Greek Revival Architecture – Architectural Styles of Richmond

This is post number one about architectural styles of Richmond, a series which, you guessed it, covers the various architectural styles of Richmond!

You ever notice all of those doric columns that exist all over Richmond? Perhaps public buildings that look a lot like Greek temples? This is called, simply enough, “Greek Revival Architecture.”  It was the most popular architectural style in Richmond before the Civil War and was used a bit after, although it tended to be mixed with some other style..

We all now know how epic Greek architecture was. Today, we hear about or have seen the Acropolis, the Oracle, and all of those famous Greek buildings.  All of that was lost for hundreds of years to westerners, as the Ottoman Empire, who controlled Greece, did not take kindly to Europeans snooping around at a time when conflicts between the Western Christian and Eastern Muslim Empires were either active, or were smoldering under the surface. The Empire  occasionally allowed a few travelers (people who could pay)  to come in. Some English chaps, from the Society of the Dileitanti in 1751 saw this architecture, reported back to England about it, and soon thereafter this architectural revival began.

The Greek Revival style is sort of a giant squared or rectangular building made of stone with Doric, Ionian, or Corinthian columns that are displayed prominently on a portico on the front of the building. This style was not directly copied from ancient Greek styles as older looks were combined with modern construction methods and features. Some have hip roofs, some churches may have bell towers, or various other features. The basic structure is the same on most (but not all, as we’ll see) and these make it “Greek Revival” rather than just Greek. Greek might be the base, but features from other styles change it a bit.

Here are a few Greek Revival Buidings in Richmond:

Ellen Glasgow House

This is the Ellen Glasgow (a Pulitzer Prize winning, Richmond novelist who created historical fiction surrounding the Civil War) House located at 1 West Main Street. This is a pretty straight forward Greek Classical style


 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

This is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near the Capitol It was built in 1843 and patterned after St. Luke’s Cathedral in Philadelphia. It’s a fantastic example of the Greek revival style bent to the whims of contemporary needs, such as church bells. The who’s who of Richmond worshipped here, including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis (in case you were curious who’s who of the who’s who).


Monumental Church

Monumental Church below is the first Greek Revival structure in the city. It was designed by Thomas Jefferson’s only architectural student, Robert Mills who would build several structures in Washington D.C. It was built in 1812 to commemorate 72 people who died in a theater fire at that same spot and also to serve the more practical purpose of having an Episcopal church to Shockoe Hill. It has the standard features of columns and portico, except it has a beautiful octagonal, domed center and spire that was never completed. One distinct feature is the low-dome which allows more light to come into the church

.monumental church

First African Baptist Church

Unfortunately the only public domain picture I could find of the First African Baptist Church is tiny. It’s pretty close to the above mentioned Monumental Church. In case you were curious how it got this name… it was the first Baptist Church for African Americans in the city, being built in 1841. Originally, there was a white preacher there, as it was illegal for African Americans to preach (it seems some of the African American preachers organized rebellions from the pulpit). The building itself is fantastic example of the blocked building with Doric portico.


That’s it for our lesson for today… look out for more of these architecture of Richmond articles!

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Author Matthew Maggy

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