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         Elmira, NY                     Finger Laked Region

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Queen Anne

Elmira, NY national registered historic district known as the "Near Westside Neighborhood" recognized as having the largest concentration of Victorian Style Architecture! 


Developed in England by Richard Norman Shaw, this style is meant to suggest the evolution of English houses from the medieval times through the Renaissance. It exhibits asymmetrical massing, toweres, turrents, a rambling roof line, porches, and the use of a variety of building materials, textures and colors.


This style is typified by blood-like rectangular massing. The roof is low pitched,  often topped by a cupola. The wide eaves are usually supported by heavy brackets. A one-story porch is comonly featured in this style, while the house istself is either 2-3 stories.

Italinate Villa

Greek Revival

This style was popular in the newly formed United States, partialy because Americans associated themselves with the democratic society of anciaent Greece. While some buildings of the style adopt the classic Greek temple front with columns supporting a full entavlature and a low-pitched pediment, others were built without any columns. The doorways often have a transom on top plus two side lights.


Second Empire

The Second Empire style was fashionable at about the same time as the Italianate, but its popularity was more spotty geographically.  Most large cities in the industrial Northeast and the Midwest have many examples, but the style is fairly uncommon in the South and on the West Coast, and quite rare in the Rocky Mountain States.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the style is the mansard roof, which is almost always heavily pierced with dormer windows featuring very elaborate surrounds.  Colored tile patterns on the roof and iron crestings were also often incorporated.  The style took its inspiration from French architecture, which had come to feature mansard roofs (named after the French architect Francois Mansart) mostly as a dodge to get around the Paris building codes.  The codes limited buildings to a certain number of stories, but since the area directly under the roof was not considered to be a story, the mansard roof was a very effective way to expand the living space of a building and still remain within the law.

In America, it was only the look and the romance of the style which appealed to the Victorian upper crust, and they sometimes added corner quoins, belt courses, and other decoration to give the style even more of a Renaissance flavor.  Very elaborate Second Empire mansions are sometimes referred to as "Renaissance Revival", in fact.

Tudor Revival

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     Near Westside’s unique character stems from its architecture, a catalog of Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Italian-Villa, Eastlake, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, Shingal Style, Stick Style, and Colonial Revival Styles. All  bear the stamp of 19th Century craftsmanship and technology and share similar scale and settings.

     Wood is the principal building material. New wood-working techniques introduced after the Civil War allowed an unprecedented variety of shapes and accents like the bargeboards on the “gingerbread” houses. Much of the brick used was made in the City’s Eastside. Stucco and shingle siding cam in during the later Victorian period.

     Most of the houses were built as single-family residences. A few were designed for multiple tenancies, such as the Second Empire duplexes at 391-403 West Water Street, which were built for the executives of J. Richardson & Co. in 1877. Next door are the brick row houses for the workers at the Richardson Shoe Factor.

     Most of the spectacular homes are located on Church & Water. Only about 5% of the new buildings intrude on the historic character of this area. One such example, yet a notable building in its own right, is the 20th Century “modern style” Coca-Cola plant at 413-415 Second Street.

     A local architectural firm of national prominence, Pierce and Bickford, designed many of the homes for the Near Westside’s affluent, during the turn of the century. The firm also designed other local landmarks such as City Hall, YMCA, Iszard’s Department Store, old Steele Memorial Library, etc.

American home design from the Colonial period through the late nineteenth century followed trends and reflected popular tastes. Well-known styles were often “all the rage” for a number of decades until another style supplanted it; rarely did more than one or two styles dominate home design at the same time.

Elements of Style

The two important characteristics that have the most to do with a house’s style are massing and detailing. Massing is the size and shape of the “boxes” that make up the house; detailing is everything from trim and siding to windows and doors.

The earliest American homes were simply massed. The classic Williamsburg Colonial – upon which many hundreds of thousands of American homes are based – is a simple rectangular box. A Colonial home is usually clad in wood siding or brick, and has double-hung windows (the kind that slide up and down).

Colonial homes were based on simple European models and were rarely exuberantly detailed. The Georgian style – a simple two-storey brick box with symmetrical windows and a centered door – is a well-known example.

Revival and Eclectic Styles

Home designers and builders have been influenced by styles from earlier times throughout American history. In the 19th Century, many homes were based on classical models.

Greek Revival homes have very simple forms, often just a single rectangular block. Taking cues from Greek temples, builders added a front porch with massive columns, and a very heavy cornice line at the roof.

Italianate styled homes emphasize the vertical and are almost always very elaborately decorated. The cornice line at the roof of an Italianate is notable for wide overhangs and large scrollwork brackets, and the windows are often crowned with ornately carved headers.

Colonial Revivals aren’t copies of original Colonials; rather they’re liberal interpretations of all shapes and sizes, using Colonial details and elements for inspiration. The Colonial Revival style was extremely popular during the early 20th Century and almost always has a front porch, a detailed cornice line, double hung windows, and symmetrical massing.

Tudor is a very free-form style, asymmetrical with very steeply pitched roofs. A wide variety of material is seen on the outside, although the best-known examples include some “half-timbering” – areas of stucco or brick broken up with wood timbers. The entry of a Tudor home is often modest but heavy, and windows are broken up with many small panes.

Victorian Homes

“Victorian” refers to a group of styles popular in America during the late 19th century that was made possible in part by the invention of new framing techniques.

Queen Anne is the most common Victorian style and is characterized by an irregular shape, a steeply pitched roof, elaborately carved details, and large porch. Queen Annes are best known for their multi-hued color schemes and complex siding and trim details.

Shingle style is uniquely American in origin, and was one of the first styles to be embraced by society Architects of the late 1800s. Shingle style homes are often similar in massing to the Queen Anne style, but as the name suggests, used wood shingle siding as exterior cladding. Unlike the Queen Anne, shingle style homes usually shun elaborate exterior detailing and trim.

Early 20th Century

In the first half of the 20th century American Architects began developing new home styles instead of relying on classical and European models for inspiration.

Among the more notable American styles is Prairie, popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright but practiced in various forms throughout the country. Prairie homes are typically long and low with deep roof overhangs. Porches are common and usually supported by massive columns. The Prairie style wasn’t in fashion long but strongly influenced hundreds of thousand of “ranch” homes across the country.

Craftsman style began in California and quickly became the preferred style for small homes across the country until about 1930. Small Craftsman homes are usually called Bungalows and are characterized by low-pitched gabled roofs with wide overhangs. Details such as beams and brackets are very common. A Craftsman home has a “hand-crafted” look that continues throughout the interior.

Classifying Your Home’s Style

Determining a modern American home’s architectural “style” today can be tricky, and nearly impossible in some cases. But most homes, new or old, contain at least a few recognized elements of an identifiable style, and identifying those elements is the key to classifying the style of the house.

Richard Taylor, AIA

1840 to 1900

What, exactly, is a Victorian? Many people use the term to describe an architectural style. However, Victorian is not really a style but a period in history. The Victorian era dates from about 1840 to 1900. During this time, industrialization brought many innovations in architecture. There are a variety of Victorian styles, each with its own distinctive features.

The most popular Victorian styles spread quickly through widely published pattern books. Builders often borrowed characteristics from several different styles, creating unique, and sometimes quirky, mixes. Buildings constructed during the Victorian times usually have characteristics of one or more these styles:

Gothic Revival Architecture
Victorian Gothic buildings feature arches, pointed windows, and other details borrowed from the middle ages.

Masonry Gothic Revival buildings were often close replicas of Medieval cathedrals. Wood-frame Gothic Revival buildings often had lacy "gingerbread" trim and other playful details.

Victorian Italianate Architecture
Rebelling against formal, classical architecture, Italianate became the one of the most popular styles in the United States. With low roofs, wide eaves, and ornamental brackets, Italianate is sometimes called the bracketed style .

Second Empire or Mansard Style
Characterized by their boxy mansard roofs, these buildings were inspired by the architecture in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.

Victorian Stick Architecture
Trusses and stickwork suggest medieval building techniques on these relatively plain Victorian buildings.

Folk Victorian
Just plain folk could afford these no-fuss homes, using trimwork made possible by mass production.

Shingle Style Architecture
Often built in costal areas, these shingle-sided homes are rambling and austere. But, the simplicity of the style is deceptive. The Shingle Style was adopted by the wealthy for grand estates.

Richardsonian Romanesque Architecture
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson is often credited with popularizing these romantic buildings. Constructed of stone, they resemble small castles. Romanesque was used more often for large public buildings, but some private homes were also built in the imposing Romanesque style.

Victorian Queen Anne Architecture
Queen Anne is the most elaborate of the Victorian styles. Buildings are ornamented with towers, turrets, wrap around porches, and other fanciful details.

Related Articles

High Victorian Gothic RevivalHow to Identify the Greek Revival Style of ArchitectureHouse Styles and Home ArchitectureThe Gothic RevolutionIs This House a Folk Victorian - House Styles


Victorian Houses
A Guide To The Major Architectural Styles

Victorian America had fashions in house design, exactly as we have fashions in clothing or hair style — except that well-to-do Victorians took the design of their homes far more seriously than we take our hair.  The Victorians were highly status-conscious, and in Victorian America, nothing displayed your status like your house.

House fashions literally started at the dinner table.  Most wealthy Victorians spent what would seem to us to be an incredible amount of time socializing:  it was not uncommon for them to either attend or host a dinner party 2 to 5 times a week.  Victorian dinners were formal and long, consisting of many courses served over as much as three hours.  Afterwards, the gentlemen would retire to the game room for cigars, brandy, and billiards or cards, while the ladies would retire to the drawing room for needlepoint, possibly music, and have sherry or tea.

In short, your social circle saw your house a lot, so it was important that the house be impressive — that is, designed in the latest fashion.  The house of a successful Victorian family was more than merely a home; it was a statement of their taste, wealth, and education.

The Gothic Revival was the first and most important of the many house fashions to sweep Victorian America, starting in about 1840.  This style harked back to medieval castles and cathedrals, and its growth in popularity came simultaneously with romantic movements in all the arts — that is, simultaneously with the infamous Victorian taste for melodramatic music, plays, and novels.  It was an odd Victorian who saw any essential difference between enjoying a romantic novel by Sir Walter Scott, set in a never-never land of knights and castles, or building an expensive house in that same style.

The Gothic Revival house is characterized by steeply pitched roofs, pointed-arch windows, elaborate vergeboard trim along roof edges, high dormers, the use of lancet windows and other Gothic details, and board and batten siding, often set vertically rather than horizontally.  The greatest concentration of classic Gothic Revival houses is in New England — but the more modest "folk Victorian" houses which were built by working-class Victorians eventually became so ubiquitous that it is almost impossible to imagine an America not covered coast-to-coast with them.  In midwestern farming communities in particular the style exhibited incredible durability, and (in Folk Victorian form) was still being built as late as the 1940's.

The next fashion was the Italianate, so-called because it looked to the country villas of northern Italy for its inspiration.  The style was characterized by a rectangular massing of the body of the house, often arranged picturesquely into assymetric blocks to imitate the sprawling look of centuries-old villas in Italy that had been modified and enlarged by many generations.  The style also featured low-pitched, often flat roofs; heavy supporting brackets under the eaves, often elaborately carved; and windows with heavy hoods or elaborate surrounds.  The style often features a square tower or cupola, in which case it is sometimes referred to as "Tuscan".

Although very elegant and even grand Italianates are fairly common in the East, Midwest and on the West Coast, this particular Victorian style is fairly rare in the deep South.  The time of the greatest popularity for the style, the 1860's and 1870's, coincided with the economic devastation brought on by the Civil War, and there were few in the post-war South who could afford to build expensive new houses then.

The Second Empire style was fashionable at about the same time as the Italianate, but its popularity was more spotty geographically.  Most large cities in the industrial Northeast and the Midwest have many examples, but the style is fairly uncommon in the South and on the West Coast, and quite rare in the Rocky Mountain States.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the style is the mansard roof, which is almost always heavily pierced with dormer windows featuring very elaborate surrounds.  Colored tile patterns on the roof and iron crestings were also often incorporated.  The style took its inspiration from French architecture, which had come to feature mansard roofs (named after the French architect Francois Mansart) mostly as a dodge to get around the Paris building codes.  The codes limited buildings to a certain number of stories, but since the area directly under the roof was not considered to be a story, the mansard roof was a very effective way to expand the living space of a building and still remain within the law.

In America, it was only the look and the romance of the style which appealed to the Victorian upper crust, and they sometimes added corner quoins, belt courses, and other decoration to give the style even more of a Renaissance flavor.  Very elaborate Second Empire mansions are sometimes referred to as "Renaissance Revival", in fact.

The next major Victorian house style was the Queen Anne, which so utterly dominated Victorian residential architecture from 1880 to 1910 that it is now virtually synonymous with the phrase "Victorian house" to much of the public.  The Queen Anne style at its most extreme is characterized by bewildering excess, featuring large projecting bay windows, towers, turrets, porches (often on multiple stories), balconies, stained glass decoration, roof finials and crestings, walls carvings and/or inset panels of stone or terra-cotta, cantilevered upper stories, acres of decorative trim, patterned shingles, belt courses, elaborate brackets, bannisters and spindles — even the chimneys on Queen Anne houses are spectacularly crafted, as the photo here shows.

The Queen Anne style is vaguely related to "Jacobean" architecture.  (Jacobean refers to English architecture during 1603 - 1625.) This style featured textured surfaces on buildings, including decorative patterns made of wood or stone, and various colors of shingles and slate.  The Queen Anne style started from this modest beginning and metamorphosed into the beautiful houses we admire today.  This style is more original (more "American", if you will) than the Gothic, Italianate, or Second Empire styles, because it is far more dynamic and pushed much further beyond its roots than did the other styles.  It is a mystery where the "Queen Anne" name comes from, because the architecture during the reign of the historic Queen Anne (1665 - 1714) has little in common with Jacobean architecture.

In addition to all the other decorative elements, the Victorians also painted their Queen Annes in a rainbow of colors.  The fashion at that time was fairly dark colors, along the lines of what we today would call "Earth tones" — sienna red, hunter green, burnt yellow, muddy brown, etc.  (The house shown here is beautifully painted in authentic Victorian colors; there is a larger photo of it in the Galena gallery.)

However, subsequent generations mostly reverted to the all-white paint scheme that had characterized houses before the Civil War, and thus it came as a shock — nearly an outrage to some — when the "Colorist" movement of the 1960's and 1970's set in, and a few people began painting their Victorian houses in rich colors again.  The movement spread, and today (at least in some parts of some cities) Victorian houses sporting three or four bright colors are once again the norm rather than the outrageous exception.  Relatively few modern homeowners try to duplicate original Victorian colors, partly for reasons of expense but mostly because bright colors are often preferred by modern eyes over the darker colors used by the Victorians.  A few purists tsk-tsk at this, but personally, I think the Victorians would approve.  If there was any generation which wanted to stay fashionably current, and would heartily endorse anybody's efforts to do exactly the same, it was surely the Victorians.

The Stick Style, popular from about 1860 to 1890, is sometimes considered to be a High Victorian elaboration of the Gothic Revival style, and/or is considered to be a transitional style between the Gothic Revival and the Queen Anne.  Whatever the classification, the style is sufficiently distinct to deserve separate mention.

The single most distinguishing feature of the style is small vertical, horizontal, or diagonal planks placed on top of the exterior walls.  The style is often associated with houses featuring enormous, overhanging, second-story porches, sometimes called "Swiss Chalet" houses.  Stick-Style houses which feature additional applied decoration, like that near the top of the house in the photo, are sometimes called Eastlake, after British furniture designer and arbiter of taste Charles Eastlake.  (Eastlake, by the way, had no interest in architecture, and when he discovered that those balmy colonists had named an entire style of hideously un-British house decoration after him, he issued a furious disclaimer disavowing any responsibility for it.)

The spectacular house shown here is the Parrott Camp Soucy House of Newnan, Georgia.  It was built in 1885 and was massively renovated in the early 1980's

Exotic houses enjoyed a certain popularity throughout most of the Victorian period.  There was always the occasional eccentric willing to build something that looked like an Arabian palace or an Egyptian temple.  This impulse sprang from more-or-less the same romanticism that led more conventional Victorians to build houses patterned after Gothic cathedrals, or Italian villas, or French mansions — it was just a bit more idiosyncratic.

Octagonal houses, in particular, enjoyed a certain minor vogue in the 1850's, almost solely through the efforts of one man.  Orson Fowler published a book, "The Octagon House:  A Home For All", in which he claimed that the eight-sided house could provide more sunlight and more ventilation between rooms, promoted easy traffic flow, and made more efficient use of interior space for a given amount of building material.  There are only a few hundred octagon houses left standing, mostly in New York, New England, and the West Coast.  The splendid example pictured here is located in Irvington, New York, and is featured on page 148 of Kenneth Naversen's photobook, "East Coast Victorians:  Castles & Cottages".  It was built in 1860 and substantially enlarged in 1872.  The house has been brilliantly restored by an architect who specializes in historic houses.

The Romanesque Revival style was very nearly the creation of one architect, Henry Hobson Richardson.  The style was built exclusively in stone and featured massive, often rustic-looking construction, along with heavy arches on the porches, doors, and windows, and a near-complete lack of applied decorative detail.  Richardson created (or at least popularized) the style shortly after the Civil War, and it enjoyed its greatest heyday in the 1880's, when other architects began to employ it as well.

Due to the immense expense of building in solid stone, the Romanesque Revival style was used far more often for public buildings than for private, and the bulk of the surviving examples are churches, university buildings, public libraries, etc.  However, it did enjoy a certain vogue among the extremely wealthy, and any number of surviving Victorian mansions are built in the style.  Most Romanesque Revival mansions share one thing with the Queen Anne houses that the middle class was building at about the same time:  they feature a romantic and complex floor plan complete with towers, turrets, many gables, and so on.

The last of the Victorian styles was the Shingle Style, built from about 1880 to 1900.  As the name indicates, the style is distinguished by the fact that the house is covered nearly 100% by shingles, sometimes including even the porch pillars.  The style also features little to no external decoration, roomy porches, and a complex roofline.

The style was originally created for the super-wealthy, who liked to build vast vacation "cottages" by the sea, but wanted them to look rustic rather than formal.  I am not certain if any of those original, vast Shingle Style houses exist or not, because the upkeep of such a huge wooden structure right beside the ocean is daunting — and who is going to bother, once the Victorian age is over? If anyone out there knows of a surviving 60-room-plus Shingle Style from the 1880's (not including hotels or other commercial buildings), I would be delighted to know about it.

The style eventually filtered down to the middle class, and many of the more modest structures they built are still standing.  The Shingle Style is considered to be a completely original American style, with no direct European antecedents.

The most common Victorian style is Folk Victorian.  The classic Victorian styles (Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick Style, Romanesque Revival, and Shingle Style) were created by professional architects, and were built mostly by the well-to-do.  But the lower reaches of the middle class certainly shared the same Victorian urge to live in a fashionable house, and if they couldn't afford a professional architect, well.  They could design the house themselves, or have a local carpenter do it.  In either case, the design was likely to be an unprofessional but possibly still charming pastiche, including elements of styles that were still currently fashionable among the upper crust, and elements of styles that definitely were not.  Also, the house would naturally tend to be smaller and plainer than the what the wealthy could afford.

The result is Folk Victorian.  The house shown here (which is the Compass Rose Bed & Breakfast on Whidbey Island, Washington) is as typical as you could want, considering that Folk Victorians by definition are all over the map.  This house is sort-of Gothic Revival in terms of its roof line and the two symmetric wings, but the center tower is vaguely like an Italianate villa, and there are some applied decorations that remind one of the Stick Style.  One could call it Queen Anne, since the Queen Anne is also unpredictably ecclectic — but that is too simplistic.  The classic Queen Anne is very elaborate (compare this house with the two pictured in the Queen Anne section), and in terms of its complexity, this house is certainly closer in spirit to the Gothic or Stick styles than it is to the Queen Anne.  There are no bay windows, no balconies, no overhangs on the second floor, etc.

The exact division between Queen Anne and Folk Victorian is very fuzzy (especially considering how many of the smaller Queen Annes were hodge-podged together by local carpenters, rather than designed by architects).  But, Folk Victorians were being built long before the Queen Anne style appeared on the scene, and in any case, it is still useful to make a rough distinction between the more expensive, very elaborate, architect-designed Victorians (Queen Anne) and their less-expensive, plainer, carpenter-designed cousins (Folk Victorian).

There is some debate as to whether another style of the 1890's, Colonial Revival, is a true Victorian style, or the style which marks the end of the Victorian era.  Whatever the case, Colonial Revivalism was certainly a reaction against the extremely elaborate houses which had come to symbolize the High Victorian period.  Colonial Revival houses looked back to the Federalist period for inspiration, and are characterized by simpler, more symmetric lines and much less gingerbread than most other 19th-century houses.  The style had much in common with the Shingle Style, which began to appear at roughly the same time.  Colonial Revivalism eventually evolved into the Four-Square and bungalow designs of the early 20th century.  The interiors of Colonial Revival houses (especially those built before the turn of the century) are often very traditionally late Victorian, however.

Copyright 1998 by David Taylor.  The 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th photos on this page (counting from the top) are from the Corel CD-ROM, "Victorian Houses".

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  Mission Historic Near Westside supports local and regional tourism, historic districts, sites, museums, and events of the greater Western New York Finger Lakes Region. Including Western New York State, New York City, Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, and all states beyond and Canada. of Elmira, New York mission is to research, preserve, and share Elmira's rich heritage in a manner that honors the past, builds a bridge between generations, and leaves a legacy for the future.

 Achieve Active advocacy, participation in community planning, innovative educational programs, the preservation of properties.

 Purpose of the is to serve its community.  It does that through efforts to beautify the neighborhood; to encourage historic preservation and property maintenance; to promote appropriate business development, to fight crime, and to protect and enhance Elmira's unique urban ambiance.

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 Near Westside Neighborhood Association Incorporated



 Near Westside Neighborhood Association Incorporated



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