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CIRCA School: Towers + Turrets

by Jon Valalik (photo by Mr.TinDC)

Grab your No. 2 pencils, everyone! It’s time for CIRCA School, where we uncover the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details.
Towers + turrets — two of our favorite things! These terms are often used to describe the same type of structure, but they do mean different things. Do you know what separates one from the other?


The historic Dunham Castle, which was for sale on CIRCA last year, has towers that touch the ground.

In the medieval sense of the word, a turret should rise outward and upwards from the wall of a building, and will not touch the ground, while a tower would rise from the ground and may or may not project outwards from the main structure.
Both turrets and towers have a long history in military architecture, and both have since been re-purposed for use in homes and other buildings. The function of the tower when it was first created was to give the occupant a strategic advantage in surveying the area around them, specifically for military defense purposes. Turrets were introduced during the middle ages, well after towers, for a very similar purpose. From a tower, defense from attacks was difficult due to obstructed views directly below and to the sides. The round shape of a projecting turret, however, allowed for strategic vantage points across the face of a wall, from top to bottom.

The turreted William Woodard Banks House is for sale on CIRCA for $89,000. Full listing HERE.

The purpose of turrets and towers in domestic American architecture is not as much for home security, as it is for unique interior spaces and more interesting massing on the exterior. Turrets were most often applied to Victorian homes, and more specifically the Queen Anne style during the late 19th and early 20th century. Towers appear in various types of architecture, from Italianate and Gothic Revival to Shingle and Richardson Romanesque.
The long history of turrets and towers in castles and palaces throughout Europe is exciting, and many centuries-old examples still exist today. The number of castles with a well-built turret in the United States, however, is lacking. We are lucky enough to have many examples in schools and government buildings, as well as homes in many historic districts around the country.


Jon grew up in South Carolina and studied Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. His time in Charleston sowed a deep appreciation for both classical and vernacular styles and the importance of their conservation. He is currently working in Charlotte, North Carolina and hopes to break into the field of architectural preservation soon.


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