Inspired by Italian villas and country homes, the Italianate style departs from the formality of the Greek Revival. The style is distinguished by the heavy use of ornamental brackets under wide cornices and under door and window hoods.
First appearing in the United States in the 1830s, pattern books published by Andrew Jackson Downing greatly influenced the spread of the style. Downing’s books, Cottage Residences and The Architecture of Country Houses, helped popularize so-called Picturesque styles such as the Italianate through images, plans, and details. The style dominated American house construction from 1850 to 1880.
Andrew Jackson Downing Italianate villa design (1842)
John Holt House (late 1850s), 28 Nesmith Street
Dows House (late 1850s), 58 Highland Street
Elijah Read House (ca. 1850), 578 Andover Street
Lowell Gas Light Company Building (1859), 22 Shattuck Street
Robbins Block (ca. 1855), 104 Merrimack Street
Boott Cotton Mills Belltower and Stairtower (1865)
New technology and machines also helped the style flourish. Scroll saws, jig saws, and molding machines, all products of the Industrial Revolution, allowed the mass production and easy availability of details such as ornamental brackets. It was not uncommon to find earlier style buildings which were “modernized” during the mid 19th century with Italianate details due to their ready availability and relative inexpense.
The first appearance of the style in Lowell occurred with residential construction in the Washington Square Historic District in Lower Belvidere in the 1840s. Other residential examples can be found in the Andover Street, Belvidere Hill, South Common, Wannalancit Street, and Wilder Street Historic Districts. The Allen House (ca. 1854) located on UMass Lowell's South Campus, is one of Lowell's earliest Italianate style residences and is individually-listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Italianate commercial buildings are easy to identify because, like residential buildings in this style, they feature decorative, scrolled brackets and deep projecting roof cornices. Other details typically found on Italianate commercial buildings are projecting window caps and sills of either brick, stone, or wood. Several examples can be found throughout the various historic districts downtown while within some of the millyards, industrial examples.