PA Architecture High Victorian Gothic Style

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 High Victorian Gothic Style 1860 – 1890

Identifiable Features

1.  Linear decorative polychrome bands of brick or stone
2.  Masonry construction
3.  Stone quoins
4.  Pointed arch (Gothic) windows and doorways
5.  Steeply gabled roofs, often with cross gables
6.  Ornamental pressed brick and terra cotta tiles
7.  Patterned brick chimneys
8.  Corbelled brickwork
9.  Turret with conical roof



The High  Victorian Gothic style is similar to the earlier Gothic Revival style, but is a more heavier, more substantial version of the style.  The High Victorian Gothic style was used mostly for large scale public buildings like schools, churches, or government offices, but was sometimes chosen for mansions or homes of substantial size.   Always executed in brick or stone, High Victorian Gothic buildings  are distinguished by the use of polychrome bands of decorative masonry.   Stone quoins, pressed brick,  and terra cotta panels  were commonly used.  Windows and doors were accented with brick or stone trim, often in contrasting colors.   The Gothic pointed arch may be present  at windows, entrances, and decorative dormers and cross gables.  Round turrets with corbelled brickwork and conical roofs are common to this style as well.

The High Victorian Gothic style developed in England in  around the mid point of the 19 th century. English architect John Ruskin, author of “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” (1849)  was a major proponent of the style, finding “constructural coloration” superior to superficially applied color.  Initially, this style was inspired by  English medieval architecture, but later it drew from medieval French and German building traditions as well.  The High Victorian Gothic style did not fully emerge in the United States until after the Civil War.  Since this style was most often employed for high-style public buildings or mansions, it was essentially an urban building type.  It was often used for the design of schools and libraries.  One of Pennsylvania ’s best examples of this style  is the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia , designed by Frank Furness in 1876.