American Colonial houses

December 5, 2014
American Colonial houses
Paul Revere's dark grey two-story colonial wood home in Boston - Photo by Spencer Grant/Archive Photos/Getty ImagesPaul Revere's home in Boston, MA (larger view). Photo by Spencer Grant/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Updated .

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.

Modern Colonials

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.
  • 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 Rebecca Nurse Homestead

The New England Colonial home of Rebecca Nurse was built in the 17th century, making this giant red house a true Colonial. Rebecca, her husband, and her children moved here around 1678. With two rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second, 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.

Rebecca West is an interesting figure in American history for being a victim of the Salem Witch Trials—in 1692 she was accused, tried, and executed for practicing witchcraft. The Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts is open to the public for tours, and the grounds and meeting house can be reserved for private events.

Other Colonial Styles


The articles you see on the architecture pages at are copyrighted. You may link to them, but do not copy them in a blog, web page, or print publication without permission.

Colonial House - Episode 1 (part 1 of 4)
Colonial House - Episode 1 (part 1 of 4)
North American House Types: Italianate Houses
North American House Types: Italianate Houses
North American House Types: French Colonial Revival Houses
North American House Types: French Colonial Revival Houses
Share this Post