American Federal 1780-1820

The Pierce Nichols House
Salem MA 1782
by Samuel McIntire


Adam style (called American Federal) was a development and refinement of the preceding Georgian Style. Established first by wealthy merchants and shipbuilders along the New England Coast.

Adam Style became the dominant style after the revolutionary war when America's population grew from three million to ten million. It reached its zenith in the prosperous coastal cities of New England. Salem, Boston, and fewer but fine examples in Hingham and Duxbury. 80% of Hingham's antique homes are Adam/Federal style. From 1780 to 1820, construction boomed. Many new public buildings were needed for our new government. Although we rejected England politically, we still looked to her for architectural inspiration.


Hunter House 1748, Newport RI


The Adam brothers who introduced the style in England, studied the classical designs and re-interpreted them. They became extremely popular and pattern books were sent to America. It was during this time that true American architects appeared on the scene. Samuel McIntire, (Salem) Alexander Perris (Maine) Charles Bulfinch (Boston). Some truly magnificent examples of Public architecture were built during the Federal Period.


How do you know it's a Federal?

Age: 1780-1820

Construction: Post and Beam

Shape: square (like Georgian) often three story, while scale of details, moldings, columns, etc. windows, doors, (the structural parts) are enlarged.

Layout: same as Georgian but often has wings with some very fancy ovals rooms.

Roof: Same as the Georgian.

Details: Cornices could be unadorned could be very fancy with dentils, swags, medallions. Pilasters, keystone lintels, Palladian windows above the entry, fanlights, sidelights. Almost all interiors have graceful decorative ornament, either carved in wood or cast in plaster, applied to mantels, walls, ceilings and elsewhere. Typical decorative motifs include swags, garlands, urns, and classic geometric patterns formed by fluted radiating lines.

When distinguishing Georgian from Federal keep in mind the above differences in scale and decorative details.

Lyman House 1798
Waltham MA


Gore Place 1805
Waltham MA

Back to Architecture

This site created by Sandra Pollock at Real Site Design
Copyright Sandra Pollock
(no part of this page or anything on this site may be copied for use on the internet)