Massachusetts Style, Circa 1916: A Look Back at Farmhouse Architecture

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As the style of New England Colonial architecture continued to evolve into the eighteenth century, certain settlements made their own modifications, developing variations that are particular to those locations. These shifts in things like materials, window style, roof pitch and overall proportions might be influenced by the local economy, climate or contact with people from other parts of Europe. In Massachusetts, the classic and unpretentious farmhouse outgrew its English Gothic origins and became a vernacular of its own.

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Written in April 1916, Volume II, Issue II of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs takes a look at how this particular region adapted its farmhouses through the latter part of the 1700s. For example, the authors note that although builders broke from Gothic tradition to pitch roofs at a more Georgian proportion, it wasn’t really a stylistic choice. They needed to ensure that coastal rain was properly deflected from the sides of the houses, and make use of the shortest and smallest rafters they could get away with.

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Being purists primarily interested in the least compromised forms of Colonial architecture, the Monograph authors typically turned their noses up at any Greek influence, but here acknowledge that the first blending of Greek revival style with English architectural traditions “produced such beautiful and dignified results.”

This issue explains how factors like growing prosperity caused changes over time, like rapid expansions that led to houses growing until they “ran slam into the big barn itself.” Check it out for lots more details and over a dozen beautiful black-and-white images of historic structures, including some that still stand today.


Architectural Monographs: The Simple, Unpretentious Farmhouses of Massachusetts

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Setting a standard for farmhouse architecture in New England to this day, these early dwellings of Massachusetts bearing simple pitched roofs, economical lines and pleasingly uncomplicated proportions were ideal for the working Colonial classes. Though they became less popular by the end of the 18th century as communities grew more prosperous and landowners’ houses decidedly more grand, these unpretentious homes remain a distinctive part of the region’s architectural history.

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This issue of the historic White Pine Architectural Monographs traces these early farmhouses from their humble beginnings, as they began to expand and grow more complex in later years. This often included additions, with the houses rapidly changing and growing new service wings “until it often ran slam into the big barn itself.”

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“This was the almost invariable method on the farm, where land was plenty and the living requirements of the family itself changed but little from generation to generation… in the Colonial village or town, however, so simple an ‘addition’ met neither the needs nor conditions that were most likely to exist.”

See how these distinct approaches to adapting architecture for new needs over time varied at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: The Unique Farmhouses of Old ‘New Netherlands’

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The Colonial architecture of Massachusetts and Virginia tends to get all the attention and accolades when it comes to historical remembrance, but the Dutch had plenty of their own charming structures throughout their colony of ‘New Netherlands,’ in areas of what we know today as New York and New Jersey. By 1915, when this issue of the White Pine Monographs was written, many had been sadly neglected.

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The ones that remained at that time were photographed and displayed throughout this issue, and they’re brimming with beautiful and unique architectural details like gently curving roofs, railings along the rooflines and artistic stained glass around the doorways.

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While it’s hard to tell exactly when they were built, many seem to have been erected around the same time as the earliest remaining examples in New England and Virginia. While the English brought many of their home country’s architectural traditions with them to America, the Dutch seem to have started over altogether, with the houses remaining in Long Island and New Jersey resembling “nothing but themselves,” being even more radically different from the work of the Dutch in Holland than they were from the work of the other colonists.

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“This difference is not alone a question of material, which might be expected in a new country, but is also a question of form and detail. The steep-pitched roofs of Holland were here transformed into low gentle lines, and the narrow flat cornices of the mother-country were replaced by broad overhanging eaves, from which Classic treatment in general was absent.”

See the whole gallery and read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.