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Gothic Revival 1840-1865



Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, CT, is New England's best-known Gothic Revival house. Built in 1846 for John Chandler Bowen and designed by Joseph Wells, an English architect, it epitomizes the new Gothic spirit. The siding is board and batten (vertical boarding with thin molding laid over the seams), dormers and pinnacles abound and even the fence carries Gothic motifs. Now owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Roseland Cottage is opened as a house museum.


Occasionally we find a frame two story house with pronounced Gothic detailing but built before the Civil War: these are Gothic Revival houses and are distinct from post Civil War "Victorian" designs because of their smaller size, wood construction and greater reliance on symmetry.

But they are distinctly Gothic, having no Classical features or details, a steeply pitched roof, usually cross-gabled, a vertical emphasis sometimes conveyed by board and batten siding, and wooden scrollwork in the gables and on porches. The plan is usually irregular with more than one porch; chimneys are tall and may include ceramic chimney pots. Windows and doors will often feature pointed arches or label moldings and diamond paned window glazing.

Roche House New Bedford  
Built in 1846 in New Bedford, MA, this asymmetical Gothic cottage has siding that is flush-boarded and colored to look like sandstone. Note the Tudor-arched entrance and bay windows, which were first used in this style.  

The principal American advocates of the Gothic Revival were Andrew J. Downing, one of the first landscape architects, and Alexander J. Davis, an architect who co-authored several books and articles on the importance of Gothic for the domestic retreat. Gothic houses are integrated into the landscape; Downing initiated the interest in both Gothic forms and in ornamental horticulture. He envisioned the house as a haven away from the industrializing city, ideal for the raising of children.


Landscaping was always a part of a well-designed Gothic house-setting: note the slight rise of ground and circular drive that enhance this site. This house in Shelburne Falls, MA was built in 1868. (Photo by James Mathews)


Earth tones are the appropriate exterior colors, such as warm reds, browns and yellows. Trim is picked out in a complementary color. Interior plans vary widely with woodwork finished in varnish. Decorative elements are drawn from English medieval sources copied into 19th century publications of designs.

While influential, well-preserved examples of pre-Civil War Gothic Revival houses are relatively rare.