Historic Architecture – Second Empire

For those of you who follow my historic home series, you should know by now that I have a passion for old homes and their history. Each week I post a photo of a home on Summit Avenue in St Paul with a little bit of information about it. We have many architectural styles here in the Twin Cities, with Minneapolis and St Paul having the most historic real estate in the entire state.
So because there are so many styles that other parts of the country may not have, I thought I might start another series on the architectural styles of these homes. The first entry is called:

Second Empire

Built between 1855-1885

The most distinguishing feature of this style is the Mansard (dual-pitched hipped) roof, with dormer windows on a very steep slope. If you look under the the eaves of the roofs, you will see large, heavy decorative brackets adorning the area. On a historic home, these were made out of wood and are very expensive to replicate.

I have provided four photos of homes in Minneapolis, St Paul, and Red Wing. They all show a different subtype of the the homes and are labeled as follows, asymmetrical, simple square, towered, and townhouse.

Some of the homes have very simple windows, but others can be more elaborate with carved hoods as shown in the towered home photo. Another common element with windows is to come in pairs of two or three. You can also see that all windows in the roof line are arched above.
Some History
At the time, the Second Empire look was considered very stylish and modern. (mostly because it looked French). The roof was named after a 17th century French architect Francois Mansart and used heavily in France during the time of Napoleon III (1852-1870). When France fell out of favor in the late 1800s, so did the style.

One great thing about the style was the use of the third story attic, provided by the shape of the roof and the windows for light.


The first home shown is located at 649 Summit Avenue and is the only surviving Second Empire home built on Summit Avenue. One of the most elaborate built on Summit was the the Norman Kittson house, now demolished. The site is now the home of the St Paul Cathedral. The J.E. Moore house, also demolished is another great example of the style.

This is one of the most prominent homes in Red Wing, located just 40 minutes from the Twin Cities. The tower can be seen from miles away as you drive into town.

One of the only surviving examples of Second Empire Town Homes in the Twin Cities. Originally built as 8 multi-story units, they were recently converted to 16 condominiums.

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