The architectural styles of buildings prior to 1900 can be divided into two major categories. The earliest group, structures dating from 1790 to 1850’s consists of traditional house types that originated in Europe. The second group, during the last half of the 19th C, comprises architectural styles that originated in America by selection, imitation and variation of European architectural styles.
Many of the structures in Frenchtown are not perfect examples of a particular style, but rather represent a combination of certain characteristics. Individual builders selected the characteristics they liked best and incorporated these into their homes and buildings. Also it should be noted that while discouraged today, it is not uncommon to see an early German or French Colonial home that was “updated” with Victorian details in the 1890’s.
The styles of the first period included the French Colonial House, Salt Box, German Single House and Federal.
Limestone affected the style of a number of houses during the early period. The stone was taken from a single level from the Missouri River bluffs. Construction was difficult and required the skills of a stone mason, as the “dry” method, without mortar, was used.
The French Colonial House (1830-50) is a one and a half story oblong house with two rooms side by side facing the street via outside stairs leading to the full width galleried porch with two separate front doors to the main rooms on the upper level. The large front gallery is achieved with a high pitched roof extended out over several plain square or simply turned posts with simple small square balusters on the handrails. Six over six pane windows had outside shutters and solid four panel doors are placed in symmetric sequence as the typical Six Bay arrangement of window-door-window-window -door-window. Although many of these homes have had roof dormer windows, ornate balusters, brackets and frieze moldings added in the 1880’s the style was historically utilitarian and austere. Interiors had wide random width heart pine flooring, single beaded baseboards and plain casings with sloped top window and door pediments.
The St. Charles German Single style house (circa 1870-1900) is a brick one and a half to two storey with a cellar built on a stone foundation which extended above the ground level. Smaller homes only had access to the cellar via an outside storm door. Early examples have a medium pitched gable with paired chimneys at either end. The front usually has two front doors, each with a transom window over. Windows are large two over two panes, often with simply carving in arched wooden headers. Later examples have ornate butterfly or scroll saw cut casings with bull’s eye corners, flat sawn porch balusters and brackets. Baseboards were tall and decorative, often made of two pieces of molding, flooring was 4” wide heart pine. A prominent characteristic is the classical decorative brick work across the cornice. In St. Charles this included three stepped-out layers of brick with outside cornice corners built out onto the gable side. became somewhat more sophisticated, required greater carpentry and masonry skills, and were more expensive.
The St. Charles German Single style house (circa 1830-1850) modest storey and a half structures of a “shotgun” plan Doorways were set to one side with sidelights and full width fixed multi paned transom window above a simple stoop entry. Paired chimneys and parapet walls.
Most of the Federal structures in St. Charles were two storey homes. They are box-like in shape with a symmetrical façade and . Doorways were set to one side with sidelights. The hipped roofline was trimmed with a balustrade, with paired chimneys usually located at each end of the gable.
The architectural styles and buildings of the second period, from 1850 to 1900, Buildings during this period included Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne Victorian, Eastlake Victorian and Romanesque.
The Greek Revival structure resembled a classical temple with a low pitched roofline. The triangular
gable pediment was shifted to the front of the house. All lines were simple, most of the windows vertical, with architectural emphasis directed to the columns and pilasters. Greek Revival was often the style for larger homes, public buildings and other substantial structures.
In the Gothic Revival styles, emphasis was placed on the vertical effect by the multiple use of sharply pointed gables. These gables were ornamented with decorative barge boards and windows on the house had pointed arches.
Although few, Italianate influenced buildings consist of a symmetrical arrangement of squared shapes and lines. Rooflines are slightly pitched with projecting eaves supported by brackets. In this style,
windows are often round headed and set in groups of two or three. The Italianate usually had a tall square tower or cupola, bay windows, balconies and several verandas.
The Second Empire style originated in France where houses of this style are characterized by a high massive Mansard roof with dormer windows extending through the roofline. Slate was often used as the slope of the roof was fairly steep. The outside corners of the structures are often embellished with quoins -stacked, staggered cut stone columns and windows tend to be tall, narrow and set in pairs.
The Queen Anne Victorian had an irregularity of plan and massing with a variety of shapes, colors and textures. Gables, dormers, patterned brick chimneys, round or polygonal turrets and bay windows were characteristic of this style. Diagonal braces or “stick work” were used on porches , eaves and over clapboards for styling on the Stick Style Victorian. And the exterior walls of the upper stories had a uniform covering of shingles, roofline gabled, hipped or both on Shingle Style Victorians.
The Romanesque style’s most prominent feature is barrel vaulted doorways and semi-circular arched top windows of masonry -stone or brick- and belts of protruding masonry around the base of the building. This style was most often used for banks, post offices, libraries and other large structures due to its strong and often imposing look, however several examples of this style may be found in St. Charles as homes.
The Arts & Crafts style became popular in the 1920’s with several mail order companies, like Sears and Montgomery Wards, offering kit houses by mail and delivered to the jobsite. Most have large overhanging front porches supported by tapered box columns of wood or brick. The term bungalow is often associated with smaller homes of this style as they were relatively easy to build and their simple floorplans still suit modern lifestyles. The windows are usually multiple vertical panes over a single lower on double hung windows but other mullion grid patterns were used, often on the same house, including diamond shapes, leaded glass stylized tulips and geometric patterns, small square and octagon windows and patterned glass (usually used on bathroom windows). Bathrooms were tiled palaces in colors from black and white to “Depression green” and pink in the 4o’s.
Art Deco was popularized by the Paris Exhibition of 1920 where adornments to building façades were limited and geometric. In Frenchtown, two structures on Second Street, The People’s Bank Building and Barton Brothers (formerly a bank also) are notable examples with white glazed brick street sides accented with black and green glazed brick. Diamond and stair stepped patterns adorn the cornice areas of each and large single panes of glass that were now available for the first time were shown off at street level. Inside plain paneling and unadorned but large woodwork are hallmarks of the style.
Many Streamline Moderne homes may be found in Frenchtown, and are gaining appreciation among young home buyers for their relatively contemporary styling. Now listed as contributing structures to the historic districts, these mid-century modern homes are finally protected and are starting to become appreciated. Often built of brick or stone veneer with engineering features impossible before their time, such as corner-less windows (a detail popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright) and narrow textured brick faces. Both of these details may be seen on the house at 1401 North Third Street. The interiors of these homes often have swirl textured plaster walls, narrow strip oak hardwood flooring and uncased, radiused corner windows and doors and marble window sills. Many of the windows in these structures were commercial style painted iron with horizontal dividers. Secondary windows were single pane glass casement style or double hung and front doors are solid slab wood with small, asymmetric windows.
Although architects and historians try to categorize structures into these and other building styles, many are of multiple influences and are not a pure style. And although unaltered since construction, they may exhibit characteristics of various styles of their contemporaries; such as Second Empire, Romanesque and Italianate that were all popular at the end of the Twentieth Century, as seen on the large home at 719 North Second St. with its Empire roof, Italianate applied swag cornice and prominent stone Romanesque entryway. Others exhibit multiple influences through alterations by their owners over time; some by an attempt to “update” and others may have had additions added to them of progressively later styles. It is important to note that all of the structures predating 1950 are in the city’s “Period of Significance” and are protected from negligent acts of remodeling, “updating” and other alterations and require the approval of both the Historic Landmarks Board and Building Permits before any work may proceed on them. This includes garages, fences and other historic architectural details as well in order that these structures will remain for future generations as examples of the times and the events that influenced their development.