The term terrace, used to describe both natural and artificial landscape features, denoted a level area or platform, often slightly raised and of varying dimensions and materials. Although Stephen Switzer (1718) made subtle distinctions between kinds of terraces (terrace walks, great terraces, middle terraces, etc.), those distinctions were not generally followed in American usage. In practice, however, a variety of terrace types were incorporated into landscape designs throughout eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. These included long narrow terraces that formed raised walks, platforms of earthen and architectural materials adjacent to buildings, and earthen terraces between slopes in falling gardens.
Native American platform mounds, such as the one described as a terrace by William Bartram in 1791, served as stages for the religious and ruling elite of the southeast before European contact. Visible for miles, these mounds are remarkable not only as architectural monuments but also as testimonies to the leadership that mobilized a massive labor force needed to move such a vast quantity of earth.
In Anglo-American gardens, long,narrow terraces provided raised walks that offered excellent viewing platforms, formed circulation routes through the landscape, and made ideal venues for social promenade, as depicted at the Battery Park in New York by the Illustrated London News in 1849 [Fig. 1]. In 1718, Switzer declared that gardens without these elevated walks "must be esteem'd very deficient." Waterside terraces were particularly common in America, because they were created with the fill dredged from rivers and canals. Such terraces were built in residential settings, such as the gardens at Maycox Plantation in Virginia (described c. 1780-82 by François Jean Chastellux and at the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House in Cambridge [Fig. 2]. In public areas, terraces were found at the Battery Park, described in 1793 by John Drayton, and at the waterfront of Alexandria, Va., visited in 1830 by Frances Milton Trollope.
Terraces were also built adjacent to buildings, and were often created from the earth excavated from cellar construction. The term "terrace" referred to raised earthen platforms and to flat roofed structures, both of which were used as balconies, promenades, and viewing platforms. These terraces (paved, turfed, gravelled, or covered in metal compounds as advertised in the Federal Gazette in 1816) were occasionally also ornamented with statuary, vases, urns, and plantings such as flower beds or, more rarely, topiary. Charles Lyell recorded his observations of a highly ornamented terrace in Natchez, Miss., in 1846. A paved or turfed terrace extending from the house and often bounded by a balustrade was particularly popular in Italianate architecture of the 1830s and 1840s and was promoted by William H. Ranlett (1849) and Andrew Jackson Downing (1849). These terraces required substantial investment to construct and, when planted intensively, to maintain [Figs. 3 and 4]. As Jane Loudon observed in 1845, "[T]hey are chiefly adapted for mansions and places of considerable extent." Downing suggested that the function of the English paved terrace was often accommodated in America by the veranda.
Broad terraces located adjacent to a building provided a transition between the built architecture and the grounds, as Batty Langley, Bernard M'Mahon, John Abercrombie, and A. J. Downing all noted. The terrace also provided a vantage point from which to admire views and vistas. Both Abercrombie (1817) and J. C. Loudon's (1850) discussions of terraces emphasize the importance of selecting sight lines and of building proportionally in order to create an appropriate visual setting for a house, as well as to establish a viewing platform for looking outward. For example, the terrace at Point Breeze, which was described by Trollope and depicted in an anonymous engraving after Thomas Birch [Fig. 5], was placed to take advantage of striking vistas. Similarly, flat roofs of buildings (such as those at Monticello; the Waterworks at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia; and the White House in Washington, D.C.) served as elevated terrace walkways with views of distant scenery. A certificate for the Horticultural Association of the Hudson [Fig. 6] depicts an idealized garden (possibly based on Downing's Highland Place) that includes a terrace, seen at right, framing an extended view of the Newburgh Basin.
and flower garden by the Cactus and Orchid-houses. It covers 1 1/2 acres, is well arranged in beds and terraces, with a large open cistern of water in its centre—all in excellent order. The quarters are interspersed with dwarf fruit trees, variously pruned and trained, and all in a young bearing state."
- Loudon, J. C., 1850, describing Kalorama (Kaleirama), estate of Joel Barlow, Washington, D.C. (p. 331)
- "851. Kaleirama is about a mile from Washington, on high terrace ground, and is a very pretty place. . .. (Dom. Man., &c., vol. ii. p. 330.)"
- Loudon, J. C., 1850, describing the public gardens in Hoboken, N.J. (pp. 332Ð33)
- "856. Public Gardens....
- "Hoboken, on the North River, about three miles from New York, is a public walk of great beauty and attraction. . . . Through this beautiful little wood, a broad well-gravelled terrace is led by every point which can exhibit the scenery to advantage; narrower and wilder paths diverge at intervals, some into the deeper shadow of the woods, and some shelving gradually to the pretty coves below. . . . (D. M., &c., vol. ii. p. 170)"
- Hovey, C. M., September 1851, "Notes on Gardens and Nurseries," describing Rose Hill, residence of George Leland, Waltham, Mass. (Magazine of Horticulture 17: 411)
- "Descending the steps we reach the garden, which covers and extent of two or more acres in the form of a parallelogram, the end next Newton street. The slope is laid out in terraces on the right of the steps, and on the left is located the range of forcing houses, which is 104 feet long, comprising a centre and two wings, the former the greenhouse, twenty-five feet, and the latter vineries, forty feet each."
- La Quintinie, Jean de, 1693, "Dictionary," The Compleat Gard'ner ( 1982: n.p.)
- "A Terrass, is an artificial bank or mount of Earth, commonly supported with a fronting or facing of stone, and raised like a kind of Bulwark for the ornament of a Garden."
- Dézallier d'Argenville, 1712, The Theory and Practice of Gardening ( 1969: 75, 116-18)
- "TERRASSES, when rightly situated, are likewise of great Ornament in Gardens, for their Regularity and Opening; especially when they are well built, and beautified with handsome Stairs, and fine Ascents. Sometimes there are made under them, Vaults, Grots, Cascades, and Buffets of Water, with an Order of Architecture, and a great many Statues in Niches; and, on the Coping above, are set Vases and Flower-pots, orderly ranged and disposed. . . .
- "WHEN you meet with a Piece of Ground whose Shelving is very steep, as perhaps of the Hill A, which you would make practicable for a Garden, it may be order'd three several Ways.
- "First, By making Terrasses one above another, at several Heights, and supporting the Earth with sufficient Walls of Masonry.
- "Secondly, By making such Terrasses, as will support themselves without a Wall, by Means of Banks and Slopes cut at the Extremity of every Terrass.
- "THE Third Way is, to make no Terrasses in strait Lines, nor long Flats between; but only to contrive Landing-Places, or Rests, at several Heights, and easy Ascents and Flights of Steps for Communication, with Foot-Paces, Counter-Terrasses, Volutes, Rolls, Banks, and Slopes of Grass, placed and disposed with Symmetry, which are called Amphitheatres. ...
- "OF these three Manners, that with the Slopes is the least Expence, and that of the Ampitheatre the most magnificent; so that Terrass-Walls may be reckon'd to hold a Medium between the other two. . . .
- "THE Architect, or he that is to give the Design of a Garden, should carefully consider the Slope and Winding of the Hill, and raise and describe the Profil of it very correctly; that by making the best Advantage of the Situation, and distributing its Terrasses with Husbandry and Discretion, there may not be a great deal of Earth to remove, but that what is taken from Places that are too high, may serve to raise and make good those that are too low, which should be done with such Prudence and Circumspection, that you should neither be obliged to bring in Earth, nor have any to carry away, when your Terrasses are finished. . . .
- "TERRASSES should not be made too frequent, nor too near one another, that is, you should always make as few of them as possible; and by means of Levels, or Flats, continued as long as the Ground will permit, endeavour to avoid the Defect of heaping Terrass upon Terrass, it being very disagreeable in a Garden to be constantly going Up-hill, or Down-hill, without finding scarce any Resting-Place.
- "WHAT we call the Level, or Flat, is the Space of Ground contained between the Slopes of two Terrasses, that is to say, the Platform sustained by the Walls or Banks of the Terrasses, which, in Fortification, is call'd the Terra-plain."
- Switzer, Stephen, 1718, Ichnographia Rustica ( 1982: 150-52)
- "The Terrace seems to have been us'd a considerable Time since . . . But the nearest of our Derivations in English, is from the French, Terrace, or Terrasse; and they from the Italians, (from whom they, and almost all Europe, derive their Terms of Art relating to Building, Gardening, &c.) Terraza, Terrazare, signifying with them the removing and banking up of Earth, from one Place into another.
- "But be the Derivations as it will, it is very well known in these European Countries, and particularly with us, to be a small Bank of Earth, laid out and trimm'd according to Line and Level, being necessary for the proper Elevation of any Person that walks round his Garden, to view all that lyes round him. And this Elevation is so necessary, that all Gardens must be esteem'd very deficient, that have them not . . . that I dare pronounce a Seat of no Value without them; and, besides, where-ever the House is to be new built, there is no Possibility of disposing of the Earth, Clay, Rubbish, &c. that necessarily comes out of Cellars and Foundation thereof, but this; which we must otherwise suppose (amidst a thousand needless Works) is to be carted away, to fill up some Hollow or other, which had been better left undone perhaps likewise.
- "Of Terrace-Walks there are several Kinds, as they are particularly us'd.
- "The 1st, is that great Terrace that lies next the House.
- "The 2d, Side, or Middle Terrace, that is commonly rais'd or cut out above the Level of the Parterre, Lawn, &c.
- "The 3d, Those that encompass a Garden; and
- "The 4th, Many that lye under one another, as being cut out of a large high Hill; these are differing, in some Respect or other, from one another."
- Langley, Batty, 1728, New Principles of Gardening ( 1982: vi-vii)
- "When the Situation of Gardens such, that the making of Slopes and Terraces are necessary, or cannot be avoided, they not only leave them naked of Shade as aforesaid, but break their Slopes into so many Angles, that their native Beauty is thereby destroy'd. Thus if by waste Earth a Mount be raised ten or twelve Feet high, you shall have its Slope, that should be entire from top to bottom, broken into three, if not four small trifling ones, and those mixt with Archs of Circles, &c. that still adds to their ill Effects: So that instead of having one grand Slope only with an easy Ascent, you have three or four small ones, that are poor and trifling.
- "And the only reason why they are made in this Stair or Step-like manner, is first to shew their Dexterity of Hand, without considering the ill Effect; and lastly to imitate those grand Amphitheatrical Buildings, used by the Ancients, of which they had no more Judgement, than of the excellent Proportions of Architecture that was used therein, when those noble Structures were first erected. . . .
- "When very large Hills of great perpendicular Heights are to be cut into Slopes and Terraces, then we may justly endeavour to imitate those grand Structures, (whereon their Gladiators exercis'd) by cutting them Concave, Convex, &c. as those looking towards Fair-Mile Heath, in the Gardens of his Grace the DUKE of NEWCASTLE at his Grand Seat of Claremont; but in small Elevations they are poor and trifling, and therefore not to be used."
- Miller, Philip, 1754, The Gardeners Dictionary ( 1969: 1367)
- "TERRACES:A Terrace is a small Bank of Earth, rais'd and trimm'd according to Line and Level, for the proper Elevation of any Person that walks round a Garden, that he may have a better Prospect of all that lies around him; and these Elevations are so necessary, that those Gardens that have them not, are deficient.
- "When Terraces are rightly situated, they are great Ornaments to such Gardens as have them, for their Regularity and Opening; especially when they are well built, and beautify'd with handsome Stairs, and fine Ascents.
- "There are several Kinds of Terrace-walks:
- "1. The great Terrace, which lies next to the House.
- "3. Those Terraces which encompass a Garden.
- "4. Those Terraces which lie under one another, being cut out of a large Hill; and these are different one from another, in some respect or other.
- "As to the Breadth of side Terraces, this is usually decided by its Correspondence with some Pavilion, or some little Jettee or Building; but most of all by the Quantity of Stuff that is to spare for those Purposes.
- "The side Terrace of a Garden ought not to be less than twenty Feet, and but very seldom wider than forty.
- "As for the Height of a Terrace, some allow it to be but five Feet high; but others more or less, according to their Fancies; but the more exact Persons never allow above five or six Feet; and in a small Garden, and a narrow Terrace walk, three Feet; and sometimes three Feet and an half high are sufficient for a Terrace eighteen Feet wide; and four Feet are sufficient for a Terrace of twenty Feet wide; but when the Garden is proportionably large, and the Terrace is thirty or forty Feet wide, then it must be at least five or six Feet high.
- "The noblest Terrace is very deficient without Shade; for which Elm-trees are very proper: for no Seat can be said to be complete, where there is not an immediate Shade almost as soon as out of the House; and therefore these shady Trees should be detach'd from the Body and Wings of the Edifice.
- "Terraces should be planted rather with Elm or Lime-trees, than with Yew or Holly; which will not grow large enough to afford Shade.
- "The Distance of the Elms across will be about twenty Feet; and they may be plac'd thirty Feet asunder in Lines."
- Salmon, William, 1762, Palladio Londinensis (n.p.)
- "Tarrau, or Tarras, an open Walk, or Gallery; also a flat Roof on a House; also a Kind of coarse Plaister, durable in the Weather."
- Marshall, Charles, 1799, An Introduction to the Knowledge and Practice of Gardening (1:124)
- "A terrace as a boundary is now seldom formed, but in some situations, such as an eminence might in several respects, be agreeable."
- M'Mahon, Bernard, 1806, The American Gardener's Calendar (pp. 59, 64, 69)
- "In other parts are sometimes discovered eminences, or rising grounds, as a high terrace, mount, steep declivity, or other eminence, ornamented with curious trees and shrubs, with walks leading under the shade of trees, by easy ascents to the summit, where is presented to the view, an extensive prospect of the adjacent fields, buildings, hamlets, and country around, and likewise affording a fresh and cooling air in summer. . . .
- "Fountains and statues, are generally introduced in the middle of spacious opens . . . sometimes in woods, thickets, and recesses, upon mounts, terraces, and other stations, according to what they are intended to represent. . . .
- "Regular terraces either on natural eminences or forced ground were often introduced by way of ornament, for the sake of prospect, and of enjoying the fresh air in summer; they were of various dimensions with respect to height, from two, to ten, or twenty feet, according to the nature of the situation and purpose they were designed for; some being ranged singly, others double, treble, or several, one above another, on the side of some consideable rising ground in theatrical arrangement."
- "If flights of stone-stairs and ballustrades are not the inseparable accompaniments, if the term terrace is merely to designate a raised walk, many situations may be imagined, in which a terrace would both conduce to the accommodation of the proprietor of the grounds, and, without dispute, improve the view.
- "The view FROM the house, and TO the house, cannot always be consulted with mutual improvement. When a high terrace with ornaments which appear to mark the boundary of the architect's province, is interposed between the house and the lawn, the view immediately under the windows cannot certainly be so pleasant as if the house stood in a verdant field:—but let the prospect be reversed, and every stranger will see more grandeur in the house connected by a terrace with the garden; and perhaps among the spectators under the influence of cultivated taste, a few may think such a gradation conduces to general harmony.
- "In a flat, or confined situation, a terrace with sloping grass banks may create a prospect, or relieve the sameness of the scenery."
- Loudon, J. C., 1826, An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (pp. 377, 1020)
- "1933. Levelling for terrace-slopes ... or for geometrical surfaces, however varied, is performed by the union of both modes, and requires no explanation to those who have acquired the rudiments of geometry, or understand what has been described. . . . [Fig. 13]
- "7256. Terrace and conservatory. We observed, when treating of ground, and under the ancient style, that the design of the terrace must be jointly influenced by the magnitude and style of the house, the views from its windows, (that is, from the eye of a person seated in the middle of the principal rooms,) and the views of the house from a distance. In almost every case, more or less of architectural form will enter into these compositions. The level or levels will be supported partly by grassy slopes, but chiefly by stone walls, harmonising with the lines and forms of the house. These, in the Gothic style, may be furnished by battlements, gateways, oriels, pinnacles, &c.; or, on a very great scale, watch-towers may form very picturesque, characteristic, and useful additions. . . .
- "7257. The breadth of terraces, and their height relatively to the level of the floor of the living-rooms, must depend jointly on the height of the floor of the living-rooms and the surface of the grounds or country to be seen over them. Too broad or too high a terrace will both have the effect of foreshortening a lawn with a declining surface, or concealing a near valley. The safest mode in doubtful cases is, not to form this appendage till after the principal floor is laid, and then to determine the details of the terrace by trial and correction.
- "7258. Narrow terraces are entirely occupied as promenades, and may be either gravelled or paved: and different levels, when they exist, connected by inclined planes or flights of steps. Where the breadth is more than is requisite for walks, the borders may be kept in turf with groups or marginal strips of flowers and low shrubs. In some cases, the terrace-walls may be so extended as to enclose ground sufficient for a level plot to be used as a bowling-green or a flower garden. These are generally connected with one of the living-rooms or the conservatory, and to the latter is frequently joined an aviary and the entire range of botanic stoves. Or, the aviary may be made an elegant detached building, so placed as to group with the house and other surrounding objects."
- Loudon, Jane, 1845, Gardening for Ladies (p. 211)
- "Terrace-gardens are merely architectural-gardens, formed on platforms adjoining the house, on one or more levels, each level being supported by a terrace-wall; but as they are chiefly adapted for mansions and places of considerable extent, where of course a regular gardener must be kept, it does not appear necessary to enlarge on them here."
- Tuthill, Louisa C., 1848, 'History of Architecture' ( 1988: 306)
- "The garden of the Elizabethan villa should be laid out with a few simple terraces near the house, so as to unite it well with the ground."
- Webster, Noah, 1848, An American Dictionary of the English Language (p. 1139)
- "TERÕRACE, n. [Fr. terrasse; It. terrazzo; Sp. terrado; from L. terra, the earth.],
- "1. A raised level space or platform of earth, supported on one or more sides by a wall or bank of turf, &c., used either for cultivation or for a promenade.
- "2. A balcony or open gallery. Johnson.
- "3. The flat roof of a house."
- Downing, A. J., 1849, Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (pp. 344, 346, 376, 418-20, 423, 531)
- "Where it is desirable to separate the house from the level grass of the lawn, let it be done by an architectural terrace of stone. . . .
- "In a succeeding section we shall refer to terraces with their parapets, which are by far the most elegant barriers for a highly decorated flower garden, or for the purpose of maintaining a proper connexion between the house and the grounds. . . .
- "the long veranda round many of our country residences stands instead of the paved terraces of the English mansions as the place for promenade. . . .
- "In our finest places, or those country seats where much of the polish of pleasure ground or park scenery is kept up, one of the most striking defects is the want of 'union between the house and the grounds.' ...
- "Let us suppose . . . The house now rising directly out of the green turf which encompasses it, we will surround by a raised platform or terrace, wide enough for a dry, firm walk, at all seasons; on the top of the wall or border of this terrace, we will form a handsome parapet, or balustrade, some two or three feet high, the details of which shall be in good keeping with the house. . . . On the coping of this parapet . . .we will find suitable places, at proper intervals, for some handsome urns, vases, etc. On the drawing-room side of the house . . . we will place the flower-garden, into which we descend from the terrace by a few steps. . ..
- "The eye now, instead of witnessing the sudden termination of the architecture at the base of the house, where the lawn commences as suddenly, will be at once struck with the increased variety and richness imparted to the whole scene, by the addition of the architectural and garden decorations. . ..
- "Where there is a terrace ornamented with urns or vases, and the proprietor wishes to give a corresponding air of elegance to his grounds, vases, sundials, etc., may be placed in various appropriate situations. . . .
- "The only situation where this brilliant [white] gravel seems to us perfectly in keeping, is in the highly artificial garden of the ancient or geometric style, or in the symmetrical terrace flower garden adjoining the house. In these instances its striking appearance is in excellent keeping with the expression of all the surrounding objects, and it renders more forcible and striking the highly artificial and artistical character of the scene; and to such situations we would gladly see its use limited."
Thomas Jefferson, Letter describing plans for a "Garden Olitory", 1804
[George Washington]], Plan of “Ha! Haws” at Mount Vernon, 1798
Unknown, A plan of the Eldredge grounds and garden, c. 1920
Batty Langley, "Design of a rural Garden,̹ after the new manner", 1728
Robert Mills, "Projection of the Fire-Proof Buildings for the Navy & War Depts.", c. 1843
Alexander Jackson Davis, House for David Codwise, Front Elevation and Four Plan, 1835
J.C. Loudon, "Levelling for terrace-slopes", 1826
Batty Langley, "An Improvement of a beautiful Garden at Twickenham", 1728
Batty Langley, One of two "Designs for Gardens that lye irregularly to the ground House . . .House opening to the ̹North upon a plain Parterre of Grass", 1728
Robert Mills, "Sketch of Plan of the Treasury Building, Extended", 1836-1842
Thomas Birch, Fairmount Water Works, 1821
Jenny Emily Snow, Fairmount Park Waterworks, c. 1850
Thomas Doughty, View of the Waterworks on Schuylkill--Seen from the Top of Fair Mount, 1826
Thomas Doughty, View of the Waterworks from the West Bank of the Schuylkill River, 1826
George Lehman, "Fairmount Waterworks. From the Forebay", 1833
John Caspar Wild, "Fairmount Waterworks", 1838
Victor de Grailly, View of Mount Vernon, c. 1840-1850
Victor de Grailly, Washington's Tomb at Mount Vernon, c. 1840-1850
Frances Palmer, Perspective View of an Anglo-Italian Villa, 1849
Frances Palmer, Italian Bracketed Villa, 1851
Frances Palmer, Italian Villa, 1851
John Rubens Smith, Washington, looking up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Terrace of the Capitol, 1809-1834
Thomas Birch, Point Breeze
Alexander Jackson Davis, Mr. Smillie's Villa, 1841
Alexander Jackson Davis, Preliminary Design for Kenwood for Joel Rathbone, Rear Elevation, 1842
Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, Poplar Forest, Garden Elevation, c. 1820
Batty Langley, "Design of an Avenue with its Wildernesses on each Side", 1728
Excavation of Granite Steps on Terraces
Anonymous, Mount Clare (aerial perspective)
Anonymous, after Thomas Birch, View near Bordentown from the Gardens of the Count de Survilliers, c. 1818
Thomas Doughty, View of the Fairmount Waterworks, Philadelphia, from the Opposite of the Schuylkill River, c. 1824-1826
R. Lee, The Steamboat Washington, c.1825
Thomas Jefferson, Bird's-eye view of the University of Virginia, c. 1820
Francis Guy, Bolton, From the South, 1805
Francis Guy, Mount Deposit, from the South, 1805
Unknown, Carter's Grove, mid-19th century
Thomas R. Butler, Francis Kearny (engraver), Southeast View of Mount St. Mary's Seminary, c. 1825
Thomas Ender, The Two Obelisks and General View of the Passeio Taken from the Terrace, 1817
Alexander Jackson Davis, Study for Highwood for James A. Hillhouse, Front and Side Elevations and Two Plans, c. 1830
John Rubens Smith, West front of the Unites States Capitol with cows in the foreground, c. 1831
John Rubens Smith, West Front of the Capitol, c. 1828
Batty Langley, "Design of a Garden and Wilderness in an Island", 1728
The Codman House
Robert Campbell, Thomas Birch (after an engraving by), View of the Dam and Water Works at Fair Mount, Philadelphia, 1824
- For a discussion of this image, see Walter L. Creese, The Crowning of the American Landscape: Eight Great Spaces and Their Buildings (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), 75-78.see on Zotero