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Federal – popular 1780-1820


Mary Todd Lincoln Childhood Home, 578 West Main Street, Lexington, KY

Photo: Mary Todd Lincoln Childhood Home, ca. 1806, 578 West Main Street, Lexington, KY. Originally built as The Sign of the Green Tree tavern, the Todd family moved into the house in 1832. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Photographed by user:FloNight (own work), 2008, [creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en] via Wikimedia Commons, accessed April, 2013.

The Federal style was adapted from the Georgian style, favorable with the wealthy merchants and shipbuilders living in the towns and cities along the New England seaboard. It was the architectural designs of the Adams brothers who inspired this adaptation which was popular in Britain, and, therefore, the style is sometimes referred to as the "Adam" or "Adamesque." The Adams brothers' architectural designs were mainly influenced by ancient Roman architecture. The Federal style was not only used for houses but also commonly used for public buildings. It was this period of time, the Federal period of American history, that the national buildings of the United States were established for the new American government.

Identifying features include:

  • Symmetrical clapboard or brick exterior with little or no ornamentation
  • Usually three-story design, commonly box-shaped two or more rooms deep, sometimes modified with projecting wings
  • Low pitched gabled roof or flat roof with a balustrade
  • Embellished cornices, usually with dentil moldings and egg-and-dart molding underneath
  • Small one-story portico or entry porch with columns or entryway with classical detailing and decorative motifs such as festoons, urns, swags and garlands
  • Semi-circular or elliptical fanlight over the front door
  • Decorative crown or roof over the front door
  • Narrow sidelights flanking the front door
  • Double-hung sash windows arranged symmetrically vertically and horizontally around a centered doorway
  • Windows are never in adjacent pairs
  • Second story 3-part palladian windows with an arched middle section are common over the main entry
  • Side or front gables with palladian windows or fan-shaped windows
  • Dormers may have arched windows or windows may be recessed with arches built into brick exterior
  • Flat or keystone lintels above windows with prominent sills below
  • Louvered shutters
  • Central or interior chimneys most common in the North; end chimneys more common in the South
  • Interior oval, circular or octagonal shaped rooms (the most famous being the Oval Office in the White House)

The Federal and Georgian styles are quite similar, but one primary difference between the two styles is the use of glass. The Federal style has windows with larger panes of glass separated by narrow mullions. The Georgian windows used smaller glass panes with wide mullions. Federal enhancements are more delicate than the Georgian and mainly found at the front entry, windows, and cornice lines. The American eagle was a common symbol used in the Federal style.

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