Residential Architecture


The earliest settlers, the Swedes, built relatively small houses along the creeks and rivers in the area. They brought the log cabin form, which was known throughout northern Europe, as an easily built but very sturdy building technique. Construction depended on timbers of large size which were readily available throughout the Delaware Valley.

The first log cabins were one room, often with a corner fireplace but rapidly a two room plan evolved where the corner fireplace was at the junction of an interior and exterior wall, which allowed less heat to escape through outside walls. This plan was so successful that William Penn recommended it to early settlers.

The English colonists brought over two different approaches to building their houses. From the beginning, city houses and country houses built by the wealthy, acknowledged the Georgian style then popular in England. They could range from modest to elaborate with large entry halls and stairways, downstairs and upstairs parlors for receiving guests and often kitchens off the back of the house in attached ells. 

These houses were designed to establish their owner’s presence in society by following certain aesthetic rules, and including the details, of Georgian architecture – the socially dominant style in Great Britain. Some houses were very large and very elaborate such as Stenton, the home of James Logan, Penn’s administrator.

At the same time other houses were being built that were less stylistically sophisticated and relatively unadorned with the carved woodwork and elaborate door and window treatments of Georgian architecture. Found in both the city and country, the owners lacked the desire or affluence or both to build a “high style” home. Many of these country houses are now called “farm” houses like the Thomson-Neely House and the Moland House in Bucks County and are more related to earlier homes found elsewhere in the colonies and vernacular homes in England.