NHC: Greek Revival Architecture 1825-1850

The Greek Revival style of architecture is often called the ‘first truly American style’.     Earlier building forms were inspired by English building fashions and frequently built from ‘pattern books’ imported from England.    It arose out of the young nation’s desire to identify with the ideals and architecture of the ancient Greek Republic, heightened by interest in the 1821 Greek Revolution which threw off the Ottoman Empire.       

In 1818, architect Benjamin Latrobe’s design of the new Bank of the United States in Philadelphia, based on the look of the Parthenon in Athens, set the tone for public buildings in our young country. This is often cited as the first Greek Revival building in the U.S. Our newest American architects popularized the style in their published pattern books, particularly Asher Benjamin in his The Practical House Carpenter (1830).

After the tough times that Newburyport had suffered from the Embargo Act of 1807, the Great Fire of 1811 and the War of 1812; a new confidence arose in the city based on manufacturing, and the growing strength of the ship building industry which resulted in the rise of the clipper ship.

With renewed pride in the American Republic, came this ‘temple’ to the virtues of Custom house photoDemocracy.       Newburyport is awash with domestic examples of the Greek Revival style.    Placing it in stone, Robert Mills, the designer of the Washington Monument, created the Greek Revival Custom House in 1835 – a landmark building on our waterfront.

Greek Revival homes tend to be in (relatively) newer streets off of High Street such as Allen, Parsons & Bromfield but are sprinkled all over the entire Newburyport Historic District.

Characteristic Details:

 

Plan

For the first time, the focus shifted from the long side of the house to the short gabled end.

Doorway

The door tended to be recessed and framed by narrow, floor-length sidelights and a transom.    It was usually flanked by flat pilasters and an architrave.    Doors were four-paneled with smaller panels at the bottom.

Windows

Elongated windows with 6-over-6 panes.

Roofline

Gable of medium pitch, sometimes with low, triangular pediment.    Chimneys became small and insignificant.      

Materials

Siding was usually clapboard.    Matched flat-boards designed to resemble stone also were often found on the façade.

Decorative Elements

Simple lines resulted from concern for classical formalities.    Massive pilasters or wide columns supporting a triangular pediment and a flat band under the eaves gave the appearance of a Greek temple.

Again, much like the Federal Style, pattern books are available to assist in maintaining and restoring worn elements of the Greek Revival style.    They come in handy especially when attempting to match the appropriate feature or molding with modern products available. The best Asher Benjamin book for Greek Architecture is the Practical House Carpenter (1830) which is available at the Newburyport Public Library.

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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