Cape Cod Cottage & History of Cape Cod Architecture

This early regional house style caught on like wildfire, and the Cape Cod home is arguably one of the most recognizable today. By Patricia Poore

Full Cape with accretions, ca. 1750 and later, Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cods are short, stout, and simple to the point of austerity. Nevertheless, they evoke powerful images of warmth and comfort, integrity and safety. A true colonial type widely copied to this day, the Cape Cod says “home.”

There are two Cape Cod styles, really: the originals, modest and practical houses built from 1690 until 1850 or so; and the homey Colonial Revival Capes of the 20th century. The originals were most often half or three-quarter Capes, shingle-clad, sited to take advantage of the sun’s rays, their interiors centered on the hearth-warmed kitchen. Revival houses, neat and nostalgic behind their white picket fences, are most often symmetrical full Capes, often clapboarded and shuttered, painted white, with more formal and flexible floor plans.

The term “Cape Cod House” was used as early as 1800, in a comment by Yale College president Timothy Dwight on a visit to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Even by then, the type had spread; by 1740, such houses had been built throughout most of

New England, and also on New York’s Long Island. By 1790 it had made its way into southern New York State. Homesteaders brought the Cape Cod house with them to central New York, to the area around Lake Erie, and by 1830 into Ohio and Michigan.

A Colonial Revival-era Cape.

Regional variants with gambrel and bowed roofs (for headroom), and sometimes with small dormers (for added light in the loft space), appeared in Massachusetts and Connecticut. As the house type was brought west during the early 19th century, builders added popular Greek Revival details. Inside, the earliest houses were spare and simple, with floors and furnishings of pine.

Although Victorian styles eclipsed the plain Cape, these houses came back, in greater numbers than ever, during the Colonial Revival of the 1930s, often larger than the originals and with different framing methods, interior plans, staircases, and details. Owing to the romantic associations of 18th century models and the ubiquity of 20th century Capes, this is arguably the most recognized house style in America.

Post and beam construction anchors the early Cape to its central chimney.

Hallmarks of the Cape Cod Cottage

Center chimney ; ubiquitous in early examples

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