Style Spotting on Main Street, Part 2: Dutch Colonial
My last post in this series on the architectural styles found on Germantown’s Main Street between Hover and 9G focused on Gothic Revival. Today we will visit some examples of “Dutch Colonial” homes.
The “Dutch Colonial” may be one of the easiest architectural styles for the layperson to recognize, while at the same time having one of the most misleading names. Why so easy? Almost every home built in the twentieth century with a gambrel roof is usually referred to as a “Dutch Colonial”. Why misleading? Because a gambrel roof isn’t a uniquely defining characteristic of Dutch architecture.
Around the time our Country celebrated its Centennial, architects began adapting architectural elements from our nation’s colonial past into modern building design.
By the early twentieth century, as people looked ever more nostalgically at the distant past , full-blown “colonial revival” homes (modern houses designed to resemble early American ones on the outside) became very popular. Several distinct variations emerged . Some replicated “plantation” homes of the old south,
others looked to New England mansions,
or humble “Cape Cod” cottages.
By the 1920s, a subtype referred to as “Dutch Colonials” had emerged,featuring gambrel roofs .
A gambrel roof by definition is a gable roof with two slopes on each side (the lower slope being steeper). Now for the confusing part. While the Dutch introduced a number of unique architectural elements to American architecture, including the stepped gable, the dutch door, and the stoop, a gambrel roof wasn’t necessarily one of them.
While some early Dutch homes, particularly those built in what is today southern New York, Long Island and New Jersey, did indeed sport gambrel roofs,
most of the early stone and brick Dutch homes in the Hudson valley and the Albany area were built with steep, inverted v shaped roofs.
Gambrel roofs made their appearance on Dutch homes a little later, in the eighteenth century, well after the Dutch lost control of the colony. To add to the confusion, English colonists also built homes with gambrel roofs. Examples can be found throughout their former colonies from New England
to Tidewater Virginia (a good rule of thumb is never try to impress anyone and use the word “Dutch” when describing a colonial home anywhere other than in New York or New Jersey).
However they came to be named, with their compact layouts and efficient use of space, many considered Dutch Colonials to be an ideal middle class suburban home. Less pretentious than high-style Georgian Revival homes, their gambrel roofs provided more second floor space for growing families than the contemporary Cape Cod or bungalow styles being built. They could be found all across the country but were particularly popular in the Northeast between the two world wars. Several examples can be found on Germantown’s Main Street.
This house, just west of Germantown Central School, is a classic example of a twentieth Century Dutch Colonial. Its side porch was another common feature found on these homes. Aside from the removal of its shutters, it has stayed remarkably intact, as the photo below, taken in 1950, can attest.
Almost across the street, one sees an interesting variation where the second floor is actually a full two stories.
An apron encircles the first story, simulating the flared eaves found on some dutch colonial porches and overhangs, while giving it a gambrel-esque effect at the same time .
A little to the east near Palatine Park Road, sits a variation on the Dutch Colonial style where the gable-end has been turned 90 degrees to face the street. While not as common as the previous two examples, this type was a popular choice in towns or in developments where lots might be narrower or deeper.
Based on everything I have written, some might ask about this house on Main Street, which among other things, has two gable ends with gambrel roofs. Does that mean it might also be referred to as Dutch Colonial? While it definitely is a bit of a hodge lodge stylistically, indeed it can!