Carpenter Gothic: Wikis


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Langdon House (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Springside in Poughkeepsie, New York
Christ Church, Fort Meade, Florida
Aaron Ferrey House, Kent, Ohio
Oak Hill Cottage, Mansfield, Ohio: Carpenter Gothic trim on a brick house in the manner of A.J. Davis's Rural Residences

Carpenter Gothic, also sometimes called Carpenter's Gothic, and Rural Gothic, is a North American architectural style-designation for an application of Gothic Revival architectural detailing and picturesque massing applied to wooden structures built by house-carpenters. The abundance of North American timber and the carpenter-built vernacular architectures based upon it made a picturesque improvisation upon Gothic a natural evolution. Carpenter Gothic improvises upon features that were carved in stone in authentic Gothic architecture, whether original or in more scholarly revival styles; however, in the absence of the restraining influence of genuine Gothic structures,[1] the style was freed to improvise and emphasize charm and quaintness rather than fidelity to received models. The genre received its impetus from the publication by Alexander Jackson Davis, Rural Residences and from detailed plans and elevations in publications by Andrew Jackson Downing.



Carpenter Gothic houses and small churches became common in North America in the late nineteenth century.[2] These structures adapted Gothic elements such as pointed arches, steep gables, and towers to traditional American light-frame construction. The invention of the scroll saw and mass-produced wood moldings allowed a few of these structures to mimic the florid fenestration of the High Gothic. But in most cases, Carpenter Gothic buildings were relatively unadorned, retaining only the basic elements of pointed-arch windows and steep gables. Probably the best known example of Carpenter Gothic is the house in Eldon, Iowa, that Grant Wood used for the background of his famous painting American Gothic.[3]


Carpenter Gothic is largely confined to small domestic buildings and outbuildings and small churches. It is characterized by its profusion of jig-sawn details, whose craftsmen-designers were freed to experiment with elaborate forms by the invention of the steam-powered scroll saw. A common but not necessary feature is board and batten siding. A less common feature is buttressing, especially on churches and larger houses.

Ornamental use

Carpenter Gothic ornamentation is not limited to use on wooden structures but has been used successfully on other structures especially Gothic Revival brick houses such as the Warren House in a historic district in Newburgh, New York, which is said to epitomize the work of Andrew Jackson Downing, but was actually done by his one-time partner, Calvert Vaux.

Geographic extent

Carpenter Gothic structures are typically found in most states of the United States, except the desert states of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Carpenter Gothic places of worship are found in all provinces and the Northwest Territories of Canada, while Carpenter Gothic houses seem to be limited to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces in Canada.[4] [5]

Endangered Carpenter Gothic buildings

Many American Carpenter Gothic structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which may help to ensure their preservation. Many, though, are not listed and those in urban areas are endangered by the increased value of the land they occupy. A current example of this is St. Saviour's Episcopal Church, Maspeth, New York, built in 1847 by Richard Upjohn.[6]. Its rectory has already been demolished and a deal with the city of New York to preserve the church in exchange for higher density on the remaining vacant land has fallen through and the parcel is now on the market for $10 million.[7]


Some Carpenter Gothic buildings have been relocated for reasons ranging from historic preservation to aesthetics. Some, such as All Saints, Jensen Beach, Florida, have been moved only a few hundred feet on the same property in order to get a better view and to allow for expansion, while others such as Holy Apostles, Satellite Beach, Florida, have been barged many miles in order to be preserved. Others such as All Saints, DeQuicy, Louisiana, have been dismantled, transported long distances and then reassembled in order to be preserved and reused. Some structures have been moved many times.

St. Luke's, Cahaba, Alabama, has had an interesting history of moves. In 1876, due to the danger of flooding in Cahaba, it was dismantled and moved from its original location 25 miles or so to Browns where it was reassembled. In 2006-2007, it was carefully dismantled by students from Auburn University and moved back to Cahaba, where it is now being reassembled by the students on the Cahaba State Historic Site not too far from its original location.

Exterior alterations

Some Carpenter Gothic structures such as St. Stephen's in Ridgeway, South Carolina, have had their exteriors altered by stuccoing, brick veneering, etc., so that their original style is no longer apparent.

Outside North America

The designation "Carpenter's Gothic" might equally be applied to nineteenth-century timber Gothic Revival structures in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, and Old St. Paul's, Wellington in New Zealand.

Frederick Thatcher in New Zealand designed wooden churches in the Gothic Revival style, eg Old St. Paul's, Wellington, although the term "Carpenter Gothic" is not applied to them. Benjamin Mountfort in Canterbury, New Zealand, designed Gothic Revival churches in both wood and stone.

Current use

Carpenter Gothic structures are still being built today. St. Luke's Church in Blue Ridge, Georgia, was built in 1995,[8] while Carpenter Gothic house plans are available.[9]

Steamboat Gothic

Steamboat Gothic architecture, a term popularized by Frances Parkinson Keyes's novel of that name,[10] is sometimes confused with Carpenter Gothic architecture,[11][9] but Steamboat Gothic usually refers to large houses in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys that were designed to resemble the steamboats on those rivers.[12]



Churches, synagogues, etc.


Ornamental use

See also


  1. ^ The British denigration of Sir George Gilbert Scott's restorations at Ely Cathedral as "Carpenter's Gothic" are discussed in Phillip Lindley, "'Carpenter's Gothic' and Gothic Carpentry: Contrasting Attitudes to the Restoration of the Octagon and Removals of the Choir at Ely Cathedral" Architectural History 30 (1987:83-112).
  2. ^ What Style Is It?, Poppeliers, et al., National Trust for Historic Preservation
  3. ^ AGHC: Home
  4. ^ "Ontario Architecture:Carpenter's Gothic"
  5. ^ "Ontario Architecture:Carpenter's Gothic"
  6. ^ The serious side of Carpenter Gothic: Richard Upjohn and St. Saviour's Church, Maspeth, Queens, New York
  7. ^ Daily News article 12-13-2007
  8. ^ St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Blue Ridge, Georgia - Episcopal Missionary Church
  9. ^ a b Steamboat Gothic
  10. ^ Steamboat Gothic by Frances Parkinson Keyes
  11. ^ See listing number 235, accessed 11-5-2007
  12. ^ steamboatgothic - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

External links


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