Gambrel is a Norman English word, referring to a wooden bar used by butchers to hang the carcasses of slaughtered animals. It is said that the two-slopes of a gambrel roof create a form that resembles a butcher’s gambrels when in use.
A gambrel is a symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side. Typically, the upper slope is positioned at a shallow angle, while the lower slope is steep. This design provides the advantages of a sloped roof while maximizing height inside the building’s upper level. Further, framing for a gambrel roof requires short timbers which were more readily available when the earliest gambrel roofs emerged in New England.
Possibly the oldest surviving house in the U.S. with a gambrel roof is the Peter Tufts House (1678) located in Medford, MA. Some historians consider this house to also be the oldest all-brick house in the United States.