In the forty-five years from 1850 to 1895, architecture in Georgia advanced from simple Greek revival forms to the massive steel-frame skyscraper. In between, architects and builders used a myriad of styles as the state endured a disastrous war, Reconstruction, and economic depressions. Nevertheless, the entire postwar period was generally marked by increasing wealth due to urbanization, industrialization, expanding cotton production, and the rapid expansion of rail service into almost all areas of Georgia. From the 1850s to the 1870s, Italianate and Second Empire buildings were erected around the state, but most church buildings were in the less popular Gothic revival. From the late 1870s to 1895, Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles predominated. Both were soon replaced, however, by Neoclassical design work as the new century approached.
Greek RevivalIn 1850 the most significant architectural style in the United States and Georgia was Greek revival. Important commissions like that for the Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville (1838) by Charles B. Cluskey helped to create a demand for Greek revival throughout the state that lasted well into the 1850s. Characterized by grand columned porticos, low-pitched roofs often with triangular pediments, entablatures, and rectangular/symmetrical construction, Greek revival became common throughout Georgia.Savannah was the architectural center of the state, and the city's rich merchants and businessmen invested their cotton wealth in new residences and commercial buildings of a slightly altered Greek revival style changed to suit narrow city lots. With low or flat roofs, symmetrical window placement, raised entrances, and one-story, square-columned porticos, the new buildings were often designed by recently arrived architects such as New York's John Norris. Greek revival buildings included the U.S. Custom House, commercial buildings along Bay Street, and row houses like the Gordon Block and Mary Marshall Row.Greek revival, however, was not confined to Savannah in the 1850s. In 1856 Charles Sholl and Calvin Fay partnered to design the state mental hospital (Powell Building) in Milledgeville with a soaring three-story portico of the Greek Ionic order. Local builders were also active in the popular style. In the distant southwest corner of the state, designer/builder John Wind built the impressive Greek revival structures of Cedar Grove Plantation and the Thomas County Courthouse. The rich Cotton Belt region of central Georgia was soon dotted with massively colonnaded homes like those of John Thomas Grant in Athens, which is now the President's House at the University of Georgia, and of Austin Leyden in the burgeoning rail center of Atlanta.Despite the predominance of Greek revival, more romantic or picturesque buildings in Gothic revival and Italianate styles began to appear in this prosperous decade. Decorative Gothic motifs had been added to the state capitol in Milledgeville during the late 1820s, but that did not reflect any widespread use of the pointed arches, asymmetrical ground plans, crenelations, buttresses, steeply pitched roofs and gables, and trellised verandas that were the main characteristics of the style in the 1850s. The most outstanding example of the Gothic style is the 1853 Green-Meldrim House in Savannah by John Norris.
Gothic RevivalNot well suited to the harsh southern climate, however, Gothic revival was used mainly in church architecture both during and after the Victorian era. This was due in part to a general belief that the fervent Christianity of the Middle Ages, which gave birth to the Gothic style, should be emulated. One of the first Gothic revival churches in the state was St. John's Episcopal in Savannah, designed in 1850 by New York architect Calvin Otis. More like a simple English country church than a grand cathedral, St. John's has distinctive pointed arches, buttresses, and great hammerbeam trusses on its interior. After the Civil War (1861-65), virtually all religious sects hired an ever-increasing number of major architects to design Gothic revival churches. Atlanta is particularly illustrative of the continuing popularity of the style during the late Victorian era. William H. Parkins designed the Roman Catholic Church (later Shrine) of the Immaculate Conception in a simplified Gothic revival style in 1869, and Edmund G. Lind created Central Presbyterian Church in 1885.
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