The Egytian Revival architecture style has been rarely used in the United States, but the examples that have and do exist often exhibit interesting elements and imaginative uses of materials. I sometimes find examples amusing; the fence around the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia (built in 1845) features wrought iron mummies!
The style was used in public and educational buildings; churches; cemeteries (for entrances, as in sketch at top; and for tombs); memorials; homes; and out-buildings. One of the earliest building examples I have found record of is the Essex County Courthouse, construction for which began around 1838 (the building was demolished in the early 1900's; information and a photograph can be found in Constance M. Grieff, Lost America: From the Atlantic to the Mississippi, The Pyne Press, Princeton, NJ, 1971). The First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, a rare religious example, was built in 1849.
Very few homes were built in the style. A mention was made in an 1854 article in Putnam's Weekly of an Egyptian home, belonging to Mr. R. L. Stevens, located on Barclay Street in New York City. No date was given for the construction, though the home was already thought of as old-fashioned in 1854.
Interest in the style was probably fueled by Napolean's invasion and occupation of Egypt in the late 1700's and early 1800's, and the subsequent attention paid to Egypt's antiquities. (In the early 1800's, Americans were much influenced by French furniture, clothing, and other fashions.) Architectural history books, such as Mrs. L. C. Tuthill's History of Architecture, From The Earliest Times, published in Philadelphia in 1848, featured chapters on Egyptian architecture. Oliver P. Smith's The Domestic Architect: Comprising a Series of Original Designs for Rural and Ornamental Cottages, With Full and Complete Explanations and Direction to the Builder, Embracing the Elemental Principles of the Grecian and Cottage Styles, with Primary Rules for Drawing and Shading, and the Rudiments of Linear Perspecive. Illustrated by over Two Hundred Engravings., Ivison & Phinney, New York, 1854 offered designs for what he called Egyptian columns, though the designs appear a little fanciful (see below). Oliver P. Smith's designs were featured on a page with a variety of foreign styles, including an Oriental pagoda, and may have been included for informational value, rather than actual construction.
In the 1900's, further excavations in Egypt and the more careful study of items from the country caused the continuation of interest. A few copies of pyramids were built in the United States; the Hard Rock Cafe at Broadway at the Beach, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is an example (it is the only Hard Rock Cafe in the world built in this style). In addition, the Art Deco style borrowed some from Egyptian elements.
I love the fanciful face carved on the middle column!
From Oliver P. Smith's The Domestic Architect: Comprising a Series of Original Designs for Rural and Ornamental Cottages, With Full and Complete Explanations and Direction to the Builder, Embracing the Elemental Principles of the Grecian and Cottage Styles, with Primary Rules for Drawing and Shading, and the Rudiments of Linear Perspecive. Illustrated by over Two Hundred Engravings., Ivison & Phinney, New York, 1854
This Egyptian Revival style tankhouse was featured in an early 1900's design book. In my opinion, the door was a poor design choice; since wood usually warps in wet conditions, the door was probably hard to close at times.
From Chas. Edw. Hooper, writer, and E. E. Soderholtz and others, illustrators, The Country House: A Practical manual of the Planning and Construction of the American Country Home and its Surroundings., Doubleday, Page and Company, Garden City New York, 1904, 1905, 1913.
Notes: The reference to the Putnam's Weekly article comes from Harry W. Desmond and Herbert Croly, Stately Homes in America: From Colonial Times to the Present Day, D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1903. They did not include information on the writer or exact date of the article. The sketch of the cemetery entrance is from Mrs. L. C. Tuthill, History of Architecture, From The Earliest Times, Lindsay and Blakiston, Philadelphia, PA, 1847, Plate XXXIII. H. Austin is listed as architect for the freestone cemetery entrance in the Egyptian style, with a bronzed iron fence (description p. 337).
Copyright © 2003 Sarah E. Mitchell