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Architectural Styles

Federal (1790-c.1820) In the period just before and after the Revolutionary War, when many Americans still looked to England for cultural leadership, the Federal style of architecture was commonly used in domestic as well as public architecture. This style, also called Adamesque, was first popularized in England a few decades earlier by architect/decorator Robert Adam, and is often thought of as a refinement of the earlier Georgian Revival style of architecture. Buildings constructed in Federal style are characterized by double hung sash windows that are arranged vertically and horizontally in symmetrical rows, cornices that have been embellished with decorative moldings such as tooth-shaped dentils, Roman styled decorative motifs such as festoons, urns and garlands, and semi-circular fanlights above the main door. Often the fanlights are incorporated into a more elaborate door surround that may be enhanced with a decorative crown or a small entry porch. Hardy County’s first Courthouse (c.1792) is in this architectural style.

Greek Revival (1820-1850) Following the example of Thomas Jefferson, buildings were patterned after Greek temples. Although Jefferson intended for government and public buildings to emulate Greek temples, the style was so popular that it was used for many domestic buildings as well. Greek Revival became the dominant style of architecture from about 1830 to 1850. It especially flourished in those areas of the country that were being rapidly settled during this period, and occurs in all areas of the country that were settled by 1860. Its main elements consist of a wide band of trim beneath the cornice of the main roof and the porch roof, elaborate door surrounds, and columned porticos (porch with a roof supported by columns) with either a triangular pediment or flat entablature. The cornice was usually simple and was constructed with or without dentil moldings. The use of stone, brick and timber suggests weight and permanence, but also balance and order. The proportions of Greek Revival buildings are usually broad. Windows tend to be regularly placed, and details are sparse and simple. Upper story window openings may be headed by flat stone lintels. West Virginia has three Greek Revival courthouses. They are located in Brooke (1849), Greenbrier (1837) and Jefferson (c. 1836, restored after the Civil War and remodeled in 1916 using elements of Colonial Revival architecture).

Gothic Revival (1840-c.1870) In 18th century western Europe, people began designing buildings in the style of Gothic cathedrals dating from the Middle Ages. In 1799, the revival of Gothic architecture made its first appearance in America in the form of a country house outside of Philadelphia, and was soon after used in the design of ecclesiastical and university buildings. By about 1840, with the help of pattern books, the trend caught on and scores of houses and public buildings, especially in the northeast, began to appear. Gothic Revival architecture is characterized by roofs that are steeply pitched with steep cross gables. Gables are typically decorated with ornamental boards that suspend from the roof. Exterior wall surfaces generally extend into the gable without a break. Windows, which also can extend into the gable, usually have the pointed or “gothic” arch. Hardy County’s second courthouse (c.1850/1859) was originally constructed in Gothic Revival style.

Romanesque Revival (1845-1875, later in West Virginia) The revival and use of Romanesque architectural components enjoyed a fluorescence during the second half of the 19th century. Buildings constructed in this style exhibit elements taken from the Greek Revival style, but also incorporate round arches on windows and entrances, heavy masonry piers and richly decorated cornices. Elsewhere in the United States, the popularity of Romanesque Revival began to subside by the 1870s. In rural West Virginia, however, the style remained fashionable through the end of the 19th century. Courthouses built after circa 1885 may also exhibit details influenced by Henry H. Richardson whose own style of architecture was influential about this time. Fourteen surviving West Virginia courthouses were built in this style. They are located in Doddridge (1899-1903), Fayette (1894-95), Marshall (1876), McDowell (1893-94), Mineral (1868), Monongalia (1891), Monroe (1882), Pleasants (1894), Pocahontas (1895), Putnam (1899-1900), Summers (1875-76/1893-98), Taylor (1890), Tucker (1898-1900), and Webster (c.1890) Counties.

Italianate (1860-c.1895) Italianate architecture is well known for its lavish style and rich design details that were popular during the Gilded Age in American history. The style was first created in England by architects who were inspired by the architecture of Italian villas and reacted against the formal classicism that had dominated architecture for the past 200 years. In the United States, where it was popularized by pattern books, Italianate architecture became fashionable during the 1840s and 1850s, but was not commonly used in public or civic architecture until after 1855. It is characterized by flat or low-pitched roofs and widely overhanging eaves that are typically embellished with decorative brackets. Windows, which are generally tall and narrow, can have rectangular, curved or round arches. Square towers or cupolas are also commonly found on buildings of this style. Lewis County courthouse (1887-88) was built in this style.

Richardsonian Romanesque (1880-1895, later in West Virginia) Richardsonian Romanesque emulates to varying degrees the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson. Born in Louisiana, he attended Harvard before studying architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. During the 1870s he developed his style of design, which borrows elements from many different architectural sources. For example, using stone and brick to create polychrome walls can be traced to contemporary late Gothic Revival. The massive low arches typical of Richardson’s style derive from earlier phases of Romanesque architecture. He also made use of unusual sculpted shapes, which give his buildings a lot of individuality. Richardson’s use of rugged stone and brick masonry conveys a feeling of heaviness and solidity and gives his buildings an impressive and stately feeling. This style of architecture is also characterized by imaginative towers, turrets and dormers, as well as a new use of terra-cotta, especially in cast panels and in column capitals. Facades on Richardsonian Romanesque buildings are usually asymmetrical and window openings can be variously shaped and sized. This style was most popular in the west and in cities that achieved their first maturity when the style was fashionable. Five West Virginia courthouses were constructed in this style. They are located in Barbour (1903-05), Kanawha (1892; renovated 1917/1924), Randolph (1902-04), Wetzel (1902), and Wood (1899-1900) Counties.

Beaux Arts (1895-1920) This style of architecture emulates the kind of classicism that emerged out of the Ecole des Beaux Arts (located in Paris, France), and was very popular in both public and residential buildings. Because it is a classical style, Beaux Arts buildings exhibit many of the same details found in other styles of classical inspiration. Now, however, buildings are more extravagant. As a style, Beaux Arts is grand in scale, and makes use of monumental and symmetrical elements with luxurious details pulled from Classical architecture. Typically, walls are masonry and are usually light-colored stone. Roofs can be flat, low-pitched hipped or are mansard. Facades exhibit shifts in scale and form, but are symmetrical. Windows receive a variety of treatments, but are usually embellished with window crowns and surrounds. Cornice lines are accented by elaborate moldings, dentils and modillions. The use of roof-line balustrades and balustraded window balconies are common. Finally, classical decorative motifs are applied for theatrical effect, and include paired columns or pilasters, wreaths, garlands, festoons, cartouches and figure sculpture. Because it is a flamboyant style, Beaux Arts was popular with America’s industrial barons who were interested in displaying their wealth in increasingly ornate and expensive houses. Three West Virginia courthouses were built in this style. They are located in Cabell (1899-1901), Clay (1902) and Marion (1897-1900) Counties.

Neo-Classical Revival (1895-1920) Interest in classical form was revived at the1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In response to planners of the world fair, who had prescribed a classical theme, architects designed spectacular colonnaded buildings for the exposition. Soon after, buildings constructed in the Neo-Classical Revival style became fashionable. This style exhibits the return to balance and composure that marks much of the turn of the century architecture. Facades of neo-classical buildings generally are symmetrical with a center door and are dominated by a full-height porch with classical columns, which typically have either Ionic or Corinthian capitals. Courthouses located in Boone (1921), Gilmer (1923), Hampshire (1921-22), Hancock (1920), Hardy (1914), Jackson (1918), Morgan (1907-08), Nicholas (1898), Pleasants (1925), Ritchie (1922), Upshur (1899-1900), and Wirt (1911) Counties were constructed in this style. Although built much earlier, courthouses located in Berkeley (1855/1880/1908), Grant (1879/1909) and Tyler (1854/1922) Counties, were later remodeled using elements of this style.

Colonial Revival (1880-1940) Between 1880 and 1940, Colonial Revival was the one of the most popular styles of architecture for both public and residential buildings. While the name itself refers to the rebirth of interest in the early English and Dutch houses of the Atlantic seaboard, the style pulls in elements taken from Georgian and Federal buildings. Typically, front doors are accented and usually have a decorative crown or pediment that is supported by pilasters or is extended forward and supported by slender columns to form an entrance porch. Doors commonly have overhead fanlights or sidelights. Facades are usually symmetrical with a center door. Windows have double-hung sashes and are frequently in adjacent pairs. Courthouses located in Braxton (1881-82), Pendleton ((1924-25), and Wayne (1929) Counties were constructed in this style.

Art Deco (1925-1940) Art Deco is a decorative style that first appeared in furniture, room furnishings and interior architecture, and then was developed as a way to design buildings in Europe. It became incredibly popular in America after a showing at the 1925 French exhibition, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Vernacular versions of the style began appearing across the United States by 1926. This style has been used in the design of various kinds of public buildings, but rarely in domestic architecture. Art Deco is defined by its use of simple cubic forms and flat, smooth surfaces, which were intended to emphasize their modernity. Decorative details on buildings are typically very vertical or linear in quality. Popular motifs include faceted surfaces, chevrons, zigzags, octagon and other geometric shapes and occur as decoration on facades, towers or other vertical projections above the roof line. Courthouses located in Mercer (1930-31), Preston (1934) and Raleigh (1936-37) Counties were constructed in this style.

Art Moderne (1930-1940) This style evolved out of the same period and influences as Art Deco. As a result, it is similar in its use of heavy cubic forms and flat surfaces. However, because Art Moderne was developed a few years after Art Deco, it’s inspiration was also derived from streamlined industrial design of automobiles, rail cars and airplanes. It can be distinguished from Art Deco by its lack of ornamentation, its use of curved corners and an emphasis on horizontal lines. Windows typically are grouped in bands. Spandrels, which are the panels on a wall that fill the space between the top of one window and the sill of the window in the story above, are usually expressed as continuous horizontal bands. Courthouses located in Calhoun (1940) and Harrison (1931-32) Counties were constructed in this style.

Counties with Modern/Contemporary (1940-1980) Courthouses:
Clay (c.1978), Grant (1976), Lincoln (1964), Logan (1965), Mason (1956), Mingo (1966), Ohio (1960) and Roane (1965) Counties

References and For more information:

Noble, Allen G.
1984 Wood, Brick and Stone, The North American Settlement Landscape, Volume 1: Houses. University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst.

McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester
1984 A Field Guide to American Houses. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.: New York.

Rifkind, Carole
1980 A Field Guide to American Architecture. Penguin Books USA Inc.: New York

Roth, Leland
2001 American Architecture, A History. Westview Press: Boulder.

Thrash, Mary
1984 West Virginia’s Courthouses, A Pictorial History. Clarksburg, WV.


Boone County Courthouse

Braxton County Courthouse

Brooke County Courthouse

Clay County Courthouse

Harrison County Courthouse

Jefferson County Courthouse

McDowell County Courthouse

Marion County Courthouse

Mercer County Courthouse

Pocahontas County Courthouse

Randolph County Courthouse

Tyler County Courthouse

Wood County Courthouse

A History of West Virginia Courthouses

Architectural Styles