Architecture of the Antebellum Period

September 12, 2016 The Historic Journal 363 comments

The Civil War is often remembered as the darkest hour in America’s history. Four years of bloody battles, friend fighting against friend, brother against brother, lack of food and resources as well as moral and civil issues. While these details are ugly and bring about varying opinions there is one detail that exhibits beauty, romance and craftsmanship. This detail is the Antebellum architecture of the time. 

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A typical Antebellum mansion with wrap-around veranda.

The antebellum period was a 40-year time span between 1820 and 1860 in which, the Old South saw its greatest rise in wealth and prosperity. The antebellum mansions during this time were built on a grand scale; majestic verandas, massive columns, dentil embellishments and ornate designs. It is a common belief that these homes were the result of wealthy plantation owners flaunting their wealth, however, in most cases it was a man’s way to express his love for his beautiful Southern Belle. It was customary during this time for the man to build his bride the house of her dreams. The majestic verandas offered her a cool and pleasant place to sit. The massive columns captured her attention at first glance and drew her eyes always upwards to the dentil embellishments and architectural luxuries. These details were meant to sweep her off her feet.

 

Massive columns surround the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA.
Massive doric columns surround the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA.

 

While the details of the design and architecture of these homes were beautiful they were also practical. The wrap around verandas on multiple levels of the home provided open air living during the hot summers. The home’s many windows allowed for maximum air circulation throughout and served as the only source of relief from the dry summer heat. Ornate spindled bannisters, allowed the women to safely travel from one level of the house to another while adding a unique and beautiful touch. Another design style of the time was the Greek Revival style whose origin is the ancient Greek temples. This design style can be seen in the bold and stately features of the triangular porticos being supported by massive columns, intricate yet bold dentil embellishments, and symmetrical designs.   One knew they were surrounded by fine craftsmanship amid these bold and stately architectural features.

 

dentil molding adds a beautiful and romantic touch.

 

The credit of these grand homes is given to the wealth of the plantations. This wealth was boosted by the Industrial Revolution that occurred between 1820 and 1870 sharing a 40 year time period with the antebellum days. The Industrial Revolution brought great innovation and wealth to America. A primary example of these great innovations was the railway system and its impact on travel and trade systems.   The ability to ship goods from one side of the country to another quickly and efficiently increased productivity causing commerce to rise to levels it had never risen to before.   The railroads also made traveling more of a luxury than a daunting experience. Before the railroads, traveling to another place could mean traveling for weeks or even months by horse or wagon. Traveling by railroads cut travel time, offered comfort that one did not have before, and allowed plantation owners to conduct business more efficiently boosted the wealth of the plantation owners of the South which allowed the construction of these Antebellum masterpieces.

 

The Antebellum homes and their beautiful and grand designs speak of a time of wealth, romance and a detail rich architectural design. A thorough examination of these old homes brings to life quality construction methods not found in today’s modern homes. Only the best of materials and construction methods were used during the antebellum days of the Old South for they symbolize the wealth of the owners and a southern gentleman’s pursuit and love for his lady.

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