The Greek Revival style—often cited as America’s first “national style”—peaked during the early and mid-19th-century, just before the Civil War descended. Although it was immensely popular, Greek Revival was primarily an architectural style—it didn’t directly inform décor the way later styles (such as Victorian or Arts & Crafts) did. Rather, Greek Revival interiors were influenced by multiple décor trends, from American Federal to French Empire. To gather ideas for appropriate furnishings, house museums are a great place to turn—here’s a smattering of meticulously restored Greek Revival museums to get you started.
Location: Madison, Indiana
History: Considered the “crown jewel” of a town filled with fine examples of Greek Revival architecture, this 1844 estate was designed by prolific Madison architect Francis Costigan for wealthy financier and railroad magnate James F.D. Lanier. Now a National Historic Landmark, it features textbook Greek Revival features both inside and out, including an octagonal lantern, a frieze punctuated with oculus windows, and a central hall with a majestic spiral staircase. Recent restorations have brought the interior back to its 19th-century splendor.
Details: Open daily (except holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with tours starting on the hour. The last tour leaves at 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, $2 for children under 12, and free for children under 2.
Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts
History: Situated within the County Street Historical District, the 1834 house built for whaling merchant William Rotch, Jr., displays historic furnishings from three periods, designed to reflect the three families who lived there (Rotch from 1834, Jones from 1851, and Duff from 1935). Other interior details have been restored to the mid-19th century, from the paneled interior shutters covering the large windows to the ornamental plaster medallions on the ceilings.
Details: Hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, with 30-minute self-guided tours. Adult admission is $5; discounts are available for AAA members, seniors, students, and children. On the second Thursday evening of every month (January excepted), the museum is open free of charge.
Location: Leesburg, Virginia
History: Originally conceived as a Federal mansion in 1804, construction of Oatlands was disrupted by the war of 1812. When proprietor George Carter finally returned to the project, he reimagined the house as a grand Greek Revival, incorporating features like a soaring portico and octagonal drawing room. Meticulously preserved, today the estate regularly hosts afternoon teas, gardening workshops, and other events.
Details: The house is open from April through December; hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tours are offered on the hour. Admission to the house and grounds is $10 for adults (senior and student discounts available); grounds-only admission is $7.
Location: Geneva, New York
History: Oft-cited as one of the finest examples of residential Greek Revival architecture in the country, Rose Hill was built in 1839 as a working farm. The home’s original owners, the Swan family, furnished it in the height of American Empire style; many of their original furnishings—including an 1845 rosewood parlor set—are still in the house today.
Details: The house is open from May through October, Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thirty-minute tours, which leave every hour on weekdays and every half-hour on weekends, expound on the daily life of the Swan family in the mid-19th century. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for children ages 10-18, and free for children under 9.
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
History: Built as a farmhouse in 1848 by Henri Chatillon, the home was soon enlarged (in 1861) by Dr. Nicholas DeMenil, who turned it into a stately Greek Revival. Preserved from 1960s-era freeway encroachment by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, it still boasts many of the original details DeMenil installed, including marble mantelpieces and plaster ceiling medallions. The furnishings reflect the French heritage of the house’s two primary owners.
Details: Open Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; guided tours leave every hour. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children.
Location: Demopolis, Alabama
History: Situated on a 40-acre former cotton plantation, Gaineswood started out as a dogtrot cabin, and was added onto over a period of 18 years until owner Nathan Whitfield realized his dream of a Greek Revival estate in 1860. The interior is renowned for its domed ceilings and elaborate plasterwork, and many of the furnishings are original Whitfield heirlooms, donated by family members.
Details: The house is open for tours Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the first Saturday of each month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults (student, senior, and military discounts available), $3 for children 6-18, and free for children under 6.
Location: Andalusia, Pennsylvania
History: Distinguished a heavy temple colonnade that overlooks the Delaware River, Andalusia was commissioned in 1835 by Nicholas Biddle, a prominent Philadelphia banker who hired architect Thomas U. Walter to expand an existing 1806 house built by his father-in-law. Today, the house holds a treasure trove of late-18th- and 19th-century English, French, Chinese, and American furniture collected by multiple generations of Biddles.
Details: Andalusia is open for private tours by appointment only; tour packages for seven or more guests start at $10 per person. Tours can be arranged between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
For more Greek Revival house museums, check out 7 southern gardens to visit.Published in: Old-House Journal April/May 2011