American Foursquare, 1890-1930

Rosemary Thornton

Story and Photos by
Rosemary Thornton, contributing editor
The Old House Web

You'd be hard pressed to find a housing style more typically American than the foursquare. Economical to build and uniquely suited to make use of every square inch of the house itself and tiny city lots, this style can be found in city neighborhoods across the country.

The American Foursquare is known by a variety of terms including box house, a cube, a double cube or a square type American house. It first appeared on the housing scene around 1890 and remained popular well into the 1930s.

classic four square
A classic foursquare in Alton, Illinois: Wood sided with a beltcourse and a bay window.

typical four square
Another foursquare, this one of brick, but with the typical front porch that spans the house.


(Click on any photo below for a larger view)

brick house
A lovely brick foursquare in southwestern Illinois.

brick house
Another brick foursquare, this one showing perfect symmetry with a center front door.

house
An elegant foursquare showing classical symmetry and a bay window in the dining room.

brick house
The original features of this foursquare, including the center second floor window and the dormer window, have disappeared under vinyl siding and replacement windows.
early house
Early 1900s foursquare with faced or sculpted block walls and truncated hip roof.
brick house
Beautiful brick foursquare with red tile roof in southwestern Illinois.

The foursquare is typically a two-and-a-half-story house on a full basement, with a monitor dormer (a dormer with a roof-line that mirrors the primary roof) in the attic. Most foursquares have pyramidal hip roofs (which come to a peak in the center). Front porches span the full width of the house, with two, three or four simple columns supporting the porch roof.

Perhaps most notably, the foursquare is a nearly square house with square shaped interior rooms. The first floor typically has four rooms, including an entry foyer or reception hall, living room, dining room and kitchen. Upstairs, three bedrooms and a bath all politely sit in their own corners.


stairs


Newel post and balustrade are simple and, in keeping with the lines of the house, square.

builtins
Built-in cabinetry between the dining room and living room follows the same simple carpentry style.

door
Five-panel doors were very common in many early 1900s homes, including foursquares.


builtins
Built-in cabinetry defines rooms and keeps the downstairs living space from feeling boxy and closed in.

builtins
The built-ins as seen from the living room side.

trim
Woodwork detail.


trim
Trim and baseboards are simple.

trim
Door frame trim detail.

 

 

(Click on any picture for a larger view)


From the front, many foursquares are symmetrical with a center front door and equal groupings of windows on either side, upstairs and downstairs. Others have an offset front door but with upstairs windows being perfectly or nearly symmetrical.

Exterior sidings may be masonry plain or sculpted cinder block, brick or stucco, but are usually frame, with clapboard or shingles. Frame foursquares may have different sidings on the upper and lower walls. Clapboard is a favored siding material for the first story with shingles on the upper story, and a beltcourse delineating the different materials. Dining rooms often feature a bay window to break up the straight lines of the house.

Because of the straightforward lines and simplicity of design, the American Foursquare was especially popular as a kit home. Sears offered 15 different styles of the foursquare, while Gordon Van Tine (based in Iowa) had more than 20 styles of foursquares. Aladdin, Lewis-Liberty, Harris Brothers, Sterling Homes and Bennett (all based in the Midwest) each offered a wide variety of foursquares in their catalogs.


Sears Kit Houses in foursquare style
(Click on any photo for a larger view)

sears house
Gladstone model Sears Kit Home in original condition.

sears house
Another Gladstone model, but the porch on this one has been enclosed.

sears house
Sears foursquare kit home, the Fullerton model.

A lesser-known style of foursquare is the one-story foursquare. Known as the Workingmans Foursquare, it had a pyramidal hip roof and full, tall basement underneath. Company towns, developed immediately before and after World War I, often have clusters of one-story foursquares.


one story foursquare
A one-story foursquare with faced or sculpted block walls. Note the pyramidal hip roof.


About the Author
By Rosemary Thornton, contributing editor


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