Newburyport Home Companion: Second Empire (1855-1885)

I have been slowly building a home preservation manual for the Newburyport Historic District.     The trick has been to locate fine structures here in town that match the architectural style. Concerning the Second Empire style, there is definitely something to be said about the imposing nature of these buildings.      I have stood below the looming silhouette of the Louvre complex and literally been at awe at the powerful impact of their presence without the slightest hint of
“skyscraper” coming to mind.     In fact, this style has been closely matched with the architect, Francois Mansart (1598-1666) who used it in the great rebuilding of Paris. But it spread rapidly as a popular style during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III (1852–1870).

Mansart introduced the characteristic double-pitched roof.      It has dormers enclosing the top floor on all sides.    The style itself is meant to be imposing, boldly modeled, and emphatically three-dimensional in effect. Houses are often two stories with a third in the roof and nearly square in its footprint. Ornamentation is drawn from Classical and Renaissance sources and is very similar to Italianate. Some Italianate’s were stylishly updated by adding a mansard roof. (Without close inspection, these buildings can be misidentified or incorrectly dated.)

Characteristically, the original exterior colors were light, to resemble stone. Some were done in actual stone or in brick but these are rare. Fine examples of this style can be seen on High Street in Newburyport.


Usually central hall plan.   Three or five bay façade with center entrance.   Buildings became asymmetrical in shape with additions or rooms and porches.


Central doorway was no longer the dominant feature of the façade.    With the exception of bracketing, detail was minimal.


Slender and elongated.   Dormer windows became universal in a variety of shapes (rectangular, pointed, gabled, and rounded) and were often ornamented with pediments and brackets.    The windows were often large single or double pane double-hung sash arranged symmetrically.


Hallmark of the style is the high slate mansard roof, which increased the available floor space.


Primarily wood or brick.    Flat boards commonly found on façade.

Decorative elements

Ornate moldings and brackets.    Houses often had spacious porches or verandas.

207 High StreetThis style was most popular in the northeastern and Midwestern states and less common

on the Pacific Coast or in the southeastern United States.

Second Empire townhouses were particularly popular in urban areas where the mansard roof
provided a full upper story of usable attic living space.

Some local examples to inspect are 207 High Street with its imposing front tower: and the Fowle House at 59 Washington Street(below).    

59 Washington Street II

Smaller building examples are reflected in the William Tappan House at 54 Kent Street.

54 Kent Street

Some diagrams and expanded information is present from the following sources:

Historic New England

Newburyport Preservation Trust

The Salem Handbook

Though Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival architecture is definitely in dominance within the district, the Second Empire, though few in number – tend to steal the show with their attention-grabbing presence.     It is meant to indicate not just beauty but one of great power and settled wealth and was the favorite choice of many of the leaders of the Industrial Revolution in America.

-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, History, News and politics, Preservation, Preservation History, Real Estate. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Newburyport Home Companion: Second Empire (1855-1885)

  1. Lois McNulty says:

    Thank you for this wonderful source of information about our historic buildings!
    I was looking through the list for 282 Water Street, which is now an ugly oversized pretentious monstrosity – a clear INTRUSION. I wonder why it is missing from your list. It WAS a lovely appropriate building which added so much character to Joppa, and should be at least remembered.

    I am concerned about what might happen at 284 Water Street. I see that Dolores Person has her hands on it now, with her FOR SALE sign. What can be done to prevent another travesty such as the demolition of 282 Water? (probably nothing)

    I also worry about the lovely home at the corner of Harrison and Water. So far no FOR SALE sign……….for which I am grateful every time I walk by.

    Thank you for all the public education you do.

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