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Queen Anne Architecture in the USA

Reigning Style of America's Industrial Age

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1889 Queen Ann Victorian in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine

Built in 1889, this Queen Anne home has "stick" detailing in the gable. The house is located in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.

Photo © Rhonda Bacon-St.John

Of all the Victorian house styles, Queen Anne is the most elaborate and the most eccentric. The style is often called romantic and feminine, yet it is the product of a most unromantic era -- the machine age.

The Queen Anne style became fashionable in the 1880s and 1890s, when the industrial revolution was building up steam in the United States. North America was caught up in the excitement of new technologies. Factory-made, pre-cut architectural parts were shuttled across the country on a rapidly expanding train network. Prefabricated cast iron became the showy, ornate facade of urban merchants and bankers. The well-to-do wanted the same manufactured elegance for their homes as they had for their businesses, so exuberant architects and builders combined architectural details to create innovative, and sometimes excessive, homes.

Victorian Status Symbol

Widely-published pattern books touted spindles and towers and other flourishes we associate with Queen Anne architecture. Country folk yearned for fancy city trappings. Wealthy industrialists pulled out all stops as they built lavish "castles" using Queen Anne ideas. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, who later championed his Prairie Style houses, began his career building Queen Anne style houses. Most notably, Wright's houses for Walter Gale, Thomas H. Gale, and Robert P. Parker are well-known Queen Annes in the Chicago, Illinois area.

The Queen Anne Look

Although easy to spot, America's Queen Anne style is difficult to define. Some Queen Anne houses are lavished with gingerbread, but some are made of brick or stone. Many have turrets, but this crowning touch is not necessary to make a house a queen. So, what is Queen Anne?

Virginia and Lee McAlester, authors of A Field Guide to American Houses, identify four types of detailing found on Queen Anne homes.

1. Spindled Queen Anne (See photo)
This is the style we most frequently think of when we hear the term Queen Anne. These are gingerbread houses with delicate turned porch posts and lacy, ornamental spindles. This type of decoration is often called Eastlake because it resembles the work of the famous English furniture designer, Charles Eastlake.

2. Free Classic Queen Anne (See photo)
Instead of delicate turned spindles, these homes have classical columns, often raised on brick or stone piers. Like the Colonial Revival houses that would soon become fashionable, Free Classic Queen Anne homes may have Palladian windows and dentil moldings.

3. Half-Timbered Queen Anne
Like the early Tudor style houses, these Queen Anne houses have decorative half-timbering in the gables. Porch posts are often thick.

4. Patterned Masonry Queen Anne (See photo)
Most frequently found in the city, these Queen Anne houses have brick, stone, or terra-cotta walls. The masonry may be beautifully patterned, but there are few decorative details in wood.

Mixed-Up Queens

A list of Queen Anne features can be deceptive. Queen Anne architecture does not adhere to an orderly list of characteristics—the Queen refuses to be easily classified. Bay windows, balconies, stained glass, turrets, porches, brackets, and an abundance of decorative details may combine in unexpected ways.

Also, Queen Anne details can be found on less pretentious houses. In American cities, smaller working-class homes were given patterned shingles, spindle work, extensive porches, and bay windows. Many turn-of-the-century houses are in fact hybrids, combining Queen Anne motifs with features from earlier and later fashions.

About the name Queen Anne

Queen Anne architecture in North America is very different from the slightly earlier versions of the style found throughout the United Kingdom. Moreover, in both the USA and England, Victorian Queen Anne architecture has little do with the British Queen Anne who ruled during the 1700s. So, why are some Victorian houses called Queen Anne?

Anne Stuart became the Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the early 1700s. Art and science flourished during her reign. One hundred and fifty years later, Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw and his followers used the term Queen Anne to describe their work. Their buildings didn't resemble the formal architecture of the Queen Anne period, but the name stuck.

In the USA, builders began constructing homes with half-timbering and patterned masonry. These houses may have been inspired by the work of Richard Norman Shaw. Like Shaw's buildings, they were called Queen Anne. As builders added spindle work and other flourishes, America's Queen Anne houses grew increasingly elaborate. So it happened that the Queen Anne style in the United States became entirely different from the British Queen Anne style, and both styles were nothing like the formal, symmetrical architecture found during the time of Queen Anne's reign.

Endangered Queens

Ironically, the very qualities that made Queen Anne architecture so regal also made it fragile. These expansive and expressive buildings proved expensive and difficult to maintain. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Queen Anne style had fallen out of favor. In the early 1900s, American builders favored homes with less ornamentation. The terms Edwardian and Princess Anne are names sometimes used for simplified, scaled down versions of the Queen Anne style.

While many Queen Anne houses have been preserved as private homes, others have been converted into apartment houses, offices, and inns. The Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, Washington is named for its architecture. In San Francisco, flamboyant homeowners have painted their Queen Anne houses a rainbow of psychedelic colors. Purists protest that bright colors are not historically authentic. But the owners of these Painted Ladies claim that Victorian architects would be pleased.

Queen Anne designers did, after all, relish decorative excesses.

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References
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