When the Pilgrims landed on the shores of New England, they brought building traditions from medieval England. Using whatever materials they could find, they constructed timber-framed houses with steep roofs. Other settlers from Great Britain spread through Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York, building rustic dwellings like the ones they had known in their homeland.
The earliest dwellings were likely hastily-constructed sheds and cabins. Then, shoring up against the cold New England winters, colonists built single-story Cape Cod houses with massive chimneys placed at the center. As families grew, some colonists built larger two-story homes or expanded their living space with sloping saltbox roof additions, named after the shape of boxes used to store salt.
The British colonists continued medieval timber-frame building practices through the 1600s and, in some areas, well into the 1700s. Since these simple homes were made of wood, only a few have survived intact.
New England Colonial Types & Styles
Architecture in Colonial New England went through many phases and can be known by various names. The style is sometimes called post-medieval, late medieval, or first period English. A New England Colonial home with a sloping, shed-like roof is often called a Saltbox Colonial. The term Garrison Colonial describes a New England Colonial home with a second story that juts out over the lower level. The historic Stanley-Whiteman House in Farmington, Connecticut can be described as a Saltbox Colonial or a Garrison Colonial.
Builders often imitate historic styles. You may have heard words like New England Colonial, Garrison Colonial, or Saltbox Colonial used to describe modern-day homes. Technically, however, a house built after the 1700s is not a colonial. More correctly, these homes are Colonial Revival or Neo-colonial.
Southern Colonial House Styles
Settlers in southern regions such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia also constructed uncomplicated, rectangular homes. However, a Southern Colonial home is often made with brick. Also, homes in the southern colonies often had two chimneys--one on each side--instead of a single massive chimney in the center.
Early New England Colonial houses had many of these features:
- Usually located in the northeastern USA, mostly in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York.
- Steep roof with side gables
- Lean-to addition with saltbox roof
- Narrow eaves
- Large chimney at the center
- Two stories
- In some cases, the second story slightly protrudes over the lower floor
- Wood framed with clapboard or shingles
- Small casement windows, some with diamond-shaped panes
- Little exterior ornamentation
About the PhotoThe New England Colonial shown above was the home of Rebecca Nurse, who was tried and executed in the Salem Witch Trials. Built in about 1678, the Rebecca Nurse Homestead has two rooms on the first floor and two rooms above. A large chimney runs through the center of the main house. A kitchen lean-to addition with its own chimney was built in about 1720. Another addition was constructed in 1850.
The Rebecca Nurse house has its original floors, walls, and beams. However, like most homes from this period, the house has been extensively restored. The lead restoration architect was Joseph Everett Chandler, who also oversaw the historic restorations at the Paul Revere House and the House of Seven Gables.
The Rebecca Nurse house is open for tours. The grounds and meeting house can be reserved for special events.
More New England Colonial Homes
- Jethro Coffin House, Nantucket, Massachusetts. Built in 1686.
- Stanley-Whiteman House, Farmington, Connecticut. Circa 1720 and earlier.
- Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts. Built 1690-1720.
- Thatched Roof Pilgrim Home, Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts.
- Paul Revere House, Boston, Massachusetts. Built in 1680.
- House of Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts.
Other Colonial Styles
- Architecture of New England and the Southern Colonies
- English Colonial Domestic Architecture of New England
- Historic New England
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