The eminent Victorian Frank Furness (1839–1912) was the first great American architect after Thomas Jefferson and the first to design buildings that could, in any sense, be called original. Jefferson’s Greek Revival buildings were academically correct, but Furness rejected eclecticism’s almost obligatory requirement that historic form and ornament be copied and adapted literally. His best buildings are a synthesis of classical and Gothic architecture, with decorative elements adapted from many sources, and have little in common with the historically precise buildings of American Gothic Revivalists like Richard Upjohn, James Renwick, or Andrew Jackson Downing.

Furness’s work distorted forms and mixed historical sources in ways that invested his buildings with personal emotion and conflict.

Furness’s work was adapted to the challenges of the newly...

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