No, this wasn’t a local family of architectural geniuses. We’re talking King Henry’s family from Queen Elizabeth to King George I and yes, even that Bain of American Patriotism, King George III.
There were many different types of styles and architects in England that were popularizing the Palladium styles of Italy and the classic Greek and Roman architecture. Since this was going on during the reign of the ‘Georges”, it became Georgian architecture.
But here in the colonies, architects were practically unknown* and the general artisan out there relied heavily on pattern books. This explains the extreme similarity of exterior/interiors in Newburyport stretching from the North End to the South End. One of the most popular was Isaac Wares, A Complete Guide of Architecture. He was also responsible for the finest translation from Italian of Palladium’s designs and writings. (In four volumes no less)
It was his instructions that became the American version of the Georgian style taking the careful symmetry of Palladium architecture and giving it a uniquely English spin.
Usually there were five windows on the second floor equally spaced and the first floor with equal number of windows to the left and to the right of the central door. This front entrance was often with columns which were to the left and right and against the building. The most telling was the gambrel roof which allowed full use of the third floor if needed. Later in the period, hipped roofs became more common and if dormers were present they were set in a balanced way facing the street. Early Georgian styles had the huge fireplace in the center of the building but later, smaller side chimneys became more common.
The most remarkable feature of these homes is the heavy post and beam construction in which pegs and slots were used to create a framework that interlocked with each beam. Practically earthquake resistant, these stable forms have allowed these ancient buildings to stand the tests of times as especially since the wood often came from ancient dense virgin forests of America.
Newburyport also has a fine collection of High-Georgian homes in which the hip roof became prominent and the windows became more elaborate and ornate. A really fine example is, of course, the Lord Timothy Dexter House, the Patrick Tracey Mansion (The Library) and Bartlett’s Mansion on Federal Street and many others.
In the American colonies we were all loyal subjects of the crown at one time and everyone wanted to popularize the golden era of British Power. Later, it became a note of patriotism if you changed the architecture to reflect the new nation and so this style soon became a thing of the past. (Until Neo-Georgian Styles returned late in the 19th century.)
* It may seem nothing remarkable that Thomas Jefferson dabbled seriously into architecture. But in his day, the discipline itself was equivalent to the avant-garde software programs of today and to indulge was a statement of forward thinking in a nation in which very few dared to take it up as a profession.