“Ranch homes” – their history and distinguishing characteristics

ranch house
YES: This house plan is still available today — along with 84 other vintage house plans! See the story here.

Is my house a ranch house? A colonial? A colonial-ranch? A year into the blog, I’m pretty sure in understanding that my own house is a mix…but this holiday week I’ve been doing more research into the true academic terminology, if there is such a thing. To start, here’s a story from the National Park Service that lays out how the ranch home developed, and which gives us the clues to telling whether our homes are truly ranches – or not. Some of my key takeaways:

  • A ranch is defined by its livability, flexibility, and unpretentiousness. It has a low sloping stance and roofline and is designed to bring the outside in.
  • Yes, it has one story. But not all one-story houses are ranch homes.
  • Ranch-style, ranch bungalow, ranchette, rambler, California colonial, and even ranch burger — all synonyms for “ranch.” I also know there are further sub-categories: Such as ‘Cinderella ranch’ aka ‘Storybook ranch.’

One last point: I still would like to see the actual data proving that ranch homes were the dominant style throughout the 50s. I think that cape/colonial homes may truly have been their match – especially when you consider that many of these homes might be incorrectly called ranches just because they are on a single story.

Read on for a long story published by the National Park Service  —->

Click for PDF:

Ranch Houses Are Not All the Same
David Bricker
Architectural Historian
California Department of Transportation
San Bernardino, California

  1. Rikki says:

    One of the things about classifying style is that there is no “true way.” The vast majority of American homes are eclectic in nature and draw on many different traditions. Mid century home styles have yet to be defined and categorized. One that is consistently overlooked is the streamlined Minimal Traditional that was derived from the Colonial Revival style and bungalow type. It showed up in the late 20s and was built well into the 50s, but because of its simplicity and affordability, it has never been considered anything but Plain Jane Vanilla.

    To my knowledge there has not been any systematic survey of what types of homes were built and in what numbers from 1900 to 1960. Based on the preponderance of documentation I have seen researching thousands of popular publications, Colonial Revivals and its subtypes have consistently held the lead by a modest margin.

    Modern styles including Craftsman-style bungalows, Ranch, and most period contemporaries ran a close second to the American tendency to go for the familiar, traditional, and more conservative types. The popularity of the bungalow as we typically think of it ran for a scant 20 years. By the 1930s, people were shaving the eaves off their homes to make them look like the more modern Minimal Traditional (which sounds like what Elizabeth Mary has).

    I love Ranches in all their iterations but by the mid-50s split and tri-levels were superceding them in many areas. It might be splitting hairs, but I like to make the distinction.


    1. Mid Mod Pam says:

      Rikki, we are in agreement here. Clearly, mid century homes were often a mish mash of styles (just like today). There were hundreds if not thousands of developers and design-catalog companies all pouring out architectural plans. I tend to think that is were possible to count and classify “which style” was most common between 1946-1966, it would be a pretty basic box. Kind of colonial/cape-revival, but with a lower roofline and more open inside, like a ranch. I posted these three stories in a row to begin to show some of the differences…precedents… and will do more in the future, to be sure, as this utterly fascinates me. Thanks for your comment!

  2. sablemable says:

    Great information, Pam!
    I recently bought a book that shows floor plans of Cliff May’s designs. Nice, rambling ranches with lots of glass!

  3. sablemable says:

    I understand that Cliff May never studied architecture, but did he design some wonderful homes!

    Joe, is the home pretty much original, or had former owners make changes?

  4. Tikimama says:

    sablemable, click on Joe’s name in his comment post and it’ll take you to his website, then on to flickr page with photos of his reno!



    1. pam kueber says:

      Welcome, Ryan. Your house is fantastic inside and out. Readers will love your landscaping…the courtyard…wow!

  6. James says:

    Very good article on the history of the ranch house. The article mentions Donald Scholz Homes based out of Toledo,Ohio. I have been a fan of Scholz’s low-slung 1950s ranchers for years. My wife and I almost bought one in Bay Village Ohio about 15 years ago, but settled for a (larger) mid-century Rocky River colonial instead (and now we’re in Chicago). Any way, I have fond memories of that Scholz ranch that got away.

    Did you know that there are entire neighborhoods of 1950s Scholz ranches in Ohio? In Toledo (Scholz’s home turf), there is the Lincolnshire area just west of the 1950s-era Westgate Village shopping area. One of the Lincolnshire ranches was featured in a 1950s American Home article: “Pretty Pink Ranch”. In the Cleveland area, there is the neighborhood south of Lake Road and east of Clague Road in Bay Village. The Bay Village neighborhood was built on the site of a former golf course, with a meandering creek and ravines, all the better to show off the models with the walkout basements. Curiously, the Bay Village neighborhood shares street names with the Scholz neighborhood in Toledo (Lincolnshire, Queenswood, Edinborough, etc.). Apparently Mr. Scholz was fond of the “Olde English”-sounding names, although the street names hardly suggest the rambling contemporary houses lining them.

    Also in the Cleveland area, there is the Scholz neighborhood north of Hilliard Boulevard and south of the Westwod Country Club in Rocky River (as an aside, Hilliard Boulevard in Rocky River is a gently curving street of broad lawns and mid-century ranches- a real gem from the 1950s). Finally, on the east side of Cleveland, in Cleveland Heights, there is the Forest Hills neighborhood with quite a few Scholz ranches- the Forest Hills Homeowners Association even has a website with a page or two dedicated to the Scholz legacy.

    I’m now living in the Chicago area. Plenty of good mid-century residential design- but still looking for a Scholz home in the area…any idea if Scholz built in Chicagoland?

    1. Catherine says:

      Very late reply to James (I just found this page):
      Yes, Scholtz built houses around Chicago. Mine is in West Chicago (about 45 minutes west of Chicago) and I think there’s at least another toward DesPlaines or Arlington Heights, which was used as a model for prospective buyers.
      Actually I just discovered that there’s interest in Scholtz homes… I did not think anyone knew about them.
      If you are near West Chicago, you are welcome to see our “time capsule”.

      1. pam kueber says:

        Welcome, Catherine. In my old magazines from back in the day, I see lots of mentions of Scholtz homes. I think they must have had good PR! I’ll watch for you and maybe do a future post with more photos, info…

        1. Denise Hammitt Alt says:

          In regards to Scholz Homes based out of Toledo, Ohio: My father worked for Scholz Homes as an architectural draftsman in the mid 60’s and 70’s. I have his original rendering /elevation booklets of “The Farmington”, “The New Englander”, “The Briarwood” and the The Early American” dating from the mid 60’s. I also have the Scholz “Custom Collection” copyright date 1977. The Custom Collection features 26 Scholz designs with exterior & interior photos of actual built homes – very retro! Very cool!

          1. Heather says:

            Hi Denise,

            A little late but I was just researching Scholz Homes and love RR so decided to check here too! Are you still in the Toledo area? I’m in the beginning stages of research but I’d love to put together a Scholz home tour with residents of the area. Any info you could share would be greatly appreciated! heathnae14@gmail.com

    1. Catherine says:

      Wow… this is a much larger model than mine… and beautifully updated! I hope you get a good buyer who appreciates MCM!

  7. karen thornton says:

    Hi ! I just bought a Scholz home in Forest Hill, Cleveland.
    Looking for pictures of the originals. Especially the kitchens.
    So excited to bring this little gem back to its original glory.

  8. Mark W Hooley says:

    We just discovered our home is a Scholz design as well; a “Mark 58” built in 1957. Possibly a prototype? We’ve also found the drawings for the house in a basement cupboard.

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