The Sales Directory of Antique and Historic Properties
Historic Style Guide

Gothic Revival

1840 - 1865

Distinct from other Victorian era architecture, the Gothic style uses no classical features, but are distinctly gothic drawn from medieval sources copied into 19th century designs.

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.

Roseland Cottage, designed by Joseph Wells in the Gothic style in Woodstock Connecticut
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.

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.

Built in 1846 in New Bedford, MA, this asymmetrical Gothic cottage has siding that is flush-boarded and colored to look like sandstone
Built in 1846 in New Bedford, MA, this asymmetrical 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.

A simple carpenter Gothic Revival House features a fanciful barge board and steeply pitched roofs

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.

Carpenter Gothic with wood plank exterior in soft pink to resemble stone
This pair of carpenter Gothic houses both resemble stone, the left completed with stucco, the right with flat wood boards resembling sandstone.

very large Gothic arched window detail


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