Field Guide to Georgetown Homes: Colonial and Federal Period

It’s a weird time. And there’s not a lot of Georgetown news. And if you’re stuck at home, looking for a break from Netflix, GM is going to re-run his Field Guide to Georgetown Homes series. Hopefully it will be a bit informative for you. Enjoy!

If there’s one constant in Georgetown real estate listings, it’s that every house, no matter its shape and style, is described as “Federal”. The problem is that only a small percentage of homes in Georgetown could fairly be described as “Federal”.

Georgetown represents a cross section of 19th century architecture. It has buildings of just about every major style from that time period. To help his readers better appreciate the wealth of architectural styles in Georgetown, GM is going to take a shot at writing a field guide to Georgetown homes.

First up: Colonial and Federal Homes

Georgetown was founded in 1751. As such, the town contains homes dating to the colonial period. The dominant style during the late 18th century was called the Georgian style. It’s characterized by having a paneled front door, surrounded by pilasters (flat columns), and a row of small square windows in the transom. Here’s an example:

Georgian Door

The roof line is another distinguishing feature of Georgian homes. It is typically has cornice with dentil mouldings. Like this:

Dentil Mouldings

The windows normally have small panes of glass and are arranged symetrically on the facade.

The Federal style emerged from the Georgian style following the Revolution. It is a more elaborate version of the Georgian style. There aren’t many Georgian homes in Georgetown, so if it looks Georgian, it’s probably Federal.

One of the most distinguishing features of a true Federal style home is the fan light over the door. Here’s an example:

fan light

Somewhat similar to the fan lights, palladian windows also are common to the style. Here’s what they look like:

Finally, another big thing to look out for are fancy decorative details like these swag:


All these elements come together into the Georgian/Federal style.

The one thing to keep in mind is that the Federal period came to an end by around 1820. So if the building is from a later time, it’s probably part of the later Colonial Revival, which arose in the 1880s and lasted well into the middle 20th century. If it’s even later than that, it’s technically neocolonial. Georgetown is a little like an archaeological dig with the cross streets like the dirt layers: the further south a building is, the earlier it probably was built. So if you’re looking at a Federal looking building and it’s in north Georgetown, then it’s probably from these later two styles.

So real estate agents: if it doesn’t look like these, it’s not a Federal building. There’s a good chance it’s really one of the styles GM will talk about tomorrow: Italianate.

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