Tricorner Houses

There’s a particular type of New England colonial house that I’ve always admired: Georgian, with a hipped roof and two entrances, almost as if two houses had been joined together at a right angle. The profile is square but you generally see just three corners–which is why I refer to these houses as “tricorner” houses. I think I’m the only person that uses this term. My two favorite examples of this type of house are the Jeremiah Moulton house in my hometown of York, Maine, and the Thomas Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and I happened to be driving by both of these houses yesterday so I took some pictures. I would have had to infringe of the privacy of the Moulton House’s owners to show you the perfect illustrative angle, but the Ayres house represents a tricorner house perfectly even though it has two additional entrances on the side rather than one. My rule (and again, it’s just mine) about these houses is that the length of the side structure has to be roughly equal to the front, and it cannot appear to be just a mere addition, but an integral part of the entire house.

Moulton House York

Tricorner House Thomas Ayres Homestead Greenland NH

Tricorner Ayres Greenland

Like tricorner hats, tricorner houses are eighteenth-century creations: most of the ones I have seen date from the 1730s through the 1760s. They all have two stories, and seem to be more characteristic of rural environments rather than urban ones–or maybe they have just survived in less-developed areas. There are quite a few in central Massachusets: if you browse through the digitized photographs of colonial houses taken by Harriette Merrifield Forbes at the American Antiquarian society you will come across several, especially taverns. Case in point: the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts, which acquired its tricorner shape between 1732 and 1750. I think tricornered houses (at least by my own conception) have to evolve rather than be built as such: high style examples like the Willard House at Old Deerfield and the Salem Towne House at Old Sturbridge Village have the requisite two sides/entrances but are not quite right–the corners are too sharp!



My favorite “tricornered” houses: the Moulton House in York, Maine, the Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts. Please forward more examples!


5 responses to “Tricorner Houses

  • Jane Griswold Radocchia

    Donna – If you would like an architectural/ structural analysis of these houses I will write a bit.
    The Locke Tavern in Andover. which I know well and have worked on, has a similar roof – hard to see from the street.

  • Jane Griswold Radocchia

    All these houses, and the Locke Tavern in Andover, began life with center chimneys – with that tight front stair and entry hall. As they evolved into inns/taverns that snug entry became a problem – it did not allow easy circulation.
    The inns were in good locations for their businesses; adding on tavern rooms and more accommodating entries made economic sense.

    Visual dating of these inn can be done by noting the chimney location.
    By the 1760’s house wrights on the NE seacoast were building houses with center halls – the chimneys had moved to the center of the rooms on either side of the hall. By 1790 the preferred location was on the end wall. (Chimneys on the outside of the house don’t appear until after 1880 when central heating by furnaces becomes common.)

    A second door – embellished with the inviting architrave- helped the tavern function separately from the family and the kitchen. The Locke Tavern also had a 2nd fl, large room for gatherings accessible from the 2nd entrance. Many of these taverns were important meeting places for their towns – many were the place where the Declaration of Independence was read aloud to the community.

    The hip roof was a straight forward way to join the new wing to the old. The timbers removed could be reused; the techniques were known. Asher Benjamin’s first pattern book ( 1797) has one plate (XXVIII) with complex instructions – a house wright would need to be familiar with the process to learn from his diagram
    The Locke Tavern roof was completely rebuilt from a salt box to a hip! The lower profile of the hip was not just a practical way to join the parts. It was also modern, fashionable – see Wm. Paine’s pattern books, copying Palladio; they influenced all those Federal houses in the port cities from Maine to Massachusetts.

    Wow! I write an essay, not just ‘a little bit’ !
    It was fun to organize it all – thanks for the link to my blog. Jane

  • Sean Patrick Maher

    Good book on the subject, though I can’t recall if it ecplains the form more than simply putting a good face on a building at a crossroads. A building like that would not have any back lot to keep the services in out of view, so that part gets the full decortive treatment, like the main house. My guess, anyway.

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