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.