Gothic Revival

Peak Popularity ~ 1840 - 1880

The earliest traces of Gothic revival architecture are seen in churches and monasteries in England dating back to the mid eighteenth century. The exteriors had Lancet windows, pointed arches, windows in the form of trefoils and quatrefoils (representing the holy trinity and the cross), a battlement keep, and a cone-topped tower.  The walls were castellated, and the chimneys are grouped in Tudor fashion.  In England around 1810, Gothic revival styling became popular in cottage building.  These structures were intended to look quaint and rustic with decorative siding, rough-hewn columns, and typically overdone thatched roofs.  Originally meant to serve as colorful laborers' shelters, they soon became chic hideaways for the leisure set (and hotbeds for scandal).

Gothic Revival style had a rough start in America.  The architecture came from English churches.  When building churches in this style in America, the argument was that it was to closely related to the Roman Catholic Church.  When building homes in this style, an association with "Englishness" alienated potential builders who complained that the style seemed pretentious, nonconformist and downright eccentric.  To offset these criticisms, defenders pointed out that the popular Greek Style was based on Pagan temples, while Gothic was based from Christian influences.

Architectural fashions, like fashions in clothing, decor, and behavior have a limited lifespan.  And so was the case with Greek Revival architecture.  One of the complaints was that Greek Revival style had severe limitations.  Dormers, bay windows and verandas were impossible within the Greek Revival - Temple Style.  Gothic Revivalists railed against temples painted white, white, white.  They offered "natural" colors - colors of earth.  By 1850 the country was ready for change.  The change that came was dramatic; soon towns were graced with Americanized versions of Gothic influences, pendants, finials, hood moldings, trefoils and quatrefoils. The pointed steep roofs of the Gothic played well off the low-pitched roofs of Greek neighbors. To play into the appearance of vertical height, board and batten siding was incorporated, it's production made possible by the new steam-driven saws.


Defining Features

  • Steeply Pitched Roof - Usually cross-gabled

  • Decorative Bargeboards - Sometimes the term gingerbread is used but it is not a proper term
  • Lancet Windows - Pointed arch windows
  • Stained Glass - Sometimes in a diamond pattern
  • Gothic window above entry
  • One story porch - Usually with flattened, Gothic arches
  • Unpredictable floor plan - The first signs of the rise of the Romantic era in America







Classic Gothic Revival House - Painting by Harry Devlin


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