Homes of the First Settlers in America
The foremost Early American house designs evolved as a result of the first settlers trying to protect themselves from the harsh elements, dangerous wild animals, and attacks by Native Americans.
When they eventually felt a degree of security with regards to these dangers and uncertainties, they started to develop an interest in enhancing their abodes and structures and devoted more determined efforts in the direction of aesthetics and comfort in their new found country.
The North of the United States had settlers who were mainly religious enthusiasts, while the South was inhabited by wealthy plantation owners who lived like lords, acquired rare breed horses, traveled in their coaches-and-six, and had slave labour till their thousands of acres of farmland obtained by royal grant.
In New England, as opposed to places like Virginia and Pennsylvania; inhabitants didn't have much appreciation for the arts, architectural styles and decorative forms for either the interior or exterior of their buildings.
It wasn’t until the very early years of the 18th century that walls made of rectangular panels was introduced and became the popular choice for building construction.
And a few years down the road, the use of trims and moldings fashioned after classical architectural forms became popular.
On the other hand, houses built in the Southern states were erected in brick, as early as 1670, and many of the grand homes showed evidence of a people with a taste for the decorative arts and the use of classic architectural features in their building interiors.
The interest in beautiful surroundings by the early American settlers after the 'awakening', can be aptly described as an accidental happenstance.
The earliest productions showing some semblance of style were crafted with good proportions and gradually, charming details were introduced.
New movements in European art almost always had its origin in a conscious effort to make luxury handmade products for the rich patrons of decorative arts, and for royalty. Visual appeal was supreme and was just as important as functionality.
With the advent of industrialization, however, these design forms were fiercely copied and eventually cheapened, so that they can be affordable for the middle class who in turn eventually influenced peasant production.
What History Records Tell Us
History records would tell us that the very first settlers from England that berthed on American shores built residential structures (more like huts or wigwams) out of mud, clay, wood bark and tree branches. Roofing materials were thatch.
Even though these first structures can hardly be categorized as decorative period arts, yet it is good to make mention of the fact that they may be considered as an art in itself, something fashioned to serve a very vital necessity, as 'art is life'.
They are of the opinion that early Swede settlers who came from a country of compact log homes and settled in Delaware in 1638 might be responsible for introducing the construction methods of placing cut down rough-hewn tree logs, placing them one on the other to form one exterior wall and interlocking the logs at the corners to create the four walls of a home.
Cracks and spaces were filled with mud or clay to make the simple structure weather tight.
Building Materials Used Apart from Wood
In the Early American Period of the 17th century, practically all buildings in both Virginia and New England were constructed using wood, but around 1680, other building materials were found and incorporated into their forms.
For example, oyster shells, though not available in abundance in many regions was used for making lime to use as a form of plaster. Stone was also used to build but without mortar. However, such stone structures proved to cause excessive dampness within the interior.
With the availability of plaster, later on, only the inside part of the 3 perimeter walls was rendered to seal all cracks and present smoother looking walls. The 4th wall which was left unplastered became a characteristic feature of the interior while the internal dividing walls remained as wood planking.
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