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In 1811, architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe spurred American builders into action when he called for them to reject "the corrupt Age of Dioclesian, or the still more absurd and debased taste of Louis the XIV," and to emulate instead the ancient temples of Greece.

In response, people in the antebellum trans-Appalachian region embraced the clean lines, intricate details, and stately symmetry of the Grecian style. On newly built public buildings, private homes, and religious structures, references to classical Greek architecture became the preferred ornamentation. Several antebellum cities and towns adopted the moniker of "Athens," styling themselves as centers of culture, education, and sophistication. As the trend grew, American citizens understood the name as a link between the Grecian style and the founding principles of democracy—signaling a change of taste in service to the larger American cultural ideal.

In Athens on the Frontier, Patrick Lee Lucas examines the material culture of Grecian-style buildings in antebellum America to help recover nineteenth-century regional identities. As communities worked to define their built landscape and develop a shared Western identity, Lucas's study invites readers to question many of the assumptions Americans have made about divisions and cultural formation in antebellum society.

Patrick Lee Lucas is an associate professor in the College of Design and serves as a Provost Faculty Fellow at the University of Kentucky.

"Athens on the Frontier offers a much-needed American Studies and material culture approach to an understanding of all the Grecian-style buildings constructed on the frontier, both North and South, of the antebellum United States. Mixing intellectual history, architectural history, and an enjoyable prose, Patrick Lee Lucas establishes, through example after example, how the near-ubiquitous use of the Grecian-style in the trans-Appalachian West constructed a cultural unity rooted in associates to the ancient past while making a statement about future prospects. Meanwhile, Lucas invites us all to reflect on both our historic and our current built environment, and its ongoing cultural meaning."—Dr. Paul A. Manoguerra, Director/Curator, Jundt Art Museum

Publication Date



University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




9780813196893 (pdf version)


us architecture, 1800s, antebellum architecture, midwest us, southern us, place names, community identity, region, material culture, landscape, construction, building, columns


Architectural History and Criticism | Architecture

Athens on the Frontier
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