iIn an age before high-rise apartment
buildings and easy transportation, cities
from New England to the mid-Atlantic
states faced a challenge: how to house
rapidly growing populations close to
places of work and the necessities of
urban life. The solution proved both
elegant and enduring—the unassuming
row house. Today, this adaptable housing form continues to lend its distinctive
charms to residential streets up and
down the Northeast Corridor.
Fundamentally, a row house is a
building that stands cheek by jowl with
its neighbors, often sharing a common
wall. Although purists insist that only
houses built contemporaneously should
properly carry the label, others broaden
the definition to include adjacent structures of similar style and dimensions.
As a rule, row houses generally rise no
higher than five stories.
Within these broad guidelines, row
houses can vary a great deal in size,
design and construction, from city to
city and within a single municipality.
A given city’s signature style often reflects the ready availability of certain
materials—such as the marble from the
nearby Texas, Md., quarry that gives
Baltimore’s row houses their celebrated
white steps or the New Jersey sandstone
that coats New York’s brownstones.
Similarly, di erences in row house
design can yield clues to changing patterns of usage. Ed Mauger, founder of
Philadelphia on Foot tours and author of
Philadelphia Then and Now, points to the
single front steps of pre-Revolutionary
row houses as artifacts of a time when
merchants and artisans lived above
their first-floor stores and workshops,
which benefited from easy access to the
street. With the advent of the Industrial
Revolution, however, men began to travel
outside the home to work, and the number of steps was increased to afford
greater privacy for what had become a
strictly familial space.
No matter the style, row houses
can lend a pleasing order and rhythm
to a city block. Their human scale and
the sense of continuity they provide