brownstones

A Brief History Of Brownstones

Ahhh brownstones. They are iconic, but how did they originate, and what gives them their beautiful reddish brown color? Hopefully this post will be able to answer any questions you may have.

Brownstone refers to sandstone with a red-brown hue. Brownstone rocks contain dissolved iron oxides which accounts for the stone’s distinctive reddish brown shade.

Buildings constructed from this material are called brownstones.  The material was first used to simply front or sheath townhouses which were constructed using cheap bricks.  It was considerably less expensive than limestone, marble, and granite. It was also easy to extract from large deep pits.  It also lent itself to pretty straightforward carving.

In the beginning, however, brownstone was considered to be of poorer quality compared to other stones like granite, limestone, and marble. The latter were considered more refined and desirable, although they were also more expensive.

The middle of the nineteenth century, the Romantic era, brought in a preference for dark material for buildings.  Brownstone became popular, acquiring a reputation as being chic and stylish.  It became the construction stone of choice the world over, particularly in large cities in industrialized nations.  Europe has its share of brownstones.  So does the United States. History shows that in the later part of the Triassic period, large deposits of the stone were found in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  Boston, Brooklyn, Park Slope, and Harlem all have many brownstone homes and buildings.

New York in particular is especially associated with brownstones.  Brownstones are a distinct part of its consciousness.  Dotting New York, an inimitable part of its landscape, brownstones are as ubiquitous as the city’s yellow cabs and high rises.

New York started constructing brownstones long before the stone became the latest thing in architecture following its popularity in the mid-nineteenth century.  In Lower Manhattan, the St. Paul Chapel of the Trinity Church stands as one of the city’s historical and charming landmarks.  Constructed in 1796, the chapel is made from a lovely blend of brownstone and local stone.

These days, everybody easily recognizes the Upper West Side by the many brownstones it has.  There are many places defined by brownstones, many of them considered grand, highly wrought, and truly splendid.