Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District

Gothic Revival Architecture


The picturesque Gothic Revival  style was popularized by landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing’s  Cottage Residences, first published in 1842 and reprinted in many  editions in the mid and late nineteenth century. In the eighteenth and  early nineteenth centuries, American architecture styles, including  Georgian, Adam, Federal, and Greek Revival, were predicated on Classical  forms and vocabulary. In the early nineteenth century, as industry  grew, rural areas transitioned into suburbs, a middle class emerged, and  the field of architecture was professionalized in the United States.  Those architects proposed a new architectural vocabulary appropriate for  housing in suburban environments. In 1837, architect Andrew Jackson  Davis (1803-92) published Rural Residences, in which he drew from  British sources to champion the Gothic Revival style for domestic  architecture for the first time in America. Rural Residences was  influential, but the Gothic Revival style for American domestic  architecture was catapulted into collective national consciousness by  landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing (1815­-52), a friend and  collaborator with Davis, who published A Treatise of the Theory and  Practice of Landscape Gardening (1841), followed by Cottage Residences  (1842), and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). In his books,  Downing popularized the modest-sized, inexpensive detached cottage in a  suburban or rural setting. Downing’s pattern books provided multiple  design suggestions for this type of dwelling, ranging from a small  suburban cottage to a villa in the Italian style. By the mid-1840s, the  picturesque Gothic or Gothic Revival style of architecture began to  increase in popularity for residences, largely due to Downing’s pattern  books. Downing’s Cottage Residences is considered “one of the most  widely used books in American architectural literature.”80 Downing’s The Architecture of Country Houses, a companion to Cottage  Residences, has been called a “seminal” book in American architecture.  According to the National Historic Landmark nomination for the Rotch  House, a Gothic Revival house in New Bedford, Massachusetts designed by  Davis in 1845, “the publication and eventual dissemination and  popularity of Downing’s Country Houses became a watershed event in the  evolution of American domestic architecture, and today cultural  historians recognize the book’s significant consequences for the shaping  of popular taste in the pre-Civil War period.”81 While his books included many details of house and landscape designs,  Downing provided the designs as suggestions, which a builder could adapt  to the site and the needs of the homeowner. Downing’s books, in  collaboration with Davis, who provided many of the architectural designs  and illustrations, inspired the design of numerous cottage residences  in rural and suburban settings, leading to an era characterized by these  types of Victorian cottage residences. A rural, rather than urban,  setting was considered important to the Gothic Revival style, as the  building was intended to be compatible with the natural landscape, not  situated on a narrow urban lot.82


The primary distinguishing  characteristic of the Gothic Revival style is the centered cross gable  roof with decorated barge boards. Other characteristics include finials,  steeply pitched roofs, pointed arch lancet windows extending into the  gables, and open entry and full-width porches with flattened, pointed  Gothic arches.


One of the best examples of the  Gothic Revival style in Roxborough is the Amos Barnes House at 559  Righter Street, at the intersection of Ridge, Righter, and Hermit.  Constructed of Wissahickon schist about 1856, the Barnes House  effectively represents the Gothic Revival style with Victorian Cottage  elements, as reflected in the center cross gable decorative barge board  at the roofline. Originally, the building had a full-width front porch  and lancet window at the gable (Figure 29). Other excellent examples of  the Gothic Revival style on Ridge Avenue include the houses at 5508  Ridge Avenue, which includes the centered cross gable, arched gable  windows, and full-width front porch; and 8029 Ridge Avenue, which  includes the centered cross gable, lancet windows, and a highly  ornamented, full-width, front porch. The building at 8029 Ridge Avenue  is unique in that it is clad in wood shiplap siding rather than masonry.  Also, rather than decorative bargeboards, it has bracketed cornices,  linking it to the Italianate style as well.


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This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.


80 Adolf K.Placzek, “Preface to the Dover Edition,” in Andrew Jackson  Downing, Victorian Cottage Residences (New York: Dover Publications,  Inc. 1981), p. iii.


81 Peggi Medeiros and William E. Krattinger, National Historic Landmark  Nomination for William J. Rotch Gothic Cottage, designated February 17,  2006, p. 9.


82 Leland M. Roth, A Concise History of American Architecture (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979), p. 100-103; Virginia & Lee.  McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,  1993), p. 200.