Ernest Smith House at 214 North Clinton Street, c. 1907

Foursquare Form


By Peter Barr

A Foursquare  is typically a two-story house with a symmetrical square floor plan that often fills the full width of two city building lots.  It usually consists of four square rooms on each floor, one in each corner, with a double-size parlor on the first level, behind the front door. It has a prominent foundation that elevates the first floor of the home and the porch—resulting in square exterior walls that together form a cube.  It is most often capped by a pyramidal, hipped roof and often has a full-width porch supported by three or four columns or posts

306 North McKenzie Street, c. 1920

306 North McKenzie Street, c. 1920

Foursquares vary widely in complexity.  The earliest examples tend to be rather complex with windows that are doubled or tripled and bowed outward to enliven the wall surface. The façades of the simplest Foursquares have two single windows on the second floor (one for each room facing the street) and either no dormer at all or a small dormer with a single window. 

The Foursquare, like the Octagon, is actually a form rather than a style, adaptable to the decorative styles that were popular during the first third of the twentieth century. The oldest Foursquare houses in Adrian are the most elaborate and reflect perhaps, the lingering taste for Queen Anne-style complexity not only in the bulging and recessing walls, but also in the hipped roof that is punctuated with dormers and valleys. Yet these earliest Foursquare homes are almost exclusively decorated with Colonial Revival details. For example, the c. 1907 Ernest Smith House at 214 Clinton Street features Tuscan columns and decorative beams under the eaves of the porch.  

After about 1910, homeowners began to prefer Craftsman rather than Colonial Revival details on Foursquare homes. Perhaps the most obvious of the Craftsman-style's simpler details are evident at 306 North McKenzie Street, where tapered porch posts replace the Tuscan columns of the Ernest Smith House. And, in place of the Ionic pilasters on the second story of the Ernest Smith House, 306 North McKenzie features uncarved, rectilinear trim, which is more characteristic of the Craftsman style.

The Foursquare form can sometimes be confused with the cubic Italianate, such as the Burnham Historical Building.  However, the Foursquare emerged as part of the Colonial Revival at the end of the nineteenth century, just as the Italianate style faded from popularity. Lacking the predecessor’s characteristic decorative brackets, tall arched windows, small entry porch and cupola, the Foursquare gained instead simple broad eaves, wider windows with large panes of factory-made glass, and somewhat lower ceilings.  It also typically features a tall foundation that sometimes supports a broad front porch and, frequently, a central roof dormer on a more steeply-pitched, hipped roof.