There is no such thing as a Victorian house!

As much as Newburyport is dominated by Federal and Greek Revival architecture, there is a great profusion of what has mistakenly been called, Victorian Architecture.      Queen Victoria (1837-1901) had an unusually long reign and it covered many shifts in style and tastes.      And often, one style would exist concurrently with another.      But this is America.         This interesting time period had much more to do with the rising influence of the industrial might of the country and the rise of the middle class.     Therefore the second half of the nineteen century was characterized by a great diversity and richness of architecture.      Instead of looking to England or to one or other architect; builders would now look to many countries for inspiration.     Pattern books became numerous illustrating ‘Italian villas’, ‘Gothic cottages’, and ‘tasteful homes for the country gentleman’.       The widely read pattern books of Andrew Jackson Downing encouraged the homebuilder to reject the previous plain, symmetrical, box-like styles and to use decorative wooden brackets, projecting roof lines, and free-flowing spaces.

Builders felt free to combine many stylistic details into one house, so, more than ever, a ‘pure’ style had little meaning.    However, several general statements can be made about the evolving architectural tradition.     First, the invention of the jigsaw and other tools enabled craftsmen to give each house elaborate woodworking.    It also became possible to update houses of earlier periods by simply applying brackets and other decorative trim.      One very common practice was to add bay windows – if you wish to test yourself, go about Newburyport and see how many ‘late nineteenth century’ houses are actually earlier ones that have been ‘updated’.      Second, there was a marked increase in the variety of surface textures and colors.    Inventive shingle and slate patterns became popular for walls and roofs.     Cornices, doors, corners, and windows were embellished with ornamental wood details, often painted a number of different colors.     Third, there was a greater variety in floor plans as evidenced by projecting towers, porches, bays, turrets, multi-rooflines, and wings.     Lastly, it should be noted that each house was an attempt to embody an image or ‘taste’, so even a modest ‘cottage’ displayed some decorative woodwork.

The styles that are spread all over the Newburyport Historic District:

Italianate (1845-1860)

Second Empire (1860-1880)

Stick (1860-1890)

Shingle (1880-1900)

Queen Ann (1880-1910)

Georgian Revival (1895-1930)

-P. Preservationist

PS. Some architectural listings will indicate ‘Late Victorian Eclectic’ to indicate the general architectural diversity during the Queen Ann, Shingle and Stick period but it is not referencing any particular style.

This entry was posted in Architecture, History, Preservation, Preservation History. Bookmark the permalink.

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