Antebellum architecture

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Barrington Hall is one classic example of an antebellum home.

Antebellum architecture (meaning "prewar", from the Latin ante, "before", and bellum, "war") is the neoclassical architectural style characteristic of the 19th-century Southern United States, especially the Deep South, from after the birth of the United States with the American Revolution, to the start of the American Civil War.[1] Antebellum architecture is especially characterized by Georgian, Neo-classical, and Greek Revival style homes and mansions. These plantation houses were built in the southern American states during roughly the thirty years before the American Civil War; approximately between the 1830s to 1860s.[2]

Key features[edit]

The main exterior characteristics of antebellum architecture included huge pillars, a balcony that ran along the whole outside edge of the house creating a porch that offers shade and a sitting area, evenly spaced large windows, and big centered entrances at the front and rear of the house.[3] A hipped or gabled roof are characteristics of antebellum architecture and often feature a cupola.[4] (A cupola is a dome-like structure on top of a building that provides ventilation and serves as decoration.[5]) These mansions were also often surrounded by grand gardens with geometrically cut bushes that complemented the symmetry of the houses.[6] Antebellum architectural structures often have multiple stories or levels.[7]

The interior of these mansions were just as extravagant as the outside. Common features included enormous foyers, sweeping open stairways, ballrooms, grand dining rooms, and detailed design work. The design work included intricate shapes and patterns made from plaster used to adorn walls and furniture. It was also used to create wood and floor designs. Designs additionally include friezes, large pier glasses, and marble mantels.[4]

Greek revival components apparent in antebellum architecture include doorways, often recessed and flanked by pilastered and entablatured columns.[7]

Similarly, Georgian architecture is illustrated with highly decorated entrances featuring colonnades, including a lunette over the door.[7]


The Herndon Glanton Reeves house, built in 1845 in Troup County, Georgia, was home to several prominent citizens and used as a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. The detail on the staircase newel and on the wall are both common features of antebellum architecture.

Many plantation houses still standing are of this style, including:


The features associated with antebellum architecture were introduced by people of European descent who settled in the Southern states during the colonial period and in U.S. territories after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 along with a wave of immigration from Europe in 1812.[8] Great numbers of Europeans seeking economic opportunities emigrated to America after Napoleon's defeat and the end of the war of 1812. This new wave of entrepreneurs began to dominate not only the economy, but also the architecture of the first half of the 19th century.[9]

A prime example of the influence of immigrants in antebellum architecture is Stanton Hall. The Hall was built by Frederick Stanton, an immigrant from Ireland who made his fortune in trading cotton. The design was based on the Revival style. The Hall also goes to show the increasingly connected national and global economy in which antebellum architecture emerged. The house used mantel pieces from New York, gas-burning chandeliers from Philadelphia, and mirrors from France. Similar to many antebellum homes, Stanton Hall was built using a fortune Stanton made trading cotton. During the Civil War, like many other plantation houses, the Hall was occupied by Union soldiers.[10]

President Andrew Jackson's home, The Hermitage, is another prime example of both antebellum architecture and the social conditions in which it arose. It was built in the Federal Style which, while losing favor in the more trendy East, was still popular in Western slave states like Tennessee. Later, renovations made the house more in line with contemporary styles, adding Doric columns and making it more Classical and Revivalist in appearance.[11] Like other homes of its time, the Hermitage was built in a symmetrical design with equal amounts of corridors and rooms.[11] Not just reflecting the cultural differences between the West and East in this time, the Hermitage also was part of the South's economy. The Hermitage was an active plantation which grew the period's dominant cash crop, cotton.

Georgia's Old Governor's Mansion is one of the finest examples of the High Greek Revival architecture of this period. The mansion, located in Milledgeville, was designed by Charles Cluskey, an Irish immigrant who emigrated to New York City in 1827 where he trained to be an architect under the firm Town and Davis, and was built by Timothy Porter in 1839. Like other antebellum homes, this mansion has Ionic columns, a covered porch, and symmetrically placed windows. For over thirty years, this mansion housed many Georgian chief executives such as George Crawford, Howell Cobb and Joseph E. Brown. It was used as a stage for their speeches, and a place to introduce important guests. This mansion also played a part in the Civil War; General William T. Sherman headquartered in the building in 1864 and it was claimed as a prize in the "March to the Sea." After the war, the mansion was abandoned when Georgia's government was moved to Atlanta.[12]

After the Civil War, the upkeep of these homes was strained. Stanton Hall, for example, was owned by the descendants of Stanton for several decades after the Civil War, but eventually the financial burden was too much and it became the Stanton College for Young Ladies.

Today most antebellum buildings serve as museums. These museums, especially the museums located at former plantations, often attempt to show both sides of the architectural style. While celebrating the beauty of the buildings, they also tell the story of the slaves who worked the land. Boone Hall is a prime example of modern antebellum museums. The museum uses nine of the original slave cabins built between 1790 and 1810 as part of its "Black History in America" exhibit. In the exhibit, each cabin presents different aspects of slave life on the plantation. While the style's history remains controversial, exhibits like these are important in exposing the public to America's history with slavery.[13]

In modern society[edit]

An estimated 20% of antebellum mansions remain intact in the south today due to many being burned during the Civil War, natural disasters, and their neglect. Many antebellum homes are now museums; Georgia's Old Governor's Mansion is an example of this. The mansion belongs to Georgia College, and is its most treasured structure. In 2001, the structure began its restoration, and now serves as a museum that exhibits artifacts and gardens that showcase its history. Tours are available today that focus on the history of the building, gardens, and artifacts. The mansion was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.[12]

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and Mississippi. Its effects damaged or destroyed many antebellum buildings throughout the South. This destruction once again raised the question of whether or not these buildings, as symbols of a wealthy society propped up by slavery, should be preserved. For example, Grass Lawn, an antebellum mansion in Gulfport, Mississippi, was totally destroyed by the hurricane. As the community began to raise funds to rebuild the mansion, it faced resistance from parts of the community who opposed the symbolism of the mansion.[14] Though it eventually passed through city council, the bill funding the reconstruction was at first even voted down.

Many prime example of antebellum architecture did not receive the same support as Grass Lawn. In the wake of Katrina, cleanups of cities often did not follow the guidelines of the National Historic Preservation Act. Hundreds of properties were destroyed with little hope of being reconstructed or commemorated.[9] There are movements however, to preserve these historic properties. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for example helps to preserve important architectural properties, especially those affected by Katrina.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nash, Gary B.; et al. (2009). The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. Vol. 1 (to 1877) (6th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall (London: Pearson; plus Longman and Vango imprints). ISBN 9780205642823. OCLC 312403803.
  2. ^ Craven, Jackie. "About Antebellum Homes Before and After the War". ThoughtCo. Dotdash. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  3. ^ "A History of Antebellum Architecture". Providence High Tech News. 2016-10-28. Archived from the original on 2019-01-09. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  4. ^ a b Fottler, Marsha (2010-05-23). "Homage to Antebellum architecture". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Archived from the original on 2020-05-19. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  5. ^ "Glossary of Architectural Terms". Archiseek: Online Architecture Resources. Archived from the original on December 27, 2008. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  6. ^ "Antebellum Garden Design". Old House Restoration, Products & Decorating. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  7. ^ a b c Lancaster, Clay (2015). Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-6168-6.
  8. ^ "What is Antebellum Architecture? Definition and Examples". Archived from the original on 2014-07-12. Retrieved 2014-08-17.
  9. ^ a b "What is Antebellum Architecture? Is it worth saving?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  10. ^ "The Story of Stanton Hall... Then and Now". Archived from the original on 2018-05-16. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  11. ^ a b "Andrew Jackson's Hermitage Mansion Story". The Hermitage. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  12. ^ a b "Georgia's Old Governor's Mansion". Georgia College. May 16, 2020. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  13. ^ "Black History in America : Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens". Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  14. ^ "Rebuilding a Historic Mississippi Plantation". Restoration & Design for the Vintage House | Old House Online. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  15. ^ "FEMA Helps Mississippi Preserve Important Architectural Properties". FEMA. Retrieved 2019-12-04.