American colonial architecture – a mixture of styles brought by the colonists from their homeland

American colonial architecture is a mixture of styles, developed during the Colonial Era of America. From the late 16th century until the beginning of the 19th century, people who came to settle in the New World brought with them construction techniques and architectural styles from their motherlands. Among them were English, Dutch, French, and Spanish settlers.

As the population increased, so did the diversity of houses. The architectural styles that developed were the New England Colonial, Spanish Colonial, German Colonial, Dutch Colonial, French Colonial, and Georgian Colonial styles.

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America’s colonists used locally available materials for building the homes they remembered from their native European countries. However, they also learned new construction techniques and made some changes.

Corwin House, Salem, Massachusetts, New England colonial architecture. Photo Credit


The 1686 Jethro Coffin House on Nantucket, Massachusetts, New England Colonial style.

The New England Colonial style is characteristic of the Northeastern area of the United States, including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The settlers were mostly from England and they built timber-framed, two storied dwellings, with casement windows and a rectangular shape. They had a side gabled steep roof, with a massive stone chimney at its center. A Cape Cod house is a type of New England Colonial style, a humble, one-story structure, designed to resist the turbulent weather.

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The Spanish Colonial style developed in the Southwest of the United States, in modern day Texas, California, and Florida. The houses were built of wood, adobe, crushed shells, or stone, with a flat or low pitch roof, covered with Earth, thatch, or red clay tiles. The rustic houses have small windows and thick walls covered in stucco to reflect the heat. Spanish Colonial homes are preserved in St. Augustine, Florida, the location of the first permanent European settlement in America.

Gonzalez–Alvarez House, St. Augustine, Florida, built 1723, Spanish colonial. Photo Credit

The German Colonial style was typical for the areas of present day New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. It was developed by settlers from the northern European nations, such as Sweden, Finland, Germany, Scotland, and Ireland. They used stone for the construction of the houses that had thick walls, exposed timbering, and hand-hewn beams.

Dutch Colonial style is characteristic of the Hudson River Valley and New Amsterdam, as the Dutch named the city today known as New York. They built two story brick and stone houses with a characteristic gambrel roof.

Byers-Muma House, East Donegal Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, built ca. 1740; German Colonial. Photo Credit

The French colonists settled in the Southern part of the United States, especially in Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley. French Colonial style is also known as “Creole” architecture because it combines French architecture with practices learned from the Caribbean, Africa, and the West Indies, which were designed to handle the hot summer weather.

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The houses were constructed of heavy cedar logs placed vertically into the ground. They have a hip roof and are raised on piers. Wide, open porches called galleries surround the house.

Bequette–Ribault House in Ste. Geneviève, Missouri, built 1778, French colonial. Photo Credit


Josiah Dennis House, Dennis, Massachusetts, built 1735, Georgian colonial. Photo Credit


Hope Lodge, Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, built 1750, Georgian colonial. Photo Credit

In the 1700s, as the colonies prospered, more families started building elegant residences that imitated the Georgian architecture of Great Britain. Named after the reigning British monarchs, the architecture focused more on ornamentation and grandeur. The Georgian house was usually built in brick, tall and rectangular, with a symmetrical façade, portico, and large windows. The roof had one or two large chimneys. The floor plan was spacious and comfortable, with a distinguished living and dining room, while the bedrooms were on the second floor.