Wickwire Family

“Chester Franklin Wickwire”

The Wickwire Family


Chester Franklin Wickwire

was the second child of Raymond and Elmira Wickwire, farmers living in McGraw, NY. In 1865, Chester left home at the age of 22 to seek his fortune in the nearby city of Cortland, NY. He opened a grocery store and a hardware store on Main Street. One year after moving to Cortland, Chester married Ardell Lucy Rouse and they moved into her mother’s house at 17 Tompkins Street. In 1873, a customer, Rowland Hall of Elmira, NY, entered Chester store in order to purchase some plant stands. Unable to pay in cash, he bartered with Chester. Chester received several dog muzzles, rat traps, and egg beaters along with a carpet loom in payment for the plant stands. Having always been mechanically minded, Chester tinkered with the carpet loom so that is would weave wire.  He started producing wire cloth for his hardware store and found a ready market for weaved wire goods. Chester purchased more looms to accommodate the growing business and developed a partnership with his younger brother, Theodore. Together they created Wickwire Brothers Company. In 1876, they sold the hardware store in order to start producing wire cloth full time. In 1880, they had outgrown their space on Main Street and so Chester purchased land on South Main Street where the brothers erected their new 40-acres factory. By 1883, they had become the second largest producer of wire goods in the United States. Chester was an effective and efficient businessman. He knew his business from top-to-bottom. Chester could operate and fix all of the machines in his factory. His employees respected him and admired his inventiveness and mechanical ability.

Even after becoming one of Cortland’s most prominent citizens, Chester was described by his contemporaries as quiet, modest, sincere, kindly, and genuine. Victorians believed that hard work and improvement were important and that everyone had a civic responsibility. Chester was often called on for advice and leadership and commonly assisted with municipal works such as paving roads and running sewer lines. He was a trustee of the First National Bank, the First Presbyterian Church, and the Franklin Hatch Library Association. The best demonstration of his concern for Cortland’s citizens, however, was his gift of the first Cortland County hospital.

Chester showed that he was a typical Victorian by his devotion to family. Raymond, Chester’s first son, was born in 1872. Unfortunately, Raymond passed away at the age of five from scarlet fever.  It was several years later that Chester and Ardell’s second son Charles was born followed closely by their third son, Frederic. Chester played a large role in the boys’ education and training. Both boys took music and French lessons and attended Ivy League schools. Chester took them on trips to NYC, the west coast, and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in order to educate them about the world outside Cortland.

In 1888, Chester was 45 years old and a successful businessman. His family had grown and he started to think that his family needed a new home. That summer, Chester was in New York City for business when a house caught his eye. He knocked on the door and discovered that is was the residence of James Anthony Bailey of Barnum and Bailey Circus. He liked the house so much that he hired the same architect, Samuel Burrage Reed, to build a mirror-image of it for him in Cortland. Construction on the house began in June 1888 and finished in June 1889. After furnishing his new home, Chester and his family moved in in the summer of 1890. The house cost Chester $75,000 and is 15,000 sq. feet.

Chester and his family, while typically Victorian in many ways, never lived as flamboyantly as was common among other successful industrialists of the period. Ardell made the house a pleasant retreat for Chester where he could relax while not at work. Chester also spent his free time on his favorite hobby of raising and racing horses.

Chester lived in his house for 20 years before passing away from a heart attack in 1910 at the age of 67. The hospital that he donated to Cortland was nearly completion at the time.

“Ardell Lucy Rouse Wickwire”

Ardell Lucy Rouse Wickwire

was born to Simeon and Sabrina Rowley Rouse in 1845. Ardell married Chester Wickwire on Oct. 2nd, 1866. After their wedding, they moved into her mother’s house at 17 Tompkins Street in Cortland. She gave birth to her first child, Raymond, in 1872. Raymond’s life was short; he passed away from scarlet fever at the age of 5 years. In 1879, Ardell gave birth to her second son Charles. Her third son, Frederic, was born in 1883. On June 1st, 1890, Ardell moved into her new home at 37 Tompkins with her family. With the help of domestics, Ardell managed the house. Ardell worked to make the house a pleasant place for the boys to grow up and for her husband to find refuge from his work. Ardell also dedicated her time outside of the home. She was on several committees for the Cortland Library Association including the finance and entertainment committees. Ardell passed away at the age of 70 in 1915.


“Charles Chester Wickwire”

“Charles and Mabel Wickwire and their children: Charolette, Helen, and Charles”

Charles Wickwire

was born on June 23rd, 1879 to Chester and Ardell Wickwire. Charles was almost eleven years old when his family moved into their new mansion. He and his younger brother, Frederic, spent their youth playing in and exploring their 15,000 square foot home.

When Charles was a boy, he took banjo and French lessons. He attended Cortland Normal School before going to Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts for his university training in 1898. Chester took Charles and Frederic on many cultural trips to places like, New York City, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Saratoga Springs, and the west coast.

Charles married his childhood sweetheart and next door neighbor, Mabel Louise Fitzgerald, on Oct. 9th, 1902. They had three children: Helen Ardell (born 1906), Charlotte Rouse (born 1909), and Charles Chester Jr. (born 1914).

The couple built a new home for themselves in 1912 at 29 Tompkins Street, right next door to his family’s house. In 1907, Charles became the Vice President of Wickwire Bros. Co. and eventually became president of the company in 1914.


“Frederic Wickwire and his parrot Jack”

“Frederic and Marian with their children in the Sun Parlor and Fernery”

“Charles and Frederic Wickwire”

Frederic Rouse Wickwire

was born on January 16th, 1883 to Chester and Ardell Wickwire. Frederic was seven years old when his family moved into their new home at 37 Tompkins Street. Frederic and his older brother, Charles, spent their youth playing in and exploring their 15,000 square foot mansion. Frederic took banjo and French lessons when he was a boy and attended Cortland Normal School. He attended Yale in 1905 and earned a Bachelor’s in Philosophy. He married Marian A. Goodrich of Owego on June 1st, 1912. The couple had four children: Chester Frederic (born 1913), Cynthia Margaret (born 1915), Lyman Goodrich (born 1919), and Winthrope Rouse (born 1923). Frederic was the director of Wickwire Steel in Buffalo and Vice President and Secretary of Wickwire Brothers in Cortland. Frederic and his family moved into his father’s mansion in 1923. Frederic made several changes to the house to update it and make it suit his family. The most notable change he made was the addition of the Sun Parlor and Fernery to the west side of the house. These rooms provided the bright modern space that his family was looking for. The addition cost him $40,000. Unfortunately, Frederic did not get to live in the house much longer. He passed away after a two year illness on September 17th, 1929.



“Marian Goodrich Wickwire O’Connor”

“Lynam, Cynthia, Winthrope, and Chester”

“Marian and Judge Leonard O’Connor”

Marian Goodrich Wickwire O’Connor

was born in 1888 in Owego, NY to Lyman T. and Cynthia Cornell Goodrich. She married Frederic Wickwire on June 1st, 1912. Together they had four children: Chester Frederic (born 1913), Cynthia Margaret (born 1915), Lyman Goodrich (born 1919), and Winthrope Rouse (born 1923).

Marian and her family moved into Chester’s mansion in 1923. She and Frederic quickly made updates to the house to better accommodate the tastes and styles of the 1920s. The most significant change that they made to the house was the addition of the Sun Parlor and Fernery. These rooms provided a bright, modern space for the family to enjoy. After Frederic passed away in 1929 from a prolonged illness, Marian remarried a local attorney named C. Leonard O’Connor.

They were married April 30th, 1931. Marian and Leonard made their own updates to the house, mostly in the kitchen and bathrooms, to keep up with the changing times. Marian occupied her time raising her four children, planning social events such as garden parties, writing poetry, and filling the house with her treasures. Leonard O’Connor passed away in 1971, leaving Marian alone once more. She lived in the house for a total of 50 years. She passed away in 1973 and was the last Wickwire to live in the house.




Thursday to Saturday - 12PM - 4PM
Last Admission - 3:30PM
Major Holiday's - Closed
Telephone - (607) 756 7551
E-Mail - The1890House@gmail.com

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Student/Senior/Military: $5

Children 10 & Under: Free


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