House Style: Garrison Colonial

Here are some ways to spot this simple colonial style house.

Garrison Colonial House Style

New England Garrison House in Norwell, MA. Photo: from Bob Vila's Building and Addition for an Elderly Parent

Origins and Early 20th Century Adaptations of the Garrison House
Colonial is one of the most adaptable styles. The garrison colonial house is representative.  It is rectangular with two stories. The distinguishing characteristic is the 2nd-story overhang in the front. According to legend, the original houses in this style were blockhouses that were built by the early colonists to defend against the Indians.  In truth, it probably evolved from the Elizabethan townhouse.

Historic garrison houses were rare, a fact that was emphasized in a magazine feature in 1913. One 17th-century model was described as “portraying a type of architecture not found anywhere else.” That was soon to change. 

Beginning in the 1920s, the garrison house was a type of architecture found in many towns.  It was also promoted for country houses. These early 20th-century Garrison Colonial Revivals were earnest and conscientious adaptations of original garrison houses.

Informal Mid-century Garrison Colonial Revivals
The Great Depression, World War II, and the demand for mass housing made it impracticable to continue building houses with the same historic precision. The mid-century garrison houses reflect the shift to a more approximate Colonial style. They are simplified and mass-produced. Just as Colonial design was functional and no-frills, explained the decorating magazines, so too was modern suburban design.

Walk through a mid-century suburb and you will see many garrison houses with multi-paned sash windows and white clapboard siding.  The interiors originally had brickwork and wood paneling (stained and painted), and sturdy rustic furnishings.  The wood box next to the chimney was recommended as the place to conceal the television.

Colonial + Modern Design
Mixing Colonial with Modern pieces was a popular practice following World War II.  Danish teak and bentwood chairs were considered compatible with the things you inherited from Grandma. And so, while Mid-century Modern is the hot trend in architectural preservation today, keep in mind that the Colonial Revival is part of the Mid-century repertoire.