The College Hill neighborhood of Providence has some of the finest residential architecture in New England, and some really fun stories of those who built these grand homes. In 1859, the house was built with a concave mansard roof punctuated with dormers and a bold bracketed cornice below. The use of round headed windows on the second floor is a really great design detail. The residence was first owned by Eliza Talbot Almy (1808-1886), who held the title to the property. Wives holding the title of properties in this period was fairly common as it would protect their personal property and residence from financial risk if the husband was met with lawsuits or financial hardship. Eliza’s husband was cotton broker and manufacturer Samson Almy (1795-1876), who had already been sued in a case heard before the United States Supreme Court in 1851. After Eliza’s death in 1886, her daughter, Susan Smith (1837-1917) and husband, Amos Denison Smith (1835-1912), a Civil War veteran, occupied the house into the early 20th century.
Second Empire House
Henry A. Thomas House // 1870
People don’t explore Roxbury enough! The neighborhood is full of amazing architecture with buildings in a great state of preservation and some waiting for the overlapping vinyl siding to be removed. This restored beauty sits perched above the road and is one of the best examples of a Second Empire merchant’s home in Roxbury. The house was built around 1870, within a year of owner Henry A. Thomas purchasing the lot here for $4,800. Mr. Thomas owned a boot and shoe retail store in Downtown Boston for years. The lot was later subdivided and stucco apartments were built to the side, notable at the time when Roxbury began to really densify with housing construction in the early 1900s.
Dadmund-Glennon House // 1875
Boston’s many unique neighborhoods have some amazing hidden architectural gems. It always helps to get out and explore by walking or biking your city to see things from a different perspective than a car or bus. This brick mansard house sits on a quiet dead-end street in the Stonybrook section of Jamaica Plain and was built in the mid-1870s for Joseph A. Dadmund, a coppersmith. From the 1880s-1920s, the house was occupied by the Glennon Family, who built two large wooden stables in the rear yard, both of which remain to this day.
William Allen Jr. House // 1866
Italianate style houses dominate the Deering Street area of Portland architecturally, but there are definitely some great Second Empire residences and other styles seen here. This house (like seemingly every building in Portland in the 1860s) was designed by architect George M. Harding for William Allen Jr. The house would soon be Harding’s neighbor, so he made an effort to site and design this residence with care. The brick building is capped by a slate mansard roof and it has a beautiful projecting door hood with pendants carved of grapes. Sadly, like some others on the street, the belvedere was removed in the mid-20th century.
Thompson Block // 1868
Another of Portland’s stunning mid-19th century commercial blocks is the Thompson Block, built in 1868. The structure is one of the most high-style commercial buildings in Maine and is in a great state of preservation. The building was designed by George M. Harding, a VERY busy architect after the disastrous Great Fire of 1866, which destroyed much of Downtown Portland. The building stands three-stories tall with a polychrome slate mansard roof providing a full fourth floor, a subtle and great way to get extra height without making a building too overbearing. The mansard is broken up at the facade by dormers with round-arch windows and keystoned and eared hoods. If only all cities held off urban renewal, we would have so many more structures like this!
Belair Mansion // 1850
One of the most stunning summer “cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island is this stone behemoth named “Belair”. The house is set back way off the street and was one of the first summer estates built in this section of Newport. Belair was built in 1850 for New York oil baron H. Allen Wright in the Italianate style and constructed of roughly dressed stone and was originally about half of the size of the current footprint. The mansion was designed by architect Seth C. Bradford, who is also credited as architect of the similarly designed Chateau-sur-Mer, built one year later. Wright sold this house to George H. Norman two years after its completion. Norman (1827-1900), founded the Newport Daily News in 1848 and made his fortune as an engineer, first establishing gas works and later water works systems across New England, New York, and the Midwest. Norman made a fortune, and renovated and expanded his mansion in 1870 from plans by Newport architect Dudley Newton, with grand Second Empire additions, including the high convex-mansard corner tower. The original four acre Belair property has been extensively subdivided, and this house now occupies a lot of about an acre; with the original outbuildings sold off, and Belair is now 11 condominium units!
Andrew Hunt House // 1878
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.
Coney House // c.1870
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.
Thayer Stable – Toy Theatre // 1865
Built in 1865, this gorgeous building in Beacon Hill shows how perfectly imperfect historic structures are. The stable building was first occupied by Samuel Neal, a carpenter, and Jonathan Dow, a blacksmith. Within a decade, the stable’s owner Nathaniel Thayer, appears to have kept his carriage in the building. By 1911, architect Harold S. Graves was hired to renovate the former stable which would soon become the Toy Theatre. The Toy Theatre was founded in 1911 by an amateur theatrical group to present plays that had not been presented professionally in Boston. That included both works written by members of the group itself and playwrights as far away as Europe. The founding group included many members of Boston’s high-society who were involved in the arts. The group desired a new, modern space and pooled together resources to build a more appropriate theatre in the Back Bay just a few years later (next post). This building was then converted to a residence.
Francis Carpenter House // c.1857
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.