Greek Revival architecture was popular in America from about 1818-1850 (Wentworth Studio). It was the first truly national style in the United States that spread all across the country.
With British influence waning considerably after the War of 1812 and the nation rapidly expanding westward, the style was fundamentally an expression of America’s triumphant sense of destiny and the sense that our newly formed nation was the spiritual descendant of Greece, birthplace of democracy. (Wentworth Studio)
“The National style, as it came to be known, became the universal fashion for public buildings, churches, banks, and town halls”, but the ornamentation of Greek Revival architecture was adaptable for all levels of buildings including homes (Historic New England).
Toward the late 1800s the popularity of Greek Revival architecture faded as architects explored other styles, such as Gothic and Italianate, however, the “front-gable design — a trademark of the Greek Revival style — continued to influence the shape of American houses well into the 20th century” (About.com Architecture).
Greek Revival Architecture Features
The roof is a popular place to add Grecian details. “Heavy cornices, gables with pediments, and unadorned friezes were typical” features of Greek Revival architecture commonly paired with a low pitched gable or hip style roof (About.com Architecture). The cornice line was often “embellished with a wide band of trim to emphasis the temple-like roof” (Wentworth Studio).
Columns and pilasters are among the most common elements of Greek Revival architecture. Columns were created in three styles (in order of most popular use) Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian (About.com Architecture).
Although classical columns are round, by definition, the Greek Revival style also used square or even octagonal columns. The columns were designed without bases as in the Greek style or with bases as in a Roman adaptation. Columns could be fluted or smooth, but they were almost always built of wood. (Wentworth Studio)
A portico or porch was placed in front of the entrance of a Greek Revival home, and was one of the more common additions to be made to already built houses that wanted to update with the Grecian trend. The door surround of the entryway was often a place of elaborate ornamentation.
Typically, small-paned sidelights and a rectangular transom were framed by heavy, wide trim, sometimes recessed for a more three-dimensional look. The door itself might be single or double, divided into one, two, or four panels. (Wentworth Studio)
Typically less elaborate than door surrounds window surrounds were also used to add decoration. Small rectangular windows set into the frieze beneath the cornice were a unique feature sometimes used in Greek Revival homes that can be see in the photo of Greystone above (Historic New England).
Homes in the Greek Revival style were often painted white to resemble the white marble of impressive and costly public buildings. (Wentworth Studio)
Some common features include:
- Pedimented gable
- Gable roof perpendicular to the street
- Gable or hipped roof of low pitch
- Chimneys are not prominent
- Symmetrical shape
- Heavy entablature and cornice
- Wide, plain frieze
- Bold, simple moldings
- Entry porch with columns
- Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian columns
- Decorative pilasters
- Narrow windows around front door
- Windows typically six over six double-hung sash
- Small frieze-band windows set into wide band trim below cornice
Buildings Exhibiting Greek Revival 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)
In Essex, NY, the Greek Revival architectural style was used most often in the form of details and ornamentation, like adding columns or street-facing gables, rather than creating a building that was Greek in all concepts (Essex: The Architectural Heritage. 29). Block House Farm is unique in that it is the only building in Essex to reach fully developed temple style.
Essex homes constructed during the early 1800’s endured in large part because they were structurally sound and there was seldom need or financial means to tear them down and replace them. However, the first extensive remodeling of homes and commercial buildings in Essex began during the Greek Revival period. “Details of cornice and pilaster, pediment and portico were easily copied and added to an existing structure of incorporated into a new” home. (Essex: The Architectural Heritage. 28)
Two popular Greek Revival alterations in Essex included modifying the roof ridge (traditionally parallel with the street) to be perpendicular, allowing the gable to be modified into a classic temple style, and adding a portico (small roof over door/walkway) to Federal doorways (Essex: The Architectural Heritage. 29)
- Harmon Noble House (Transitional b/w Greek revival and Federal)
- Greystone (Transitional b/w Greek revival and Federal)
- Block House Farm
- Edwards House
- W.D. Ross Store
- Old Brick Store
- Cyrus Stafford House
- Edwards Store (later Victorian details)
- Old Essex Firehouse
- Essex Inn (Greek Revival additions)
- Union School
If you know of any more buildings in Essex have some Greek Revival architectural features please share your insights in the comments!
“1825 – 1860: Greek Revival House Style.” 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. “Greek Revival Architecture in America.” Greek Revival 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 / Greek Revival 1825-1860.” Greek Revival Houses & Architecture Facts and History. Wentworth Studio, 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2013.