Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The American Four Square In Delmar

Delmar has a hodgepodge of house types but one type that is predominate in East Delmar, generally east of 5th street is the American Four Square. These homes are the epitome of the classic All-American older home and Delmar is fortunate to have so many fine remaining examples. In the past, some people have referred to these houses as “boxy.” But a more thorough observation today reveals a carefully balanced, almost Zen-like refinement to their “simple” design. Certainly among two-story houses, the Four-Square was the most popular house of its day


Since the section of Delmar East of 5th street was developed in the first quarter of the 1900's that is where these houses flourish. The Four square was a popular design from the 1890's to the 1930's.

Most Four-Squares contain two and a half stories, making full use of narrow city lots. They frequently contain a large hip-roof front dormer illuminating an unfinished attic. The house roofs are almost always pyramidal, with the four equal slopes coming to a point in the center. A Four-Square house is square. The height of the front facade should be the same as its width. In its purest form, all four sides of the house are of equal dimension, forming a perfect cube.

Despite the style’s emphasis on geometrical regularity, the window and door treatment of the front first story is seldom symmetrical. The front door is usually placed off to the side to allow for the large living room window(s). Second story window placement is however nearly always symmetrical with two equal bedroom windows found on each side. Frequently if there is an attic dormer it is usually placed exactly in the center of the house span (but not always).


The interior plans of Four-Squares are as regular as the exteriors. Four square rooms were placed on the first floor and four on the second. Each room therefore became a corner room with two cross-ventilating windows found on the two outside walls. This was no small consideration in the days before air conditioning (or even electric fans). Usually with a four room plan, there were two on either side of a central staircase.

5 comments:

jack Sirman said...

Neat pictures and descriptions. I didn't realize that there is an architectural name for this house style. It's interesting that most of the footprints are actually square.

Brian Shields said...

Once you roll out of town you see many backroad farmhouses are designed in the same fashion. Either 2x2's where two rooms are on each floor, or the 4x4's like you have shown here. It was a very common building style, not just here in Delaware.

My father salvages old houses, mostly pre-civil war homes, for parts and resells them to people who wish to refurbish their homes to period styles up in New England. I would ride around with him and get to see quite a few of these types of homes while out and about.

This type, as you said, was mainly post Civil War, (nothing was really built during the civil war because most men were out to fight) but the cookie cutter nature was due to the invention of the circular saw, which was invented right before the war, but knowledge spread during the war.

Before that, homes were built out of frugality, and if extra wood wasn't needed to be cut with a hand saw, the time and effort wasn't wasted on a pointless room, unless you had considerable wealth and could afford to pay someone to build it. So pre-civil war homes were a measure of the family's wealth.

..and we come full circle to the 4x4 home, and why it so popular once the circular saw was invented, and why it is so prominent on in-town streets where people show off and keep up appearances with their neighbors. It afforded larger houses, lower costs of building, and the image of wealth to the neighbors.

Howard said...

Good points Brian

Anonymous said...

Wow, Howard! You are the man! While driving down State Street I always felt the houses had a certain "sameness" but never took the time to actually look and see. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this article Howard. Thank you!