National Heritage Area

(814) 677-3152

217 Elm Street

Oil City, PA 16301-1412

Second Empire

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and generally referred to as Napoleon III, declared himself Emperor of France in 1852. The French allowed him to have his way until 1870 when Louis made the mistake of going to war with Prussia…and losing. The period 1852 – 1870 in France was called the French Second Empire by the Europeans of the time. During this period, a grand architectural scheme was developed to emphasize the linear, horizontal character of the Parisian streetscapes. Much of old Paris was demolished, and rows of new apartment buildings were constructed along the city’s long, straight streets. The apartments continued the French architectural tradition of restrained classical designs and were almost always topped with a mansard style roof, a roof form common in Paris since the 1700's. The uniformity of height and decorative detail of these new apartment buildings was striking.

The apartments built in Paris during the Second Empire were considered by some, however, to be too plain, too dull and woefully lacking in individuality. The “new rich” and Parisians who had achieved influence by association with the new political regime were inclined to flaunt their recently acquired wealth and power by constructing free-standing mansions, the French called them “hotels”, which were lavishly decorated. While maintaining the general horizontal massing and mansard roof forms of the Parisian apartments, the new hotel details were more baroque than classical, nonconforming and visually outstanding. Manyolder Parisians thought these flamboyant hotels to be in poor taste. Nonetheless, it was these Parisian mansions that caught the eye of both the wealthy English and Americans of the time.

Samuel Dale was the son of an old and prominent Pennsylvania family from Lancaster. In Franklin, Dale developed interests in iron works and grist mills along French Creek and established a stagecoach line between Pittsburgh and Erie. In 1874 he built a fine Second Empire residence at 1409 Elk Street.

This home consists of a very regular, rectangular mass with a two-story bay facing east to capture the morning sun. The attic dormers are surrounded with highly decorative baroque hoods; paired windows on the second and first floor repeat the elaborate hood design. Paired brackets and modillions give decorative support to the building’s cornice. A centered entrance is defined by a prominent elliptical hood. The full width veranda with its squared posts is original, emphasizes the horizontal nature of the building and is representative of the style. Mr. Dale lived in this house just two years before passing away at the age of sixty-one.

William B. Sterrett was a Titusville manufacturer of farm machinery and oil well goods and equipment. He did well enough to build this fine house at 226 E. Main Street in 1871.

The more complicated mass of this Second Empire incorporates a tower situated in the corner of an “L”-shaped plan; the tower and plan reflect the concurrent influence of Italianate architecture. A concave mansard roof sits on top of the structure; paired brackets support the cornice. Elaborate window hoods add to the flamboyant nature of this structure. Mr. Sterrett married Sadie Farel who quickly invited her family to join the couple. In time Sadie kicked William out of the so-called Sterrett house while the Farels lived there for many years after. Sterrett died in 1907, alone, in a Meadville hotel.

The Hunters were a prominent family in the very early days of Tidioute. In time they became major players in the region’s lumber industry. Samuel Hunter was one of the family’s patriarchs. On Samuel Hunter’s property between Main Street and the River, Jahu Hunter built a splendid Second Empire residence. The house features a central wing with a tower. Side wings also extend out from the basic rectangular volume. Decorative hoods can be seen over the windows of both floors and elaborate surrounds define all the attic dormers. The concave mansard roof is repeated in the tower. Baroque window roundels are in all four sides of the tower roof. Paired brackets and modillions provide decorative support to the cornices at three levels. The full veranda has been added to over the years, but it has retained its original character. Note how three distinct lines of the veranda roof, the main mansard roof cornice and the upper mansard cornice accentuate the horizontal character of the Second Empire style. The vertical tower is an American vernacular touch showing, once again, our fondness for picturesque Italianate towers.

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