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ABCs of American Architecture (Victorian Period)

Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Although less accurate, or correct, architecturally, the Gothic Revival became exceedingly popular for residences as a result of the influence of two men particularly — Alexander Jackson Davis, a most prolific architect, and Andrew Jackson Downing, landscape architect and arbiter of taste. The latter published design books and enjoined his advocates to build homes with warmth and coziness, to have "something in its aspect which the heart can fasten upon...as naturally as the ivy attaches itself to the antique wall, preserving its memories from decay" (The Architecture of Country Houses, A.J. Downing, quoted by Foley).

Houses were often delightfully asymmetrical to allow flexibility in room arrangements. The steep roofs were generously decorated along the verge, or barge board with the characteristic gingerbread that prompted the nickname, Carpenter Gothic. The ready availability of wood and the invention of the scroll saw were factors that contributed to the development of much of the ornamentation. Practically every house had a veranda with slender, clustered columns, bay and oriel windows and leafy ornaments. The Woman’s Civic Club, at 515 Washington Street, is a classic example of the Gothic mode. The other form of residential design, the Gothic cottage, is typified by the pink house at 31 Prospect Square. Although the bright colors never made great inroads in this area, they were extremely popular, and are once again, in tourist meccas on both coasts.

In reaction to the excesses of the latter part of the nineteenth century and its "high Victorian" mansions with every conceivable decorative motif slathered on, architects began exploring more classic, though still romantic, sources. English Tudor, with crenellations, bay windows and arched windows, Persian and Egyptian fantasies, and Moorish grillwork were all represented in the outpouring of creativity. However, of more concern to us, because they were used locally and because they were more frequently adapted across the country, are the influences from France and Italy, sites of the finest design schools in the world.

A style called Romanesque Revival, or Lombard, or Norman, brought back to architecture the round-arched medieval window style that had preceded the Gothic arch. The semi-circular arch was also used to form the brick or stone along the roof line as well, in order to create a decorative pattern on the surface of the building. One of the first architects to design Romanesque buildings in the United States was James Renwick, for whom, the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington was named. Another foremost proponent of the style was Henry Hobson Richardson, who is generally recognized as one of the three greatest American-born architects. His activity, particularly in the milieu of public or civic buildings was so great that the style later became known as Richardson Romanesque.

One of the finest examples anywhere of this particular style is the Allegany County Courthouse, on Prospect Square in Cumberland. Typically built of brick or stone, the Courthouse has a combination of building materials used for decorative purposes. You will note that the roof consists of different colors of tiles arranged in a pattern. The windows are topped by semi-circular arches and the large square tower is a prominent feature.

Centre Street Methodist Church, on North Centre Street in Cumberland, is another excellent rendition of Romanesque Revival, as are some of the buildings on the Cumberland Mall.


Page #:

Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission

City of Cumberland

Illustrations: Victorian gingerbread on barge board or verge board. Illustration: crenellated tower semi-circular arched window


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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