The study of Architecture is integral to the understanding of local historical development. While architecture can be viewed merely as an art form , it’s study can also be the key to unlocking a myriad of historical insights concerning the chronological development of the city. This chronological representation or time line can be easily observed, providing that the local historian has the knowledge and prowess to identify and date particular styles of architecture.
By identifying and dating these particular styles, the local historian can obtain a clear understanding of how the city expanded from it’s original core. This expansion of population settlement is usually depicted by concentric bands or circles of construction.
As the core of our city became more densely populated and commercially developed, the expansion of the city becomes necessary. The city now expands in bands of concentric construction. The concentric expansion is somewhat limited by the relative worth of the land in the central city and outlying areas.
Before transportation innovations like train, streetcar, and the automobile, the limits of the concentric development of the city beyond the core were determined by the walking distance and time it took to get to the central core of the city. As transportation becomes more advanced in relation to time, efficiency and expense, the residential and entrepreneurial development expands farther away from the central city.
As the advances in transportation ease and efficiency had a dramatic effect on building, these transportation advances also expanded the city’s municipal services like water, gas and electricity. A chronological study of the records of these municipal services is an invaluable aid in the study of a city’s architectural development.
As the city expands concentrically, residential housing can now be segregated by social economic groups. This social economic segregation is far different from the mixture of housing value in the original core city where most residential and commercial streets were a mixture of the various social-economic classes. The rise of industrialization causes the inner core to become more densely populated. As the wealthier residents move to the outer circles their previous owned residences are sub-divided into overcrowded apartments that provided housing for the emerging immigrant groups of the post Civil War industrial revolution. The expanding concentric circles of residential development now becomes defined by social economic class and occupation and not by ethnicity.
The relative wealth of these emerging neighborhoods can be easily observed by the size of both the house and lot of land. Core city merchants or tradesman may live in emerging neighborhoods built in close proximity to the transportation lines.
The use of deed title-searches, census records, property tax records and city directories are invaluable in cross referencing the relative social class by occupation and ethnicity of a neighborhood at a particular chronological time in a city’s development.
The economic “golden years” of a city’s prosperity can be reflected by the number and predominant style of the majority of the existing residences in a particular neighborhood. For example, the predominance of Federalist (1800-1820) and Greek Revival (1820-1860) residences in Nantucket would indicate its economic “golden years” to be between 1800-1860.
The local historian with a minimum of historical economic research of Nantucket will realize that this period was the height of Nantucket’s booming whaling industry.
A strong knowledge of architectural style and the particular architectural attributes of that style are paramount to any modern-day preservation of restoration of a particular house or neighborhood.
The local historian, with the aid of general architectural knowledge, old photographs, postcards or architectural blueprints will be better able to identify both major and subtle building changes over time. This keen “architectural eye” is necessary to preserve and restore the structure to its original state.
The following chapter is presented in a manner that will hopefully make the identification of architectural styles, attributes and dating relatively easy. The pictorial glossary of architectural attributes along with concise definitions should prove helpful in analyzing the particular architectural styles shown at the end of the chapter. The pictorial glossary is organized by the specific section of the structure rather than alphabetical order to make identification of particular styles more recognizable. Although the description of each particular style is fairly brief, all of the architectural terms used in the descriptions are both pictorially represented and defined in the glossary.
There may be certain styles of architecture or attributes not covered in this chapter due to regional variations or building materials but for the majority of architectural structures, particularly in New England, this chapter should be very helpful in determining the chronological representation of the vast majority of building styles and attributes of one’s particular locality.