Architecture / Style / Gothic Revival

Chronology

  • 1830-1860 (Blumenson)
  • 1840-1860 (Foster)
  • 1840-1860 (Baker)
  • 1840-1880 (McAlester)
  • 1839-c.1870 (Roth); High Victorian Gothic (1860-1880)

Description

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, styles in art, architecture, and literature were being shaped by the influence of the romantic movement. This proclaimed the superiority of the Christian medieval past, while Industrialism was taking place. The superiority of the Christian medieval past caused architects and designers to extol the symbolic virtues and morality of Gothic architectureleading to its revival.

Gothic Revival came to America from England, though did not achieve widespread popularity because of its strong association with Britain, liturgical Christianity, and aristocracy – all suspect to democratic ideals. (Poppeliers, 40)

The earlier “Gothick” phase was not concerned with archaeological accuracy and was used mainly for garden ornaments and interior details, such as the pointed windows and finials for Trinity Church, New York (1788-94). Notes from Thomas Jefferson dating to 1771, noted he wanted to put up “a small Gothic temple of antique appearance” in the center of the burial plot. Though never executed, it showed how Gothic was considered for places of internment, though not as much for seats of government. (Roth, 110)

Keeping true to ecclesiastical roots in the original Gothic architecture, three Gothic Revival church commissions were built in New York City between 1839 and 1844. These were James Renwick’s Grace Church (1843-46), Minard Lafever’s Church of the Saviour, Brooklyn (1842-44), and Richard Upjohn’s Trinity Church (1839-46).

The first American residence to incorporate Gothic details was Sedgeley by Benjamin Henry Latrobe outside of Philadelphia. What made Gothic Revival attractive for residential commissions is that it adapted to new construction techniques such as the balloon frame. Skilled masons and craftsman were no longer needed. Instead a carpenter with a jigsaw could create architectural effects. This decorative originality of the Carpenter Gothic was a purely American expression. (Foster, 242).

First Presbyterian Church, Oyster Bay, New York. Example of Carpenter Gothic church architecture.

American landscape designer Alexander Jackson Downing published books featuring Gothic designs by the architect Alexander Jackson Davis, his friend. This steered many Americans from the classical Greek orders towards the less academic but more practical and picturesque. (Foster, 24) Lacking models, domestic Gothic structures never achieved the correctness of mid-19th-century churches. (Poppeliers, 40)

Gothic Revival appeared all across the country, though less often in the South. Essentially a rural or suburban style, it was associated with intellectual and literary pursuits. Owners of Gothic Revival homes were often considered unconventional if not eccentric. Interest in the Gothic style waned after the Civil War but revived again briefly as High Victorian Gothic later in the century. (Foster, 244)

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh (1926, Charles Clauder), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Post-Civil War Gothic Revivalists were influenced by the writings fo English architecture theorist John Ruskin, who advocated the use of contrasting colors of brick and stone to produce bold polychromatic patterns. The High Victorian Gothic style was eclectic, drawing on Italian and German as well as English Gothic precedents. The style was used mainly for public buildings, including schools, libraries, and churches. Reacting to the excesses of High Victorian Gothic, late 19th-century architects returned to a more imitative Gothic Revival. The Collegiate Gothic that shaped such campuses as Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania was popular in this period. Gothic also remained the most influential style for churches well into the 20th century. (Poppeliers, 41)

Centered gable variation with gabled wall dormers to either side. Metuchen, New Jersey.

Variations

Center Gable – Symmetrical houses with side-gabled or hipped roofs having a prominent central cross gable. The plane of the cross gable may be either the same as the front wall or projected forward to make a small central wing. Smaller cross gables, or gable dormers, sometimes occur on either side of the dominant central gable. In some examples these are englarged to give three identical cross gables. (McAlester, 267)

Paired Gables – With two, rather than one or three, cross gables. The two gables are sometimes extended forward into projecting wings. (McAlester, 267)

Front-Gabled Roof – Simple gabled rectangles rotated so that the narrower gable end makes up the front facade. Some have additional cross gables added to the roof slope over the side walls, but many lack such cross gables. (McAlester, 267)

Asymmetrical – L-shaped plans with cross-gabled roofs are the most common form, but there are many less regular variations. Small secondary cross gables, or gable dormers, were commonly added to one or more wings. After 1860, square towers were occasionally used. (McAlester, 268)

Wakehurst (Dudley Newton, 1887), Newport, Rhode Island.

Castellated or Parapeted – Has either flat roofs with scalloped (castellated) parapets, or gabled roofs ending in high parapeted walls rather than overhanging eaves. These features are far more common on Gothic Revival churches and public buildings; most surviving houses are high-style landmarks, typically constructed of masonry. (McAlester, 268)

Polychromed – Distinctive linear patterns in masonry wall surfaces. These decorative polychrome patterns are produced by bands of contrasting color or texture in the brick or stonework, and occur principally around windows and as horizontal bands on wall surfaces. (McAlester, 268)

Abingdon, Virginia.

Leading Examples

Sedgely (1799, Benjamin Henry Latrobe), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOT EXTANT (Poppeliers, 40). Classical in its symmetry and massing, with four corner pavilions linked by verandas. (Whiffen, 180).

Sulpician Academy, St. Mary’s Seminary (1806-8, Maximilian Godefroy), Baltimore, Maryland. Small chapel is credited with ushering in a more correct Gothic idiom. (Roth, 110)

Federal Street Church (1809, Bulfinch), Boston, Massachusetts. First Gothic Revival church in New England. Its steeple, with pinnacles on the four corners of the tower and a needle spire growing out of two octagonal stages with gablets and pointed arches, was a translation into Gothick (Rather than a retranslation into Gothic) of the Wren-type steeple, such as that of Old North; the galleried interior, with slender clustered columns between the nave and aisles and ogee arches framing the tables of the Commandments behind the pulpit, was of purely eighteenth-century character. (Whiffen, 180)

St. John’s Cathedral (1810, John Holden Greene), Providence, Rhode Island. (Whiffen, 53)

New York University, Washington Square (1832-37, Alexander Jackson Davis), New York City, New York. (Roth, 110)

Lyndhurst (1838, 1864-65), Alexander Jackson Davis), Tarrytown, New York. Aspired to greater Gothic authenticity. (Poppeliers, 40)

William T. Rotch House (1846, A.J. Davis and William R. Emerson), New Bedford, Massachusetts. (Poppeliers, 41)

Grace Church (1843-46, James Renwick), New York City, New York. (Roth, 112)

Church of the Saviour (1842-44, Minard Lafever), Brooklyn, New York (Roth, 112)

Trinity Church (1839-46, Richard Upjohn), New York City, New York. Upjohn personally supervised construction from a shed on the grounds. He relied primarily on 14th century prototypes, especially from the publications of A.C. Pugin. Suspended plaster vaults were used to create a Gothic effect, though such construction in plaster instead of stome was sham construction Pugin deplored. (Roth, 112)

St. James the Less (1846-46, John E. Carver, supervisory architect), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Built according to measured drawings of St. Michael’s Long Staunton, Cambridgeshire, built early in the thirteenth century. (Roth, 111)

St. Mary’s (1846-54, Richard Upjohn), Burlington, New Jersey. (Roth, 114)

The Old State Capital (1847-49, James H Dakin; reconstructed 1880-82, William A. Freret), Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One of only two antebellum Gothic state capitols, a style seldom used for government buildings. (Poppeliers, 42)

The First Baptist Church (1884-86), Lynchburg, Virginia. (Poppeliers, 41)

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart (1899-1954), Newark, New Jersey.

Glossary

Sources Cited