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Exploring Architecture
Federal Style, 1780-1820
Coleman-Hollister House

36 Bank Row, Greenfield, MA
Built 1796 (finished 1797) by journeyman architect Asher Benjamin.
(This style, also known as "American Adamesque", was used regionally through 1840)

black/white photo of the front facade of the Coleman-Hollister House

Discover what makes this home Federal. Photo credit: Historic American Building Survey, April, 1934. Photograph by Arthur C. Haskell.


Federal Style roofs could be side-gable, centered-gable or, like the Coleman-Hollister House, hipped. This type of roof is very common in New England Federal homes. It is very low and, when looking up from ground level, appears nearly flat. Initially, the Coleman-Hollister House may have had a balustrade at the top.


Because the new Federal Style homes had central halls, the center chimney so common in Post Medieval and Georgian designs, had to go. Instead, architects designed Federal homes with either two symmetrically placed side chimneys (as with the Coleman-Hollister house) or two end chimneys. This also made for more efficient heating, since there could be fireplaces in each room.


Basic Federal Style windows are six-over-six, double-hung, simple and straightforward, with very discreet decoration. The Coleman-Hollister’s Palladian window, located in the second level of the central bay, is a dramatic exception. This window type is, in fact, found on most Federal homes (another hallmark of the style). It helps to give the surface of the building decoration and grace, without interrupting its calm flow.


The front door and its surrounding windows and moldings take center-stage in Federal Style architecture. The Coleman-Hollister’s elliptical fanlight over the front door and side lights just below are hallmarks of the style. The delicate pilasters on either side of the door give the appearance of holding up the fanlight but, in truth, are only decorative elements.


Post and beam, Federal homes like the Coleman-Hollister House were sided with narrow clapboards and framed on either end by trim boards. The clapboards were painted, usually in a pastel color such as yellow, blue or green. By the late 1700s paint had become more affordable and, therefore, more popular. Nearly every home built during this time was painted.

The Coleman-Hollister House
The Coleman-Hollister House, named for the first and last families to use it as a home, sits on top of a wide plateau in the middle of what is now Greenfield, Massachusetts. Built in 1796 by emerging architect Asher Benjamin, this grand home is an example of how Federal Style architecture looked in Western Massachusetts.

The Federal Style was the first truly American form of architecture, developed during this country's founding decades. With the guidance of noted people like Thomas Jefferson and professional architects such as Charles Bulfinch and Samuel McIntire, it combined the existing Georgian Style with a new one that also came from England called the Adamesque. It became the national style for the new nation, thus the name Federal Style. What makes the Coleman-Hollister House Federal?

Federal Style buildings like Coleman-Hollister are symmetrical inside and out. On the outside, five bays, each made up of two windows (or a window and a door), divide up the flattened façade. On the inside, space is organized using a Central Hall Plan, with four rooms on the first floor, four rooms above, and chimneys on either side.

The Coleman-Hollister House is lighter in feel, more rectangular than square in shape, and less heavily decorated than Georgian homes. Its delicate, shallow details and low-relief moldings, were influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome. Monumental ionic pilasters with rosettes above run from top to bottom. Decorative swags are set within rectangles. Palladian windows and fanlights add gracefulness and echo the swags. Modillions line up under the roof cornice. The front portico, with its paired ionic columns, was added at a later date.

Federal Style homes were often commissioned by the wealthiest people and located in prosperous commercial areas. The Coleman-Hollister House was no exception. In 1796, William Coleman, a Greenfield lawyer, commissioned young journeyman architect Asher Benjamin to construct him "a house worthy of its view." It was to be located on a plateau with a magnificent view of the Pocumtuck Hills and the valley of the Green River. Coleman, though not yet a very wealthy man, was anticipating a windfall of $30,000 from the sale of land he had purchased from the Georgia State Representatives. By June of 1797 he had moved to New York and his fortunes had turned for the worse. The land deal turned out to be a scam, so his money never came. He was forced to take out a $3000 loan from a Vermont lawyer, and then defaulted.

The house then passed to his friends Colonel Eliel Gilbert (tavern owner), Richard E. Newcomb (studied law under Coleman), and John E. Hall (merchant, speculator and mill-owner). By 1803 Hall was the sole owner; he lived in the house and ran a general store downstairs. In 1812 St. James Church rented one upstairs room to use for worship. In 1827 Colonel Spencer Root bought the house, turning it into the Franklin House Tavern. The next year he sold it to the Greenfield Academy, soon to be renamed the Greenfield High School for Young Ladies. The School flourished from 1829 to 1843; then the house was purchased by Almon Brainard (county treasure, register of deeds, lawyer and state senator).

In 1864 Joseph Harvey Hollister (jeweler) purchased the Coleman-Hollister House, painted and remodeled it, removing a wing added by the High School for Young Ladies and adding an el. It then passed to Joseph's son, Edward. In 1911 he sold it to the Second Congregational Church. It went through several more hands, until 1918 when it was purchased by C. Eugene McCarthy. The house then became McCarthy's Funeral Home.

Floor Plan
The Coleman-Hollister house was laid out according to a symmetrical Central Hall Plan.
floorplan of first floor.


Photo of entry hall.

This plan featured a long central hallway that ran front to back and often served as a greeting and waiting area for guests. On either side of the hall were two rooms. Each side had a front parlor and a rear room. On the right side, the rear room was a dining room.

Historic American Building Survey, April, 1934. Photograph by Arthur C. Haskell.

Photo of circular staircase.  

In the Coleman-Hollister House, Asher Benjamin broke with the symmetry to create a pentagonal projection in the dining room. This may have been done to allow for the circular staircase he had constructed.

Historic American Building Survey, April, 1934. Photograph by Arthur C. Haskell.


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