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Architectural styles of southern Indiana: Second Empire

August 26, 2011

If you have followed my first two posts, https://housesandbooks.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/vernacular-architecture-of-southern-indiana-part-1/ and https://housesandbooks.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/vernacular-architecture-of-southern-indiana-part-2/, you are now fairly familiar with the most common vernacular building styles of southern Indiana. Vernacular (“folk”) styles could be built by carpenters with no formal training, as opposed to architect-designed houses. We’ll now take a look at a style — Second Empire — which could be either architect-designed or vernacular-built.

The back of the Matthews mansion, showing the walkout lower level.

The Matthews mansion in Ellettsville is a flamboyant style known as Second Empire that pays homage to French style. Characteristics of this style include mansard roofs, dormer windows, a turret, filagree ironwork and decorative brackets. (Another Second Empire that many of us will recognize is the Addams Family home on TV.) This is an exceptionally rare style in Monroe County.  This house was built sometime after 1876 by the owner of the adjacent Matthews limestone quarry, and according to its current owner has been verified as a design by Charles Garnier, architect of the famous Paris Opera House. The 22-inch-thick walls are made of stacked limestone blocks that use no mortar, since the weight of the blocks is sufficient to hold it all in place, and the ceilings inside are fourteen feet high. The octagonal tiles on the mansard roof are made of slate.

The house had its kitchen in the basement when constructed (much more sensible than cooking upstairs over a wood stove in 90-degree weather) and water was gravity-fed from a cistern that captured rainwater. Much of the interior has been replaced because it went through a long period of abandonment during the late ’70s and early ’80s during which vagrants camped inside it, trashing and burning any woodwork that could be pulled off. Nancy Jonas invested a lot of time and money restoring the structure of the house.

The Hayes House on Jackson Street, Prospect Hill neighborhood.

The other good example is the Hayes House in Prospect Hill, built around 1900. Nationally, the Second Empire style had its heyday from the 1860s to the 1880s, so this was an extremely late example of the style. The roof is made of stamped tin tiles.  This house is incredibly charming; I’ve been wishing for years that I could get a glimpse of the interior. The much smaller scale and the wraparound porch bring it into conformity with the modestly sized gable-ells and bungalows that fill the rest of the neighborhood.

The only other example of Second Empire architecture that I know of in this area is located west of town on Bloomfield Road on the south side, before you reach the Twin Lakes facilities. Monroe County’s Interim Report dates that house  around 1900 as well.  Let me know if you know of any others in this area.

A closeup of the tower of the Matthews mansion, showing the carved limestone that came from the Matthews quarry across the road.

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5 Comments
  1. Gregory Travis permalink

    I am really enjoying this Carrol and learning much. Please keep it up!

    One thing, you say: “Nationally, the Second Empire style had its heyday from the 1860s to the 1880s, so this was an extremely late example of the style. ”

    The prevailing wisdom seems to be that non-vernacular architectural styles arrived in Indiana roughly twenty years after the appeared along the major population centers of the Eastern Seaboard (should that be capitalized, I don’t know). So if the Second Empire started showing up in places like Baltimore around 1860s-1880s, that would mean 1880s-1900s here in Indiana

    • You are right, Greg, Bloomington was very behind-the-times. Meaning no insult, it can’t be denied that Bloomington was not a particularly wealthy or sophisticated community for most of its first century.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      all my best,
      Carrol

  2. On one of my trips back I made a point of taking a picture of the Hayes house. Not many examples of that style existant in the area and certainly not in quite that way in what is a typical neighborhood for southern Indiana. Southern Oregon has some eclectic houses that I should send you photos of; Remnants of wealth that is no more…

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  1. Architecture of southern Indiana: the gable-ell « housesandbooks
  2. Vernacular architecture of southern Indiana, part 1 « housesandbooks

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