What Was Housing Like in the 1800s?

In the 1800s, most American families lived in homes made of timber frames, typically constructed by male family members. At that time, Americans made their homes from wood, a readily available and cheap building material. They borrowed the timber-framing style from English settlers, and constructed homes in many different styles using that basic structure.

Housing styles, like fashion, change routinely in the United States. Houses vary in design depending on geographical location, availability of materials and economic status of families. Popular housing styles of the 19th century include Federalist, Greek Revival, Italianate and Second Empire.

Homes constructed in the Federalist architectural style pioneered the 19th century American architecture scene. These homes, like the preceding Georgian style of the 1700s, emphasized symmetry. Federalist homes appeared primarily on the Eastern coast of the United States during the early 1800s. Middle- to upper-class Americans built homes for families in this style, which featured an elegant design. Federalist homes rose two stories high. They contained grand front entrances and emphasized symmetry.

Greek Revival homes arrived next, shaping American residences in the mid-1800s. These East coast homes featured linear designs. Greek homes contained heavier designs with columns, box windows and porches.

In the late 1800s, Second Empire architecture inspired homes in the American Midwest and northeast. These homes include tall first-floor windows, dual roofs, sloped or curved roofs, porches and decorated rooflines.