In America, the Greek Revival style was sometimes called the “National Style” because it was so dominant and widespread through all parts of the nation. Archaeological discoveries in Rome and Greece fueled renewed interest in Classical architecture initially during the Federal Period.
This interest peaked because of 4 factors during the 1820s: 1) The War of 1812 caused many Americans to turn away from copying the styles of their British enemies, which was a death blow to the “Adam” or Federal style; 2) the Greek’s involvement in a War for Independence gained the sympathies of the young United States; 3) most Americans were reform-minded in the 1820s-1840s, and many saw the young “democracy” as a method towards a better society, and celebrated this by mimicking Greek style; and 4) the proliferation of printing allowed the style to be disseminated widely through guide books for carpeneters, such as Asher Benjamin’s The Practical House Carpenter (1942) and Minard Lafever’s The Modern Builder’s Guide; The Beauties of American Architecture.
The Greek Revival was very adaptable, and permeated all qualities of building, and all types of buildings—not just houses, but banks, churches, public buildings–from high end to low-brow. The style is very recognizable in large Southern plantation mansions with 2-story, Greek columns on the facade.
What to look for:
Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Greek Revival style was how the building, itself, was oriented – with the gable to the front. This way of building was called the “temple form” in Greek Revival because it mimicked the Grecian temples that inspired the design. Also common is a lower pitched roof, a departure from the more steep roof on Georgian and Federal homes. This style usually includes a wide band of trim on the cornice beneath the roof, representing Greek entablature carvings.
Most Greek Revival buildings have porticos or porches with Greek-style columns, as well as a front door surrounded on three sides by narrow rectangular sidelights and transom lights. Also, for the first time, shutters became popular (called “blinds” at the time). In Cape Cods built during that era, it is common to observe frieze band windows — “half” sized windows in the half-story upstairs. Another major change arriving with the Greek style was that WHITE paint became very common, which mimicked the light-colored marble of Greek temples.
The house above exhibits a high-style of Greek Revival, especially for its rural location. The gable end of the building faces forward, with large Greecian columns propping a portico facade. The small windows in the band of trim under the roof line are referred to as “frieze-band windows” because they are located in the frieze-band of trim that mimicked the entablature of Greek temples. These are also referred to as simply “band windows” or cornice windows. Similar windows are often found in the half-stories of shorter Greek Revival houses, such as Cape Cods influenced by the movement. A good example of this feature can be seen in the story-and-a-half house below:
For more about the Greek Revival era, check out the Wikipedia article here.