Victorian architecture spanned the 64-year reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901.

During her sovereignty, seven styles of architecture were prevalent; Second Empire, Italianate, Stick Eastlake, Queen Anne, Shingle, Richardsonian Romanesque and Folk Victorian.

The Second Industrial Revolution of 1870 to 1917 changed the way buildings were constructed, resulting in speed, efficiency and economy. The mass production of doors, windows, trim, siding and roofing expanded the market to include the average American, and, interestingly the departure from masonry construction to wood-frame construction permitted architects to experiment with more playful and irregular floor plans and exteriors.

Excelsior Building 2 Second Empire 7
West Lawn Mansion 1 Second Empire Style 2
West Lawn Mansion 2 Second Empire 5
Excelsior Building 1 Second Empire  6
Barr Spangler Mansion Second Empire 8

The invention of the scroll saw, standardization of building components and the electric-powered wood lathe gave builders “free license” to express their skills in a new and creative way.

Additionally, the publication and use of “pattern books” for house plans and ideas more than doubled between 1850 and 1880.

The first of the Victorian styles was Second Empire style (1855-1885). The name refers to the style of architecture that evolved during the rule of Napoleon III (1852-1870).

W Chestnut Street 4 Second Empire 12

This example of Second Empire style on West Chestnut Street, in a building built circa 1880, has a convex mansard roof and roof cresting.

His mandate to have French architects reinvent the skyline of Paris resulted in the infamous mansard roof, prominent cornices, round-top dormers, round windows and an overall sense of the grandiose.

The Second Empire style can be seen in residential design as well as civic design.

President Ulysses S. Grant was so enamored with the beauty and grandeur of the style that, in the United States, it is often referred to as the General Grant style.

The mansard roof, with its six profile variations, is the most distinctive and clear identifier of the style.

The mansard, named after French architect Francois Mansart (1598-1666) provided valuable headroom and daylight to the otherwise unusable attic areas.

The most common roof profiles are straight, concave, convex and “S” shape with decorative slate patterns. Windows are tall and thin and capped with a deep and decorative “yoke.”

Eastern Market, Second Empire style 1

The Eastern Market, built around 1883, is an example of Second Empire style, with a bell-curved mansard roof atop a three-story corner tower. It closed as a market house in 1927. It's in the 300 block of East King Street in Lancaster.

Porches are common, as are balconies, square towers and impressive front entries.

Lancaster County has many Second Empire examples in the city and surrounding villages. The public interest in the style began to wane in 1880, as newer architectural styles emerged.

What was the First Empire?

The reign of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I), from 1804 to 1815, is considered the First French Empire or Napoleonic Empire.

What civic buildings in Lancaster are considered  Second Empire style?

The former Eastern Market (pictured right), circa 1880, is Second Empire, with a distinctive, bell-shaped mansard roof on the square tower.

What are the distinctive round dormer windows on the Excelsior Building called?

The round windows located in the mansard roof are oculus or oeil-de-boeuf (bull’s eye) dormer windows.

This Design Intervention column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email Scott's column runs in LNP | LancasterOnline on the second Thursday of each month.

What to read next