from all around the world.  Designs and styles taken from ancient ruins began to show up in furniture  by Sheraton and Chippendale and soon began to appear on English-inspired Federal period homes.

2.   In August of 1814, British troops invade Washington DC.  In a display of power they loot and burn the city, including the White House, sending President Madison fleeing into the night.  This action was regarded as completely disrespectful and outside the boundaries of war at the time.  Even the remaining British loyalists turned their backs on England.  This act was not forgotten by the generation who lived through it, and sparked a strong and long lasting anti-British movement.

3.   By 1830 Americans were saturated with the classic Roman influences which had been so embraced by the generation of the founding fathers.  But, things were rapidly changing.  The Erie canal was opened in 1825 encouraging people to begin moving westward.  By 1830 the Hudson river was clogged with steamboats.  Early steam locomotives were making an appearance causing a transportation revolution.  In 1827 Americans rose up against the establishment and elected Andrew Jackson who unseated the last remainder of the founding fathers in the name of John Quincy Adams.  Americans believed the age of Jackson was to be the era of the common man, and the 1830's to be a social revolution.  It only makes sense that the elitism and refinement of the Federal Style seem so completely out of place. 

So what does this all mean?  People were being exposed to architecture and designs that they had never seen before.  It was all very exciting and new.  This sparked not just architects, but furniture designers, clothing, even hair styles of the era.  Anything that had British styling was almost taboo.  The anti British sentiments ran quite deep, and while trade was still taking place between the two countries, most things that had a British look or feel were modified in some way to be anything but British.  And finally, there was a new Democratic era being ushered in.  People were looking for a New America as well.  The industrial revolution gave birth to an emerging middle class.  These people had a little money to spend and were desperate to look like the long established upper class.

All of these things came together to form the most explosive period in American architecture.  The Victorian Era.


Architectural Styles

The list below does not reflect all styles of Victorian era architecture but rather the core.  As the Victorian era continued, the sheer number of homes being built rose exponentially.  Plan books were used and land owners could pick any element from any style to create their own personal home.  Architects of the day were also not keen on building the same house twice, at least not in the same region.  This again resulted in the blending of styles, especially toward the 1890's.  Keep in mind that the people of that time did not look at these styles as ridged.  Homes of mixed styles were equally celebrated.

The key to identifying the base style of a 19th century home is to look for the dominant features.  You will find those listed in the links below.


Pre Victorian









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