Stephen F. Austin State University

Resource by Architectural Style


Vernacular architecture refers to structures built of local materials in a functional style devised to meet the needs of common people in their time and place. It is sometimes called folk architecture. Vernacular structures were built by people not schooled in any kind of formal architectural design. Examples of vernacular architecture include log cabins, barns, farm outbuildings, I-Plan houses, or massed-gable homes.

Folk (Before 1900)

Folk houses are the earliest type of structure according to Virginia McAlester & Lee McAlester in A Field Guide to American Houses. Folk architecture contains three different types of structures: Native American, Pre-Railroad, and National. Native American includes the iconic long houses, grass shelters, hide, and stone structures of different shapes. Unfortunately there are no known surviving Native American structures remaining Harrison County.

Pre-Railroad (before c.1850-c. 1920 in East Texas) was the first American architecture built by European colonists and subsequent immigrants. Mostly built of log, these structures were originally square or rectangular one-unit plans. A common practice was to combine two one-unit structures with a covered center passage that often later became an enclosed center hall. In East Texas these are commonly referred to as a dogtrot house. Pre-railroad structures in Harrison County were typically made from logs easily available from the forests in the county.

National homes (after c. 1850-1890) developed along railroad lines as transportation improved due to the railroad. Instead of being limited to local resources, sawmills were able to move their materials in bulk, which transformed log, sod, and hand hewn dwellings, into braced wood frame homes. These structures became associated with specific regions such as the Deep South's narrow gable-front shotgun, the Midwestern gable-front-and-wing farmhouse, the two-story I-house of the mid-Atlantic to mid-South, and the southern square pyramidal. In East Texas, many National era homes continued the dogtrot floor plan but using wood instead of logs often grew into the deeper massed-plan, side-gabled houses. The shotgun house became a popular alternative. Both of these usually have full length porches across their front façade.

Colonial (1600-1820)

Colonial Houses are directly connected to the European settlers who brought with them the prevailing architectural styles from their native countries. These included Postmedieval English, Dutch Colonial, French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Georgian, Adam, and Early Classical Revival. Due to its location and the arrival date of Anglo-Europeans, Harrison County has no Postmedieval English (1600-1700), Dutch Colonial (1625-c. 1840), Georgian (1700-1780), and Adam (1780-1820) architecture.
French Colonial (1700-1830) architectural influences however are found in many early structures throughout the county. Identifying features of these structures include extensive gallery porches supported by slender wooden columns, steeply pitched roofs with flared eaves, and full above ground basements. After the French settled in Louisiana, this type of architecture became widely used in New Orleans. Due to high humidity levels the raised basements where unique to Louisiana which provided cooling and a breezy veranda. The Louisiana form of the French colonial style was utilized in Harrison County and was frequently referred to as New Orleans's style by preservationists such as Max Lale.
Spanish Colonial (1600-1850) architectural features include structures with two- stories made of thick masonry walls of adobe brick or rubble stone with low pitched hipped roofs. Often times the structures included multiple external doorways leading out to long narrow porches. This type of architecture is prevalent in West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but is rarely seen in East Texas because the Spanish did not have permanent settlements in the region.
Early Classical Revival architecture (1770-1850) was a precursor to Greek Revival architecture, which will be discussed later. Identifying features include an entry portico that dominates the front façade and is generally the same height of the structure, supported by columns. The structures are typically rectangular or square and containing windows along the entire front façade. Although this style had been superseded elsewhere by the Greek Revival in the 1830s, Harrison County was behind in the latest trends.

Romantic (1820-1880)

The Romantic era includes Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Exotic Revivals, and Octagons. No known Exotic Revival (1835-1890) and Octagon (1850-1870) structures remain in Harrison County.

The Early Classical Revival architecture evolved into Greek Revival (1825-1860) architecture, which was very prevalent in Harrison County as well as elsewhere in East Texas. Although Greek Revival resembles Early Classical Revival, differences can be seen in the use of Greek rather than Roman columns, a cornice along the roofline, and sidelights and a transom surrounding the front door. Many Greek Revival structures have few embellishments on the outside, having instead a simple façade. Other identifying features include a gabled roof with a full-height entry porch the length of the structure supported by classical columns.

Gothic Revival (1840-1880) was a popular domestic and commercial style with identifying features including a steeply pitched roof with steep cross gables which commonly included decorated and embellished trim as well as windows that extend into gables. Fancy decorative ornamentation on windows, roof-wall junctions, porches, and doors are dominant features in most Gothic Revival architecture. Another typical aspect is the one story porch on the ground floor.

Italianate (1840-1885) features often include hipped roofs, curved arches over doors and windows along the front façade, large overhanging eaves, and small one-level covered porticos. The main areas of elaboration on Italianate structures are the windows, which tend to be long and narrow, cornices, porches, and doorways. Although the Italianate was first developed as a design for country estates, it became very popular for commercial buildings.

Victorian (1860-1900)

Victorian architecture (1860-1900) includes the Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Folk Victorian styles. There are no known examples of the Second Empire (1855-1885) in Harrison County with its distinctive mansard roofs and dormer windows or of the Richardsonian Romanesque (1880-1900) with its stonework architecture, round-topped arches over the windows, and prominent towers. The Stick style (1860-c.1890) too has no known examples in Harrison County although its elaborate woodwork often makes it hard to distinguish from the later Queen Anne.

The Queen Anne style (1880-1910) became the most prominent and prevalent throughout the county by the 1880s. Identifying features include a steeply pitched, irregular shaped roof, with a dominant front-facing gable. A partial or full-width asymmetrical porch extends along one side of the structure, usually just one level. Embellishments include, delicate spindle work along the porch supports and railing, classical columns with detailing in the corners, and ornamental gables jutting from the roof.

The Folk Victorian (1870-1910) was most commonly adopted through as decorative elements such as spindle porch supports and turned balustrades were added to older homes.

The Shingle Style (1880-1900) dominant feature can be seen in the wall cladding and roofing of continuous wood shingles, which often times occurs only on the second story. Other features include an asymmetrical façade with irregular and a steeply pitched roof line that usually has intersecting cross gables and multi-level eaves, and extensive porches.

Eclectic (1880-1940)

Eclectic styles (1880-1940) often derived from historic European styles as new, original American designs. These styles include three subgroups the first of which is Anglo-American, English, and French Period Houses: Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Tudor, Chateauesque, Beaux Arts, and French Eclectic. The second subgroup of the Eclectic period is the Mediterranean Period Houses: Italian Renaissance (1890-1935), Mission (1890-1920), Spanish Eclectic (1915-1940), Monterey (1925-1955), and Pueblo Revival (1910-present). The third set is Modern: Prairie (1900-1920), Craftsman (1905-1930), Modernistic (1920-1940) which includes both Art Modern and Art Deco, and, lastly, International (1925-present).

Colonial Revival (1880-1955) structures are most often modeled after the eighteenth-century Georgian, Adam, and Dutch structures. Defining features include an accentuated front door, normally with a decorative crown or pediment supported by pillars or extended forward and supported by slender columns to form an entry porch, and facades with symmetrically balanced windows and a center door.

The Neoclassical style (1895-1950) follows a classical theme with dramatic colonnaded buildings with facades dominated by classical columns and symmetrically balanced windows. The facades are often dominated by a full-height porch with the roof supported by classical columns which typically have Ionic or Corinthian capitals.

The Tudor style (1890-1940) with its steeply pitched roof, half-timbering, and decorative brickwork, was very popular in East Texas and can be seen scattered throughout Harrison County. Other dominating features include tall, narrow windows, usually in multiple groups and massive chimneys commonly crowned by decorative chimney pots.

There are no known examples of the Chateauesque (1880-1910) or French Eclectic (1915-1945) styles and very few Beaux Arts (1885-1930) structures. Structures in the Beaux Arts style are usually architect-designed landmarks including wall surfaces with decorative garlands, floral patterns or shields. The façade usually contains pilasters or columns and the walls are generally made of lightly colored stone.

American (Since 1940)

Architectural styles since 1940 consist of Modern (c. 1935-present) which includes Minimal Traditional, Ranch, Split-Level, Contemporary, and Shed; Neoeclectic (c. 1965-present) which includes Mansard, Neocolonial, Neo-French, Neo-Tudor, Neo-Mediterranean, Neoclassical Revival, and Neo-Victorian; and Contemporary Folk (c. 1940-present) structures such as Mobile Homes, Quonset Huts, A-Frames, and Geodesic Domes. Many of these examples can be seen throughout Harrison County.