Architectural Styles in Rensselaer County: 1820s to 1850s
The Greek Revival is often considered the first truly American style. Earlier styles were inspired by English building fashions and frequently built from English pattern books. The Greek Revival style arose out of a young nation’s desire to identify with the ideals of the ancient Greek Republic.
Inspired by the architecture of ancient Greece, buildings in this style are patterned after Greek temples. The triangular gable end which, usually faces the street, is analogous to the temple pediment, while the flat horizontal board which runs along the length of the gable represents the classical entablature.
The exterior surface is generally covered with clapboards. It was common to paint these clapboards in a buff gray or white tones to imitate the stone of Greek temples. Trim elements such as pilasters, cornices and the entablature were often painted in dark green or black. This style was perhaps the most popular building type in upstate New York during the first half of the
19th century. All kinds of buildings were built in this new style: houses, post offices, banks, schools and stores.
The shift from Federal to Greek Revival can be seen in the use of wide, heavy trim at eaves, windows and doors. The gable end is often set to face the street.
A classical temple-front with triangular pediment and columns (some examples have wings on either side of the central section).
Set off with a triangular pediment
and corner pilasters.
Emphasized with cornice returns and corner pilasters.
Side-gabled, one-and-a-half storied examples often have small windows set in the wide
entablature along roof edge. These are called “frieze” windows because of their location in the entablature. They are also incorrectly referred to as “eyebrow” windows, but these are actually arched windows found in Shingle and later styles.
Windows continue to be double-hung, multipaneled, like this 6/6 ("six over six") example.
The architrave at the top (seen here with dentil molding); the frieze section in the middle; and the cornice at the bottom (seen here on top of the column with lonic capital).
The Greek Revival style returned to an earlier classical mode, and therefore, unlike the Federal style, imitates the post and beam structures of the Greeks who did not have the arch. Greek Revival doorways usually have rectangular transoms and sidelights.
There are some Greek Revival buildings which do have fanlights. These are transitional in style — or the result of a designer’s preferences.