Frontier forts inspired Garrison home design style, with second-floor overhangs, decorative pendants [architecture column] | Architecture

Kim J. Clark


Many styles hold secrets or clues to the distant past. Garrison style, popular between 1925 and 1955, is no exception. Born out of the ever-popular Colonial Revival era, Garrison style harks back to the days of frontier forts that were scattered among the forests, plains and prairies of the American westward movement during Colonial times.

A garrison, by definition, is a fortified and permanent military post; the architectural elements of the military post or fort included design features to help defend the inhabitants from ground-based attacks.

One of the notable features was the jetty, or projection of the upper story over the lower story. The overhang, or embrasure, created a slot that allowed guns to be fired from protected cover.

Military garrisons were typically two-story, square structures with a pyramidal roof and heavy timber-frame construction. The second-story overhang yielded four functional posts, or pendants, providing a very distinctive appearance.

As the American frontiers were expanding and settled by pioneers, the garrison fort design detail was transferred from a military base concept to residential construction and became a popular defense mechanism against perpetrators. While the need for frontier “fortification” waned in the subsequent years of rural expansion, the design detail of the second-story overhang survived.

HG Garrison U8 10.jpg

Garrison Style c1970 Suburban Garrison without pendants, Brick first floor and clapboard second floor – School LAne Hills.

The garrison design emerged as one of the four most popular Colonial Revival styles in America — Dutch Colonial, Saltbox Colonial, Spanish Colonial and Garrison Colonial — between 1876 and 1955. These four styles were the result of the renewed American spirit and patriotism following the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The functional pendants soon gave way to decorative carved drops below the overhang — hand carved or crafted by artisans to represent acorns, pineapples or teardrops.

The upper story of a Garrison-style home is typically wood clapboard siding; the lower level is typically brick or fieldstone. Interestingly, the Garrison style continues in popularity today but is now referred to as Suburban Garrison, from the 1980s to the present. The wood clapboard siding has been replaced with vinyl or aluminum siding and, while the overhang remains, the pendants are often absent.

But rest assured, none of the Garrison style homes today use the jetty/overhang for their original intended use: armored protection!

What is a pendant?

It is a fixed decorative ornament that hangs from the structure.

What is a jetty?

A jetty refers to the building technique of projecting the top floor over the bottom floor. In medieval times, it would increase second floor space and not narrow the street.

What is a Suburban Garrison?

It is the continuation of the popular Colonial Revival Garrison style from the 1920s and 1950s, but more streamlined in appearance by eliminating the distinctive pendants.

This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email [email protected].

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