The prevailing architectural style at the time of the American Revolution is what many call “colonial” but a more precise name is “Georgian” after the unbroken reign of English kings. The style has it roots in the idealized Greek temple, but it was a style that bounced around from Rome before it fell, to Italy during the Renaissance, then to England, and finally crossing the Atlantic. Each time it was modified, added to, and interpreted differently.
After the American Revolution new Americans wanted to break ties to things English. At first they tweaked the style and called it Federal (a version of which was used in the design of the White House). In 1821, the Greek states rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, inspired in part by the American Revolution. Americans loved the idea that our fight for freedom inspired others, especially Greece, considered the cradle of democracy.
Thus began the Greek Revival style, based on a copy of a Greek temple. It shared elements of this foundation with Georgian, but was unadulterated by later modifications. (The easiest way to think of this is that the Georgian almost always includes a sort of temple motif around the centered entrance. In Greek Revival, it IS a temple.)
The railroad to Saratoga was among the earliest, when Greek Revival was in full flower. The photo above shows the railroad’s original station in about 1870, just before it was replaced (by a Second Empire version and the doors apparently had been enlarged as railroad equipment increased in size. It was also a covered train shed, where the trains ran into the buildings.)
The next photo is of the office building for the Adirondack Railroad (the branch to North Creek), later replaced by the building shown in the last photo and still standing. It was originally a house built in 1845, purchased by the Adirondack in 1865. The Adirondack was purchased by the D & H in 1889 and the more massive building replaced it at about the same time.
The aerial photo shows a house on Franklin Square, which as far as I know, still stands. At the time the Parthenon was build (438 BC), the only way the builders knew to span an opening was with a single slab of stone. This sorely limited the size. A forest of columns was needed to support the lintels. And “forest” is a good description, as it seems the Greeks created idealized trucks, tapered and often fluted, to suggest bark.
When the Romans saw these buildings, they were so enamored with the columns, they added them as decoration, between the semi-circular arches they had perfected (see the Colosseum).
The Greek temple included a shallow roof ending in a pediment (a corruption of ‘pyramid’) and several horizontal bands. The columns were topped with capitals.
So suddenly the American landscape was dotted with miniature Greek temples like so many mushrooms. Travelers of the era complained about not easily identifying what the building was – house, bank, store, church, train station.
The shallow roof pitch was being made more practical by the sudden increase in iron production (the development of the “hot blast”) which allowed sheets of tinned iron (“tin roof”) for a more watertight roof covering than any form of shingles.
A problem for architects was that the temple had no windows, the climate of Greece being so mild. In the Adirondack’s office building, the second-story windows (eyelet windows), were tucked into the frieze band.
Being so overdone and so restricted, the style would fall out favor in exchange for more “Christian” styles like Gothic.
Photos, from above: the original Greek Revival Saratoga Springs railroad station; the Adirondack Railroad’s office in Saratoga Springs; an aerial of a Greek Revival house on Franklin Square in Saratoga; and the building that replaced the office building for the Adirondack road.