Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

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House with very large corner turret and slate roof.

Hail to the Queen!

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The Queen Anne style is one of the most distinctive and popular architectural styles of the Victorian era, with examples of the style found throughout Pennsylvania and the country. With their round turrets, elaborate porches, and abundant decorative trim, they are often considered beloved local landmarks. The Queen Anne style ruled at the turn of the 20th century from 1880 to 1910. As the royally inspired name suggests, Queen Anne buildings exude a sense of importance and richly embellished elegance.

While the Queen Anne style was at its peak during the reign of England’s Queen Victoria, its name derives from a far earlier English queen who ruled from 1702- 1714. The style had its beginnings in England with the medievally-inspired work of architect Richard Norman Shaw, the most successful English architect of his time. His 1868 design for Leyswood, a manor house in Sussex introduced a new architectural mode inspired by both medieval Jacobean era (dating from the reign of King James I of England 1603 – 1625) and Renaissance era forms.

Leyswood, after the architect’s drawings, in Wealaden, East Sussex, England. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Shaw’s early designs had steeply pitched roofs, tall decorative brick chimneys and projecting half-timbered gables. His designs were published as photolithography prints in architectural pattern books and his ideas were embraced and adapted by American architects. The style grew in popularity in America after the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 where the impressive half-timbered, medieval looking buildings erected by the British government caught the imagination of the public and were met with great acclaim.

Sketch of large medieval building.
English Commission Building / Inger. Pennsylvania Philadelphia, ca. 1876. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/90707433/.

The first Queen Anne style building in America is considered to be the Watts Sherman house designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and built in 1874 in Newport, Rhode Island. Featuring heavily textured, shingled wall surfaces, prominent brick chimneys and intersecting gables, it was most faithful to the designs promoted by Shaw and other English architects. Due to its shingled walls, the Watts Sherman house is also seen as an early example of the Shingle style, which was closely related to the Queen Anne style and developed at the same time, although it never became as popular.  

A house with a large roof and many chimneys.
Watts Sherman House in 1875, before alteration in 1879. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cornelluniversitylibrary/3678920450/in/set-72157620818011784/.

The Queen Anne style evolved from its early British roots to become a distinctly American style with numerous, sometimes regional variations. The use of three-dimensional wood trim called spindlework was an American innovation made possible by the technological advances in the mass production and easy transport of millwork via an expansive railroad network.

A large house with a large front yard.
Strasburg, Lancaster County. Note spindlework porch. Photo from PA SHPO files.

The American version of the style is most notable for its grand and asymmetrical shape and use of round or polygonal corner towers, expansive and highly decorative front porches with turned posts or columns, and patterned surface treatments for roofs, walls, and dormers.

A large house with corner turret and wood siding.
New Castle, Lawrence County. Photo from PA SHPO files.

Throughout the late 19th century, the various architectural revival styles were often combined and became intertwined making strict adherence to any one style unlikely. Some decorative details or design trends were common to multiple styles, making categorization of buildings more difficult. Architectural designs were freely shared via pattern books allowing local builders to pick and choose decorative elements from multiple sources. Design ideas were also spread through the publishing of the first architectural magazine The American Architect and Building News which began in 1876.

An often-seen variant of the Queen Anne style is the Free Classic which became especially popular after 1890. While sharing the same massing, roof line and overall form of the Queen Anne style, the Free Classic has a more simplified front porch, using classical columns rather than turned porch posts with spindlework railings. Porch columns are often grouped in pairs or triples or set upon pedestals. The Free Classic variant also employs other classical details such as Palladian three sash windows and cornice-line dentils, closing resembling Colonial Revival style buildings which became popular at the turn of the 20th century.

A large house with two story front porch surrounded by green lawn and trees.
Free Classic variant, Smethport, McKean County. Photo from PA SHPO files.

The Queen Anne style and its variants were the most dominant design trends for houses built in the 1880s through 1900. The style is seen most often in large single homes in both urban and rural settings, but it was also adapted for use for substantial duplex homes and row houses in cities.

Large brick twin house.
Queen Anne style duplex, Harrisburg, Dauphin County. Photo from PA SHPO files.

Queen Anne churches, schools and or commercial buildings of that era are also common. While distinctive wood millwork is always present, the use of other building materials like brick or stone or stucco varied based on location, availability, and preference.   

The identifiable features of the Queen Anne style are:

  1. Steeply pitched roof with cross gables
  2. Asymmetrical façade
  3. Large, highly decorative front porch with turned porch posts or columns
  4. Round or polygonal corner tower
  5. Decorative spindlework on porches and gables
  6. Patterned shingles on roof, dormers or wall surfaces
  7. Projecting bay windows or dormers
  8. Tall brick chimneys with patterned masonry
  9. Single pane windows, often embellished with small decorative panes or stained glass
  10. Half timbering on gables or dormers

You can scroll through these photographs of Queen Anne buildings to see the wide range of examples of this style in Pennsylvania.

If you have a photo of a Queen Anne style building in Pennsylvania you would like to share, please provide it in the comments section of this blog post!

Author: Pamela Reilly

Pamela Wolf Reilly is a Historic Preservation Specialist in the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office in Harrisburg. She holds a BA in Art and Sociology from Bucknell University and a MA in Historic Preservation from George Washington University. Pamela is an architectural historian who admits to being a bit of a pushover for buildings with a pretty facade. She also has a special interest in vernacular architecture.

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