Carpenter Gothic

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, 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. 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.


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 an Historic District of Newbugh, New York, Historic District, 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 parts of the U.S., and in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces in Canada. In British Columbia, the remarkable Church of the Holy Cross, Skatin is a Canadian national historic site. A campaign is underway to restore it to its former glory. Also in British Columbia is the Church of Our Lord, built in 1874 in Victoria.

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.. 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.


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 to 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.

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.

Current use

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

Steamboat Gothic

Steamboat Gothic architecture, a term popularized by Frances Parkinson Keyes novel of that name, is sometimes confused with Carpenter Gothic architecture, 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.


Churches, synagogues, etc.


Ornamental use

See also


External links

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