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The Colonial style of house includes four subgroups:

  • Post Medieval
  • Georgian
  • Adam
  • Classical Revival

The early colonists arriving in the New World from Europe brought with them the prevailing architectural styles and building practices of their native countries. At first these were of late Medieval inspiration, for the new classicism of the Renaissance had not yet spread beneath the grandest palaces and mansions of their homelands. Indeed, most Colonial dwellings built during the 1600s lacked even Medieval decorative detailing and might be classified as folk houses did they not so strongly reflect, in form and structure rather than stylistic detail, the distinctive building traditions of their countries of origin.

The prospering English colonies of the eastern seaboard began to import Renaissance-inspired Georgian fashion in the early 1700s. This would dominate the colonies for almost a century before being replaced by the closely related Adam style after the American Revolution.

Original examples of Colonial houses are relatively rare, but their forms and detailing are abundantly familiar because, beginning with the Centennial celebrations of 1876, they have been copied in various stylistic revivals.

Excerpted from A Field Guide to American Houses, Virginia and Lee McAlester, Alfred Knopf, New York, © 2000.