The Zenith of Wood Architecture: Stick Homes

by : Gary Ashton

Stick architecture offers a uniquely American blend of Victorian and frontier building styles. Of the many styles developed during the Victorian era, this building style did the most to emphasize wood construction, and was incorporated into more building shapes. It continues as one of the most widely recognized building forms of the late 19th centuries, particularly in the northeast and California.

The Stick style emphasized strong, clean lines, many angles, and few curves. With wood construction finally developed as a common building method not reliant on masonry or other materials, homes could now be built higher and at steeper pitches without worrying about excess weight. Stick homes typically rose three or more stories above ground and incorporated two or three wings, in similar fashion to the Queen Anne style of the same era, but without the same emphasis on elaborate windows, towers, and doorways.

Ornamental elements did find their way into the Stick style, but they tended to be more focused on the sides of the building, and at either end. Stick homes often had a wooden sheathing or vertical corner boards suggesting a weave or lattice of stick work. This was often complemented by an inverted picket fence, and ornamental bands of decorative wood at floor levels. These exterior wood elements and sheathing served to emphasize the wooden frame beneath. Windows and doorways, meanwhile, would typically call attention to wood framing rather than disguise it in decorative features. The stick aesthetic of exposed wooden beams is also commonly called half-timbering.

Large porches were another common element on stick homes, and came in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Some houses in this style featured a porch that extended well into the body of the home, becoming a sort of ante-entrance. This building feature worked particularly well on homes in hotter states like California, where a regional variant called the California Stick was developed.

Stick architecture was used primarily for houses, but its less clearly defined style also made it ideal for larger residential buildings such as university dormitories and inns.

Many of the nation's most famous Sticks are located in northeast states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. One of the finest examples of the style, the 1870 home of oil baron Jacob Cadwallader, is located in Titusville, Pa.