A Field Guide to Maine Architecture
Here in Maine we all live in the nineteenth century.
Those of us who live in mongrel capes and ranches, suburban garrisons and split-levels, manufactured housing and mobile homes nonetheless inhabit towns and cities defined by the architectural styles of the past. Just look around. There are great old houses everywhere. But how many of us can tell a Federalist townhouse from a Greek Revival Cape? A Georgian manor from a Shingle Style cottage? An Italianate villa from a Gothic manse? Not to worry. As a public service to the architecturally challenged, we offer this brief field guide to Maine's domestic architecture. Even if you don't know a bargeboard from a bay window, a few well-chosen sessions spent cruising the side streets and back roads with this simple guide in hand will have you spouting historical periods and styles in no time. You'll find a glossary of architectural terms at the end of this article.
(Warning: Once we get to the twentieth century, you're on your own.)
Distinguishing features Plain, boxy, and unadorned, small windows and not many of them, steep pitched roofs, center chimneys. Second floors overhang first floors in some two-story homes.
History Strictly speaking, Colonial refers to pre-1776 homes, but Colonial style does not mean Colonial period. Capes, garrisons, and saltboxes are still being built today.
Habitat Southwestern Maine, York County, coastal peninsulas.
Outstanding examples No one knows for sure what the oldest house in the state is, but the c. 1673 Hunnewell House in Scarborough and the c. 1707 McIntire Garrison in York are among the eldest.
Distinguishing features Generally square, formal, symmetrical, and balanced, often featuring hipped or gambrel roofs and a Palladian window. Sometimes have quoins at the corners.
History Popular during the reigns of King George I, King George II, and King George III, this grand style was favored by successful merchants and landed gentry.
Habitat York County, coastal peninsulas.
Outstanding examples Sarah Orne Jewett House and Hamilton House in South Berwick, Lady Pepperell House in Kittery, James Smith Homestead in Kennebunk.
Distinguishing features Lighter, more vertical in appearance than Georgian, low pitched roof, taller windows, and lots of them, sidelight windows beside upper portions of front door. And if it's got an elliptical fan window above the door, it's probably Federal.
History The Federal style marks the first widespread interest in distinctive architecture as prosperity came to Maine between the Revolutionary War and statehood. While there are not many great Georgian homes in Maine, there is a ton of Federal homes and buildings.
Habitat Castine, Paris Hill, and Wiscasset have significant concentrations of Federal homes, but you'll find Federal buildings all over the state.
Outstanding examples Ruggles House in Columbia Falls, Nickels-Sortwell House in Wiscasset, Colonel Black Mansion in Ellsworth, McLellan-Sweat Mansion in Portland.
Distinguishing features Low-pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves supported by brackets, cupolas, porticos and porches, narrow windows, and bay windows.
History Inspired by the villas and palazzos of Italy, the Italianate is the southern European corollary to the Gothic, being yet another decorative response to the Victorian penchant for romance.
Habitat Virtually every Maine mill town.
Outstanding examples Victoria Mansion (Morse-Libby House) and Harrison B. Brown House in Portland, C.F. Douglas House in Norridgewock, Thomas Jefferson Southard House in Richmond, Pierce-Giddings House in Bangor.
Distinguishing features Temple-like columns across front, wide cornerboards, boxy eaves, post and lintel doorways with sidelight windows, often has gable end to street and front door in gable end unlike Federalist houses.
History The Greek Revival coincided with a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity in Maine between statehood and the Civil War. Inspired by Greek temples and the ideal of democracy, it represented the democratization of design following the elitism of the Federal period. The style translated easily into local Maine materials, and the clean, simple, solid look suited hard-working, pragmatic Mainers well. If you don't know what style an old Cape in Maine is, it's a good bet it's either Federal or Greek Revival.
Habitat Greek Revival homes are found all over the state, but there are significant concentrations in Anson, Bath, and Belfast. Outstanding examples Farnsworth Homestead in Rockland, Clapp House in Portland, James P. White House in Belfast.
Distinguishing features Steep pitched roofs, dormers, chimney pots, hood molds over windows, gingerbread trim.
History You see this ornate Victorian style more in churches than in houses, but when you see it you know it. After the no-nonsense orderliness of Federal and Greek Revival architecture, the Gothic Revival reads like a medieval romance, one prompted by a period of intense religious and social reform and against Classical style and its symmetry.
Habitat Mostly an urban phenomenon. Countryfolk didn't much care for such fancy houses, yet there are splendid isolated examples in Sherman Mills, Vassalboro, and Winslow.
Outstanding examples Godfrey-Kellogg House in Bangor, Boody House in Brunswick, Gothic House in Portland, Shurtleff House inWinslow.
Distinguishing features Towers, turrets, verandas, the use of different shapes, forms, and textures, bays, ells, gables, dormers, patterned shingles, varied roofs.
History Queen Anne is the most elaborate and irregular style, drawing its inspiration from the great cottages and country homes of England.
Habitat Towns, cities, and suburbs. The Deering Highlands neighborhood in Portland features a number of big old Queen Anne houses as well as lots of other handsome late nineteenth century houses. Outstanding examples Holman Day House in Auburn, Norumbega in Camden, Chester Greenwood House in Farmington, Samuel Gould House in Skowhegan.
Distinguishing features Symmetrical, rectangular, simple, classical details.
History A reaction against the exuberant European excesses of Gothic, Italianate, and Queen Anne, the Colonial Revival began with the U.S. Centennial in 1876. An eclectic style borrowing from Colonial, Georgian, and Federal motifs, Colonial Revival architecture is patriotic in nature and conformist in appearance.
Habitat Anywhere the prosperous lived at the turn of the twentieth century.
Outstanding examples Governor John F. Hill Mansion in Augusta, Hyde Mansion in Bath, Amos. G. Winter House (Inn on Winter's Hill) in Kingfield.
Distinguishing features Shingles, shingles everywhere, broad sweeping roofs.
History Maine is rich in Shingle Style homes as Portland architect John Calvin Stevens was one of its chief practitioners. The graciousness, ease, and informality of the Shingle Style cottage is still the most prevalent influence on contemporary Maine architects working for wealthy summer residents. Though generally characterized by top to bottom shingles, the Shingle Style form was also articulated in brick, as in the Strathglass Park mill housing in Rumford.
Habitat Coastal summer colonies and islands. You're more apt to see Shingle Style cottages from the water than from the road.
Outstanding examples Charles Homer Cottage on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Davol Cottage in Ogunquit, numerous examples on Cushing Island, S.D. Warren workers' housing in Westbrook's Cumberland Mills.
Glossary of architectural terms
Bargeboard: carved, ornamental board attached to gable roof
Bracket: scroll-shaped support for overhanging eaves
Chimney pot: cylindrical pipe fitted over chimney to increase updraft
Cornice: the molding along the roofline Cupola: decorative dome on top of a house
Dentils: a series of small wooden blocks resembling teeth decorating a cornice
Eaves: overhanging roof edge
Fanlight: semicircular window above a door
Fish scale shingles: shingles arranged in decorative patterns to add texture to a facade
Gable: triangular upper wall beneath a pitched roof
Gambrel roof: a gable roof with a double pitch on each side
Gingerbread: lacy, decorative trim molding
Hipped roof: roof with four sides pitched in to the center
Hood molds: molding or drop mold over a window or door
Lintels: horizontal beam atop posts over door or window
Palladian window: rounded arched window flanked by two narrow rectangular sections
Portico: large porch, usually with large support columns
Quoins: stone accents at corners of house, sometimes imitated in wood
Sidelight: narrow flanking windows on either side of a door
Turret: a small tower
Veranda: an open, roofed porch
- By: Edgar Allen Beem