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American colonial architecture

Corwin House, Salem, Massachusetts, built ca. 1660, First Period English Josiah Dennis House, Dennis, Massachusetts, built 1735, Georgian colonial Bequette-Ribault House in Ste. Geneviève, Missouri, built 1778, French colonial
Gonzalez-Alvarez House, St. Augustine, Florida, built 1723, Spanish colonial Bronck House, Coxsackie, NY, built 1663; Dutch Colonial De Turck House, Oley, Pennsylvania, built 1767, German Colonial Style
American colonial architecture includes several building design styles associated with the colonial period of the United States, including First Period English (late-medieval), French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Dutch, German Colonial and Georgian Colonial. These styles are associated with the houses, churches and government buildings of the period between about 1600 through 1850.


By about 1640, European settlers from several nations were establishing new colonies in what would later become the United States, bringing their traditional housebuilding ideas and techniques and adapting them to their new landscapes. The colonies initially developed in five distinct areas: (1) the English settled in Virginia and New England, (2) the Dutch settled in the Hudson River Valley, (3) Germans and Scots-Irish settled in the Delaware River Valley while (5) the Spanish had built a military settlement at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. (The French would later establish New Orleans in 1712. Each of these colonies would develop distinctive styles of house building, which would later expand into other styles as the new country evolved in the late 1700s.

First Period English (late-Medieval)

Developed from two earliest English settlements at Jamestown, Virginia (1607) and Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620), and later in the other British colonies along the Eastern seaboard.

These buildings typically included medieval details including steep roofs, small windows (usually due to a scarcity of glass in the colonies), minimal ornamentation and a massive central chimney.

French Colonial

Developed in French-settled areas of North America beginning with the founding of Quebec in 1608 and New Orleans, Louisiana in 1718, as well as along the Mississippi River valley to Missouri.

The early French Colonial house type of the Mississippi River Valley region was the "poteaux-en-terre", constructed of heavy upright cedar logs set vertically into the ground. These basic houses featured double-pitched hipped roofs and were surrounded by porches (galleries) to handle the hot summer climate.

By 1825, in areas prone to flooding the "raised cottage" was developed with the houses being constructed atop raised brick walls, typically eight feet tall for protection from flood waters. In dry times, the basement remained cool and was used for cooking and storage.

By 1770, the basic French Colonial house form evolved into the "briquette-entre-poteaux" (small bricks between posts) style familiar in the historic areas of New Orleans and other areas. These homes featured double louvered doors, flared hip roofs, dormers and shutters.

Spanish Colonial

Developed with the earlier Spanish settlements in the Caribbean and Mexico, the Spanish Colonial style in the United States can be traced back to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest established city in the country, founded in 1565. The style would also develop in the Southwest and in California with the founding of the missions by the Spanish between 1769 and 1823.

The early type of dwelling in Spanish Florida was the "board house", a small one-room cottage construced of pit-sawn softwood boards, typically with a thached roof.

During the 1700s, the "common houses" were covered whitewashed lime mortar with an oyster shell aggregate. Typically two stories, the houses included cooling porches to accommodate the Florida climate.

See- Spanish Mission -- Spanish Colonial -- Spanish Colonial Revival -- Mission Revival Style -- Pueblo style

Dutch Colonial

Developed from around 1630 with the arrival of Dutch colonists to New Amsterdam and the Hudson River Valley in what is now New York.[5] Initially the settlers built small, one room cottages with stone walls and steep roofs to allow a second floor loft. By 1670 or so, two-stepped gable-end homes were common in New Amsterdam.

In the countryside of the Hudson Valley, the Dutch farmhouse evolved into a linear-plan home with straight-edged gables moved to the end walls. Around 1720, the distinctive Gambrel roof was adopted from the English styles, with the addition of overhangs on the front and rear to protect the mud mortar used in the typically stone walls and foundations.

German Colonial

Developed after about 1675 or so, when the Delaware River Valley area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware) of the United States was settled by immigrants from Sweden, Finland, Scotland, Ireland, Germany (Deutsch) and several other northern European nations. The early colonists to this region adapted the "half-timber" style of construction then popular in Europe, which used a frame of braced timbers filled-in with masonry (brick or stone). However, the colonists modified the method to typically include a first floor of field stones, and a second floor and roof system of timbers or logs. Eventually, field stones became the building material of choice for the entire homes, as they grew from one-room cottages to larger farmhouses.

The "bank house" was a popular form of home during this period, typically constructed into a hillside for protection during the cold winters and hot summers of the region.

The two-story "country townhouse" was also common around Pennsylvania during this time.

Georgian Colonial

(New England and mid-Atlantic Regions) [1720-1780] The defining characteristics of Georgian architecture are its square, symmetrical shape, central door, and straight lines of windows on the first and second floor. There is usually a decorative crown above the door and flattened columns to either side of it. The door leads to an entryway with stairway and hall aligned along the center of the house. [8] All rooms branch off of these. Georgian buildings, in the English manner were ideally in brick, with wood trim, wooden columns and entablatures painted white. In the US, one found both brick buildings as well as those in wood with clapboards. They were usually painted white, though sometimes a pale yellow. This differentiated them from most other structures that were usually not painted.

A Georgian Colonial-style house usually has a formally-defined living room, dining room and sometimes a family room. The bedrooms are typically on the second floor. They also have one or two chimneys that can be very large.