I've seen this feature from time to time on both commercial and residential buildings exhibiting some form of colonial-style architecture. It's essentially a fence on top of a roof. Does this feature have an official name?

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  • 1
    Point of clarification - is it for decorative purposes only, or is that a real walkable area of the roof in your photo? I mean, without ladders to get up there - is there a doorway into the building ?
    – Criggie
    Mar 24, 2020 at 4:06
  • 3
    There would be a hatch or door in the central tower. For sentimental reasons, a lamp would often be hung within the tower to guide the seafarer home. Google streetview "Nantucket" shows they were very common in whaling communities. Mar 24, 2020 at 10:12
  • @Criggie - I have no idea! It' a bank near where I live. I've never been up there to find out for myself
    – Will
    Mar 24, 2020 at 10:36
  • Whose office does it need to come from to be "official"?
    – hobbs
    Mar 24, 2020 at 15:49
  • Well, maybe "commonly accepted" would have been a better phrase:)
    – Will
    Mar 24, 2020 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


It's called a "Widow's Walk". The name stems from the fact that it was a prominent feature in homes near the sea, where wives of seafarers would (presumably) go to stare out at the ocean, hoping to see their husbands returning, but often finding out that they were widows.

  • 9
    It's also called a "Captain's Walk" in some areas, or a "Widow's / Captain's Watch".
    – JRaef
    Mar 23, 2020 at 18:56
  • That name refers to the walkway, not to the "fence" - maybe that is what the OP wanted, but the correct answer to the question as asked is surely: balustrade.
    – MikeB
    Mar 25, 2020 at 10:33

A parapet.

par·a·pet /ˈperəpət/

noun a low protective wall along the edge of a roof, bridge, or balcony. "she stood on the bridge, leaning over the parapet to watch the water race by"

This is a definition from Google. There are likely to be stricter definitions in architecture than in literature or military usage, for example.

Widow's Walk and Captain's walk are terms that have been used for a certain type of lookout platform, but I believe that refers to the entire area, not the railing or barrier itself.

  • 6
    I think you’re correct that a “Widow Walk” is the area or platform area. However, the fence around the Widow Walk area is not a “parapet”...it’s not a “wall”. I think a better term is “railing”.
    – Lee Sam
    Mar 24, 2020 at 19:21
  • 1
    Definitely in generic terms, a "railing" -- although that might only be the horizontal member. In architecture, there's a term for every stick, you know. The fact that it's a small barrier makes it a parapet, as far as the reference works I consulted are concerned.
    – user8356
    Mar 24, 2020 at 19:29
  • 6
    And if a dog and a cat run around behind that little fence, that's a parapet with a pair of pets. Mar 24, 2020 at 20:25
  • 2
    A parapet is strictly a stone/masonry edifice - and normally associated with a castle or similar. Not correct for the picture above.
    – MikeB
    Mar 25, 2020 at 10:36
  • This answer fails to credit the text it has plagiarized. Google didn't write it.
    – isherwood
    Jan 9 at 21:59

Other options:

If it was a proper area where people could walk, then the fence would be a Handrail, or Balustrade, or a Railing, and it would be a Balcony or Tower, or a Lookout. If there was a roof over the standing area, then it could also be a Porch.

This assumes there's a doorway or some other convenient access, that isn't "climbing up the outside with a ladder" to get there. If the only access is for maintenance purposes, then that's decorative only.

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