Historic Architectural Styles in Pennsylvania

A country’s heritage is, perhaps, best perceived through its longest-standing monuments. However, buildings are not only evidence of historical changes and development. Constructions that feature certain architectural styles in Pennsylvania are testimony to people’s need for art, harmony, beauty, and timelessness. They are reminders, throughout history, that the long-lasting things are those that bring quality to our lives.

Architectural Styles in Pennsylvania Throughout History

The earliest buildings found in the Keystone State today belong to early European settlers. It doesn’t come as a surprise that most of the styles that came later have found inspiration in the architecture of European cities. But architectural styles in Pennsylvania are not always true examples of specific styles. Architects have allowed themselves certain artistic liberties. Most of the historic buildings in PA that have survived until modern day are blends of styles and cultural influences. Moreover, certain styles can offer insight into the function of the building as they were often developed with a certain use in mind.

The styles in building design that we can see nowadays traverse from the early days of the European settlement of Pennsylvania in the 17th century until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chronologically, they belong to several categories:

  • (1638 – 1950) Traditional/Vernacular Mode
  • (1640 – 1800) Colonial Period
  • (1780 – 1830) Early Republic Period
  • (1830 – 1860) Mid 19th Century Period
  • (1850 – 1910) Late Victorian Period
  • (1880 – 1940) Late 19th & Early 20th Century Revival Period
  • (1890 – 1930) Late 19th & Early 20th Century Movements
  • (1925 – 1950) Modern Movements

This article would need to be a book to list and feature all styles and designs that stem from them. The ones presented here are the most distinctive and aim to show the richness and beauty of architectural styles in Pennsylvania.

The First Log Buildings

A log cabin is a symbol of the frontier and the most cherished house design. It is the embodiment of the early settlers’ life in Pennsylvania. If you are hungry for historical monuments and architectural treats, find reliable movers and settle down in this state full of spectacular landmarks. Swedes who settled in southeastern PA in the early and mid-1600s brought the log cabin style from their homeland, hence it belongs to the Traditional/Vernacular mode. As the settlers moved, the practical log cabin moved with them. But it is not that only residential buildings were made of logs. Churches, taverns, forts, trading posts, and barns shared the same building style.

It was only logical that the building that was easy and fast to build would be the most popular in the early days of PA settlement. The most recognizable features of the famed log cabin are horizontally placed logs, small irregularly-spaced windows, a side-gabled roof, clay or mud connecting the logs, and chimneys made of clay or stone. The abundance of forests and other building materials was inviting and a cost- and time-efficient way to provide shelter even at the later time, when William Penn claimed the land from the Swedes by the end of the 17th century.

Pennsylvania German Traditional Buildings

Today a museum, Henry Antes House is an example of Pennsylvania German Traditional architecture. This three-room house was built by master-builder Henry Antes in 1736 and reflects strong cultural ties of early German settlers. These ties influenced the design and building style in the southeast part of the state as this is where German settlement began in the early 18th century.

Buildings featuring this architectural style have steep gable roofs, centrally positioned chimneys, are usually built of locally found stone, log, and brick and are two and a half stories high. They are characterized by symmetry. Some of the early buildings of this type have very small windows, intended to resist attacks.

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Colonial Georgian Architectural Style

Perhaps the most notable representative of the Georgian architectural style in Pennsylvania is the State House, commonly known as Independence Hall. Built from 1732 until 1753, the Hall has been renovated numerous times, finally returning to its 1776 appearance in 1950. The building is famous for being the birthplace of the United States, as this is where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

Georgian architecture describes a style developed between 1714 and 1830 during the rule of the British monarchs George I, George II, George III, and George IV. It was introduced in the colonies at the same time and remained the most commonly used architectural style for a hundred years. Usually, the style is marked by numerous windows including a transom window over the paneled front entrance, stone or brick walls with corner quoins, pediment or crown, and pilasters at the front, as well as cornice with dentils. Elements of the Georgian style vary but the focus is on symmetry and proportion, especially in window placement.

Early Republic Period feat. Early Classical Revival Style

One of the representatives of Greek Revival architecture is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While at first Roman Revival style was introduced as a model for the young country by Thomas Jefferson, its likeness to the powerful Roman Empire was very soon shorn as the Roman-inspired style was also used in England. Following independence, there was a growing need to identify the nation with democracy, inspired by the very cradle of democracy – Greece.

While the Roman and Greek architectural styles have a lot in common, it was the idea of democracy among distinctive design elements that made the Greek Revival style so popular in Pennsylvania.

Gothic and Early Romanesque Architectural Style

An inspiring architectural masterpiece, Bryn Athyn Cathedral is a mix of multiple architectural styles.  While the main building is Gothic, the other two buildings are in the early Romanesque style. It is full of intentionally asymmetrical and irregular designs and is also famed for being constructed in a way that was considered unusual for the beginning of the 20th century. Necessary workshops were built on the location allowing European craftsmen to work together.

Pointed Gothic arched windows and entries are the main characteristic of this style, as well as a steeply pitched roof and decorative crowns over windows and doors.

What we commonly see around us and take for granted often hides a story we’re too busy to listen to. Fortunately, buildings proudly presenting architectural styles in Pennsylvania are here to stay and can patiently wait to tell it.

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