Urban houses differed in several ways from rural dwellings. In seventeenth-century America, some of the few truly rich people lived in cities, and
sometimes they had large houses with several rooms. From its founding, Philadelphia broke with the tradition of American timber houses and built its
dwellings mostly of brick. Brick houses in Philadelphia were both taller some extending to three stories and more cramped than wooden houses in New
England. Brick offered less vulnerability to fire a constant danger, particularly in large cities than wood.
Although wooden houses predominated at first, the Dutch built much of their housing in New Amsterdam in brick or stone. Dutch houses also put the
gable end to the street, while the broad front of the house faced an alley. The Virginia Assembly, prompted by governor William Berkeley, enacted in 1662
a requirement that each county support the building of a brick house in Jamestown as part of a program to expand and modernize the capital of theprovince. The program was unsuccessful due to the general indifference of Virginia planters to urban centers.
The cities also had large populations of poor, who were housed in crowded wooden buildings in back alleys, vulnerable to epidemic disease and fire. A
calamitous fire, such as the one that swept Boston in 1679, sometimes led a town to replace its destroyed wooden housing stock with brick. Severe
weather could have the same effect. Charles Town, whose houses originally were wooden and built in the manner of the West Indies, where its colonists
originated, with high ceilings and large windows to minimize heat, suffered a severe hurricane in 1713. As a result of the damage, the South Carolina
Assembly ordered that subsequent building be in brick, although this requirement was frequently ignored. Charles Town had a distinctive, Frenchinfluenced
style of brickwork, a contribution of the town’s large Huguenot population.
Although some bricks were imported from England, most bricks used in colonial buildings were American-made. Some areas, such as tidewater Virginia,
boasted clay deposits that made excellent bricks. Bricks were also recycled as old buildings fell into ruin or were demolished. Ivor Noel Malcolm, an
archaeologist specializing in colonial Virginia, has estimated the size of the average eighteenth-century colonial American brick measured 8¾ by 4 by 2
5/8 inches. Seventeenth-century bricks were slightly smaller.
As brick and stone houses became more common, cheaper wooden housing dropped in status. The mid-eighteenth-century Swedish traveler Peter Kalm,
describing the town of New Brunswick, pointed out that many of the houses had only one brick wall, facing the street, while the rest of the building was of
wood. Someone passing through rapidly, he claimed, might think most of the town brick. Wooden housing held on longest in New England.Pruitt-Igoe: the troubled high-rise that came to define urban … Ltf
Urban American Housing Photo Gallery
Single-Family Can Be Urban, Too Ltf
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