Seeking info on an 1857 Second Empire Victorian

jlc102482May 3, 2010

Hi everyone, I thought I posted this the first time but it doesn't seem to be showing up, so I apologize if this is a duplicate message!

I'm seeking information on my home, which is an 1857 Second Empire. I know 1857 is fairly early for a Second Empire, and all the information I've been able to find on this style has been about much later versions, like 1880 and after. Additionally, my home only has two stories, whereas every other Second Empire I've seen has had three stories with a full mansard roof covering the third story. My home only has two stories, with a relatively short mansard roof covering the second story. I have only ever seen one other two-story Second Empire (in this month's issue of Old Home Journal) and unfortunately the photo didn't provide any detailed information.

Can anyone provide me with any info on early and/or two-story Second Empires? I'd love to know if my home's style was unusual, trendy, a ready-made plan, etc.

Thanks so much in advance!

PS - The porch visible on the right is a later addition, so don't let it throw you - just ignore it :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Two-story 1857 Second Empire

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I can't add anything about the history, but I love it - it's like a baby mansard!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 4:15PM
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Its a Great house. Is it possible it started out Italianate, and got the empire roof later? I have no idea, I am just thinking about the 1857.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 4:19PM
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Or perhaps the builder went to the 1852 Paris exhibition, or saw illustrations of it and built a very "modern" house for actually really took off in the US after the building of the (now?) Renwick Gallery in Washington DC in about 1859.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 4:28PM
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Palimpsest, I wondered the same thing for a while but couldn't figure out how the staircase and the upstairs details (which are matched identically to the downstairs) would fit in. The staircase and balustrade are very similar to several I've seen photos of in 1850's-1860's homes, and I'm also not sure how many homes of this period would have been one story. I'm hoping someone might be able to ruminate on this further for me! :)

Here's a photo of the staircase, in case that is relevant.

Here is a link that might be useful: The staircase

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 4:30PM
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Here's a photo of the newel post - I've seen similar ones in photos of 1850s homes, but who knows! :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Newel post

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 4:33PM
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That's one sweet little house. Precious.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 5:15PM
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I think it was more inspired by the picturesque movement than by French Renaissance revival/Second Empire. It looks like a little pavilion-type structure.
What was the original siding material? Is the wide lap we see the original?
The stair details look fine for the 1850 decade.
It's a structure that is more welcoming and personal that the extreme (rigid?) formality of the "General Grant" style.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 8:01PM
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The siding in the photo is indeed the original siding - (I don't know what kind of wood it is, though. I'm not really sure what sort of info about the interior is relevant, so I'll just throw some stuff out there: the wood molding in the house is quite wide and is made of a light-colored, not terribly attractive wood, which makes me wonder if it has always been painted white as it is now. It has no fireplace and was heated by an oil stove from day one, supposedly. The house has three original sets of narrow double doors downstairs (can anyone tell me what these are called?) that close off the dining room, living room and library, which is the former kitchen. I am told these were to keep heat in/out - one pair is visible in the photo I've attached. The front door has two stained glass panels (no leading) painted in amber, yellow and orange.

Casey - if the house was inspired by the Picturesque movement, would it be considered a cottage? I always get confused by the word "cottage" when used in the Victorian tense because it sometimes seems to refer to mansions, too! Would it be considered as belonging to any subcategory in the Pictureeque movement? I'm not familiar at all with the Picturesque movement, I'll have to do some reading! :)

Thank you all VERY much for your input so far! It's a huge help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Molding and

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 8:23AM
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It looks like a story and a half, not a two story

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 9:52AM
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Thats kind of a fool the eye thing. The second floor inside starts right above the windows, well below the cornice, rather than at the roofline as in most 1-1/2 story houses such as capes. So it might still be a 1-1/2 technically.

Thomas Jefferson did this at Monticello. A friend of mine owns a gothic "cottage" designed by Wm. Strickland that looks like a 1-1/2 story with a slightly taller eave in the front. But it really has 14 foot ceilings on the first floor and the casement "windows" are full sized doors, the "small" windows at the eave line are full sized windows in rooms with regular ceiling heights and there is a partial half story above that. I think the 19th builders were a bit more creative with mass than we are now, and they sometimes tried to make things appear smaller than they really are, in contrast to the mini-McMansions of today that try to make everything look big.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 10:23AM
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macv, could you please tell me the difference between two stories and a story and a half? I'm confused, because this isn't the first time I've heard my home referred to as a story and a half. See, I thought "story and a half" would apply to Cape Cods, for example, and other homes that had more a "loft" than a second floor. My home's second floor has sloped walls on the outside, but the inside walls are normal and so is the ceiling height. Other than the sloped walls on the outside, it looks like a "normal" second story up there.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 10:24AM
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Just chiming in to say... I love your charming home! And I'm following this discussion with interest; I love the discussions regarding the periods of architecture. Thanks for posting so many pics too. It is interesting that your second story is a full story without sloping interior walls. Is there storage under the eaves, or do you have an attic? About how many square feet is your home? And where is the kitchen now? Cheers, -Kim

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 10:41AM
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Hi Kim, the kitchen is in the new part of the house which was built onto the back in 1947. The addition includes a porch, an eat-in kitchen, a laundry room and a small butler's pantry-type room. The owners back then did a careful job with the addition which I am VERY thankful for. They moved two original windows and removed the arch from one to put over the porch door for continuity, they managed to match the interior molding almost exactly, and they even appear to have had a third exterior door made to match the other two originals. They also used some old, wavy-glass windows from who-knows-where and used those when they ran out of original windows to relocate. In my eyes, everything matches pretty well and no one knows the new part is "new" until we tell them. The jury is still out on whether or not the gingerbread the old owners added to the porch is historically accurate compared to the rest of the house, but we like it a lot and will definitely keep it. Needless to say, I ADORE the old owners (whoever they were) and am forever grateful to them for their thoughtful work! The photo I've attached is of the addition from the front. It's L-shaped and goes around the back of the house.

The upstairs' outside walls are sloped, but the interior ones aren't. There are three decent-sized bedrooms up there...well, decent-sized for an old house, anyway. ;) There isn't any storage under the eaves - they go right down to the floor on the outside walls, but the wall angle is so severe that it's not too much of a problem putting furniture up against the slope. The house is 1,692 square feet, and I'm guessing the addition makes up about 400 square feet of that.

I'm sorry to talk so much - I am a little obsessed, I will admit! This is my and my fiance's first house and we're a wee bit infatuated with it. We drove past it for years ogling it before it went up for sale last October!

Here is a link that might be useful: 1940s addition

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 11:13AM
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" My home's second floor has sloped walls on the outside, but the inside walls are normal and so is the ceiling height."

Generally, that is what people mean by 1 1/2 story. A 2 story home means that you have essentially the same footprint on the second story as you do on the first. eg 1000 sq ft downstairs and 1000 sq ft upstairs. In a 1 1/2 story house, you have a larger footprint on the first level and a significantly smaller one on the second. eg 1000 sq ft downstairs and 600 sq ft upstairs.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 11:14AM
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Any occupied space that is above the roof eave would be considered a partial story. A Mansard roof is a special case but this is not a Mansard roof.

Maybe this is a 1 3/4 story but I wouldn't call it a 2 story.

The modern storm door is an unfortunate blemish of what appears to be a flawless facade.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 1:27PM
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Ah, now I get the whole two story/one and a half story thing. That makes sense. Does this type of roof have a special name, if it's not a mansard?

And macv, I couldn't agree more. The metal storm doors are atrocious (as are the giant shrubberies). Both are going directly to the curb as soon as my tax refund decides to make an appearance in my bank account. I can't wait!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 3:12PM
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Circus Peanut

Ooh, I want to hug it and take it home and feed it!

Congrats on your first house. We just got our bungalow a few years back and it's a wonderful adventure living in a charming old house.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 4:14PM
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I wanted to call it a "double-hip" roof, but I found that it's not an accepted term any more. The classic french mansard has a very steep lower plane, and an invisible-from-the-street upper plane. Yours, charmingly,I might add, has a 12/12 lower run, and a quite obvious upper run. Is it by chance pyramidal?
Were it so, that is its own folk-architecture subtype.
A half story is defined by the roof line meeting the floor. You instead have a floor that is essentially dropped, and have vertical exterior knee walls on the second floor. That means we would call it a 3/4 story, not a half, as there is some usable floor space all the way out to the walls, instead of the apex of the roof angle.
There are some designs of cottages in one of the A J Downing or A J Davis style books that exemplify picturesque style on small scales, as I believe yours does.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 7:25PM
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You lost me on the siding discussion. You said it's original, it's wood. How were they able to match it so well for the 1947 addition?

One line of my ancestors were involved in the early iron industry. So, I've done research on them and how they followed the iron industry from Pennsylvania to S.E. Ohio as mines were opening up since they all worked for stove manufacturers. The point I'm getting to, is that extracting oil from bored holes to produce kerosene or what the old timers called coal oil didn't really start until around 1860 and as soon as it was about to get up and running for household use, the war put such a demand against it for the war effort, that most people couldn't even get it for lamps, let alone heating. It didn't become a 'cheap' fuel source like would be competitive for heating until after the war ended in the mid 1860s. It makes me just a little dubious that it was the original heat source in an 1850s home. Unless the home age is a decade off the other way.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:14AM
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I think the original siding on this house would have been a clapboard with a much narrower reveal. I lived in a house with this siding, which seems like wood "corduroy" to me texturewise. The house was built about 1945, so it may be they resided your whole house at the time of the addition. They obviously did this all quite carefully.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 8:52AM
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I love your house! It's a beautiful home. I'm thrilled with your prior owners as well, it's so nice to come across someone who remodeled thoughtfully instead of the guts we so often see! I have very similar molding in my 1898 colonial revival. I love it and am always really excited to see it in other people's homes.

I'd call your roof a dual-pitched hipped roof. I wouldn't consider it a mansard roof. I'd also consider the style of your home most like a late French Colonial. Although colonials usually mean symmetry, that is not necessarily the case with French colonials, which were popular throughout the US from 1700- 1830, especially in New Orleans, which continued the style until around 1860. I guess many were demolished, although at one time a popular style, it's not as well known or appreciated now as many examples are gone. Most examples are around the Mississippi/Louisiana area, so depending on where you are your home is even more of a gem (if you can imagine it!). Usually they were only one story, which would lend itself to the 1 1/2 or 3/4 stories in your home. I would also guess that much of the gingerbread was added later. I can't find a photo on-line that is very similar to your home, but in one of my books, there are several photos in that category that look similar to the style of your home.

That's my guess, I've been known many times to be wrong. Regardless, your home is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing photos of it! As far as I'm concerned, you can keep tossing up photos, I love love love looking at well respected old homes!

Good luck-

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 9:39AM
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Thanks for all the answers and kind words, everyone! Now I need to stop calling the house a Second Empire with a mansard ;) No wonder I couldn't find any info on my home's design...I was looking in the wrong place!

Casey, looking at the aerial view of my house on Google, the it actually does appear to be pyramidal. The very middle of the roof comes within a few feet of coming to a point. The front and back of the house appear to be slightly shorter than the left and right sides, but just barely. I have a library copy of Downing's "Cottage Residences" on my coffee table right now, but haven't had a chance to really go through it yet. I'll take to take a closer look at it.

Calliope, you bring up a good point about the siding. I had been told it was original, but you're right - there's no way it can be, since the 1940s addition has the same siding. Duh! As for the oil heat, that has always confused me. I had been told that oil heat was the home's original heat source and I don't know too much about this topic, so I never questioned it. I have looked, but haven't been able to find any remnants of a fireplace anywhere. However, I have found the vestiges of round holes in the wall in front of the old central chimney where it looks like stovepipes would have gone. Maybe the house was heated by woodstoves? The area it is in was a huge lumber producer in the 1850s - 1890s so that would make more sense.

autumngal, I have seen photos of the houses you're talking about down south - they're gorgeous! It's perplexing because my home is in New York State, very close to Canada. I wonder if the people who commissioned the house were originally from that area and that's where they got the idea from? I'll have to do some research.

I apologize for asking so many questions, but I really can't resist when there's experts around to learn from! would love some input on the following. My fiance and I were thinking of adding very short roof cresting to the house, in a pattern that will match the short iron fence that will soon enclose the front yard. We also were thinking of a ceiling medallion for the dining room chandelier and dentil crown molding in the same room. (The room has neither right now.) I am now wondering if these ideas would be out of place - especially the roof cresting, since I apparently do not have a Second Empire! I would NEVER make any changes to the house that would remove, destroy or alter original features, and I know molding/medallions are easily removed, but I am also very keen to do right by the house and not be a remuddler. Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

Also, a little off topic, but if anyone has any good info sources about stained and painted glass (books, websites, etc.) I'd love to hear them. I'm curious about the stained/painted glass in my front door, and am not even sure what to call it since they're whole pieces and not leaded.

Thank you so much!

Here is a link that might be useful: Stained/painted glass in front door

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 11:04AM
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This could be painted and etched (or sandblasted) flash glass. This style of glass is a thick layer of one color of glass (often clear sometimes called the carrier glass) with a much thinner layer of a colored glass on one side(the flash). The thin layer can then be removed or cut through to create a pattern. (I have done this with a "resist" such as glue or contact paper, and a sandblasting machine). So yours could be a layer of ruby on clear. Then the gold and black detail would be painted on and the piece fired. Its also possible the entire thing was painted and fired.

Look up Flash Glass or Flashed Glass and you will find articles about it.

I have also included a link to a modern supplier of this type of glass so you can see the color combinations available.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bendheim

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 11:32AM
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Oh so fun! I lived in Plattsburgh for a little while (now live in Albany), my family is from the southern foothills of the Adks. If you think about it, it makes a ton of sense then, I'm assuming you are by Quebec? There had to be a good deal of French influence coming from that direction as well, but the area is much more rural so the influences wouldn't be as dense or well known. Although, you might be from the Buffalo area, which has much less French influence.

The book I got the info from is A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester. It's a wonderful book.

I wouldn't do a dental molding in the DR, it isn't period. However, it might be neat to look at the molding around the doors and find a piece of molding or two there that you like and echo that. If you are able, you might want to make it a picture rail molding and use it to hang your artwork.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 4:52PM
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jlc......the story of your house shall unfold gradually as you live there. People likely shall tell you anecdotes about it, or recount personal memories of it. You'll find clues to dispel assumptions as you work on it over the years. Even coal oil stoves have chimneys. I lived in rural Missouri as a young adult, and that's how I heated in two houses (room-sized coal oil stove) and you can bet it was vented into a chimney. Houses even that old didn't necessarily have fireplaces because woodstoves were around for heating and cooking. And if your area was rich in timber, wood heat was likely.

I live in both timber and coal country and some of the homes used coal grates instead of woodstoves or fireplaces, because it was cheap, handy and usually delivered.

I do genealogy research, and I started keeping a folder on our old house. Over the years, we have had so many different bits of information passed on to us by members of families who used to live in this house of in the same area. One of these days when I no longer require it for a roof over my head, all that info will be handy for the next keepers. I almost feel like I know so many of the people who have lived here now. I imagine your house also has a lot of tales to tell.

I just love it. It is so unique.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 11:04PM
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Calliope--not to hijack the post, but I opened it because we recently bought a Second Empire (built 1843, 3rd story and Empire trimmings added ca. 1880) in Cincinnati. It was originally built by William Resor, who owned an iron/stoveworks in town--Wm. Resor & Company. Our house has iron crestings around the roof and a circular porch with iron columns and railings, which I assume were made at their foundry. Just wondered if you've run across this company in your research?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 8:55AM
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Years ago, I attempted research on cooking/heating sources used in antebellum homes (mine is 1858 Greek Revival with coal grates) when I was trying to pin down details on my demolished outside kitchen. What I found is that there is limited information about stove (cooking or heating) use in the 19th century & they didn't become common until about the 1890's (I think), although they were used earlier in colder climates; otherwise fireplaces were still the heat source of choice. I think they were invented in Scandinavia around 1800, although it's been a long time since I did the research & my dates very well may be wrong. Regardless, like Calliope said, it had to have a chimney, & I would bet any house built in 1857 would have at least one fireplace. You just haven't found it yet! But you will....

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 1:23PM
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palimpsest - thanks for the flash glass info! I did some Googling and I think that may be what I have, though mine is only in amber, yellow and orange colors. Very cool, thanks again!

autumngal - The house is indeed in the Buffalo-Rochester area, so I have no idea where the apparent French influence in this house came from. The original owners listed on the deed don't even have a French name...I'll have to do some more reading up on them at the historical society. As for the dentil crown molding, I was concerned it wouldn't be period but we thought it could perhaps echo the dentil on the outside of the downstairs windows. At least, I THINK it's dentil on the outside windows - I could be wrong about that! ;) I have attached a photo for you or anyone else to take a look at.

calliope and antiquesilver: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to confuse - the house does indeed have a chimney, but it's no longer in use and the exterior part has been removed because it was apparently in bad shape. (There's a new chimney in the 1940s wing - no fireplace there, though). The original chimney is located in the very center of the original part of the house. The only vestiges I have found on the walls of anything fireplace-related is a round hole upstairs where I presume a stovepipe went at one time. I'll have to do some looking around for a fireplace! One idea we were toying with was to have a new, appropriately-sized gas fireplace installed and to use an antique surround and grate to make it look as original as possible. It would be nice if I could find a real one, instead!

Here is a link that might be useful: Dentil around windows?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 3:14PM
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The dentil bothered me in the first photo, now with a closer view, I really suspect it was added later when the substitute siding was applied; I think they needed to deepen the molding for the added siding (meaning that the original may be under there) and not being able to make a elliptical curved backband, they (somewhat) cleverly segmented the molding to wrap the casings, at the same time incorporating the needed flashing/drip edge at the top.
I would, then, also be saying that the backband is an addition, and the trim @ the windows was originally plain.
It would be fun to start peeling back the layers and learn what was originally there.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 7:35PM
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About your lack of fireplaces and chimney, I'm not sure when the practice started, but our OO brought over a practice from England. We had "winter" stoves brought in during the umm winter LOL that were placed centerally in the house to supliment the heat from the main system. I know it's a pretty old tradition in europe and england so not unheard of likely during the era of your home. That's where the term "spring cleaning" came into play...all the winter fire damage from fireplaces and parlor stoves (which is what the winter stoves were) was cleaned out of the house (soot, smoke, etc).

We have a chimney that runs the center of our 3 story (or is it 3 1/2 LOL we have a daylight basement) home. And on each floor there is a nook in the hall that runs along the chimney location so the stove didn't take up the entire hall. Those have all been closed but we've been playing with trim and poking into walls LOL

Anyhoo, that could explain your lack of a fireplace :)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 10:23PM
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Heat and cook stoves (as opposed to fireplaces) were more common in areas nearby to foundries for obvious reasons since they were made of cast iron......they were extremely heavy. The railroads made them more available and mainstream. But mid-1800s saw them gain in popularity because they were more efficient than fireplaces.

My house was built before 1835...and one source says it was here in 1822. The crane was still intact in the kitchen fireplace when my husband bought the house, and there is a fireplace in every room. But in a modern city in the east near transporation (rivers and early rail) and manufacturing, a modest house may very well have been built toward 1860 with only stoves for heat. The later 19th century saw fireplaces as status symbols. My hunch is that you are right firebox is hidden in there somewhere and covered over...but it's entirely possible there isn't.

belle phoebe, I found the most remarkable site on the history of ironworkers and foundries and have lost and found it several times. It might have references to the foundry you were mentioning. Your local genealogical libraries surely do and finding local history books there may give you a wealth of information. I quickly scanned my bookmarks and can't find that link. But, if I do find it, I'll post it for you.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 10:53PM
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