How old is my house?
What kind of row house do I have?
What did my row house originally look like?
I receive questions like this all the time. If you live in a larger row home that was owned by someone famous, such as Dolly Todd (later Madison) or President James Madison, who both lived in row houses near each other in Philadelphia; or Betsy Ross, who didn’t even own her row home, it’s easy to learn about all the details of your historic row house. For the rest of us, who live in the hundreds of older row homes that were built for the average person, it’s often quite a bit harder.
One of my favorite resources is “A Field Guide to American Houses,” by Virginia McAlester, Lee McAlester, and Juan Rodriguez-Arnaiz. This book is easy to understand and offers an overview of the different styles of homes that have been built in America over the years. The authors specifically designed the book so that homeowners could learn about their homes without getting an advanced degree in architecture or historic preservation.
Inspired by the field guide, I decided to put together a guide of how the architectural styles were applied to typical American (and some European) row houses and will update this post as new styles get added to the guide. It’s also important to note that the more average row homes, being designated for the average urban dweller of modest income in most cases, often will be a simplified representation of a style and often transcend two adjacent styles. For example, quite a few Federal row homes were retrofitted with Greek Revival characteristics, so I’ll do my best to find some good examples.