They say those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But in the case of architecture repeating the past is usually a good thing.
From Victorian to Federal, Greek Revival to Spanish Colonial, building design from bygone days tends to offer not just jaw-dropping beauty, but also the kind of grandeur and dignity that only time can bestow.
Although structures in the United States date back just a little over a few centuries, the U.S. does provide plenty of spectacular historic structures erected within that period. In particular, St. Augustine, Florida; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Deadwood, South Dakota; and Telluride, Colorado offer groups architecture that’s so well-preserved and rich in character that it often tells the story of not only the building, but also the country.
St. Augustine, Florida
It should be no surprise that the oldest city in the United States is blessed with magnificent historic architecture. However, St. Augustine, which was settled by the Spanish in 1565, didn’t fare well for its first 150 years. Repeatedly sacked by pirates, it was burned to the ground by British troops in 1702. The only surviving structure was the Castillo de San Marcos, built between 1672 and 1695. Today, groups can tour the fort, which is a national monument.
Group leaders won’t want their groups to linger there too long, however. With a historic district ranging over 144 square blocks, St. Augustine offers a dizzying array of classic building styles.
“The city has had the foresight to make sure our architecture stayed authentic,” said Barbara Golden, communications manager for the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. “So, between the Spanish Colonial and Spanish Renaissance architecture, and the architecture of the British and Victorian eras, it’s all very representative of the people who lived here and the times of the city.”
Golden suggests group leaders reach out to operators like Ancient City Tours, Tour St. Augustine, and St. Augustine Land and Sea Tours, who can put together an itinerary stopping at beloved architectural gems like the Gilded Age palaces built by oil magnate Henry Flagler.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
There are other towns founded on natural springs throughout the United States, but there may be none so lovely as Eureka Springs. Filled with Victorian architecture, it has earned a historic designation that covers almost everything within city limits.
“The city was founded in 1879, so everything was built in the late 1800s,” said Gina Rambo, interim executive director of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission. “A lot of the older houses on the historic registry have gingerbread, which is all the little detailing. They used pinks and greens and yellows and blues at that time, too, so those different contrasting colors also make it really pretty.”
According to Architectural Digest, which noted that Eureka Springs is believed to have “the largest collection of unspoiled Victorian houses in the central United States,” the town birthed its own singular style of architecture. “Eureka Victorian encompasses elements of Queen Anne, Stick, Gothic Revival, Craftsman and Neoclassical,” the publication wrote, including elements like turned spindles and intricately arranged roof shingles.
Leaders may want to arrange a tour for their groups on the town’s open-air tram. Tours are led mostly by longtime residents who can wax poetic about their favorite historic homes.
Deadwood, South Dakota
As fans of the television show know, Deadwood really was the wild, wild West, and that makes for some fascinating history — and historical architecture.
“The entire community is on the National Historic Register,” said Lee Harstad, executive director of the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. “It was founded in 1876 on what I like to say was gold, guns and gals. When gold was discovered in the creeks here, tens of thousands of people came to make their fortune. Not all of them did. Some of them didn’t leave the town. They’re still buried here.”
Unfortunately, that first wave of prospectors and businesspeople built wooden structures, which were subsequently destroyed in fires and mudslides. By the late 1800s, the residents of Deadwood were constructing something more lasting: the beautiful brick Victorian edifices that still line the city streets. Among the most magnificent examples of the town’s Victorian architecture is the Queen Anne-style Adams House, built by a prosperous grocer in 1892. It’s open for group tours.
Other historic Deadwood buildings that groups shouldn’t miss include the Italianate-Victorian Bullock Hotel, built by former marshal Seth Bullock beginning in 1894, and the Fairmont Hotel, which features a distinctive Victorian turret.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Though most of Cape Cod is lined with historic structures, there are some locations leaders will want to be sure to visit with their group. Among them are harbor towns like Provincetown, Chatham, Barnstable, Hyannis and Falmouth, as well as Sandwich, which boomed during Cape Cod’s important maritime industrial period. Along with Chatham’s Old Village, Sandwich is a good place to see iconic Cape Cod-style homes dating from the 1700s.
But there’s more to architecture on the Cape than the house design named for it. Beginning in about 1820, as the sea made men fortunes, Greek Revival-style buildings became popular. Meant to mimic a Greek temple, this stately type of architecture reached its zenith on the Cape with the Barnstable County Courthouse. In the late 1800s, as Cape Cod evolved into a tourist destination, Victorian-style buildings came into vogue. Groups can also find maritime structures of varying vintages, including one-of-a-kind lighthouses, scattered along the coast.
“You can see a Cape Cod-style house from the 1700s just down the road from Victorian and Greek Revival homes,” said Sarah Korjeff, historic preservation specialist with the Cape Cod Commission, when asked why groups should pay a visit to the Cape. “The number of villages that have a tight concentration of historic buildings of all different architectural styles makes it really interesting.”
Like Deadwood, Telluride began life as a mining town, though prospectors dug for minerals such as silver and zinc rather than gold. Founded in 1878, Telluride is graced by Victorian architecture, but of a type that might be unfamiliar to groups.
“When I say Victorian, I don’t mean high-style Queen Anne painted ladies,” said Town of Telluride Historic Preservation director Jonna Wensel. “Here they’re pretty simple, in what we call ‘vernacular.’ Most are small miner cottages, though in form and detail we would consider most of them Victorian.”
Telluride’s one-and-a-half- and two-story Victorian homes are straightforward as well, with gabled roofs, wood siding, front porches and typically unembellished window arrangements. Together, these miner cottages and larger residences, along with classic commercial buildings including the New Sheridan Hotel and the Sheridan Opera House, make up much of the unique town’s 400 historic buildings.
Wensel collaborates with the Telluride Historical Museum to offer groups walking tours of the city’s unique architecture, which “feels authentic, not contrived and rebuilt,” she said. “Telluride is a real livable and authentic town that has been preserved with much thought and consideration.”