When one thinks of architecture on Nantucket, many would think of old Colonial-era capes and stately Federal and Greek Revival whaling captains mansions. There are Victorian-era houses on Nantucket, but building on the island tapered off by the mid 1800s after the mid-1700s to the late 1830s when Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. In December of 1877, Nantucket coal dealer Andrew Hunt purchased a vacant lot on Broad Street to erect a new home for his family. Mr. Hunt hired local builder Charles H. Robinson to design and construct the Second Empire cottage, which today, remains one of the best-preserved and high-style Mansard residences on the island.
Located on Church Street, the best architectural stretch of buildings in Ware, Massachusetts, you’ll find this absolutely charming mini-Mansard house. The property was built after the Civil War and historic maps show it was owned by a J. Coney. Upon further research, it seems J. Coney is John Coney (1809-1884), a farmer who retired in 1870 and was later referred to as a carpenter in census’. It is likely that Mr. Coney built this mansard cottage around his retirement and relocation to Ware’s industrial village, building it himself. The home features gabled dormers with round-headed sash projecting from the mansard roof. A two-story tower has paired, round-headed windows with oculus windows. Perfection.
I love a good Second Empire style house with a mansard roof, and luckily, New England is full of amazing examples. This house in Providence’s College Hill neighborhood dates to about 1857 and appears to have been built for Francis W. Carpenter, a successful businessman who would later serve as President of the Congdon & Carpenter Company, an iron and steel company which was founded in 1792. Carpenter did very well for himself and would later move out of this house and into a stunning Beaux Arts mansion further up the street (featured previously), designed by the premier architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings. The house is today owned by RISD, and appears to be used for residences.
When walking around Boston, don’t forget to look up! When strolling around Beacon Hill, I always make a point to stop and look at details, and this towering mansard roof really caught my eye this time. In 1911, real estate developer Gerald G.E. Street purchased a brick horse stable and razed it to lay out house lots for ten townhouses. He hired architect Richard Arnold Fisher, a specialist in the ever-popular Colonial Revival style to design the houses. For this property, he veered into English/Tudor Revival with the stone frame casement windows. The house was purchased by Frederick Shepard Converse, a composer who taught at the New England Conservatory of Music in addition to composing such works at The Pipe of Desire, which in 1915 was the first American work ever performed at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. By 1927, the home was owned by Waldo H. Brown, New England manager of Colonial Air Transport Company, an early airline that flew between New York and Boston. The 32-year-old Waldo occupied the house with his wife Frances, three young children and four servants: housekeeper, cook, maid and nurse! In 1927 Brown filed a permit application to build a tall new room over a roof terrace with a slate mansard roof containing a huge studio window, possibly to house all of the servants in the home! Richard Arnold Fisher, the building’s original designer, was cited as architect.
This magnificent structure formerly in Downtown Providence would likely still exist today had a devastating fire not destroyed it in 1925. When construction on the Butler Exchange began 1871, the area we know today as Downtown was only a cluster of small wooden and brick residences with commercial operations on the ground floors; the key retail shopping districts were across the river around where Brown University is today. The first major commercial development in modern-day Downtown was the Providence Arcade (featured previously), built in 1828, by Cyrus Butler. The Arcade languished in tenants and shoppers earning it the name, “Butler’s Folly”. A half-century later, a new Butler project was about to take off. Cyrus’ heirs built the Butler Exchange, which upon completion in 1873, was the largest building in Providence and its splendid French-inspired two-story mansard roof was a nice pairing with the City Hall being built nearby. The Butler Exchange saw commercial use, offices, and a school before a fire destroyed much of the building, leading to its demolition. The building was later replaced by the Industrial National Bank Building aka the “Superman Building”.
The Owen Building sits on the edge of Downtown Providence, near the Providence River which divides College Hill from Downtown. This mansard roofed commercial building is one of the finest in the city and was designed by architect Alfred Stone for George and Smith Owen (G. & S. Owen), whose sons operated a wholesale yarn business on the premises. In 1877 Stone, as Stone & Carpenter, returned to remodel the building, seemingly adding the mansard roof and much decorative trim on the new north facade. The building retains its cast-iron storefront and prominent siting as a lasting example of 19th century architectural heritage.
Isaac Harris Cary (1803-1881) was born in Charlestown, MA to an established, old New England family. He eventually settled in West Roxbury, an area that is now known as Jamaica Plain, where he operated a tannery along a branch of Stony Brook, a tributary of the Charles River. Isaac built this home and a couple income-producing rental properties on a hill adjacent to the newly established Forest Hills Cemetery. The Second Empire style home today features bright colors and a modern recessed window set into the mansard roof, likely providing views to Boston’s skyline.
One of my absolute favorite homes in Rockport (there are many) is this mansion, which sits away from busy Bearskin Neck and the hustle-and-bustle of the village. The John Dearborn Sanborn Mansion was built around 1865 and is an elegant example of the Second Empire style of architecture in Rockport. John Sanborn was born in Hampton, NH, and eventually moved to present-day Rockport, marrying Laura Tarr of a prominent local family. Sanborn appears to have been a merchant and ship-owner. It appears that Sanborn was involved with the California Gold Rush, and is thought to have been one of the first men to send gold via the Pony Express, a mail service delivering messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders that operated from 1860 to 1861. It is possible that his investments with gold allowed Sanborn to build this stunning estate in Rockport, set behind an iron gate and perched upon a hill. I like to think that his wife Laura would sit in the tower and look towards the sea from the windows.
The Second Empire style did not take off in Maine as it did in other parts of New England (and the U.S. for that matter), so it’s always a treat to spot one driving the backroads of the Pine Tree State! This house in Denmark, Maine, was built around 1870 for E. A. Boothby, who worked as Assistant Engineer of the Maine Central Railroad. The Second Empire style is evident here from the mansard (French style) roof, bracketed eaves, and a hooded double-door entry.
Margaret Barker Sigourney was the wife of Boston lawyer Henry Sigourney (1783–1849). In 1864, just as the Civil War was coming to a close, Sigourney purchased a piece of land on Bellevue Avenue in Newport soon after the time that Newport had been rediscovered as a tourist destination for the elite class. Sigourney wanted to make a splash as a single woman summering in Newport, so she hired local architect George Champlin Mason to design her cottage in the fashionable Second Empire style. The refined facade is more academic, while the rear and side facades exhibit porches with delicate bargeboards and trim. Sigourney spent summers at her cottage with her only son until 1873 when he and his family perished and were lost at sea aboard the Ville du Havre, when it collided in the Atlantic with another ship, killing a total of 226 aboard the ships, many of which drowned and their bodies never recovered. Alone, Margaret Sigourney continued to spend her summers in Newport until her own death in 1885.