Friday Photos: Second Empire Style in Winchester

The Gavis House in 1976Friday Photos this week is inspired by the recent discussion of the Gavis residence at 414 South Braddock Street. You may have seen the building called “Second Empire style” in the news following the June 25th City Council work session and wondered what that meant and why that is important in a discussion about what to do about a crumbling old building.

The Second Empire style is usually dated to 1855-1885. These stylistic influences can be dated from the 1870s to the early 1900s in Winchester, which is a typical lag in fashionable architecture for the area. This architectural style is very similar in appearance to the Italianate style of the same period, one of the more common building types in Winchester’s historic district. Because the two styles seem so alike, it may not be immediately obvious why so much stress has been placed on that unique aspect of 414 South Braddock Street.

Cornice brackets and tall, usually arched windows often surrounded by molding make Second Empire visually similar to the Italianate style. The telltale distinguishing feature of Second Empire style is the roof. This feature, called a mansard roof, is a dual pitched hip roof that is “boxy” in appearance. Many times the roof was covered with slate cut into decorative patterns. Often the roof line was decorated with elaborate iron cresting. In fact, the roof is so intrinsic to Second Empire architecture that it is sometimes simply referred to as Mansard style.

The mansard roof is named for a 17th century French architect, Francois Mansart. The roof shape – the dual pitched, boxy hip roof – most associated with Mansart’s designs was considered especially functional, allowing for full use of the attic space when coupled with dormer windows. Because of his popularization of that form, that roof style came to bear his name. The mansard roof was revived extensively in French architecture constructed during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870), known as the Second French Empire. Where the contemporaneous Italianate style was part of the Romantic, Picturesque movement in architecture utilizing architectural styles of the past and focusing on nature, the Second Empire style was considered a modern style for its imitation of the latest French construction and a push toward urban living. As the style migrated through England to America, it retained the link to its French roots through its identification with the reign of Napoleon III. (Another, peculiarly American name for the style is the “General Grant style”, as the building type was at the height of its popularity after the Civil War and during his presidency.)

What makes the Gavis House so architecturally endearing, even in its dangerously dilapidated state? It is the last example of textbook Second Empire construction left in Winchester that has not been significantly altered or demolished. It was always a rare style locally, though other, original Second Empire style buildings once existed here. The other “high end” or typical examples of Second Empire style buildings in Winchester have been lost to demolition, including the Barton home on South Washington Street, the Winchester Milling Company on North Cameron Street, and the birthplace of Admiral Richard Byrd on Amherst Street.

The extreme rarity of the style (about 1% of buildings in the Winchester Historic District have Second Empire details, and most in a very modest expression) is coupled with the building’s landmark architectural potential. The building is one of a handful that received an “outstanding” rating in the 1976 architectural survey, indicating it is of such quality that it could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places through its architecture alone. This places the building on the same architectural footing as the Hexagon House and the Handley Library.

Perhaps that comparison in architectural significance – could you envision the Handley Library removed from our downtown streetscape? – goes a long way to explain why architectural historians and enthusiasts have always held a soft spot in their hearts 414 South Braddock Street. If the Taylor Hotel was our most famous building that needed attention, it would be fair to say the Gavis residence is the most architecturally outstanding threatened building in Winchester.

Album of Second Empire Style Buildings in Winchester’s Historic District

  • 414 South Braddock Street, Aulick or Gavis Residence, Second Empire style, ca. 1881, only intact original example of the style left in Winchester
  • 41 West Boscawen Street, commercial building remodeled to Second Empire style ca. 1900
  • 2 North Cameron Street, the Kurtz Building, Second Empire style tower addition ca. 1870
  • 112 North Cameron Street, O. M. Brown Residence, remodeled to Second Empire style ca. 1870
  • 11 South Cameron Street, Second Empire influenced townhouse, ca. 1900
  • 36 South Cameron Street, remodeled to Second Empire style ca. 1870
  • 42-44 South Cameron Street, Second Empire influenced townhouse ca. 1896
  • 14-16 South Loudoun Street, commercial building remodeled to Second Empire style ca. 1898
  • 26-28 West Piccadilly Street, extensively altered Second Empire influenced residence, ca. 1905
  • 132 North Washington Street, Second Empire style residence ca. 1880, altered

List and photographs compiled from 2011 Historic District Survey and Google Maps street view.

Friday Photos: Student Survey of Winchester, Early 1980s

This week in Friday Photos, PHW brings you a look back at the beginnings of the revitalization efforts downtown. These images were pulled from a slideshow labelled “Three Part Student Survey of Winchester.” The goal of the study appeared to have been suggestions for improving the downtown and making it a more attractive place to shop and visit. The images appear to date, for the most part, to the very early days of the walking mall.

This is a timely reminder of how much our downtown has improved upon showcasing the intrinsic historic charm of Old Town Winchester. If you have never seen images of the downtown from these very early days of the pedestrian mall, it can be hard to visualize just how much the space has evolved through the City’s infrastructure improvements and building owners’ efforts to restore their historic buildings. Please take some time to click through the photos this weekend for a dose of nostalgia, and let PHW know if you recognize any of the locations in the uncaptioned slides.

Three Part Student Survey of Winchester, Early 1980s

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Friday Photos: Annual Meeting 1978

While PHW is gearing up for the 49th Annual Meeting tomorrow, Saturday June 15 at 2 p.m., we invite you to take a look back at the 1978 Annual Meeting, the earliest such meeting we have found documented with photographs. The event was hosted in the garden of Nancy Pennypacker’s house. All photographs were taken by G. Rich Anderson.

PHW Annual Meeting, 1978

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Friday Photos: Winchester-Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, 1975

This week for Friday Photos, PHW brings you a look back at business in the mid-1970s. This series of photographs was taken at a Winchester-Frederick County Chamber of Commerce event. The images are all unmarked, however, so particulars about this event are unclear. If you can help PHW identify anyone in the photos or provide more details about what might be happening, please contact us at or (540) 667-3577.

Chamber of Commerce 1975

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Friday Photos: PHW’s “Grand Event,” September 1973

This week for Friday Photos, we look back at some images of one of the first large scale membership and fundraiser events in PHW’s history. The gathering – the forerunner of today’s Memberfest – was held at Glen Burnie on September 14, 1973.

As with most stories, a bit of background is necessary to set the stage. In August of 1971, PHW had started working in earnest on fundraising for what would eventually become known as the Jennings Revolving Fund. The first substantial loan went to the Roberts family, whose front wall of their limestone home on South Braddock Street collapsed prior to their stabilization efforts could begin.

By 1973, PHW was gearing up to increase this corpus of funds to begin purchasing endangered buildings for resale through the Revolving Fund. The “Grand Event” was conceived with a twofold mission to begin the Revolving Fund and increase membership to 300.

The committee, made up of Joe Headley, LouAnne and Ray Jennings, Barbara Laidlaw, Buddy Orndoff, George Robertson, Lee Taylor, and Elanor White, organized the event. There was a puppet show, various musical acts, and a square dancing demonstration. Much like the Open House at the Noakes House this spring, architectural artifacts and other interesting donations were auctioned off to raise funds. The ticket cost to the event – a modest $5 for a single or $7.50 for a couple – served as the membership dues for that year.

While no written report was filed at the end of the event, we can surmise from the happy faces in these photographs and that the Revolving Fund was in negotiations to purchase its first building in 1974 that the “Grand Event” was a grand success.

PHW's "Grand Event," Sept. 14. 1973

Friday Photos: Salvaged Greenhouse

Today’s photos are images of a greenhouse once located at the Virginia Agricultural Experimental Station/Winchester Fruit Research Laboratory on Valley Avenue (Route 11), approximately where Hope Drive is located today. Several greenhouses on the site had been abandoned and were decaying after the Research Laboratory moved into larger facilities in the mid 1990s.

Theodora and Benjamin Rezba salvaged, relocated and restored one greenhouse left behind at the Valley Avenue facility. These images, given to PHW in 2006, show the greenhouse in its dilapidated state and during the reconstruction and restoration phase. The unusual project was recognized in 2006 by PHW with an Award of Merit for retaining this piece of Winchester history, even though it had to be moved from its original location. Today, it is once again a functional greenhouse.

Read more about the history of the Fruit Research Laboratory at Virginia Tech’s website.

Curious about what other projects have received recognition with PHW preservation awards? Find a list of past winners at Preservation Award Recipients.

Salvaged Greenhouse from Fruit Research Laboratory

Friday Photos: South Kent Street, 2001

In 2001, a team of PHW volunteers canvased South Kent Street to gather more information about the properties in that neighborhood as part of our Revolving Fund efforts at the Blues House, 401-403 S. Kent St. Although it was not a complete survey, some buildings in the 500-800 block – properties just outside the Winchester Historic District – were captured and documented, along with a few of the field volunteers in action. Take a look back and “remember when…” on South Kent Street!

From South Kent Street, 2001

Friday Photos: Willow Brook

This week we step back to 1984 and visit “Willow Brook” near Kernstown at 3105 Shawnee Drive. Willow Brook, also known as the Hamilton-Triplett-Copp House, was once a 300 acre working farm consisting of a dairy, icehouse, large barn and a brick smokehouse. Although the house is solidly vernacular from the exterior and the homeowners were not prominent in local history, the house still displays remarkable architectural details. The most prominent piece, an elaborate mantelpiece featuring a large handcarved eagle that was originally in the living room of Willow Brook, was purchased by E.I. DuPont in the 1930s and became part of the Winterthur Museum collection. By 1984 the farm was whittled down to the main house and a root cellar on 1.3 acres. Shortly after these photographs were taken, the house was sold and converted to an apartment complex.

From Willow Brook, November 1984

Friday Photos: The Grim-Moore House

Friday Photos returns this week with a look back at a massive renovation project at 510-512 South Loudoun Street. The building, known as the Grim-Moore House, is comprised of a log building circa 1760 and a brick building circa 1795-96. The house was purchased by Preservation of Historic Winchester through the Jennings Revolving Fund in 1975. At the time of the purchase, the once grand Federal-style home had been subdivided into multiple apartments, resulting in truly horrific living conditions. Bill and Virginia Miller purchased the property from PHW and worked diligently from 1976-1982 to restore the home to its original splendor.

Virginia Miller documented the process in over 500 photographs and captions. PHW was fortunate enough to be allowed to scan and transcribe the notes from this scrapbook, and now we can share them with you. This is a fascinating and telling example of how PHW’s Revolving Fund can save “junky” properties from neglect and almost certain demolition and restore them to contributing structures in the Historic District. We hope you take some time this Apple Blossom weekend to remind yourself that this is what PHW is all about.

From The Grim-Moore House

Friday Photos: The Old Frederick County Court House

Step back in time to the early to mid 2000s and remember the Frederick County Court House before it became the Old Court House Civil War Museum. Be sure to visit them on the web at, or even better, stop by the museum at 20 N. Loudoun St. in the heart of Old Town Winchester, Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

From Old Frederick County Court House, 2006

Edit: If the wording of this post has caused confusion, the 2000-2006 dates reference the dating of these photos of the renovation work at the Court House, not the age of the building itself, which is 1840.