Friday, July 11, 2014

Greek Revival Architecture and Southeast Michigan

By Gretchen Sawatzki

The Greek Revival style of architecture is considered America's first national style with an influence spreading north to south, and east to west. Nowhere is the style more evident than in Southeast Michigan.  Dotted along our cities' streets, these simplistic structures are testaments to an in depth history like no other style of architecture.

Classic Greek Revival Style home.
Popular as early as the 1820s, this post War of 1812 architecture became the poster child of democracy in architectural design as it mimicked the ancient temples and democratic ideology of ancient Greece. The style was also a symbol of strength and order with its symmetrical facade, and formidable stature. But what does this have to do with Michigan?

The Michigan Territory was officially recognized by the United States government in 1805, seven years prior to the War of 1812. Around this time the territory was experiencing skirmishes led by the English desperate to gain possession of land and waterways once previously held by their French adversaries. With the war ending in 1815, democratic fever swept over the nation, and with wars of independence sprouting up in countries all over the world including Greece. Between 1821 and 1832, the Greeks fought to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire, during which time, Michigan was undergoing its own change moving from a territory to an officially incorporated state in the union in 1837.

Bust of Demetrius Ypsilanti
With the new recognition as a state by the United States government, Michiganders took Greek and Roman names for its cities and towns, and adopted the Greek Revival style of architecture to flaunt its own democratic identity. In fact, the city of Ypsilanti, which was founded in 1825 was given a Greek name itself; named for Demetrius Ypsilanti, a hero of the Greek War of Independence.

As Greekmania swept across the country the style took on many different features including the addition of two side appendages. This particular iteration of the style can only be found in Southeast Michigan and is called the "hen and chicks" as the building resembles a hen wrapping her wings around two small chicks. The Greek Revival style remained popular into the 1860s, but fell out of favor in most areas of Michigan a decade earlier.

Example of Southeast Michigan's "hen and chicks"
And while these structures may seem a bit bland as evidence of their typically white color,
remember that these buildings are more than any average style of architecture. The Greek Revival is a symbol of democracy that has an interwoven story in the history of Michigan.

1 comment:

  1. When an American thinks of a stately home. The main edifice he or she would draw, would be a picture of a Greek Revival. My home, completed in 1902, originally one of 2 identical homes side-by-side, is a Greek revival, embellished with everything but the kitchen sink, no wait, that's there too. As a stand alone style the Greek revival may be long gone, sans a sprinkling of retro, custom country homes. But as the basic box designers and architects attach their "original" ideas to?'s alive and well thank you very much! When America has a good idea, like the mustang or peanut butter, it doesn't go away, we just "jazz" it up, cause that was our idea too!