National Heritage Area

(814) 677-3152

217 Elm Street

Oil City, PA 16301-1412

Colonial Revival

A change in American domestic architecture occurred in the 1890's. While the New England Shingle architects were pursuing order and open plans in new and innovative ways, a concurrent antiquarian movement emerged in the academic community around Boston supported by the wealthy old families of the City. A well focused, well organized, well publicized and well financed effort was initiated to return to the all out classical massing, classical planning and classical details seen in the Boston area houses of the Colonial past. This reactionary movement was a return to simplicity, regularity and symmetry in mass and plan. Familiar historical forms, actual copies of the Georgian and Adam periods, were emphasized.

Examples of Colonial Revival architecture can be found readily all over the Northern Pennsylvania Victorian Region and are quite easy to recognize. The volumes are symmetrical, simple and emphasize the horizontal. Entranceways and windows are distributed about the building’s centerlines and ranked. The interior space is designed about the exterior demands for symmetry and regularity in the facade. Classical cornices are universal, usually elaborated with dentil molding. Pilasters at the house corners are common as are balustrades at balconies, above porches and along roof lines. Dormers are symmetrically arranged about facade centerlines, surrounded by pilasters and crowned with pediments. Infinite variations of the three-part Palladian window are prominently placed on wall facades. A fanlight is very often placed above the main entrance and Adam decoration of garlands, swags and wreaths is profuse.

Many houses in the Region show the influence of the Colonial Revival architecture on an older, evolving style. The house at 408 W. Second in Oil City (As Shown Below) shows the influence of Colonial Revival on a Queen Anne mass.

From the perspective shown, you get the impression the designer was attempting to impose classical order on the larger, asymmetrical, irregular Queen Anne mass. The gable dormers facing Second are symmetrically placed over the facade and reinforce the move toward order. The house is loaded with Colonial Revival details including the prominent porch columns with Ionic capitals, the strongly stated pilasters at the two front corners, and the Palladian window in the dormer facing west. The paint scheme, a cream body with dark brown details and a third color, fawn, for emphasis, is historically appropriate.

An excellent example of Colonial Revival architecture can be seen at the corner of 11th and Chestnut in Franklin.

The front facade was designed about a centerline and is symmetrical. The gambrel roof is a representation of an old 17th century Colonial form and is surrounded by a cornice emphasized with classical modillions and dentil molding. Pilasters can be seen at the building corners and at the central second floor pavilion and third floor dormer. Multipaned windows are used on the second floor and in the dormer for historical emphasis. However, advances in glass technology can be seen in the large window panes used on the first floor. The veranda roof is supported by paired columns and single ones. A porch rail with a balustrade of turned spindles runs between the columns. A three-part Palladian window form in the dormer crowns the entire architectural effort.

The house at the corner of 15th and Elk in Franklin demonstrates both the symmetry and classical decoration found on many turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival Victorians.

With its mansard roof and simple cube massing, the structure is reminiscent of the earlier Second Empire. The symmetrically placed rectangular windows are Colonial Revival, however. The entrance is surrounded by two vertical sidelights and an overhead elliptical light. This arrangement is repeated again and emphasized in the second floor center window. The central dormer facing Elk Street consists of three windows with a semicircular hood above the center window, a Palladian influence. The roof cornice is detailed with modillions and dentil molding. The entire roof seems to be supported by the four substantial pilasters at the building corners.

The house at 615 W. Second in Oil City (See Right) is an excellent demonstration of the sublime beauty of classical proportion, symmetrical massing and balance. With very little decorative detail, this superb Colonial Revival retains a powerful and moving presence. The impressive entrance is surrounded by vertical sidelights and a double array of elliptical lights overhead. This theme is repeated in the central dormer above.

The Colonial Revival architectural theme continued well into the twentieth century. As time passed, the examples became more historically accurate, true replicas of buildings which existed a hundred and fifty years before. The house at 926 Elk Street in Franklin (See Left) is an example of this.

This early twentieth century house, the Louise Mullins Thompson House, is much newer than its Victorian Colonial Revival predecessors, but it looks so much more antiquarian. It is an excellent replica of an Adam period brick house built in the South and mid Atlantic States, but it is not a true Victorian.

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