Steamboat Gothic architecture originated in the American South and is an extremely elaborate architectural style. The extremely large homes were covered from from widows walk to porch skirt in heavily ornamented carved woodwork. Steamboat architecture emerged along the banks of the Mississippi River, where riverboat captains paid for lavish homes which were designed to resemble the ornately decorated steamboats of the mid-1800s. A Steamboat Gothic home will always be at least two stories tall, have ornate wraparound porches, often on multiple stories. The porches are often enclosed in lacy gingerbread and complex scrollwork, and pillared galleries.
A closely related architectural style is Carpenter Gothic architecture, which originated in the United States as an outgrowth of the Gothic Revival movement and took advantage of the abundant timber resources. By contrast, Carpenter Gothic is more restrained, and, most notably, second story porches are never seen on Carpenter Gothic homes.
It is difficult to mistake the two styles, especially once you have seen examples of both. Both Carpenter and Steamboat Gothic homes are characterized by being built from timber, rather than other building materials.
The elaborate decorations on Steamboat and Carpenter Gothic structures were made possible by the development of steam powered scroll saws, which allowed mills to mass-produce scrollwork for sale. This mass production enabled the use of abundant scrollwork in architectural design, because designers did not have to worry about the often extremely high price of hand-carved scrollwork. The frothy details on the outside of these homes were often repeated inside as well.
Several examples of Steamboat Gothic architecture are on the National Register of Historic Places, and many are open to the public as museums. Several Southern plantations feature Steamboat Gothic mansions, many of which have been lovingly restored and maintained Should you have an opportunity, they are well worth visiting to see the elaborate and minute architectural details; essentially any part of a home which can be embellished will be, from eaves to door frames.
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