Page C3.1 . 24 January 2001                     
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    How Rowhouses Shaped Our Neighborhoods

    by Christine Hunter

    In North America, rowhouses go back to the days of the earliest European colonies. By the 1630s, English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, and probably elsewhere, were putting up small groups of attached houses closely modeled on familiar English forms that had been built since medieval times.

    Like many other early colonial houses, these had two roughly equal ground-floor rooms and a steep, winding staircase to sleeping areas above. The long hallway along one party wall, however, was different in plan from any freestanding house of the era.

    Throughout the eighteenth century, as towns and cities along the Atlantic coast grew and prospered, the value of land close to their bustling centers rose steadily. To make the most of narrow strips of property, rowhouses became a standard home form for urban families.

    Many of the earliest, for reasons of economy, were built entirely of wood. But periodic devastating fires in increasingly dense communities gradually led to the enactment of building laws, and often the creation of fire districts, within which exterior wood walls on or close to property lines were prohibited.

    Early 19th Century

    By about 1800 most rowhouses were being built in the dominant Federal style, with simple details derived from Greek antiquity. Despite the fact that such classical details were being used to adorn a wide range of building types, from commercial structures to southern plantation houses, many Americans associated them with early Greek democracy and therefore felt that they expressed the egalitarian nature of the young republic.

    This article is excerpted from "Ranches, Rowhouses, and Railroad Flats," by Christine Hunter. Copyright 1998 by Christine Hunter," with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc..



    ArchWeek Photo

    Rowhouses of the early 1800s had gabled roofs with attic dormers.
    Image: Christine Hunter

    ArchWeek Photo

    The early colonial settlement of Jamestown included a group of three rowhouses. Historians think they had roof gables facing the street.
    Image: Christine Hunter


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