LANCASTER IN STYLE, PART 5: FEDERAL STYLE, 1790-1830.

The American Revolution not only gave birth to a new nation but also to a new architectural style — the Federal style.

After adoption of the U.S. Constitution on March 4, 1789, there was a desire to establish the first “American” style of architecture. Prior to the Revolution, the three most dominant architectural styles in Lancaster County were German, Traditional English and Georgian, with Georgian being the most prevalent.

Although similar to the Georgian style, with strong symmetry and familiar building materials, Federal is uniquely different in many ways.



The rectangular floor plan and a one-, two- or three-story red brick structure with a gable roof is the same, but that is where the similarities end. The most dramatic differences lie with the windows, chimneys, entry treatment and dormers.

The Georgian 12-over-12 small panes of window glass were replaced with larger six-over-six panes; advancements in the manufacturing of glass made this distinction possible. The familiar Georgian keystone over each window was eliminated in favor of an unadorned flat wood or stone lintel.

HG A13 Wm Montgomery House 1804 Hybrid Federal & Georgian details.jpg

The William Montgomery House, part of the Lancaster Convention Center complex at Queen and Vine streets in Lancaster, was built around 1804. It's a hybrid of Georgian and Federal architecture styles.

Perhaps one of the most obvious differences between the two styles is the use of two-tone wood window shutters — solid white-paneled shutters on the first floor and dark green louvered shutters on the second floor.

Another hallmark of the Federal style is the introduction of the “H” chimney design on the gable ends of the buildings. The broad “H” profile denotes the location of fireplace flues separated into stacks. Georgian chimneys are typically positioned inboard of the gable ends, with fireplaces centered in the rooms they serve.

The formal decorative Georgian peaked pediment over the main entry was replaced with a more relaxed elliptical fanlight transom. Similarly, the peaked Georgian roof dormers were eliminated in favor of a round-top dormer with thin wood molding trim on the sides.

HG Thaddeus Stevens.jpg

Another example of the Federal style is the Thaddeus Stevens House — part of the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site — at Vine and Queen streets, Lancaster.

Lesser distinctions between the two styles include the elimination of the Georgian water table and belt course.

As in all architectural styles, there was never a hard start or hard stop to the popularity of the movement; the Federal style was no different. There are a few examples of Federal style that predate 1790, but many more that postdate 1830.

There are also examples of conversions — instances where patriotic citizens would remodel the exterior of their Georgian-style dwelling to emulate the characteristics of the Federal style.

HG A13 Linden House Marietta PA c1814.jpg

The Linden House in Marietta, built circa 1814, is an example of Federal-style architecture.

Question: Why were the window shutters two toned?

Answer: Aside from offering a marked visual distinction, the dark green shutters kept the second-floor bedrooms darker during daylight hours.

HG A13 Wheatland

President James Buchanan's home, Wheatland, in Lancaster, is an example of Federal style architecture.

Question: What is Lancaster’s best example of Federal style architecture?

Answer: Although considered late-Federal style because it was constructed in 1852, President James Buchanan’s mansion, Wheatland, represents all the design features mentioned in this month’s column.

Question: Does Federal style have another name?

Answer: Yes, interestingly, Federal style is also referred to as the Adam style; named after British architect Robert Adam (1728-1792). Despite the Revolution, Americans still had respect for one of Britain’s most popular architects.

Next up is the Classic Revival style, based on the reverence for Greek and Roman architecture.

This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email GScott@rlps.com. Scott's column runs in LNP | LancasterOnline on the second Thursday of each month.