Early U.S. builders had Greek weakness


Around 1760, the brothers Adam began to employ Greek decorative forms in architecture both in home construction and furniture for the well-to-do in England.

This was more popularized by a Dutchman, Thomas Hope, who hopes the style would catch on in America, which eventually occurred after the American Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson attempted to set a trend in his construction of Monticello, his renown home, but other architectures rebuffed his attempts to create Jefferson’s own “national style” as he titled it – but by a decade later, American tradesman became interested.

Copying the style. Younger generations of Americans, at that time, became avid admirers of Grecian styles in furniture and architecture. This new interest became the passion in design for all interested Americans. A visiting English architect remarked that all new construction had become Grecian in appearance – from privies to state houses.

Towns and cities were established, many bearing Greek and Roman names, i.e. Troy, Corinth, Elmira, Rome, Sparta, Syracuse and other familiar names.

After the country settled down and settled communities spread further westward, new homes were in need for these settlements. The well-to-do often desired the Greek Revival architectural style for their new homes.

Critics remarked on the unusual social comparison of rough frontiersmen abiding in temple-style homes. These Greek styled homes were often in surroundings quite out of place for their appearances – mud roads and livestock in the front yard.

As the Greek Revival gained popularity, technological advancements supported the supply and demand. Although basically timber frame construction was the same during the era, steam-driven machinery and natural born skill of workers provided mass-produced “gingerbread” decoration. These ornaments lacked the French styled finesse in appearance, however the ability of mass production made up the dissimilitude.

Copycats. America, during its early years, lacked qualified formally trained architects, however the carpenters and masons merely copied a selected form, and did their best. Of course, they may have adapted in the construction a few ideas of their own.

The “gingerbread” (decorative designed and sawn ornaments) around the eaves and corners of the homes could be copied by skill designers when seen or illustrated in the numerous pieces of literature and catalogs. This accounts for the diverse mix-and-match variations sometimes found on any Greek Revival format.

When anyone thinks of Greek-Revival forms, the large two-story colonnades come to mind, however the architecture of that era also included houses of many sizes, configurations and extent of luxury.

The gabled house with the massive portico is considered the most common of the designs, with some Greek Revival additions attached – for better or worse.

The standard for many architects was to place the gabled end on the house to the street (front) and the colonnade to the rear; later this was reversed especially on public buildings. More modest homes preferred a small, two-columned entry porch or even no porch at all.

Another style for smaller homes was the offside doorway. The change in fashion permitted a narrow three-bay house to have a larger parlor, the traditional center hall allowed rooms on either side for small storage or coat rooms. This style was most suitable for small city lots.

Down South, the Greek Revival created very large mansions with flat or hipped roofs instead of the gabled pediment. Huge colonnades dominated the front and the pretentious owners sometimes placed colonnades even on the side and rear.

Greek forms and styles were incorporated in buildings of every construction medium. Throughout Ohio, you’ll find all types of structures influenced by Greek styles.

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