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ABCs of American Architecture (Victorian Period)

Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Because Romanesque exuded a quality of strength and massiveness that was more suitable to public buildings than to the average home, a more adaptable romantic theme was introduced for residential construction. Identified as Italianate (1830-1880), the style is more delicate, again using the arched windows (now called Tuscan), frequently with molded cornices called drip or hood molds, which were both utilitarian and decorative. The roof of a typical Italianate home is generally slightly pitched, either gabled or hipped, and the projecting eaves are supported by important and decorative brackets. A town house is square, sometimes with symmetrical wings. Often the roof is crowned with a cupola or belvedere.

More elegant country homes were built in the style of the Italian Villa, usually a T-shaped or L-shaped group of rectangles with a square tower placed off-center, usually in an inside corner. A delightfully adaptable and attractive style, it was described by Andrew Jackson Downing in one of his many design books. Interestingly, the first Italian villa built in the United States was designed by John Notman in 1837, the same architect who designed the Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

The historic district provides a wealth of fine examples of both Italianate and villa styles. 110 Washington Street and 201 Fayette Street are lovely examples of town houses—squarish, with shallow, hipped roofs, with or without the cupola or belvedere, symmetrical, and, most importantly, with the decorative brackets at the roofline. The Italianate villa is represented by the lovely home at 527 Washington Street, a house built by Will Lowdermilk, Cumberland historian. This house, like many of its counterparts, is adorned with a wide veranda, or loggia, the name taken from the Italian. Note here the asymmetrical arrangement of rectangular shapes, the square tower placed off-center, and the bracketed roof.

The Post-Civil War Period 1865-1900

A quotation from Mary Mix Foley’s book, The American House, most adequately illustrates how architecture, like the other of the arts, reflects the economic and sociological climate of the times'. She summarizes the influences of post-war America during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The dynamics of this entire era in architecture was nothing less than the industrialization of America. But unlike the earlier revival styles, the postwar response was not a retreat into romantic masquerade. Life itself was harder and more cynical. The old Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian democracy, of independent men, rooted in the security of their own land or their own handcraft skills, had become more dream than actuality. The ruptures, dislocations, and insecurities of wage work and absentee ownership were increasingly the realities of American life.
"But with these miseries came also the optimism that was part of a period of phenomenal material growth. It was the opening of an age of untrammeled laissez-faire capitalism, of rugged individualism, of unparalleled opportunity.

"...It was this aggressive, self-confident thrust that gave Victorian architecture its increasing vitality and originality."


Page #:

Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission

City of Cumberland

Illustrations: Brackets and cupola


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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