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.

Built by a state assemblyman and later owned by the Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, the Belknap House is a well-preserved example of Second Empire architecture in Nevada.
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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 property the same year to W. H. Remington, who…
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