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Second Empire (roughly 1860-1900)

IDENTIFYING FEATURES: Basically Italianate style/forms with Mansard roof.   Dormer windows, sometimes a square (not round) tower, decorative brackets, molded cornice, similar to Italianate detail on windows, doors; Floor plan often includes pavilions: outward projection of a building's center or side.

BACKGROUND AND INSPIRATION: The first true style of the Victorian era in the U.S. (roughly 1860-1900). Style was most popular in the Northeast, Midwest; rare in the South. Also known as the "General Grant style": used during the Grant administration for public buildings. Historical context: Style named for the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870) (Napoleon I, or Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew), who undertook a major building campaign to transform Paris into a city of grand boulevards and monumental buildings - copied throughout Europe and North America. Napoleon's famous project: enlargement of the Louvre (1852-1857), reintroduced the Mansard roof, developed in 1600s Renaissance by Francois Mansart. Style diffused from France to England to U.S.


Sometimes I wish I were alive in the Victorian Era, although if I did live back then I probably would have been in a coal mine dying of black lung or something, verus living in one of these homes. 
I really enjoy the beauty of Victorian architecture but I especially love the Second Empire Mansions.  There are many fine examples of these homes in various regions of the U.S. and they exist mainly in the Midwest and Northeast, although there are outstanding examples of these homes in the South and West as well. 
As far as international destinations that are loaded with Second Empire architecture, Paris is my favorite place.  Paris has block after block of Second Empire buildings, including Musée du Louvre. 
All of these homes on this page are in the U.S.   Some are museums or bed and breakfasts, and others are private residences. 
There are several areas of the U.S. where "run down" Second Empire mansions can be had for very little money.  Brush Park in Detroit and an economically suffering area of St. Joseph, MO, are two examples.  St. Louis has many, many examples for very little money.   They're inexpensive because they are often in rough neighborhoods or are in a sad state of disrepair.  Many are in decent enough shape to be saved, but once their roofs, or parts of their roofs, go, then the structure quickly deteriorates.  Most of them, if they are standing at all, are restorable . . . it's just a question of money and lots and lots of labor.  Plenty of them are in local, state, or national historic districts, which means anyone who wants to renovate them is eligible for tax benefits and sometimes grants or very low interest loans.  I really appreciate the people who give so much of themselves to save architectural pieces of our history.
I'll try and include a little information on each home in the future.




Neglected mansion on Trumbull Ave. in Detroit




California's Governor's Mansion




Terrace Hill/Iowa

Morris Butler House/Indianapolis

Vermont Governor's Mansion

Henry Jacobs Mansion/Jolliet, IL FRONT

Henry Jacobs Mansion Side Two

Henry Jacobs Mansion Side Three

Brush Park is a neighborhood in Detroit.  It's not far from the new stadium, so it has a chance for renewal.  In the late eighteen hundreds Brush Park was the most stylish part of town for the wealthiest families of Detroit.  Sadly, it didn't remain so popular and the families built new "more modern" mansions elsewhere.  Brush Park delined to the point where many of the mansions were no longer lived in by anyone.  They continued to decay, with roofs leaking, walls and floors being ruined, and plenty of vandalism.  Detroit suffers a night of fire and property destruction each year and many Brush Park mansions have been set ablaze in recent years.  The idiots who are burning these homes are burning a precious piece of our nation's history, as many of these homes are of historical significance.  There seem to be less of these mansions each year.
The good news is that several of them have been purchaced (for very little money) and renovated to their formor glory.  Much of this work is accomplished with federal, state, and local funding.  Owners contribute the almighty elbow grease. 
Some of these homes are Second Empire and some are not.  They are all beautiful in their own respects.
If you would like to learn more about Brush Park and the rest of the historic buildings (there are zillions of them) that are in peril, then check out this remarkable site:

Ransom Gillis House/BEFORE FIRE

Ransom Gillis House/AFTER FIRE


BEFORE renovation

AFTER renovation, can you believe it!
How many more historic buildings could be saved like this one was?







Here are some examples of Brush Park and Trumbell area homes that have been renovated or are in the process of being renovated.  Thank God for the strong-willed souls who managed to accomplish these feats.