Victorian Houses: Second Empire & Queen Anne


Many of the houses which are today considered “Victorian” were built in the later decades of the nineteenth century through the first decade of the twentieth century. While Gothic and Italianate houses continued to built in the years after the Civil War, the Second Empire style also became very popular. By the 1880s, new influences led to the flourishing of the Queen Anne style. Like the earlier Gothic Revival and Italianate styles, the Second Empire and Queen Anne followed the picturesque tradition of romantic houses, emphasizing irregularity and variety.

Second Empire Houses

The Second Empire style derives its name from the French Second Empire, ruled by Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870. The Emperor oversaw a major building campaign in Paris which re-popularized the type of double pitched roof, with a lower slope much steep than the upper slope, originally created by the seventeenth century architect Francois Mansart. Known as Mansard roofs, these became popular in America after the Civil War, particularly during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877), when many government buildings in Washington were built in the Second Empire style. In addition to the Mansard roof, which almost always has projecting dormer windows, Second Empire buildings also have ornamentation similar to that of the Italianate style, including Classical detailing, bay windows and brackets under the roof’s projecting eaves.


Two houses, built in Wethersfield for members of the Robbins family, are good examples of the Second Empire style. The Edward Robbins House of 1861 (Fig. 1) features the mansard roof, with dormer windows and brackets, which is the hallmark of the style. Built later, the Silas W. Robbins House of 1873 (Fig. 2) is a much more elaborate and detailed version of the style.


Many Second Empire houses feature towers, like the John M. Davies House of 1868 in New Haven (Fig. 3). Older houses could also be easily updated to the new style through the addition of a Mansard roof, as was done with the 1803 Federal style Daniel Francis House in Wethersfield (Fig. 4).


The Stick Style

In the 1870s, as the Second Empire, High Victorian Gothic and later iterations of the Italianate style flourished, some houses were built in what is known as the Stick Style, which is sometimes considered a wood-constructed counterpart to the High Victorian Gothic. These houses were frequently championed in architectural pattern books, but few were constructed and very few authentic ones survive. The Stick style is usually considered a transitional style between the Gothic Revival and Queen Anne, but is more austere than either. While featuring typically Romantic asymmetry and irregularity, with steep gabled roofs, the defining feature of the Stick Style is the presence of stickwork: angular, vertical lines of boards which hint at the structural half-timbering of Medieval buildings, but are purely decorative. Some Stick houses were still being constructed in the 1880s and are sometimes considered a subset of the Queen Anne style.


One such building is the 1887 house in Willimantic in Fig. 5, which shows how the various square and triangular spaces created by the stickwork could be decorated in different colors and patterns, using wood siding in one space and shingles in another. An example of a more flamboyant Queen Anne house with Stick elements is the 1885 Cyrus Winchell House in Rockville (Fig. 6)


Queen Anne Houses

The houses in Figs. 5, 6 & 7 are located in Connecticut communities that were prosperous factory towns in the late nineteenth century and have many surviving Victorian homes. By 1880, the Second Empire style had been replaced in popularity by the Queen Anne style. Although Queen Anne architecture was originally derived from a group of British architects who, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, utilized Old English elements, the style was further developed in America. As the final Romantic architectural style, the Queen Anne combined elements of many historical periods in what has been called a distinctly American Victorian vernacular. Queen Anne houses have steeply-pitched (often pyramidal) roofs, a dominant front-facing gable, a porch covering all or part of the facade, and differing wall textures. Other possible features include stickwork (as discussed above), bay windows, a round, square or polygonal tower, and elaborate spindle work (classic “Gingerbread” detailing), linked to Eastlake-style furniture. As one might expect, Queen Anne houses come in many varieties. Excellent examples include the Charles H. Northam House in Hartford, the William Grant House in Willimantic and the J. R. Holley House (Fig. 7) in Bristol.


Examples of Detailing on Queen Anne Houses

Fig. 8 shows the elaborate Eastlake spindle work on the front porch of the Burt Thompson House in Willimantic. This type of Spindled Queen Anne style contrasts with that of the Free Classic Queen Anne of Gail Borden Munsill House (Fig. 9) in Hartford, which has Classical columns.



Next to the Gail Borden Munsill House is the Mary Borden Munsill House (Fig. 10). This structure has the patterned terra-cotta frequently found on Queen Anne houses with brick or stone walls. It also has stone arches derived from the Richardsonian Romanesque style.


Fig. 11 shows an example of the detailed terra-cotta on another Patterned Masonry Queen Anne house, the Walter A. Ingraham House in Bristol.


The Shingle Style

Another variation of the Queen Anne is the Shingle Style. Many Queen Anne Houses feature shingles, but a Shingle style house is wrapped only in shingles, eschewing the detailed ornament common to other Queen Anne buildings. Instead, the goal of the Shingle style is to have an irregular shape enveloped in a uniform and continuous surface. The William S. Ingraham House in Bristol (Fig. 12) is an example of the Shingle style.


Read About Earlier Gothic Revival and Italianate Houses

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