What is an American Colonial?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2019
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It is easy to think of an American colonial house as one style; a staunch, even patriotic architectural concept born in a new country. Nothing could be further from the truth. American colonials are in fact more representative of another early American tradition: pluralism. In early colonial America, the houses known as American colonial today were as different and varied as the cultural and regional influences on them. Colonial homes represent a time period, rather than a specific style.

There are many different types of the American colonial house, including French, Dutch, British, and Southern. Reliant on the technology and available materials of the era, as well as regional preference and considerations such as local climate, many types do share some defining details. For instance, a dedication to symmetry of windows, siding and roofs regularly appears in many American colonial revivals.

With so many immigrants from distant lands, it is unsurprising that many sought to build new homes reminiscent of the style and appearance of those back home. Dutch colonials, for instance, feature the barn-like gambrel roof and primarily stone or brick construction that was common in the Dutch homeland. Georgian colonials were popular with British citizens, with the brick facade and slavish attention to symmetry calling up visions of bonny England.


Homesickness notwithstanding, the American colonial house remained a true expression of life in the strange new country. In the Deep South, where humidity and hot summers were a constant concern, colonial homes sprouted sheltered porches and balconies, and shuttered windows that took advantage of breezes. Spanish colonials in modern-day Florida blended Moorish influences with the popular building materials of the area, such as stucco and adobe. The saltbox colonial of New England kept symmetry intact but increased space in crowded towns by adding a one-story addition to the back of the house.

The colonial period officially ended as the new nation of America began, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The American colonial style, however, continued to influence and determine how houses were built in a fledgling nation. Eventually, colonial fashions gave way to the more highly decorative styles of federal, Victorian, and antebellum homes. Colonials have never strayed too far from the architectural mind, however, as several revivals have occurred since the original American colonial faded from high style in the late 18th century. Today, newer homes with symmetrical details, wood siding or brick construction, and central chimneys are often most often referred to as neo-colonial.



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