NHC: Georgian Architecture – 1700 to 1780

The Georgian succession of kings starting in 1715 marked a time of expansion and stability for England and its ascent as the undisputed primary global power in the world.     Ironically, King George III; though he lost the American Colonies – was actually one of the best reigning monarchs Great Britain ever had.      During his reign, truly the sun never set on the British Empire.      

Therefore in this period of expanding confidence, it is natural that a unique style of architecture would arise.     This style was based on the Italian Renaissance’s most celebrated architect, Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) who had devised a set of design principles based on the Classical proportions of Roman ruins. You can actually see a pure example of a true Palladium style building by visiting Oak Hill Cemetery just off of State Street.   As you approach the entrance, just to your right is the Ellen T. Brown Memorial Chapel and is open to public viewing on the exterior only. Palladio’s famous work, The Four Books of Architecture(1570), which emphasized order and symmetry, was taken up by the celebrated English architects, Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren, and given a uniquely English twist.    These were in turn put in architectural pattern books and dispersed to the colonies all over the world.      Craftsmen here in New England, because wood was so common, modified those designs even further and gave them an American flavor using the plentiful lumber available.      

Just like the First Period architecture, this style has been located mostly along the eastern seaboard and most often found in seacoast communities that did not continue to grow rapidly during the nineteenth century such as Newburyport.       The City also has a unique element which is the large presence of ‘High’ Georgian buildings, which reflected our Port’s great wealth.     These fancier versions are found in greatest profusion just east of the middle part of State Street, along Federal, and High and sporadically throughout the South End.

The most distinctive feature of the Georgian is the symmetry.        As for roof styles, they may be gambrel or hipped.        You can also date them by looking at the position of the chimneys: center was common before 1750 and afterward, more often than not, they would have paired chimneys.     More raised up around the base compared to the First Period, though the basements tended to be shallow and constructed of fieldstone.

Characteristic details:

Plan

Symmetry, centered façade entry with windows aligned horizontally and vertically with One or two-story box, two rooms deep.    Raised foundation and a central hall plan.   High ceilings (10-11 feet) smoothly plastered, painted and decorated with molded or carved ornament (high-style)

Doorway

Paneled front doors, capped with a decorative crown (entablature); often supported by columns or decorative pilasters; and with a rectangular transom above (later high-style examples may have fanlight transoms) The main doorway often had a row of rectangular windows called “lights” in the door itself or the transom above.      The number of lights were often 6 or 8.

Windows

Double-hung sash windows with small lights (nine or twelve panes) separated by thick wooden muntins.    Always placed symmetrical in a Five-bay façade (less commonly seen are three or seven)    Pedimented dormers often used in the attic.     Upper story windows often flush against the frieze.

 

Roofline

Commonly side-gabled and sometimes with a gambrel or hipped roof.    Hip roofs became popular around 1770.    Center chimneys are found in examples before 1750; later examples have paired chimneys

Materials

Wood-frame with shingle or clapboard walls (upper windows touch cornice in most two-story examples)    Brick was often used on the High Georgian buildings.

Decorative elements

Cornice emphasized by decorative moldings, commonly dentils.    Elaborate mantelpieces, paneling, stairways and arched openings copied from pattern books (high-style)

High-Style Elaborations:

·      Pedimented windows and dormers.   Often a Palladian window would be present on the second floor above the central entrance.

·      Belt course between stories (masonry examples)

·      Quoins of stone or wood imitating stone

·      Roof balustrades (after 1750)

·      Centered front gable (pediment) or shallow projecting central gable (after 1750)

·      Hipped Roofs (approximately from 1770)

·      Two-story pilasters (after 1750)

Some local examples to inspect are:

The Dalton House

For High Georgian examples:

The Tracy Mansion and the Lord Timothy Dexter House and the Bartlett Mansion.

Some diagrams and expanded information is present from the following sources:

Historic New England

Newburyport Preservation Trust

The Salem Handbook

-P. Preservationist
www.ppreservationist.com

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