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Antebellum architecture

Barrington Hall is one classic example of an antebellum home.

Antebellum architecture (meaning "prewar", from the Latin ante, "before", and bellum, "war") is the neoclassical architectural style characteristic of the 19th-century Southern United States, especially the Deep South, from after the birth of the United States with the American Revolution, to the start of the American Civil War.[1] antebellum architecture is especially characterized by Georgian, Neo-classical, and Greek Revival style plantation homes and mansions.

Key featuresEdit

Exterior: The main characteristics of antebellum architecture viewed from the outside of the house often included huge pillars, a balcony that ran along the whole outside edge of the house to offer shade and a sitting area, evenly spaced large windows, and big center entrances at the front and rear of the house to add to the box-like style of the mansion.[2] These mansions also often included grand gardens with geometrically cut bushes to complement the symmetry of the house.[3]

Interior: The interior of these mansions were just as extravagant as the outside. Common features included enormous foyers, sweeping open stairways, ballrooms, grand dining rooms, and intricate design work. The design work included intricate shapes and patterns made from plaster used to adorn walls and furniture. It was also used to create wood and floor designs. [4]

The Herndon Glanton Reeves house, built in 1845 in Troup County, Georgia, was home to several prominent citizens and used as a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. The detail on the staircase newel and on the wall are both common features of antebellum architecture.



The features associated with antebellum architecture were introduced by people of British descent who settled in the Southern states during the colonial period and in U.S. territories after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 along with a wave of immigration from Europe in 1812.[5] Great numbers of Europeans seeking economic opportunities emigrated to America after Napoleon's defeat and the end of the war of 1812. This new wave of entrepreneurs began to dominate not only the economy, but also the architecture of the first half of the 19th century.[6]

A prime example of the influence of immigrants in antebellum architecture is Stanton Hall. The Hall was built by Frederick Stanton, an immigrant from Ireland who made his fortune in trading cotton. The design was based on the Revival style. The Hall also goes to show the increasingly connected national and global economy in which antebellum architecture emerged. The house used mantel pieces from New York, gasoliers from Philadelphia, and mirrors from France. Similar to many antebellum homes, Stanton Hall was built using a fortune Stanton made trading cotton. During the Civil War, like many other plantation houses, the Hall was occupied by Union soldiers.[7]

President Andrew Jackson's home the Hermitage is another prime example of both antebellum architecture and the social conditions in which it arose. It was built in the Federal style, which while losing favor in the more trendy East was still popular in Western slave states like Tennessee. Later, renovations made the house more in line with contemporary stiles, adding Doric columns and making it more Classical and Revivalist in appearance.[8] Not just reflecting the cultural differences between the West and East in this time, the Hermitage also was part of the South's slave-based economy. The Hermitage was an active plantation which grew the period's dominant cash crop, cotton. By the time of his death, Andrew Jackson owned 150 slaves who lived and worked at the Hermitage.[9]

After the Civil War, many antebellum houses were gradually converted from family homes into private schools. Many of these homes were supported either by plantation slavery or by other businesses supported by slavery, so with the end of slavery often came the end of the financial means of supporting such lavish buildings. Stanton Hall, for example, was owned by the descendants of Stanton for several decades after the Civil War, but eventually the financial burden was too much and it became the Stanton College for Young Ladies.

Today most antebellum buildings serve as museums. These museums, especially the museums located at former plantations, often attempt to show both sides of the architectural style. While celebrating the beauty of the buildings, they also tell the story of the slaves who worked the land. Boone Hall is a prime example of modern antebellum museums. The museum uses nine of the original slave cabins built between 1790 and 1810 as part of its "Black History in America" exhibit. In the exhibit, each cabin presents different aspects of slave life on the plantation. While the style's history remains controversial, exhibits like these are important in exposing the public to America's history with slavery.[10]

In modern societyEdit

The debate over whether or not to preserve antebellum Homes is an ongoing one. Some argue that because these lavish homes were built from fortunes created through slavery, oppression, and cruelty it is not ethical to preserve them because they serve as a reminder of American slavery. Others argue that because these homes have historical significance they should be maintained.[6] Movies like Gone with the Wind and 12 Years a Slave are examples of antebellum homes portrayed in pop culture and many antebellum homes today even serve as tourist attractions.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the South and damaged or destroyed many antebellum buildings. This destruction once again raised the question of whether or not these buildings, as symbols of a wealthy society propped up by slavery, should be preserved or not. For example, Grass Lawn, an antebellum mansion in Gulfport, Mississippi, was totally destroyed by the hurricane. As the community began to raise funds to rebuild the mansion, it faced resistance from parts of the community who opposed the symbolism of the mansion.[11] Though it eventually passed through city council, the bill funding the reconstruction was at first even voted down.

Many prime example of antebellum architecture did not receive the same support as Grass Lawn. In the wake of Katrina, cleanups of cities often did not follow the guidelines of the National Historic Preservation Act. Hundreds of properties were destroyed with little hope of being reconstructed or commemorated.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gary B., Nash; et al. (2009). The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. Vol. 1 (to 1877) (6th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall (London: Pearson; plus Longman and Vango imprints). ISBN 9780205642823. OCLC 312403803.
  2. ^ "A History of Antebellum Architecture". Providence High Tech News. 2016-10-28. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  3. ^ "Antebellum Garden Design". Old House Restoration, Products & Decorating. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  4. ^ "American Style: The Antebellum Plantations". Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  5. ^ "What is Antebellum Architecture? Definition and Examples". Retrieved 2014-08-17.
  6. ^ a b "What is Antebellum Architecture? Is it worth saving?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  7. ^ "The Story of Stanton Hall... Then and Now". Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  8. ^ "Andrew Jackson's Hermitage Mansion Story". The Hermitage. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  9. ^ "Slavery | Andrew Jackson's Hermitage Plantation". The Hermitage. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  10. ^ "Black History in America : Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens". Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  11. ^ "Rebuilding a Historic Mississippi Plantation". Restoration & Design for the Vintage House | Old House Online. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  12. ^ "What is Antebellum Architecture? Is it worth saving?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2018-05-16.