Alexander Jackson Davis


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American architect, one of the most imaginative of his generation. His first important design was Highwood, a house at New Haven, CT. (1829–31), which brought him recognition, and, as a result, Ithiel Town invited him to become a partner in his office. Town&Davis evolved a bold Greek Revival style, and designed a series of public buildings that are among the most distinguished Greek-inspired works of architecture in the USA: a good example is the Indiana State Capitol, Indianapolis (1831–5), with its octastyle Greek Doric porticoes, long side elevations of antae-piers, and domed drum set over the centre of the roof. The firm also designed the State Capitol of North Carolina, Raleigh (1833–40), and several Greek Revival churches with distyle in antis fronts. The powerful range of antae-piers was used again at the New York Custom House (1833–42—now the Federal Hall Memorial Museum). Davis invented a variety of multi-storey fenestration in which the windows were set in recesses with panels between them at floor-levels, anticipating later developments. This Davisean window (as he called it) appears to have been used first between the antae-piers at the Lyceum of Natural History, NYC (1835–6).

The partnership was dissolved in 1835, after which Davis mostly practised on his own. He designed several Picturesque houses, such as the influential cottage orné at Blithewood, Barrytown, NY (1836). In 1836 he started writing Rural Residences, the first American book on the subject that really marks the birth of the Picturesque movement in the USA: it was illustrated with ingeniously planned eclectic designs, although only two parts were published (1838). From 1838 to 1850 he also provided illustrations for A. J. Downing's works. Thereafter, for some twenty years, Davis ran a successful practice, designing Picturesque houses, generally favouring the Gothic and Italianate styles. His first large villa was Lyndhurst, Tarrytown, NY (1838–42—later expanded (1865–7) ), which, with its asymmetry and Gothic style, was widely admired. In his many commissions Davis also re-interpreted the English ‘cottage’ style, although he returned to Neoclassicism for Montgomery Place, Barrytown, NYC (1843–67), and the refined and beautiful Greek Revival John Cox Stevens House, New York (1845–8). Davis was interested in the possibilities of cast-iron construction and kits-of-parts (he designed a cast-iron shop-front in 1835). Among his other works the Tuscan Town Hall and Court House, Bridgeport, CT (1853–4), and the estate of villas and cottages at Llewellyn Park, West Orange, NJ (1857–66), deserve mention.

W. Andrews (1955);A. Davis (1980);A. J. Downing (1967, 1967a, 1968);Newton (1942);Peck (ed.) (1992);Pierson & Jordy(1970–86)

Subjects: Architecture — Art.

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