Updated: Sep 17, 2021
For the first time, I saw rows of Second Empire homes along Skippack Pike in the Centre Square section of Whitpain Township. I want to know why they're still standing to this day? What's so significant about these homes?
History of the Second Empire Architecture
The Second Empire Architecture became popular in France from 1852-1870 while Napoleon III was emperor. He commissioned to revitalize Paris with the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann. As a result, the original medieval structures as well as the medieval alleys in Paris were demolished, and replaced with significant buildings that still exist today like the Boulevard Haussmann and the Paris Opera House.
"The reconstruction of Paris in the Second Empire style had a major impact on building design throughout Europe and the United States. As public architecture, the mansard style was meant to exude character and a sense of permanence. Residences designed in this style were, therefore, generally large and built for the affluent homeowner.... Yet, at the peak of its popularity in the United States (roughly 1855-1885), the style was considered both fashionable and a contemporary statement of modernity. Its popularity led to a widespread remodeling boom during which mansard roofs were incorporated into formerly pitched-roof residences."
- Wentworth Architects & Builders
The most common feature of a Second Empire building are mansard roofs with S curved shapes and dormer windows on steep lower slope. In this section, I'll analyze each home that are still standing today, and determine if there were any commonalities or differences between them.
This home is slimmer compared to the homes next to it. Physically, the mansard roof is straight with a little bit of a flare on the bottom with 2 eyebrow-shaped dormers (very common feature) and a round window in the center.
Overall, the front facade has "fish-scale" wood shingles, which is common on Victorian homes. The house has a wrapped porch with simple squared railings around the porch.
This is considered one of the simplest example of Second Empire architecture. Its mansard roof is concave with 3 eyebrow-shaped dormers. Similar to the 1445 W Skippack Pike home, it also has a wrapped porch, but it looks like this was added later on after the house was built.
Unlike the 1445 W Skippack Pike home, it has a 2-story bay window. On the west facade of the home, it has cornices, which is common in Second Empire homes. It also has rectangular shingles.
This home shares similar features as the 1451 W Skippack Pike, but it has more of a cleaner look.
This home has a concave roof with 3 eyebrow-shaped dormers and hexagon-shaped wood shingles. Unlike both homes previously mentioned, this home has quoins and elaborative porch supports. It also has a 2-story bay window on the east side of the home.
This has squared railings around the porch with colorful, elaborative porch support, square columns, not only on the front facade but also on the east facade. Also on the east facade is a 2-story bay window.
I consider this home to be the most elaborative. It shows the quoins on the sides of the home, and the cornices hanging below the first and second roofs. Unlike the houses next to it, this home has a tower with a conical roof, which is not a common feature on a typical Second Empire building. This feature is more from the Queen Anne style home.
NOTE: The houses mentioned above is part of the Centre Square Historic District with the Waggon Inn (now Reed's Country Store). Unfortunately, in 1994, the historic district was not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. View the report here!
The last time the PA State Historic Preservation Office met about this nomination was in 2008!
Who Lived in These Homes?
As mentioned in the quote by Wentworth Architects & Builders, Second Empire homes were built for affluent homeowners. Based on my research on Whitpain Township from previous posts I've done, this township is where most wealthy residents live.
NOTE: Centre Square, particularly, was considered the hub of Whitpain where all activities took place.
Franklin Survey Co. Atlas: Montgomery County 1935 Vol B, Plate 8, 1935.
"Historic Resource Information." Cultural Resources Geographic Information System. Accessed January 31, 2021. https://gis.penndot.gov/CRGIS/Application/ASPNET/Report/Report.aspx?R=108&T=KEYNO&I=101882.
McAlester, Virginia Savage. A Field Guide to American Houses. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017): xv-xxv, 317-330, 345-370.
"Second Empire/Mansard Style (1855-1885)." Wentworth Architects & Builders. Accessed January 26, 2021. https://www.wentworthstudio.com/historic-styles/second-empire/.
Smith, J. L. Montgomery County 1893, Whitpain and Worcester Townships, Bethel Hill, Fairview, Cedar Hill, Washington Square, Broad Axe Left, 1893.