This article is second in a series about Wyoming’s architectural variety (click here to view the first story). Documents and books at the Wyoming Historical Society were the primary source of information for the story. The Houses We Live in: An Identification Guide to the History and Style of American Domestic Architecture, edited by Jeffery Howe, provided details of architectural styles.
One of the “Prettiest Painted Places in America”
Homes in Wyoming come many styles and sizes – split levels, Tudors, bungalows – but the houses that often catch the eye of passersby are the Victorians. Wyoming’s Victorian homes received national recognition in the 1997 “Prettiest Painted Places in America” competition, sponsored by Better Homes & Gardens magazine and the Paint Quality Institute.
“Victorian” is an Era, Not a Style
The colorful homes with gingerbread trim are commonly called “Victorians” but “Victorian” is more accurately a period in history, 1837-1901, when Queen Victoria ruled England. The Industrial Revolution occurred during this period, a time of great change in both Europe and the United States. Building materials were mass-produced and new railways delivered those materials to growing cities. Wyoming experienced a housing boom after the Civil War, as nearby businesses prospered and families liked the good schools and the convenient location to train stations. The building boom created the large number of Victorian-era homes that now dot Wyoming. The most common architectural styles in Wyoming during the peak of Victorian influence include Gothic Revival, Italianate, Stick/Eastlake, Queen Anne, and Shingle styles.
Gothic and Renaissance Influences
In the 1870s, developers began subdividing the Burns farmland, spanning the area between Burns, Wyoming, and East Mills avenues and Springfield Pike, part of what we now call “The Village.”
The location was convenient to the busy mills along the Mill Creek in Lockland, and many prosperous mill owners chose to live in Wyoming. The Gothic Revival and Italianate styles of the Victorian era featured new architectural elements to show off the wealth of the mill owners.
The Gothic Revival style (1830-1860) was inspired by English medieval castles, with steep roofs and gables, arched windows, and occasionally, vertical board-and-batten siding (tongue-and-groove panels with vertical strips covering the joints). The Gothic Revival style is the beginning of “gingerbread” ornamentation, as mass production made elaborately-cut barge board panels along the rooflines affordable.
The Italianate style (1850-1890) began in England and was inspired by Tuscan villas of the Italian Renaissance. Italianate homes have an asymmetrical design with a vertical emphasis, flatter roofs, wide eaves with bracketed cornices, tall, narrow windows, and occasionally a square tower. Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati has the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the United States.
New Construction Technique Leads to Exuberant Styles: Stick/Eastlake, Queen Anne, and Shingle
A typical house in the early 19th century was a rectangular box, unless the homeowner could afford custom details. A new type of building construction, “stick” or “balloon” framing, was developed in the 1830s and allowed the construction of asymmetrical buildings. Houses built in the late 19th century made the most of this new construction technique to create complex rooflines, gables, and turrets.
“Stick” architecture (1860-1890) evolved from Gothic Revival homes, with a desire to reveal the wooden structural components. The Stick style was very popular where lumber was plentiful, and quickly became more about exterior carpentry and decoration with wood sticks or strips, and less about showing the underlying construction. The Stick style is often called Eastlake, after British architect Charles Eastlake, who promoted furniture with simple carvings and geometric ornamentation. The carved elements were easy to mass-produce and became popular accents for home exteriors. Stick/Eastlake houses have an eclectic mix of elements: wooden bands outlining doors and windows, decorated gables, and elaborate porches with stylized brackets, railings, and posts.
Queen Anne architecture (1880-1910) is an exuberant style with a “more is more” attitude. The style is all about complex shapes and a variety of surface textures. Home exteriors combined brick, shingles, clapboard, and stucco. Porches, round towers, turrets, multiple gables, and elaborate chimneys were very popular.
The Queen Anne style began in England in the early 1870s then quickly became popular in the United States. The architecture should more appropriately be called Queen Elizabeth or King James Revival, for elements of the Tudor and Jacobean homes of 1550-1600: steep roofs, multiple gables, round towers, windows of various shapes and sizes, and half-timbering with stucco. The half-timbering fit with the Stick style, and American architects often replaced stucco sections with shingles.
Shingle architecture (1880-1900) takes its name from the shingles covering the entire home exterior, giving a unifying surface on complex building shapes. There is less ornamentation compared to Stick/Eastlake and Queen Anne styles. The original Shingle style was developed for wealthy owners of summer homes in Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island, where the shingles were allowed to weather. In Wyoming, the original shingles of the homes were typically stained, but are now painted to show off the variety of shingle shapes.
Just like homeowners in the 21st century may incorporate a mix of architectural styles, homeowners in the late 19th century combined elements from Victorian-era styles. In the National Register of Historic Places inventory, some homes in Wyoming are classified as “Queen Anne Influence,” “Stick-Style Queen Anne,” or “Victorian Eclectic.”
Not all of Wyoming’s Victorian-era homes are multi-story ornamented houses. The 1½-story cottages on Wirtz Way, just east of the Village Green, show elements of Victorian Gothic style, with a steep metal roof and ornate brackets at the porch columns.
Appreciating Our Rich History
Wyoming celebrated its Centennial in 1974, with increased appreciation for the oldest homes. A group of dedicated volunteers researched the history and architecture of almost 300 buildings, organized house tours, and formed the Wyoming Historical Society. In 1986 an area bordered by Wentworth and East Mills avenues, portions of Grove and Crescent avenues, and Springfield Pike received National Historic District status. (link to Historic District map? the link below shows the entire USA, then the viewer needs to zoom in.)
Click here to view the National Historic District map. The link opens to the entire United States, but you are able to zoom in.
More than 130 homes in the Historic District are from the Victorian era, but additional Victorian-era homes are found north or west of the Historic District. The Historic District also includes several homes predating the 1860s and numerous homes from the early 1900s.
This article mentions only a few of the beautiful homes in Wyoming. Today, you can take a walk along Wyoming’s tree-lined streets and admire the restored homes in the Historic District with help from an informative brochure created by the Historical Society with a map, architectural explanations, and details about noteworthy homes.
The Wyoming Historical Society is an excellent resource to learn more about homes of all eras and styles.