This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Late 19th Century & Early 20th Century Movement 1890 – 1930

The late 19th and early 20th century was a period of transition architecturally, marking the entrance into a new era of building. This was the beginning of forward looking architectural design with styles not based on previous building forms. Changes in construction techniques, especially the development of sky scraper technology, and a desire to create houses that fit visually into the natural environment influenced the developing styles of this era. The first style to emerge from this architectural movement was the Sullivanesque style. Named for its creator Louis Sullivan, a prominent American architect, the Sullivanesque style was developed as a design for sky scrapers. Sullivan divided the sky scraper into three parts, an entry level, midsection, and highly ornamented top cornice. This style shows the influence of the Art Noveau movement in the curvilinear lines and complex patterns of the decorative elements. The Commercial style, sometimes called the Chicago style, is a more pared down design for sky scrapers based on a steel frame construction. Sometimes ornamented with elements of other styles like the Romanesque or Gothic Revival, the basic grid design of the Commercial style is still evident.

The other architectural style innovations of this period occurred in the design of residential structures. American architectural force Frank Lloyd Wright created the Prairie style, desiring to develop a new domestic form that fit naturally into the environment of the Midwestern prairie. Wright, along with other Chicago architects known as the Prairie School, designed houses with gently sloping roofs, deeply overhanging eaves, and horizontal emphasis. Vernacular versions of the Prairie style such as the American Foursquare house are far more common in Pennsylvania than pure examples of the Prairie style.

The Bungalow or Craftsman style is another residential style that developed at the turn of the 20th century and became widespread throughout the country in various vernacular forms. Bungalows were first seen in California and were inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement stressing hand-crafted materials and harmony with nature. Known for their heavy columned front porches, front facing gables, and overhanging eaves, Bungalow style houses often have exposed rafters and other decorative wood trim as well. Pattern books and mail order catalogs enabled the Bungalow style to become very popular in the developing suburbs of the early 20th century. The styles of this period set the stage for even greater change in architectural theory and practice in the years to follow.


PA Architecture Traditional 1700 – 1870

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

Identifiable Features

1.  Steeply pitched gable roofs
2.  Stone, brick, log or frame construction
3.  Double  doors, four over four front facade
4.  Dual gable end chimneys
5.  Usually two and a half stories
6.  Summer kitchen located just behind main house

PA Architecture Traditional buildings reflect the strong cultural ties of the state’s early settlers form the German (Deutsch) speaking areas of central Europe.  These Deutsch speakers, came to be described as the “Pennsylvania Dutch” —a rather misleading name based on the mispronunciation of “Deutsch” as “Dutch.”  This Germanic influence is most apparent in the southeast section of the state where German settlement began in the early 1700s.  While the German settlement later extended throughout the state, this southeastern area retains the earliest and the highest concentration of the early Pennsylvania German Traditional buildings.

Traditional_Vernacular - 2013-09-18_17.46.03

Buildings in this category take several easily recognized forms.  The earliest PA German Traditional buildings were of log or stone construction and of distinctly medieval form with steep roofs, thick walls and small, irregularly spaced windows.  These small early houses had floor plans which  followed traditional layouts—some very simple one-room buildings, but more frequently a 2 or 3 room layout with a central chimney and corner “winder stair” leading up to a loft or second floor.  The 3 room format called for a large kitchen or  “kuche” on one side of the center chimney and two smaller rooms including a  parlor or “stube,” and a bedroom or “kammer”  on the other.  This three room Germanic folk house is sometimes  referred to as a “Continental Plan” by architectural historians. The two room format known as  the “Hall and Parlor Plan” had only a kitchen (hall)  and a parlor with a central chimney wall in between.

In the vernacular tradition some early stone houses were built over a spring to provide running water and a cool area for food storage in the basement.   Some houses were also built into a bank or hillside, partially underground for similar cold storage reasons, as well as cost and material efficiency.  This bank style of construction is attributed to medieval Swiss tradition, so buildings opf this type are  sometimes called “Swiss style.”  Many banked houses were later expanded to become 2 or 3 stories with the ground floor  then used only as a kitchen or for  storage.Some early houses on the expanding frontier of Pennsylvania were constructed as fortified houses with extra thick walls  and small windows to withstand Indian attack.  Fort Zeller built in 1745 near Newmanstown, Lebanon County was not actually a fort but such a fortified  (thick walled) house built in this manner.

Another traditional early house form was the combination house and barn where both shared a common roof.  Few examples remain, since it was a more of a short term pioneering practice than a desired housing type.  Certainly, for early settlers faced with the need to provide prompt shelter for both the family and livestock such a solution would have been expedient.  As family fortunes improved, additional buildings were constructed to separate the farm animals from the family.

The buildings of the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County are unique surviving examples of medieval German building practices. The Cloister was begun in 1732 as a religious community for mystical German Pietists led by Conral Beissel and drawn to Pennsylvania for its religious tolerance.  Ephrata Cloister has one of the best preserved collections of 18th century German vernacular domestic and religous buildings.  At its peak in 1750 the Cloister complex included a chapel, mens and womens dormitories, a variety of mills, a bake house, a pottery, cabins, barns and stables. The  celibate community declined after the Revolution and became part of the 7th Day German Baptist Church in 1814.  Much of the complex remaineds today and is operated as a historic site by the PHMC.  Significant buildings include the 1740 chapel called the Saal, a half-timbered, 5-story, clapboard building with shake shingles and small attached stone kitchen and the 1742 sisters house known as the Saron, a steep-roofed, 4-story, log house covered with clapboards containing floors of narrow sleeping cells.  The small, unevenly placed, casement windows, steep gable roofs, shed dormers, plain white plastered interior, winding stairs,  and center chimneys are all indicative of medieval German building traditions.

Some 18th and early 19th German Traditional houses incorporated the customary German floor plan into a more formally designed exterior, adopting some of the elements of the contermporary Georgian style.  These German influenced houses usually had four bays, rather than the usual five of the Georgian style and lacked the Georgian  center hall as well.  The Cooke House in York County  and the Christian Stauffer House of Lancaster County are good  examples of this blend of Germanic form with Georgian proportions.  One of the most interesting and intriguing types of PA German Traditional houses is the Four over Four or  Pennsylvania German Two Door Farmhouse.  These houses are easily identified by their two front doors, placed side by side in the center of the house with a window flanking each and four windows on the second floor.  Houses of this type usually date from the mid-1800s and are often built of brick or frame. The Green House in York County is a good example of this form. One front door opens directly into the family sitting room, and the other into the more formal parlor.  This housing form does not exist in central Europe, and is prevalent only in Pennsylvania and its borders, so it appears to be a style developed here.  Much debate of the significance of the double front doors has produced some general consensus that it represents the adaptation of traditional German form to the formal symmetry of the popular Georgian and Federal styles.  For some architectural historians the twin front doors represent the development of a more utilitarian floorplan with the elimination of the Georgian/Federal style central hall, while presenting a more formal and symmetrical exterior appearance than the earlier medieval German buildings.  These distinctive houses can be seen especially in the southeastern and south central portion of the state, often with a detached one room “summer kitchen” just off the rear elevation.  The summer kitchen kept the heat from cooking or washing clothes from the main house during hot weather.

We recently completed a historic wood window restoration project at the Mill at Anselma.  This mill is a gem of historic architecture in our country – the most complete example of a functioning historic grist mill in the entire country.

History of the Mill

The Mill at Anselma has truly historic origins. In the late 1600’s, the property was owned by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, though there was no mill on the property just yet. That would come in the mid 1700’s when influential Quaker Samuel Lightfoot decided to build a water-powered mill along the Pickering Creek after purchasing the 500-acre property in 1725. In the mid 1700’s, Chester County was becoming the “bread basket” of the
colonies and Lightfoot recognized the need for a local grist mill.

In 1767, Samuel divided his property between his two sons, with his younger son William receiving the acreage that included the grist mill. It was during William’s old age that the mill’s prosperity began to decline. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s that the mill would be revitalized when revolutionary technology that allowed for continuous production in grist mills was installed by the Shenemans. These labor-saving elevators and conveyors carried the grain between floors in the mill and were incorporated into the existing mill system – leaving the original Lightfoot technology untouched.

Just before the Civil War, the Oberholtzer family purchased and lived on the property and in 1862 poetess married into the family. The scenery around the mill is featured in her poems, including her famous “At the Old Mill” from her book of verse, “Violet Lee”. The mill remained largely untouched until 1906 when the wooden water wheel was replaced with a steel water wheel and the wooden sluiceway with iron pipe. Shortly after, the advent of portable grist mills made trips to the Anselma Mill no longer necessary and the mill’s prosperity quickly declined.

In 1919 Oliver Collins purchased the property and responded to the changes in market demand. Without touching the Colonial-era technology in the mill, Collins installed technology that allowed him to run a grist mill, saw mill, cider press, metal working shop, and even a barber shop and lawnmower repair shop – all of which were powered by the water wheel in the mill.

The Mill Today

In 1982 when Collins passed away, the Mill was purchased by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, who performed a lengthy restoration of the mill from 1999 to 2004. When done, the historic millstones milled flour for the first time since 1934.

It is the most complete example of a custom grain mill in the U.S. and in 2005 The Mill at Anselma became the only custom grist mill in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Our Historic Wood Window Replication Project at the Mill

During the restoration in the early 2000’s, the deteriorating window sashes had not been addressed and we were contracted to repair and replace the window sashes and sills.

Before we began work, the windows were a hodge-podge of different styles from different periods over the years. None of the sashes were original to the mill, so we replicated the profile from the oldest sash on the mill to give all the windows the same profile. We manufactured new sashes for the windows, replaced a few sills, and repaired quite a few stops and casings to restore the windows to full, working order.

In deciding which wood to use for the windows, we looked to the wood that was already on the mill. We determined that the window frames had originally been made of white oak and had been left unpainted, which was common for informal Colonial buildings. So we chose a quarter sawn white oak for the replacement sashes. In quarter sawn white oak all the graining runs vertically. This makes the wood a tighter wood that is stronger and more stable since the grain is all running in the same direction, is less prone to warping, and seasonal expansion and contraction, and offers extra moisture resistance. Quarter sawn white oak in general is a quality wood choice, but it was a particularly ideal wood choice to use in the moist, shady area of where the mill sat.

Though we don’t often leave wood unpainted, we did in this case in keeping with the original style of the windows. Despite the fact that originally there would have been no treatment applied to the wood, we did use a preservative that we made out of linseed oil and mineral spirits to help protect the wood and increase its longevity. The new growth wood we have available to us today simply does not last as long as old growth wood did when left untreated.

In addition to our work on the windows, we repaired the roof on their springhouse. During a winter storm a tree had fallen on the springhouse and damaged the roof. It was a traditional oak lathe roof with no sheathing and had bellied down in the center. When it was restored, the Trust chose to leave the belly in the roof as a sign of how it had always been instead of correcting it. (A choice that nags at Chuck’s perfectionist side, but one his preservationist side very much respects.)

The roof repair required special attention to detail. The angles had to be shimmed and straightened with shingles. “It took more time, but the job wouldn’t have turned out as nice without it. It was definitely worth it,” Chuck notes.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style01″] “We’re very pleased. It was a real pleasure to work with you and show off your magnificent work. You are outstanding professionals and experts in your field.“ -Craig Hadley, Executive Director Mill at Anselma [/sws_blockquote_endquote]


There is no architectural element in our historic architecture more nostalgic than the American porch.  We remember playing on them as kids.  We hung out on them with our friends as teenagers (probably stealing a kiss or two we weren’t supposed to have yet).  We sat on them as adults sipping iced tea on hot summer evenings.  We visited with friends and family laughing and playing cards.  We sat on them to watch parades.  Some of us even slept on them to escape the oppressive heat inside on hot summer nights.

But where did porches come from and how did they become the porches we know today?  Here’s a quick primer on the history of the American porch.

Late 1700’s –

Porches were utilitarian covered doorways or flanked “stoops” that protected the main entrances from the weather and served as transitions to and from the outdoors

historic porches, history of porches,

Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg
Photo by Fletcher6 on Wikipedia


1778 –

George Washington sets the porch building standard with his American classical porch at Mt. Vernon

historic porches, history of porches

George Washington’s Mt. Vernon
Photo by Martin Falbisoner on Wikipedia


Early 1800’s –

Longer porches that span the entire front of homes become more popular


1800’s –

Porches in the Northeast were called “piazzas”, a word adapted from the Italian word for “open space”


Porches in the south were called “verandas”, a term that reflected British colonial design influences from India.  This term would eventually become the dominant term along the East Coast.


Porches in the French colonial areas of the deep South wrapped around the entire house and were referred to as “galleries”.


Porches in Spanish colonial architecture were called “arcades”.


1830’s & 40’s –

The classic columns of the Greek Revival make their way onto porches of public buildings, hotels, and mansions

Historic porches, history of porches

Millford Plantation, South Carolina
Photo by Jack Boucher on Wikipedia


Mid 1800’s –

Porches have fully evolved from transition spaces into gathering places for socializing


The growing middle class builds homes with elaborate porches dressed with fancy millwork in new suburban neighborhoods.


Late 1800’s –

Highly decorated wrap-around Queen Anne style porches became wildly popular and are even added to small and simple houses.

historic porches, history of porches

Carson Mansion in California
Photo by Cory Maylett on Wikipedia



Porches are now used as outdoor living spaces and their shaded and landscaped privacy offered a discreet meeting spot in an age obsessed with propriety.


1873 –

President Rutherford B. Hayes: “The best part of the present house is the veranda.  But I would enlarge it.  I want a veranda with a house attached.”


Early 1900’s –

Growing understanding and acceptance of germ theory brings medicinal value to porches as doctors begin touting the benefits of fresh air.


Hipped roofs and exposed rafters hit the scene on porches with bungalow architecture.



historic porches, history of porches

Sleeping porch at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
Photo by Rolf Müller on Wikipedia


1920’s – 50’s –

As autos hit the roads, porches move to the side of the house as we retreat from the noise and dirt and seek more privacy.  Eventually they will end up at the back of the house where they will predominantly stay in new architecture for the next fifty or sixty years.


This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Colonial Period 1640 – 1800

The Colonial Period in Pennsylvania covers the era from the arrival of the first European settlers in the mid 1600s to 1776 when the nation was formed and Pennsylvania was no longer a colony of England. While the earliest colonists to settle in what would become Pennsylvania were from Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland, colonists from England and later Germany would soon predominate following William Penn’s arrival in 1682.

The earliest settlements within Pennsylvania’s current boundaries (at one time the state of Delaware was part of Pennsylvania, making up the three lower counties) were Swedish, part of the colony of New Sweden. There were about a dozen small permanent Swedish/Finnish settlements along the Delaware River, the earliest in Pennsylvania being Finland and Upland founded in 1641 near present day Chester. With the arrival of William Penn, the Proprietor of the colony of Pennsylvania, and other English Quakers in 1682, colonial growth spread northward and westward from the mouth of the Delaware River. As a refuge from religious persecution, the colony grew and attracted settlers from many countries, but in the Pre-Revolutionary War period, most colonists were of English, German and Scotts-Irish ancestry.

The first buildings in Pennsylvania were simple, traditional structures, built according to folk designs common in the colonists’ country of origin. These traditional or vernacular buildings were built not just in the Colonial period, but throughout the settlement period of the state. This building tradition is important in its own right and is fully detailed on the Traditional/Vernacular style section of this field guide.

The only true architect-inspired style of the Colonial period often found in Pennsylvania is the Georgian style. This style, based on the classical forms of the Italian Renaissance, originally developed in England in the 17th century and was introduced in the colonies around 1700. It was the prevailing style in Pennsylvania for about 100 years, from 1700 until 1800.

History of the Harris-Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg, PA

historic porch restoration, historic porch


In the early 1700′s, Harrisburg’s founder John Harris Sr. immigrated to the area from Yorkshire, England after receiving a land grant.  When he first arrived, Harris Sr. built a homestead on the bank of the Susquehanna River and established a trading post, and then a successful ferry business that would funnel much of the Scottish, irish, and German immigrants west for over fifty years.  Known for his fair dealings and good relationship with local Native Americans, Harris Sr.’s also facilitated successful relationships between new settlers and the local Native American population.

After Harris Sr. died in 1748, John Harris Jr. inherited the homestead and business and continued the family legacy of good relationships with local Native Americans – during the French and Indian War two notable “council fires” were held at the Harris home for talks between the Indian Nations, local governing officials, and British representatives.

historic porch restoration, historic porch


In 1766, after the French and Indian War ended, Harris Jr. decided it was time for a more substantial house for the family.  Tired of evacuating their current homestead whenever the river flooded, Harris Jr. chose the current site of the mansion after observing that even during the worst flooding, the river had never reached the top of the rise in the ground the mansion sits on.

Originally constructed in the Georgian style of architecture using locally quarried limestone, the house had a total of eight owners over the years and each made changes to the house.  In the early 1800′s a rear wing was added to the original mansion, and in 1863 the house underwent significant changes when Simon Cameron (seven-time U.S. Senator, President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, and former Ambassador to Russia) purchased the house.

File:Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg

“Having made an offer of $8,000 for the Harris Mansion, Cameron left for Russia. He traveled throughout Europe and stopped in England, France, Italy, and the German states. While making his way to Russia, Cameron was shopping for furnishings for his new house. In the parlor are two 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) pier mirrors, as well as mirrors above the fireplaces that came from France. The fireplace mantles are hand-carved Italian marble, and the alcove window glass is from Bavaria.

Cameron disliked being politically isolated in Russia, so he returned to the United States and resigned the post in 1863. After finalizing the purchase of the house, Cameron set out to convert it to a grand Victorian mansion in the Italianate style. He hoped it would be suitably impressive to his business and political associates. Cameron added a solarium, walkway, butler’s pantry, and grand staircase. He also had the floor lowered three feet into the basement in the front section of the house, because the 11-foot ceilings in the parlor could not accommodate his new 14-foot mirrors.”

-Wikipedia entry on the Simon Cameron House

In the early 1900′s, Cameron’s grandson Richard Haldeman, the last of the Cameron family to live in the home, made more changes when he redecorated, modernized the mansion, and added the West Alcove to the house.  When he died, his sister donated the house and other family items to the  Historical Society of Dauphin County.


Historic Porch Restoration at the Harris-Cameron Mansion

In 2013, we were contracted to repair and restore the Victorian style porch.  The porch was in disrepair – the brick piers that supported the floor were falling apart, the corner of the roof system was completely rotted out, there was a vermin infestation underneath the porch that was compromising the structural stability of the porch.  In addition to the disrepair, there had been alterations to the style of the porch over the years and the Historical Society wanted the porch both repaired and returned to its original style.

The major contributing problem that needed to be addressed was that the spouting and gutters weren’t emptying water away from the porch because the porch had settled and moved.  There had been attempts to repair the porch to keep it from settling, but they didn’t last or weren’t correct repairs – at one point someone had actually strapped the porch to the stone house wall to try and keep it from sliding by putting metal gussets at the spots where the framing was coming apart and separating at the corners.  But no one had ever addressed the problems with the porch foundation which was causing the settling and moving.

For the project, we started with demolition – a very careful demolition.  There were a lot of important materials on the porch that we encased in plywood boxes to protect them during the demolition process.  The stone where George Washington stood in 1780…  An original sandstone step that was already cracked…  All the important elements of the porch were carefully protected to prevent any damage during the construction process.

After demolition, we addressed the foundation issues by pouring five concrete footers at each of the column locations since that is where the porch had been failing and where the roof was sagging.  There had been brick piers there that we rebuilt with a combining of the existing brick and salvaged brick we purchased to match, but there had never been a frost-line footer under the porch.

All of the existing trim, arches, columns, floor, and skirtboard that could be salvaged were brought back to our shop where we removed the lead paint, repaired the pieces where necessary, fabricated new pieces as needed to match existing pieces, and reassembled them.  We fabricated new columns and elliptical arches from mahogany wood to match the style of the existing columns and arches that were re-used.  Several columns still had the original trim that we could copy when turning all of the capitals and column pieces.

We were able to level and save the porch roof by putting a large, carrier beam on the front of it.  We also put all of the columns and capitals on metal pipes before we installed them so we could put the columns on without cutting them in half.

The flooring and ceiling also needed repaired and replaced at some spots.  The original wood was vertical fir, but using fir would have been tremendously costly.  Mahogany was chosen instead for its availability and its cost.  While mahogany would not have been used as an exterior wood when the porch was originally built, it is an acceptable replacement material in preservation standards and actually holds up better as an exterior wood than many original woods.

This project was a collaborative effort between Richard Gribble at Murphy & Dittenhafer ArchitectsMcCoy Brothersand the Historical Society of Dauphin County, and us.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Early Republic Period 1780 – 1830 

The Early Republic Period marks the era when the English colonies declared their independence and the young nation was first established.  The predominant style in this period was the Federal or Adam style, a refined version of the previously popular Georgian style.  Federal style buildings were common in the period from 1780 to about 1830  and were distinguishable from their earlier Georgian counterparts mostly by the more delicate and elaborate classical  details on similar symmetrical facades.  The other style to develop in this period was the Early Classical Revival or Greek Revival style which drew its design inspiration more directly from the ancient buildings of Greece and Rome.  This Early Classical Revival style continued to be employed for much of the nineteenth century, especially for buildings in public use, schools, churches, banks and government offices.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Mid-19th Century Period 1830 – 1860

The Mid-19th Century Period covers the revival styles popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Greek Revival, the Gothic Revival style, the Italianate Villa/Italianate style, the Exotic Revival style ( Egyptian Revival, Moorish Revival, and Swiss chalet), and the Octagon Mode. During this period, sometimes referred to as the Romantic or Picturesque era of architecture, Americans were looking for greater choices in building styles and for designs which were evocative of a romanticized past or region. During this period, several architectural styles became popular concurrently and it became desirable to have buildings of distinctively different, yet complimentary styles as part of the same streetscape. This was a real departure from the previous eras when a single formal style was dominant and used almost exclusively. This multi-styled approach to architectural design has continued to the present day in the United States.

The most common styles of this mid-19 th Century Period are the Greek Revival, the Gothic Revival, and the Italianate. The Greek Revival style (1820-1860) is definitely part of this period, but since it has its roots in the Early Classical Revival style, it is detailed in the Early Federal Period. The Gothic Revival and Italianate style were promoted via influential pattern books such as architect Andrew Jackson Downing’s Cottage Residences , published in 1842. The romantic designs presented in the publication and others were reproduced in exact and derivative form throughout the country. The Gothic Revival Style drew inspiration from medieval forms and the Italianate style was derived from the building traditions of the Italian Renaissance. The Exotic Revival style emerged in this period as well, producing intriguing designs for buildings showing ancient Egyptian, traditional Moorish, or medieval Swiss chalet influence. Never as widespread as the romantic styles, the Exotic Revival style is easily identifiable due to the unique architectural features it presents. Another infrequently seen, but remarkably unique style of  building of the Romantic era is the Octagon. The Octagon Mode was advanced through a 1849 pattern book which promoted it as a healthful and sensible innovation in building design. It enjoyed very limited popularity and perhaps only a few such mid-19th century examples remain in Pennsylvania.  The octogon form is more commonly seen in our state as a result of a vernacular building tradion for early one room schools.


This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Prairie School Style 1900 – 1920

Identifiable Features

1.  Low pitched hipped roof
2.  Wide overhanging eaves
3.  Emphasis on horizontal lines
4.  Massive square porch columns
5.  Paired double hung windows


The Prairie style is a true American creation, developed by an American architectural legend, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was part of an impressive group of talented architects known as the Prairie School working in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century.   As a student of Louis Sullivan, Wright was part of a creative force that was changing the world of architectural design.  The time period itself was one of great change and growth as was reflected in the emerging new building styles.   Wright was especially interested in the design of houses, rather than public buildings, and he became the master of the Prairie style, a new domestic architectural form designed to complement the terrain and temperament of the mid-western prairies.  In describing the style Wright said, “The prairie has a beauty of its own and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level.  Hence gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet sky lines, suppressed heavy-set chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and out-reaching walls sequestering private gardens.”  Many other notable architects in Chicago and the Midwest generally designed well-executed Prairie style houses, mostly in that region.  The shape and form of the Prairie style house was distinctly different than previous domestic architecture.  Wright wanted to create organic homes with strong horizontal emphasis that did not resemble the traditional,  revival style houses popular in the past.  Wight’s interest in organic architecture, designed in concert with the natural environment continued to develop far beyond the Prairie style and period.  Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater, was built in 1936 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and reflects the evolution of Wright’s work and the Modern Movement in architecture.  Pure examples of the Prairie style are scare in our state, but it is represented in more vernacular forms which were made popular by pattern books.

The main vernacular form of the Prairie style seen most often in Pennsylvania and throughout the country  is also known as the “American Foursquare” or “American Basic.”  American Foursquare houses are generally two stories in height, square in shape, and have low-pitched, hipped roofs  with broad overhangs and symmetrical façades with broad front porches with square columns.   Their connection to the Prairie style is seen in the horizontal emphasis created by the roofline of the dominant front porch and the overhanging eaves of the roof itself. These vernacular buildings may also incorporate details from other styles, like Spanish Revival tiled roofs, or Italianate cornice brackets which make their association with the Prairie style more difficult to identify.  As with all vernacular building forms, designation as examples of a specific style may not be appropriate.   Like the Bungalow style houses popular in the same period, American Foursquare houses could be ordered in prefabricated kits through mail-order catalogs.  Sears Mail Order houses are well known, but other companies provided this service as well.  This American Foursqure building form, like the bungalow, was a popular and affordable housing choice in the growing suburbs at the beginning of the twentieth century.


This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Bungalow/Craftsman Style 1900 – 1930

Identifiable Features

  1. One or two stories in height
  2. Overhanging eaves with exposed rafters or braces
  3. Front facing gables
  4. Multi pane windows
  5. Low pitched gable or hipped roof
  6. Full or partial front porch with study columns
  7. Prominent gabled or shed roofed dormers

The Bungalow or Craftsman style developed in California at the turn of the 20th century and was inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement which brought a renewed interest in hand crafted materials and harmony with the natural environment. The original form of the Bungalow came from one story buildings surrounded by verandahs built in India in the 19th century to serve as rest houses for travelers known as “dak bungalows.”  This Eastern influence can be seen in the development of the form, setting and crafted wooden details of the Bungalow style. The Bungalow style emphasizes low, horizontal lines and a design that becomes a part of its natural setting. The hallmarks of the style, wide projecting eaves and overhanging gables with exposed rafters, and open porches with heavy square porch columns often atop stone bases, give these buildings a sense of solid construction. Architect brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene are credited as the most influential early practitioners of this style.  They designed Craftsman-type Bungalows as early as 1903 in Pasadena, California.  Their beautifully detailed early designs were well received and were promulgated throughout the country through popular magazines like House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, and  Ladies Home Journal.  Pattern books with a wide variety of Bungalow designs and complete mail order house kits soon followed, allowing the Bungalow style to spread quickly across the country.  While examples of the Bungalow style can be found throughout the United States, the style is often associated with California, since it originated there, was well suited to the warm climate and became extremely popular there in the early 20th century. With appealing, small scale house plans readily available, the Bungalow or Craftsman house was an ideal answer to the need for affordable houses for the growing middle class and developing suburbs in the first half of the 20th century.

Bungalows are square or rectangular in floor plan, usually one or one and one half stories in height with low-pitched overhanging roofs, and often include large front porches with heavy porch columns. The columns may be tapered, square, paired, or set upon stone or brick piers.  Bungalows usually have a front facing gable on a front porch, a projecting dormer or at the main roof line. The overhanging eaves usually have exposed roof rafters or decorative braces and stickwork.  Bungalows are often of clapboard or wood shingle, but may also be of  stone, brick, concrete block  or stucco. Less commonly, bungalows of log construction were built in a subtype sometimes described as Adirondack Lodge Bungalows.  Another hallmark of the Bungalow style is an open floor plan of interconnecting rooms, with the front door often opening directly into the living space.

Bungalow style houses can be found throughout the state, in a variety of both high style and vernacular forms. Whole neighborhoods of bungalows developed in the period between 1900 and 1930.