Second Empire Architecture in the Intermountain West

Second Empire architecture is unusual to encounter in the western United States, especially the Intermountain region. Named after the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, who ruled France from 1852–1870, Second Empire architecture combined a variety of older styles popular in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early-nineteenth century, and as a style it was common throughout Europe and the Western Hemisphere for several decades.


Despite having once been popular in the United States, the Second Empire style was not an option for the average settler, as its high construction costs made it primarily an expression of the wealthy. When other architectural styles rose in prominence in the 1890s, Second Empire waned, though it endured in combination with different styles until the 1900s. Twentieth-century Americans frequently criticized the Second Empire style and accused it of being lavish and excessive, primarily because of its ornate interiors and exteriors. This lack of appreciation for the style led to the demolition of many Second Empire structures over successive decades. In the 1980s, after decades of neglect, communities and preservation groups began recognizing Second Empire’s unique characteristics and importance in American architecture. Architects and art historians seek after the remaining examples for their rarity and architectural appeal.

Belknap House

Constructed during Carson City’s heyday by state assemblyman Henry Hudson Beck in 1875, the Belknap House remains a well-preserved instance of the Second Empire style. Its distinguishing mansard roof, which curves downward from its flat top on four…

Abel E. Eaton House

Union, Oregon began as an industrial town in 1862, serving as one of the state’s primary economic centers through the end of the nineteenth century. Abel Elsworth Eaton, a former schoolteacher in the Midwest, moved to Oregon seeking financial gain,…

Christmas Gift Evans House

In 1864, the year of Helena’s founding, John B. Sanford and Christmas Gift Evans (named after his birth date) arrived in Montana from the East Coast, beginning a friendship on their cross-country journey. In 1865, they formed a business partnership,…

Henry Webber House

Henry Webber arrived in Aspen in 1880, a year after the city’s founding. At the time, it was a minuscule tent mining camp. Trained as a bootmaker, Webber established a boot and clothing store named “Webber and Company,” and he soon thrived. He became…

Sullivan-Kinney House

After Garrett Sullivan arrived in Pocatello in the early-1890s in search of gold, he eventually decided to make the bustling town his home. He began building a house in 1893, but it appears Sullivan never occupied it, as he began renting out the…