Of the many architectural styles that make up Gainesville, one of the oldest is the Cracker style. An indigenous Floridian development, Cracker houses can still be found throughout the Northern part of the state, as well as in and around Alachua County.
There are a few recognizable types of Cracker houses, but all share features such as wide porches and steep roofs which work as passive cooling systems to help mitigate the brutal Florida summers. The earliest Cracker houses were similar to what one might think of as log cabins, one-room dwellings built with as much skill and time as the frontiersman had to spare. Most of these early structures were not ornamented and were characterized by strong lines and symmetry.
As the 19th century progressed, Cracker houses began to get larger, as additional buildings were added to original structures as families grew. This was sometimes expressed in the dogtrot style, where two separate spaces under one roof would be connected by an open breezeway. This had the advantage of added space without sacrificing the cooling breeze, a necessity in the state before the advent of widespread air conditioning in the 1950s and 60s.
A dogtrot house with open breezeway
As plantation agriculture started to reach Florida, grand homes were built to match. However even these homes lacked the ostentation characteristic of homes in South Carolina and the Mississippi delta, for example. Many were built in the Georgian style, which was also characterized by strong rectilinear forms and an emphasis on symmetry. One example of a plantation home that responded to these influences was the Haile House, on their plantation called Kanapaha which remains on the northwest side of present-day Gainesville. As with most later Cracker houses, the Haile house is on a raised limestone brick foundation with porch. Uncharacteristic are the separate support columns for the roof overhang on the porch. This was common in South Carolina, where the Haile's emigrated from, and presumably was something their skilled slaves replicated in the construction of this new home. The house dates to 1860 and remained in the Haile family for much of that time.
The Haile Homestead
Once more decorative styles of architecture, such as Greek Revival, percolated down through the upper South, the Cracker style was slowly abandoned. In the last twenty-five years or so there have been examples of architecture built along similar principles, as the emphasis on passive house design has only increased and the lessons of the past have become more and more relevant to our warmer present.
In this example in the Duckpond, you can see Cracker influences in the clapboard siding and the raised foundation of the house. This particular home has an enclosed porch, but it doesn’t take much imagination to remove that covering and see in the mind’s eye the original shady spot, complete perhaps with rocking chairs and jasmine-covered columns. Homes like this one are reminders that Gainesville’s architectural past is very much part of our present.