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Colonial Revival 1880-1955

The Colonial Revival manifests the awakened interest in America's, and especially New England's, colonial heritage. First stimulated by the centennial celebrations of 1876, the style became dominant in domestic designs in the 20th century. The style is classically based, as was the Georgian and Federal styles which have inspired it.

This early example of the Colonial Revival was built around the turn of the century in the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District of Worcester, Massachusetts. This house shows many Colonial details such as pilasters at the corners, dormers on the roof and Classical columns on the porch. But the exaggerated height and width, the grouped first floor windows and mixture of historical elements make it very distinct from houses built in the Colonial period. The roof and dormers are drawn from Georgian sources; the bowed facade walls, porch and door belong to the Federal period. (Photo by James Mathews)

Wood and brick are the favored building materials, and the elements of colonial design included porches with classical columns, entrance doors with sidelights or fanlights, 6/6 double hung sash, quoins or pilasters supporting classical cornices and dormers with pediments. The massing of the houses resemble Georgian and Federal era originals, but frequently the scale is larger. The forms are usually two story and rectangular, with gable roofs parallel to the main facade, square with hip roofs, gambrel roof versions we call Dutch Colonial or the one story Cape Cod revivals. Symmetry is the rule, although the main entrance may be off center. The floor plans, too, revert to those known in the 18th century; center hall plans predominate.

A suburban Colonial Revival House built around 1940 in Wethersfield, Connecticut and set on a large lawn. Beginning in the 1920s, Colonial Revival designs became more like the Georgian and Federal stylehouses which they were imitating. Both proportions and detailing became more accurate. The popularity of brick houses with exterior end chimneys, never common in New England, shows the effect of the opening of the Colonial Williamsburg Restoration in Virginia in 1928.

This form of the Colonial Revival style was built from c. 1905 to 1915 and is now known as the "American Four Square." The boxy form with a hip roof above wide eaves and including one dormer on each roof face is derived from early prairie house designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. Some examples show very little Colonial Revival detailing, as here, while others have Colonial dormers, windows, cornices, doors and porches.

In the late 19th and early 20th century Colonial Revival ornamentation, especially on entrances and dormers, was exaggerated, but by the 1920s, very accurate reproductions of colonial design appeared, especially in New England.

The hip roofed variations are drawn from Georgian sources and were most popular circa 1900-1915. They are also known as the classic box or the American four-square. Some are very plain with a wide, flat cornice and one dormer in each face of the high hip, while others may have much Colonial Revival detailing including Palladian windows, leaded glass sidelights at the door and a classically columned porch.

A popular variation in Colonial Revival design is the Dutch Colonial, characterized by a gambrel roof (four roof planes rather than the usual two). In this case, which is typical, a large shed dormer gives space for second floor windows. These houses, built from the 20s to the 40s, are found in suburban neighborhoods mixed in with Colonial and Tudor designs. Nothing but the roof shape connects the Dutch Colonial to anything authentically derived from Holland or northern Europe.

The most common type is the two story five-bay with centered entrance. The restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, opened in 1928, stimulated many red brick colonials with end chimneys and dormers in the Virginia fashion. Dutch Colonials are identified by the four-plane gambrel roof which enclosed the second story, but otherwise bear little resemblance to Dutch originals.

This house on the Brookfield, Massachusetts common is an American four square form, but with plenty of Colonial Revival details such as the windows and porch.

Most Colonial Revivals can be distinguished from the authentic by a mixing of stylistic details taken from Georgian, Federal or even Greek Revival sources and used together on a single design. Another key is the use of many high-style details on a modest sized house, such as scroll-pediment entrances or elaborate dormers and multiple chimneys.

The Colonial Revival in all its variations comprises a very large part of the 20th century housing stock.