Federal architecture, sometimes referred to as the Federalist or Adam style, was a highly popular style in many places throughout the newly independent colonies from about 1780-1840. Architect Robert Adam influence swept America during the awakening of our national identity resulting in a strong association between emerging American pride and nationalism and Federal architecture (About.com Architecture).
Today many historians consider Federal architecture an evolution (or refinement) of the earlier Georgian architectural style, and indeed it is sometimes easy to confuse the two. The difference is in the details. Georgian architecture is characterized by rigid symmetry and square, angular proportions. Federal architecture is more likely to incorporate curved lines and decorative flourishes.
[T]here is a lightness and restrained delicacy to Federal architectural components in comparison to their heavier, more ponderous Georgian counterparts. (Historic New England)
Federal Architecture Elements
Federal houses in the Northeast were typically clapboard (Historic New England). A simple square or rectangular box shape, two or three stories high and two rooms deep was the typical form; although some buildings were or have since been made larger by adding projecting wings or attached dependencies (Wentworth Studio).
Many Federal design elements are understated with decoration often focused on a porch or entry element. Typical decorative embellishments include “elliptical, circular, and fan-shaped motifs formed by fluted radiating lines” (Wentworth Studio).
The average […] Federal house never presented an ostentatious display of wealth, that was to come later in the Victorian period; but rather a carefully balanced and refined design which reflected a moral philosophy emphasizing thrift, virtue, and good taste… (Essex: The Architectural Heritage. 16).
Common features include:
- Low-pitched roof, or flat roof with a balustrade
- Windows arranged symmetrically around a center doorway
- Double-hung sash windows (six over six) sash separated by thin wooden muntins
- Semicircular fanlight over the front door
- Narrow side windows flanking the front door
- Decorative crown or roof over front door
- Palladian window
- Circular or elliptical windows
- Decorative swags, garlands, and urns
- Oval rooms and arches
- Columns with elaborate capitals
- Fluting and fans
- Detailed cornices
Federal Architecture Details in Essex, NY
[T]he historic Town of Essex, one of the most unspoiled ensembles of Federal and Greek Revival village architecture in rural America […], founded in the 18th century, was listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. (Historic Essex)
- Greystone Cottage
- Harmon Noble House (transitional b/w Greek Revival and Federal)
- Greystone (transitional b/w Greek Revival and Federal)
- Hickory Hill
- Rosslyn (Georgian w/ Federal and Greek Revival elements)
- Dr. Samuel Shumway House (some Greek Revival influences)
- Charles G. Fancher House
- Essex Inn (with later Greek Revival additions)
- John Gould House (some Greek Revival features)
- Wright’s Inn
- Billings Stone Cottage
- Crystal Spring Farm
If you know of any more buildings in Essex have some Federal architectural features please share your insights in the comments!
“1780 – 1840: Federal and Adam House Styles.” About.com Architecture. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.
Hislop, David C., Jr. Essex on Lake Champlain. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print. Images of America.
“Historic Essex.” Historic Essex. Essex Community Heritage Organization. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.essexny.org/>.
Historic New England. “Architectural Style Guide.” Historic New England. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.
Howe, Jeffery. “Federalist Architecture in America.” Federalist Architecture in America. Boston College, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2013.
McNulty, George F., and Margaret Scheinin. Essex; the Architectural Heritage. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 1971. Print.
Wentworth Studio. “Historic Styles / Federal/Adam Style 1780-1840.” Federal Style Architecture Facts and History. Wentworth Studio, 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2013.