Carpenter Gothic, 1840-1870

The Old House Web

Gardiner gothic

The gable end of this Carpenter Gothic house in central Maine features fancy scroll work and unusual second floor windows the replicate cathedral features. Note how the board and batten siding gives a strong vertical element to the house.

Photo--Deborah Holmes

A form Gothic Revival, the Carpenter Gothic style in America grew out of a need for quickly built houses -- and the desire for fanciful details. The new balloon framing technique and the invention of steam powered scroll saws, which allowed for the mass production of intricate mouldings, led to a proliferation of pattern books devoted to "country cottages" both here and in England.

These homes weren't intended to be castles or cathedrals, but as English architect John White wrote in his Rural Architecture: Ornamental Cottages and Villas in 1845, "of such a character as to accommodate the various ranks of society, the price being so moderate as to bring it within the reach of the humblest mechanic."

In England, the style reflected a resurgence in interest on the Gothic stone structures of the Middle Ages, and Gothic Revival homes and churches were often constructed of brick and stone. In the United States, Yankee ingenuity and an abundance of fine lumber led to the interpretation of details in wood, and the style became known as Carpenter Gothic.

Identifying features of the Carpenter Gothic style include steeply pitched roofs and gables, gingerbread ornamentation, fancy scroll work, barge boards, carved porch railings, and strong vertical design elements, such as board and batten siding. Window trim typically replicated the masonry trim of English Gothic cathedrals on these otherwise simple country cottages. Earlier Gothic cottages were square and symmetrical, while later homes often had asymmetrical floor plans.

While Gothic Revival structures, especially churches and commercial buildings, are found in cities, builders of the day favored pastoral settings with lush lawns for their Carpenter Gothic homes.

carpenter gothic illustration

scroll detail
The fancy scroll work that defines a Carpenter Gothic house was made possible by steam-powered saws and an abundance of wood.
Photo: Deborah Holmes

gothic house
Note the fancy scroll work, carved porch rails and the cathedral windows in this brick Carpenter Gothic in Marshall, Michigan.
Photo: Paint Quality Institute

Richmond gothic
Though missing the gingerbread trim, this Carpenter Gothic Cape Cod (inset) is defined by the steeply pitched gable. The home may have had fancier trim when it was built; it still retains carved Gothic pilasters at the front door.
Graphic: Deborah Holmes

Nova Scotia gothic
This simple cottage, painted the bright colors typical of homes in Nova Scotia has matching steeply pitched gables and cathederal windows on the second floor.
Above and below photos: Paint Quality Institute

PA gothic

Gettysburg inn has multiple gables with decorative trusses, and cathedral windows on the second floor.

Iowa gothic
A beautiful example of a Carpenter Gothic with elaborate carved porch trim, steep roof line with gables and fancy scroll work.

gothic inside
This Vermont home features scroll work inside.
Photo: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey

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