INFLUENCES ON ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTER
- LANDSCAPE AND ECOLOGICAL
“The Appalachians are immensely old—older
than the oceans and continents (at least in
their present configurations), far, far older than
other mountain chains, older indeed than almost
all the other landscape features on earth.”
—Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
The Northeast landscape can be divided into
three distinct ecological zones.
The northern part of the Northeast Province
includes the Allegheny Mountains and Maine and
drifts into the Lakes Province. This is a glacially
carved landscape with long, cold winters (average
winter temperatures below freezing and only 100
to 140 frost-free days annually). Landforms are
level to rolling. Vegetation ranges from broadleaf
deciduous forests to conifers (which grow well in
local acid soils) to mixed forests. The summer
landscape is lushly green. Fall brings brilliant
colors. The long winters are white and brown.
Little rock is exposed except along waterways.
The White and Green mountains of the northern
Appalachians, is a craggy landscape that features
glacially carved granite mountains, many rock
outcrops, and abundant snowfall. The forested
setting changes with elevation from a mixture
of hardwoods and conifers to spruce-fir.
To the south are the Appalachian Highlands and
a topographically diverse landscape with plateaus,
coastal plains, and the Ozark Mountains. These
are smoother, more rounded mountains with little
exposed rock. The average winter temperature is
above freezing. The forest is mostly deciduous
with a wider variety of trees in the wetter east
and a dominant mixture of oak-hickory in the
“If we don’t know where we’ve come from,
how will we know where we are?”
—Pauline Chase-Harrell, architectural historian
During the Colonial period, the English dominated
settlement in New England, the Dutch in New York
and New Jersey, the Germans in Pennsylvania,
the Scandinavians in Delaware, and the French
along the lake and river system of what was then
the Western frontier. The patterns of westward
migration of these groups established paths of
architectural influence throughout the region.
The English established the prevailing cultural
patterns, including a preference for wood
architecture, especially for timber framing and
clapboard, shingle, or vertical board siding. Steeply
pitched roofs are another common and prominent
design feature. Early building types included the
salt box (a house made by attaching a shed roof
to a gable roof); the timber-framed “English barn”;
and, later, the “connected farmstead” of New
England in the latter part of the 19th century.
In the Middle Atlantic, the Dutch, German,
and Scandinavian builders made their own
contributions. These included the double-pitched
Dutch gambrel roof (originally common only to
barns in New York’s Genesee Valley but now
everywhere) and German masonry construction.
The French influence worked its way up the
Mississippi and is visible in the enduring
traditions of sweeping roof forms and generous
Swedes and Finns introduced log homes in
Delaware. Other ethnic groups adapted log
structures as they moved into the southern and
middle frontier. Originally they used rough logs.
Later cabins used hewn logs and permanent
chinking. Except for the Iroquois in New York
State, Native American structures have been
obliterated, but archaeology has allowed for
renewed interest in these forms.
The 19th century brought cultural and
technological changes that blurred distinctions
among styles in favor of a national style, or
rather a series of national styles. The first of
these was Greek Revival, launched in the 1830’s.
A decade later, a preference for Gothic Revival
and other “Victorian” styles was greatly aided by
popular pattern books for houses. The invention
of the balloon-frame house in Chicago in 1833
introduced mass-production techniques to the
construction of houses. Railroads fostered the
shipment of prefabricated building parts (such
as ornamental cast-iron building façades) to
frontier towns across the Nation.
Later in the century, several movements promoted
artistry as an antidote to standardization. The
Arts and Crafts movement emphasized handcrafted
buildings and custom-designed details and
decorations. A regional variation, the Adirondack
style, created elaborate “rustic” log-and-stone
vacation homes for the wealthy.
Rustic design was later adapted for hotels
and public recreational structures, especially
in the 1930’s during the height of the Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC). The movement left a
powerful imprint on the design of Forest Service
structures in the 20th century.
Modernism continued the trend of standardization
started during the Industrial Revolution.
Increasingly, buildings were designed to look the
same and be built from the same materials no
matter where they were sited. But in the New
England States, movements toward Colonial
Revival and other historical interpretations
provided a powerful counterbalance, as did the
growth of the historic preservation movement.
Reverence for history remains an important factor.