Washington Grove’s initiative to seek incorporation followed national trends. Starting in the early twentieth century, many camp meeting associations across the country began to transition into independent municipalities or transferred their assets to other local government entities. Although Washington Grove’s initial effort lost considerable momentum during the economic collapse of the Great Depression, the initiative was resumed in the mid-1930s. Finally, in 1937, the stockholders of the Washington Grove Association voted in favor of incorporation. The charter for the Town of Washington Grove became effective on May 30 of that year.
While the early municipal period saw a gradual decrease in property abandonment and lots being listed for tax sale, deferred home maintenance, which had started during the Depression, continued to cause concern. In an effort to increase municipal revenues and attract families to the community, the town began to sell off platted but unoccupied lots. As a result, Washington Grove experienced a boomlet of home improvements and new construction during the early municipal period. Nationally, Minimal Traditional dwellings were built in great numbers, and this trend was evident in Washington Grove, continuing the community’s tradition of modest, one- or one-and-a-half-story, residential construction.
Minimal Traditional-style houses are generally small, one- to one-and-a-half-story residences featuring spare, distilled forms and elements of older architectural styles. They are typically compact in footprint, with square or rectangular massing. Front doors feature a small stoop or entry porch. Cladding is commonly wood or asbestos shingle siding. Roofs tend to be either side- or cross- gabled, with close eaves and rake and a low-to-moderate pitch.
One of the most common subtypes of the Minimal Traditional style is the gable-and-wing form, which features a side-gabled rectangular or square block with a low-pitched, front-facing gable at one end. The gabled end bay typically projects just slightly from the wall plane. Another subtype is the side-gabled form known as the Cape Cod for its similarity in form to the New England folk house. This subtype is typically square or rectangular with a side-gable roof, which sometimes features dormers. Variations could also include hipped roofs and second stories. The World War II Cottage is a variation on the Minimal Traditional style. These houses were typically a single story, simple in form, and covered by a hipped roof.
The Minimal Traditional style was developed largely out of necessity. During the Great Depression, banks collapsed, mortgages piled up, and many Americans lost their means to purchase new homes, bringing the housing construction industry to a virtual standstill. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established in 1934 under the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt to set standards for construction and insure loans banks made for home building. The FHA also produced their own technical bulletins on house design that proved influential. In fact, a number of these house plans were published in journals and pattern books in the 1930s and 1940s, promoting an economical take on the traditional house.
The FHA’s technical bulletin in 1940 was called Principles for Planning Small Houses, which laid out a number of recommendations for an economical, efficient home. Many of the basic forms and variations of what became the Minimal Traditional style were illustrated in the pamphlet. The FHA recommended simple compositions with limited variation in form. Unnecessary gables, dormers, and breaks in the roofline were to be avoided. Instead of adding ornamentation, character and variation could be achieved through the spacing and grouping of windows, the use of materials, and the design of minor details. “Porches, bay windows, and platform steps,” the bulletin states, “are useful as a means of making small houses more livable without adding greatly to their costs.” Efficient floor plans that maximized available space were advised, as higher building costs increased the difficulty in qualifying for FHA loan insurance.
During World War II, relocating workers for proximity to defense-related factories created an immediate and pressing need for small houses that could be built quickly. Builder-developers constructed nearly 2.3 million homes, most in the Minimal Traditional style, for war and defense purposes between 1940 and 1945. Such small houses were also a response to the wartime reduction in the supply of building materials.
When World War II ended in 1945, the Minimal Traditional house again proved to be the solution to a pressing national need. Housing accommodation had to be provided for the 10 million returning soldiers and their families. Approximately 5.1 million new homes, many in the Minimal Traditional style, were built between 1946 and 1949. Because these houses continued to be promoted by the FHA, developers could get faster approval of loans for construction to start. Much of the postwar construction in emerging suburban communities like Levittown, New York, consisted of mass-produced Minimal Traditional-style houses.
Many Minimal Traditional-style houses were built in Washington Grove from the early municipal period through post- World War II; twenty-two of them are contributing resources to our town’s Historic District. Examples can be found on Washington Grove Lane, Ridge Road, and Pine Street. Examples of World War II Cottages (a subtype within the Minimal Traditional category) are located at 108 Maple Avenue, built in 1941, and 401 Brown Street. The latter, built in 1943, has a rectangular form under a moderately pitched, hip roof.
Minimal Traditional houses are representative of an important period of Washington Grove’s development, when the new municipal government supported residential growth that responded to the needs of American families. In their simplicity of form and affordability, these houses represented continuity in design from the camp meeting era.