Gazebos belong to a variety of garden structures with similar functions, that include pagodas, pavilions, kiosks, belvederes, follies, alambras, pergolas, and more. As the etymologies of those names suggest, such structures were (and are) quite popular in warm and sunny climates. They are well-attested in the literature of China, Persia, and many other classical civlizations, going back to several millennia. Examples of such structures are the garden houses at Montacute House.

Through most of American history, gazebos continued as a garden feature reserved for the well-to-do. George Washington had a small eight-sided garden structure at Mount Vernon.Thomas Jefferson wrote about gazebos - then usually called summerhouses or pavilions.He planned to build at least three in different styles at his home, Monticello, but only got around to building one.

The word gazebo was first used by British architects William and John Halfpenny in their book Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste (1750). Plate 55 of the book, titled “Elevation of a Chinese Gazebo” shows “[...] a Chinese Tower or Gazebo, situated on a Rock, and raised to a considerable Heighth, and a Gallery round it to render the Prospect more compleat”.

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