Folk Victorian Style

By Scott Sidler

Cross Gabled Folk Victorian
Cross-gabled folk victorian on Martha’s Vineyard

The Folk Victorian style is one of the most often found styles of historic homes in America. Folk Victorians can be found in almost every state, and chances are, you’ll find an example somewhere in your own town.

Next to the Craftsman Bungalow, this is the style most often associated today with being a “historic home.” And once again, it was the railroads that played a major part in transforming the landscape of America as it brought the most popular style of them all to every town it passed.

Everyman’s Style

From 1870 to 1910, the Folk Victorian ruled the day. Unlike the high-style Victorian homes such as the Queen Anne and Second Empire, the Folk Victorian was something the masses could afford.

You see, the Folk Victorian is really just a dressed up folk house. A folk house is essentially a home built to provide basic shelter with little regard for changing fashion or style. And a Folk Victorian was a folk house dressed up with the some of the trimmings that were becoming readily available through our burgeoning railroad system.

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Folk Victorians popped up like wildfire across the country as the growing railroads brought the heavy machinery into towns where they could then produce inexpensive Victorian detailing. Local builders could simply graft pieces of the newly available trim onto the existing folk houses in the area. The drive to have the most unique and ornate house in the neighborhood sometimes led to pockets of overly decorated homes like the Camp Meeting Association of Martha’s Vineyard among others.

Details

There are several tell tale signs to look for to determine that you’ve found a Folk Victorian. First, these homes are not the elaborate Queen Anne homes of the same period. They are usually smaller (though not always), simpler in design (no towers or complex floor plans), and almost always symmetrical (except for the cross gabled variety pictured above. You can read more about the extravagance of the Queen Anne Style here.

What set the Folk Victorian apart from the ordinary folk houses was the decorative detailing on the porches and cornice line. Porch supports were usually turned spindles or square beams with chamfered (beveled) corners. Other porch details were often lace-like spandrels or unique jig-saw cut balustrades. Decorative gable-end detailing that borrowed lightly from the Gothic Revival were also common. Windows were trimmed simply and only occasionally contained a simple pediment above.

The Folk Victorian can take many shapes since they are all unique to the their own particular region. Local craftsman brought forth such a huge wealth of trim and detailing during this time that hardly a single Folk Victorian is like another. And, it is this uniqueness combined with a simple home that makes them as desirable today as they were when the very first train of beautiful architectural trim was delivered to your town back in the 1870s.

 

Wondering what style your old house is?
Try our Old House Architectural Guide

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Folk Victorian Style”

  1. We bought our Folk Victorian last year and started restoration work on the house. I have two jobs that i am trying to bring it closer to what it was in past but an not sure.

    1- I am considering shutters on the house but not 100% sure if that is true to style?
    2 – Other homes in Cincinnati have very ornate color on them and might be more Victorian than folk but should I consider adding some color to the porch? I was thinking blue/green/coral colors

  2. I’ve been making victorian fretwork on my scroll saw in my home shop for about a year and I just ordered a book with victorian gingerbread patterns from amazon last week. As soon as it comes in, I will be making gingerbread and mounting it on our house. At the same time, I’m building a wood lathe to replace the posts on my deck with turned ones and I’m going to eventually build a gable for the front of the house. My plan is to turn our single story ranch style home into a victorian home. Will it be considered folk victorian? And even though the home is only 15 years old and I’m making my own victorian decoration, is it possible that the historical society could recognise it?

    1. Hi Jamie! We love to hear how people are dedicating even their new construction houses to the beauty of old design! As far as being recognized by the historical society, I know this isn’t very useful, but I would honestly just recommend finding a local representative. They could give you a much more definite answer than I can online. 🙂
      Best of luck to you! If you have any photos of your project, we’d love if you tagged us on Instagram so we can see!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  3. What type of roof would a folk Victorian have? We need to replace ours and I am looking at wood-look asphalt from GAF but I don’t know if it is the right choice.

  4. This is awesome thanks. We somewhat recently (5 years ago) bought a house and I have always described it as an awkward mix of a colonial and victorian, but our overall house looks almost exactly like the one pictured. Now to find a way to restore it to glory 😉

  5. I am going to be moving into this house. It belongs to my brother in law. He has owned it for 40 years but it is a rental. He doesn’t want to joint the Heritage Society because he doesn’t want restrictions on what he does to it. It doesn’t look like anything I have seen. The closest to it that I have seen was a cross gable folk Victorian, but I don’t know anything about old houses. He does really either. It is just a rental for him. What is it??

    photo 1.JPG (42.9 KB) photo 2.JPG (55.6 KB)

  6. Hello,
    We own a Folk Victorian that needs lots of TLC and some remodeling. We don’t have to stay historically accurate because someone else made some changes and additions in 1978 that would have nullified its historic quality. However, it is still worth renovating in our opinion.
    There is so much need, where do we begin???
    We have rewired the upstairs and brought in insulation where there was none in attics and crawl spaces.
    We are living in it while we work. Kitchen needs gutting floors sagg. Restrooms need the same. Floors need redoing, and A/C is still in seeking estimates mode.
    But what to do and in what order is scary. Can you point us in the right direction or direct us to a book that is step by step, you know, “elementary my dear Watson!”.

  7. Aha! I found a piece in the attic of my folk Victorian that I assumed was an attic vent cover, but it didn’t fit either vent. It’s similar to the center image above, but mine looks more like tulips. Because my front porch is seriously sad (plain 2 x 4 bannisters and 2 x 2 balusters), it looks like I have some fabrication work cut out for me!

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