Second Empire, second look

The Gilded Age, which began in the 1870s, was noted for its conspicuous consumption, so readers of the March 1, 1871 edition of The Southport Chronicle would not have been surprised to learn that W.W. Wakeman, esquire, was about to build “a very handsome residence” on fashionable Rose Hill in what is now the Southport Historic District.

“Although we have not seen the plans,” The Chronicle noted, “we know Mr. Wakeman well enough to be able to say that this will be one of the most attractive houses in this town.” And indeed, this Harbor Road house — which is on the market today for $2,895,000 — is a stunning example of Second Empire style. Named for the Second French Empire, as the reign of Napoleon III was known, the architectural style was characterized by an almost baroque richness that featured squared-off mansard roofs, soaring ceilings, commanding marble fireplaces, stained-glass windows and elaborately ornamented moldings and columns.

Working with the Bridgeport architectural firm of Edward Richard Lambert and Rufus William Bunnell, Wakeman built the house for his relation, Sarah Ann Fowler Wakeman, widow of Zalmon Bradley Wakeman, a sea captain who owned a fleet of ships. Sarah Wakeman could not have lived there long, dying as she did in 1873. But her daughters, Mary and Frances, lived there for more than 30 years, until 1913. Over the years, the sisters made some changes to the place, adding two bay windows, according to the May 21, 1885 edition of The Fairfield Advertiser.

You wonder what the sisters would think of the seven-bedroom manse in its present-day iteration, which has preserved its architectural past (along with views of Southport Harbor, the Long Island Sound, Pequot Yacht Club and The Country Club of Fairfield) while updating the six and a half bathrooms and creating a sweeping, state-of-the-art kitchen. 

No doubt The Southport Chronicle and the Fairfield Advertiser would’ve approved.

For more, visit 418Harbor.com. And for more photographs of this Second Empire home, visit wagmag.com.

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