Second Empire Style Homes

Fashionable for Public Buildings
During Ulysses S. Grant's Presidency

Popular in the Midwest and Northeast, this Victorian style was fashionable for public buildings during Ulysses S. Grant's presidency, but its elaborate, costly detail fell out of favor in the late 1800s for economic reasons. Second empire homes feature mansard roofs with dormer windows, molded cornices, and decorative brackets under the eaves. One subtype sports a rectangular tower at the front and center of the structure. (See also Victorian

Second Empire is an architectural style, reaching its zenith between 1865 and 1880, and so named for the "French" elements in vogue during the era of the Second French Empire. In France, a significant variation is sometimes called the Napoleon III style. While a distinct style unto itself, some Second Empire styling cues, such as quoins, have an indirect relationship to the styles previously in vogue, Gothic Revival and Italianate eras. This style originated in Paris in the late 19th century.

In the United States, the Second Empire style usually combined a rectangular tower, or similar element, with a steep, but short, mansard roof; the roof being the most noteworthy link to the style's French roots. This tower element could be of equal height as the highest floor, or could exceed the height of the rest of the structure by a storey or two. The mansard roof crest was often topped with an iron trim, sometimes referred to as "cresting". In some cases, lightning rods were integrated into the cresting design, making the feature useful beyond its decorative features. The exterior style could be expressed in either wood, brick or stone. More elaborate examples frequently featured paired columns as well as sculpted details around the doors, windows and dormers. The purpose of the ornamentation was to make the structure appear imposing, grand and expensive.

The book, 'Second Empire Architecture '- An architectural style, at it's peak between 1865 to 1880, and named for it's "French" elements trend during the a Second French Empire era. In France, a noteworthy variation is often referred to as a Napoleon III style. While a unique style while unto itself, several Second Empire styling signs, like quoins, feature indirect relationships to the styles in vogue previously, the Italianate and Gothic Revival periods. This style was initiate in Paris during the late part of the 19th century. *The Hôtel du Palais.and A majority of the construction on the Champs-Élysées .

Floor plans for Second Empire residences could either be symmetrical, with the tower (or tower-like element) in the center, or asymmetrical, with the tower or tower-like element to one side. In Australia, especially Melbourne this style became popular during the boom years of the 1880s. Many grand buildings exist today, particularly many of Melbourne's fine town halls.

The style also found its way into commercial structures, and was often used when designing state institutions. Several psychiatric hospitals proved the style's adaptability to their size and functions. Prior to the construction of The Pentagon in the 1940s, the Second Empire–style Ohio State Asylum for the Insane in Columbus, Ohio was reported to be the largest building under one roof in the U.S., though the title may actually belong to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, another Kirkbride Second Empire asylum.

Second Empire was succeeded by the Queen Anne Style era, and its sub-styles, which enjoyed great popularity until the rise of the "Revival Era" in American architecture just before the end of the 19th century.

Leland M. Roth refers to the style as "Second Empire Baroque." Mullett-Smith calls it the "Second Empire or General Grant style" due to its popularity in building government buildings during the Grant administration.

The architect H.H. Richardson designed several of his early residences in the style, "evidence Ochsner, of his French schooling." These projects include the Crowninshield House, Boston Massachusetts, 1868, the H.H. Richardson House, Staten Island, New York, 1868 and the Dorsheimer House, Buffalo, New York, 1868.

In regard to the use of the Second Empire style for residences, the McAlesters divided the style into five subtypes:

  • Simple mansard roof – about 20%
  • Centered wing or gable
  • Asymmetrical – about 20%
  • Towered – about 30%
  • Town house

Suggested Home Styles Books

See also