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ABCs of American Architecture (Classic Styles)

Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson, that multi-talented genius from Virginia, strongly influenced American building with his powerful and massive porticos, large pediments, strong columns—generally projecting a feeling of strength and simplicity. Naturally, his home, Monticello, and his school, the University of Virginia, are the prime examples of his art.

Locally, however, we can see his influence in the Allegany County Library and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and the facade of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on the Square. His style was most popular throughout the South, as evidenced by the typical Southern mansions as we picture them, porticoed and columned, in the fashion of Tara in "Gone with the Wind".

The Greek influences were the flat or low-pitched roof with a balustrade around it, rectangular windows with flat arches and keystones, and dentils adorning the fascia, suggesting what we recognize as the popular "Greek key" design.

The temple style became important, particularly in church design, employing a gabled roof with the gable end front and rear and the roof ridge running front to rear. The gable end was accented and often repeated over the doorway or porch. This triangular motif is called a pediment.

Greek Revival

As the eighteenth century waned, architects continued to study the classics for new insights. The Greek mode was introduced to the United States in 1798 by an English architect and engineer named Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was born in England, educated on the Continent and emigrated to the United States to be the first professionally trained architect to work here.

The most easily identifiable features of the Greek Revival style are important columns or pilasters with capitals and without bases. Strong white horizontal lines mimic the marbles of the Mediterranean with simple moldings, heavy cornices, pedimented gables and horizontal transoms over the entrances. Each succeeding century has had its Greek, or classical revival, as many columned, pedimented entrances or porches attest. One reason for the appeal of this rigid style was the "often expressed sentiment that Americans were the spiritual successors of ancient Greece, with its democratic ideals—." (What Style Is It?, The Preservation Press).

The first several blocks of the historic district have some fine examples of this classic architecture. The double houses on the north side of Prospect Square illustrate the basic principles--low-pitched roofs, classical trim, some pedimented entrances, large window areas and occasional iron lace balconies.

An interesting feature of some of these homes are the "eyebrow" windows in the top floor of the house. They were usually at floor-level, but served the low-ceilinged attic rooms for light and ventilation, and still maintained the symmetry and balance of the facade. Note the strong horizontal lines of the white cornices and roofs in these houses and at 201 Washington Street, characteristic of the Federal and the Greek Revival styles.


Page #:

Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission

City of Cumberland

Illustrations of Jefferson's classicism and Eyebrow windows.


Collection Location:

Original Size:
22 x 29 cm.

Helene L. Baldwin, Joy W. Douglas, Gary Bartik and John Eiser

Historic buildings, Maryland, Allegany County; Historic buildings, Maryland, Cumberland.

Cumberland (Md,); 1742-1980

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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