Early Twentieth Century Houses.

This article will focus on three styles of house architecture that flourished at the very end of the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth century: the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and American Foursquare styles. In the period of the 1890s to 1930s, many formerly rural towns experienced a boom in construction, as new subdivisions were laid out and these house styles were very popular. The photographic examples in this article come from the town of West Hartford, which was being extensively developed at this time, but the same events were occurring throughout Connecticut and examples of these types of homes can be found all over the state.

The Colonial Revival

The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, which included a display of a recreated colonial era kitchen, helped to inspire many Americans with a renewed interest in their colonial past. Some wished to recapture an idealized past in reaction to the changes of modern life. Colonial Revival and Neoclassical styles was also embraced as a reaction to the excessively elaborate ornamentation of Victorian era. By the 1890s, many homes throughout the country, both large and small, were being being constructed in the Colonial Revival style, which drew on the classical motifs and symmetrical arrangement found in Georgian and Federal style American buildings. Some of these early Colonial Revival houses were transitional, continuing the basic form of Queen Anne houses, but with colonial-inspired elements, such as the Gail Borden Munsill House (1895) in Hartford. But the general trend in Colonial Revival architecture was to become more academic and faithful to the proportions of original Georgian buildings.

Although generally maintaining a Georgian balance, many Colonial Revival houses vary greatly in size and amount of ornamentation. An example of a fairly basic design is the home of poet Wallace Stevens in Hartford, built in the 1920s. Not far away is the much richly ornamented house of Alfred C. Fuller, built in 1917. Other examples of grand Colonial Revival residences, utilizing different elements of the same style, are the Thomas MacDonough Russell House (1902) in Middletown and the Seymour Cunningham House (1904) in Litchfield. None of these homes could be mistaken for an actual colonial era house, owing to their larger size and more extensive decoration than that typically found in eighteenth-century American houses.

Many colonial houses were also restored during the period, as the movement for historic preservation developed. In 1916, Wallace Nutting began work on the Webb House in Wethersfield, where George Washington had met with the Comte de Rochambeau. Also in the early twentieth century, noted architects Norman Isham and J. Frederick Kelly restored Connecticut’s oldest surviving home, the Whitfield House in Guilford. Many colonial and early nineteenth century homes that had been Victorianized later in the nineteenth century, were “re-colonialized” in the twentieth century. And in a few cases, like that of the 1871 Henry Farnam House in New Haven, an extravagant Gothic house could have all of its old decorative details replaced with a completely new Georgian appearance. In Litchfield, the Colonial Revival influence dominates the town, which was a popular place for the wealthy to have summer homes at the height of the style’s popularity. Even distinctly Victorian-era houses are painted white, the color anachronistically deemed appropriate at the time for early American buildings. By the 1930s, Litchfield had became a model of a “colonial” town, in an idealized version of the colonial that in many ways bore little resemblance to what the community would have actually looked like in the eighteenth century.

One of Connecticut’s most famous Colonial Revival houses is Hill-Stead in Farmington (1901), designed by Theodate Pope Riddle in association with the firm of McKim, Mead, and White. The mansion is clearly influenced by George Washington’s Mount Vernon, an influential model of the Georgian style. At 1430 Asylum Avenue in Hartford is another mansion which is essentially a replica of Mount Vernon, although with a greater amount of decorative detail than the original. Another example, designed by Walter Crabtree, is at 100 Norwood Drive in West Hartford. While grand homes were being constructed by the wealthy, other more modest houses began to be built which also closely followed the design of actual colonial homes. The Wellington MacDonough House (1937), on Broad Street Green in Wethersfield, was clearly modeled on the many historic houses found in the town. Later in the twentieth century, extensive new developments were created filled with “new old homes” that precisely resembled colonial houses, but with all the modern conveniences within. The Colonial Revival style remains firmly established and continues to be popular today.

Some Colonial Revival Houses in West Hartford

Colonial Revival houses can be found throughout West Hartford. The yellow house in Fig. 1 (10 Colony Road; built in 1929), above, is a Georgian Revival home in the Hartford Golf Club National Historic District. This is an area in West Hartford, north of Albany Avenue and west of grounds purchased by the Hartford Golf Club between 1914 and 1917. Most of the houses here were built between 1915 and 1936 and were designed in the Tudor and Colonial Revival styles. The home in Fig. 1, designed by Hartford architect Walter Crabtree, displays symmetry, balance and classical detailing, including prominent dentil moldings, evocative of the Georgian and Federal periods. And yet the house has a much wider facade than that of original colonial houses and has an off-center chimney, clearly quite different from the massive central or smaller two-chimney designs of the colonial era.

Another house closely based on Colonial models is in Fig. 2 (65 West Hill Drive; built in 1923), above. This house is located in another part of West Hartford listed in the National Register, the West Hill Drive Historic District, a 1920s sub-division built on the site of the former estate of Cornelius J. Vanderbilt, Jr. This Historic District is also known for its Colonial and Tudor Revival homes. The brick house in Fig. 2, designed by architect Cortland F. Luce, has Colonial features including a gambrel roof (with dentils), two chimneys on either side and a replica of a Connecticut River Valley style doorway.

Another home in the Hartford Golf Club Historic District is the mansion in Fig. 3 (4 Mohawk Drive; built in 1931). In this example, designed by architect Lester Scheide, the house is on a very large scale indeed. The front door leads under the stair landing to a two-story grand hall. The facade features a Palladian window, a popular feature from the Georgian/Federal period, and two large bay windows on the first floor, which are very un-Colonial, but here are incorporated into the classically proportioned design of the house.

Yet another brick Georgian Revival mansion is the one in Fig. 4 (Sunset Farm Road, built in 1935). It is located in Sunset Farm, in the western part of West Hartford, a forested neighborhood developed after 1916, which has a number of early twentieth century Colonial Revival and other style houses in a country-like setting. The house, designed by T. Merrill Prentice, has Georgian features, but is unmistakably a twentieth century home because its facade has a prominent three-car garage, with the front door above it. Such garage-centered houses are sometimes referred to as “motorcentric.”

For some more examples of the many Colonial Revival homes in West Hartford, check out my page, “More Colonial Revival Houses in West Hartford.”

The Tudor Revival

Another Revival style to enjoy great popularity in the early decades of the twentieth century is the Tudor Revival. This style originated in Britain in the later nineteenth century and represented a return to the style of medieval cottages. The style is named Tudor Revival after the Tudors who ruled England from 1485-1603, although the style itself actually uses decorative elements from earlier centuries, hence the more appropriate alternative name of Medieval Revival. The style is also referred to the English Cottage style or the Tudorobethan (combining the name Tudor with the term Elizabethan, referring to the reign of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I). In Britain, the Tudorobethan evolved from the Jacobethan style, which emphasized a more castle-like appearance, with many-faceted towers and mock battlements. The Tudorobethan instead emphasized simpler and more rustic elements. Chief among these is false half-timbering, which references the building techniques of the Middle Ages but in these modern homes is purely ornamental. As with the Colonial Revival style, Tudor Revival homes can come in many sizes, from the substantial homes of the wealthy to more modest structures.

In the United States, the late nineteenth century witnessed the influence of this new interest in Medieval forms. The Katherine Seymour Day House in Hartford features many old English decorative elements. In this sense, it has links to the earlier and distinctively English Queen Anne style, which is quite different from the American version. By the turn-of-the-century, some American mansions, such as Branford House in Groton, were designed in the elaborate Jacobethan style, but the Tudorobethan would become far more common. By the 1920s, this style was especially popular in America in suburban settings. A notable example is the George W. Ellis House, on the city line between Hartford and West Hartford, which really emphasizes the half-timbering and elaborates it in ways that would not have been found on authentic Medieval cottages.

Tudor Revival Houses on Asylum Avenue

Several Tudor Revival houses are located across from Elizabeth Park on Asylum Avenue in West Hartford (Figs. 5-8) Fig. 5 (1574 Asylum Avenue; built in 1930), above, displays a plethora of signature features associated with the style. The west and south (facade) facing gables have half-timbering, which is very typical in Tudor Revival homes. In authentic Medieval buildings such timbering was actually integral to the structure, but here it is simply decorative. Windows on Tudor houses were also often designed to resemble Medieval ones, being tall and narrow, appearing in groups of two, three or four, and featuring small leaded glass window panes. The house in Fig. 5 has such windows on the second story (above the entryway) and in the bay window under the front gable. Fig. 6 (1596 Asylum Avenue; built in 1930), above, has similar windows above its entryway and a rounded window to the left of the front door, all with leaded diamond panes. The house in Fig. 6 also has a prominent chimney on the front of the house, another distinctive feature of the style. The similar chimney of Fig. 7 (1600 Asylum Avenue; built in 1929), below, is more decorative and has the elaborate chimney pots often found on Tudor houses.

Tudor houses almost always have brick, stone or stucco exterior walls intended to resemble Medieval masonry. The houses in Figs. 5-7 follow this tradition and by having patterned brick. The house in Fig. 8 (1582 Asylum Avenue; built in 1927), above, has patterned brick combined with brownstone on its first story (Fig. 9, below). The entryways of all the houses are also outlined with decorative brick work. In addition to the use of brick and half-timbering, all four of these houses also have imposing Tudor Revival rooflines featuring prominent cross gables. The roofs mimic the look of the thatched roofs of English cottages. Another notable Tudor Revival/English cottage feature can be seen in how each has an irregular gable in which one side plunges much further toward towards ground level, having a distinctive catslide roof profile.

For some more examples of the many Tudor Revival homes in West Hartford, check out my page, “More Tudor Revival Houses in West Hartford.”

The American Foursquare

Another house style, or rather house type or form, which was very prevalent throughout the country in the period from 1895 into the 1930s is the American Foursquare. Sometimes called Box Prairie, because of its stylistic links to the Prairie School of architecture, these houses are defined by their distinctive shape: a simple two-story box, with a pyramidal or hipped roof. The roof has a deep overhang and a large central dormer window, often with dormers on the sides as well. The fronts of these houses have a porch across their entire widths with wide stairs. The boxy shape was a reaction to the complex floor-plans of later Victorian houses and was well-suited to provide the most floor space on smaller building lots. While all of these homes have the same shape, the style and amount of detailing can vary considerably, borrowing from other styles, but usually in much simpler applications. A good example of this type of house is Fig. 10 (21 Kingswood Road, built in 1919).

Houses on Keeney Avenue

The examples of Colonial and Tudor Revival houses, discussed above, were built in developments in West Hartford around 1930. Our examples of Foursquares were built a decade earlier, in one of several developments laid out in smaller lots, closer to the center of town. A row of houses (Fig. 11, above), built by the developer Daniel Carroll, can be found on Keeney Avenue in West Hartford. All of these houses (see examples, below) follow the same basic plan, but with different details. Fig. 12 (22 Keeney Avenue; built in 1920) shows a house with a hip-roofed front porch and dormer window, while the house in Fig. 13 (26 Keeney Avenue; built in 1920) has a gabled porch roof and dormer. Part of the porch in Fig. 13 has been screened in. Finally, the house in Fig. 14 (38 Keeney Avenue; built in 1921) has been expanded by enclosing the front porch and adding a smaller, gable-roofed porch extending from the front door.

Read about Earlier Victorian Houses

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