House Floors

Permanent Collection & Exhibitions

Construction begin in 1888 and took 18 months to complete. By the time the house at 37 Tompkins was finished the final cost was $75,000. To put that into perspective, working as a laborer at the Wickwire Factory, you would be earning around $10 per week in 1890. In around the same time it took to construct the house an average worker would have made $720.

We invite you to explore this 15,000 sq ft mansion room by room. Incorporating original and period objects, each room is designed to appear like it did over 100 years ago.

First Floor

Bold stenciling and carved oak woodwork greeted visitors entering the Wickwire residence. Combining a mixture of Tudor, Georgian, and Renaissance styles, the architectural details of the entrance hall offered a preview of the elegance of the mansion.

The rooms throughout the museum showcase the wide range of styles and taste from the era including oriental, aesthetic, Eastlake, Romanesque, Rococo, and revival styles.

In the reception hall by the front door, the gas light fixture from 1890 remains in place. This is the only original light fixture left in the museum. During the late 19th century, brass light fixtures were very popular and many used gas. When the house was built, electric lighting, which was considered unreliable, was used sparingly as the power was turned off at 9PM in the city.

On June 1, 1890 Chester and Ardell Wickwire moved into their new home on 37 Tompkins Street. The family hired J.B. Tiffany and Co. of NYC for consultation on the interior appointments for the home in addition to those given to them by their architect Samuel Burrage Reed.

One of the most beautiful features of the home is the decorative stenciling which was very common in the late 19th century. Most of the stenciling on the walls and ceilings has been restored on the first floor, including the hallway.

The woodwork throughout the museum is mainly golden oak and cherry. The hallway’s coffered ceiling, side paneling, and inglenook is golden oak. A photograph located on the north wall shows the inglenook with two brass cranes, or ibises. These were purchased by the Wickwires in 1895. The cranes were originally garden ornaments. They are currently located in the library on the first floor. The cranes were symbols of a happy family in the Japanese tradition. Oriental objects became very fashionable in the late 19th century for wealthy families to own.

To the left of the inglenook is a stained-glass door that was created along with other window transoms by the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company. This would have been the main entrance for persons entering the house via carriages that entered the driveway on the East side of the house, which is why the door is more elaborate than the front door.

Highlighted by the windows of stained glass at the east entry, the staircase of carved oak continued the grandeur of the entrance hall. Paired benches and a fireplace set beneath the staircase created an inglenook. Furnished as a sitting area, the stair hall and inglenook were a center of family activity.

Pocket-doors of cherry and oak separated this informal sitting room from the entrance hall. Decorated in the popular Victorian style of Queen Anne Revival, the east parlor featured an immense fireplace, mirrored over mantle, and circular alcove. Richly-colored stenciling accents the walls and ceiling of this parlor.

The East Parlor was an informal sitting room, the family room of today. A photograph on the west wall shows the room as it appeared in 1890, before the fireplace overmantel was removed in the 1920s. The room decorations reflect a mixture of styles, the most prominent of which are Renaissance revival (original overmantel) and Louis XV (side chairs in turret). The mirror on the north wall is an original piece.

Decorative stenciling has been restored and is highlighted by the beautiful cherry woodwork. C.E. Allen and E. Peffer of the firm H.C. Allewelt and Sons, were retained by the Wickwires to complete the decorative painting throughout the home. Their signatures were found over the doorways during restoration.

Ladies such as Mrs. Wickwire spent their free time completing elaborate needlepoint, artwork, and other craft projects. The hair wreath on the South wall over the small horsehair settee is a beautiful example of the types of activity ladies engaged in to keep busy during the day. Hair was collected from hairbrushes and saved in small containers made specifically for that purpose. It was then woven into elaborate jewelry or wreaths. Because this wreath features blond, brown, black, and gray hair, it was probably made using hair collected from an entire family.

The ivory and gold décor of this parlor contrasts sharply with the rest of the mansion. Neoclassical details that matches gilt furniture suggests a formal atmosphere. The stained-glass mosaic window highlights the mirrored fireplace overmantel. Delicate floral patterns are repeated throughout the silk wall covering, plush upholstery, and wall-to-wall carpeting.

The Gold Parlor (named for its gold detailing on the molding in the room) was used as a formal entertaining space. Decorated in the Louis XVI style, the most popular of French Revival styles, the room has been restored to its original appearance which can be seen in a photo hanging on the south wall of the room. Scalamandre of NY reproduced the ivory silk wall-coverings for the room from original samples. The Wilton carpet (the most expensive type of carpet in the late 19th century) is also a reproduction.

The fireplace’s overmantel was removed during the 1923-25 renovations and the stained glass window was bricked in. The window remained hidden for nearly 50 years. During the restoration work in 1976, the window was discovered and work was done to repair it. The over mantel was also reconstructed at this time.

The Music Room was once decorated in the style of the Gold Parlor. Renovation to the Music Room was provided by the Ralph R. Wilkins foundation in memory of Ralph and Carrie Wilkins.

In 1923, Architect Carl Clark used glazed Rookwood tile, statuary, and glass to create this distinctly contemporary addition to the house. Decorative plants and furnishings soften the austere lines of the room. Sunlight through the stained glass skylight, who worked for Henry Keck Stained Glass of Syracuse, illuminates the room and gives it warmth.

The Sun Parlor and Fernery share the same room. This space, designed by Architect Carl Clark of Cortland, was added during the 1920s. He used the same limestone as the exterior of the main house to blend the addition seamlessly. The Sun Parlor features a Meissen Chandelier purchased prior to WWII.

Stanley Worden and Henry Keck designed the stained glass skylight and windows on the south wall. Mr. Keck owned a stained glass studio in Syracuse. The work done at the Wickwire residence was Mr. Worden’s first job. He joined the firm as an apprentice in 1922, and by 1974 more than 75% of the studio’s windows were designed by him. The skylight is made up of four triangular panels joined to form a square. The glass is supported by steel struts, which are reinforced by wires anchored to the roof. The windows on the south wall repeat the design from the skylight with swags and a flower in an elliptical center. The windows are typical of popular neoclassic designs from the 1920s

Crests of the Wickwire and Goodrich families adorn glass doors at the entrance to the library. In the late 1890s, this secluded study was opened up with doorways to the dining and music rooms. An ornate plaster ceiling and Jacobean-style wall paneling reflected decorative tastes of the early 1920s.

The Library features cherry woodwork and parquet floors, which can be seen in many rooms on the first floor of the house. The intricately woven floor designs were constructed with pegs instead of nails or glue.

A woven wire pattern is evident on the hardware throughout the house. Doorknobs, latches, and hinges embossed with this design reminded the family of the success of the Wickwire Company that allowed construction of the home. The walls of the library were originally stenciled. Sometime after 1920, the room was wallpapered.

Originally, the space was used as the dining room for the family. Sometime between 1892 and 1893 the family decided that a dining room and breakfast room (now the main dining room) was excessive for four people. They turned the dining room into a library, and the breakfast room into the main dining room. At that time, a wall separating the two spaces was removed, and sliding glass pocket doors were added to allow more light into the space. A glass display case in the room features Wickwire family and other 19th century Victorian objects.

The carved furniture and oak paneling of this room suggests a medieval dining hall. A gilt papier-mâché frieze lightened the coffered ceiling and deep-hued walls. An oriental rug and tapestries gave the room richness and comfort. The dining room table (which could accommodate up to twenty people when fully extended) and set of ten chairs are original to the home and feature elaborate carving with lion’s heads that reflect the Renaissance revival style popular from 1860-1880. Deeply carved ornament cabochon decoration, portrait medallions, and caryatids characterize Renaissance revival furniture. Walnut and mahogany were the standard woods used, often embellished with gilding that would contrast the dark woods and adornments. The room’s golden oak woodwork serves as the perfect backdrop for both family and formal dinners.

On the north wall, an original photograph of the house shows the room before the wall separating it from the library was removed. A fireplace was located on the north wall where the sideboard is today. The fireplace was removed during the 1923-1925 renovations. At that time, the glass pocket-doors between the dining room and library were added. The doors feature the Wickwire and Goodrich family crests. The Wickwire crest (French descent) reads “I find things well.” The Goodrich crest (German descent) reads “Wealth dictates service.” Please resist the temptation to open the pocket-doors because of their fragile condition.

The dining room has the same wooden window shades that can be seen throughout the house. They slide up tracks from inside the windowsills, and tuck away underneath the window frame when not in use.

Second Floor

The Wickwires made their bedroom very personal with family portraits, modest furnishings, and bric-a-brac arranged throughout. A pair of dressing rooms, converted into a bathroom during the 1920s, linked their bedroom to an adjacent morning room.

On the top of the desk is an original photograph of the bedroom. It shows the fireplace before its overmantel, similar to the one in the East Parlor, which was removed in the 1920 renovations.

The bed and dresser in the room are believed to be part of the bedroom suite at Chester and Ardell Wickwire’s first house on Tompkins St. (four houses to the east). The pieces are Italian Renaissance in style, which was popular prior to the construction of the house. They were carefully preserved and donated to the museum by the Wickwire family.

In addition to functioning as a sleeping chamber, many Victorian ladies used this room to spend time in during the day when they weren’t entertaining guests occasionally, female relatives and the closest of friends were entertained in the lady’s bedroom.

The stenciling on the upper part of the walls in the master bedroom has been restored, but more work needs to be done. If you look above the door leading to the bathroom, you can view a section of the partially restored stenciling. The master bath was originally the dressing room of the master suite. It was converted into a bathroom between 1923 and 1925 before Fredrick and Marion Wickwire moved into the home. Notice the German style shower stall in the bathroom.

The lady of the house primarily used the Morning Room. This is where she would meet with her staff in the early hours of the day to go over special assignments, apprise them of upcoming events, and go over her schedule for the day.

The lady of the house may have used this space to receive her relatives and acquaintances during her “at home” day. Essentially an open house, middle- and upper-class women would open their home to visitors on a special day and time. They would send a card to their friends, letting them know which day to visit. These visits were referred to as “Morning” calls even though they took place in the afternoon. It is unclear which day of the week would have been Ardell or Marion Wickwire’s “at home” day. On the other days of the week, she would have returned the calls her friends paid to her on their “at home” days.

A small drop-leaf table near the piano features beautiful and intricate inlaid designs and holds a coffeepot and set of matching demitasse cups and saucers.

At one time, this casual room was filled with a collection of desks, chairs, and a daybed. The only original bathroom was located nearby.

A narrow staircase in the service wing conveniently led from the maids’ living quarters to the kitchen on the first floor, and the laundry in the basement. Although small in size, the two maids’ rooms were decorated with a stenciled border.

An intercom used by the family and servants is located outside the two bedrooms. Similar intercoms are located in the master bedroom and kitchen.

The two bedrooms for the servants are large enough for two people to share a living space. Two maids, two footmen, or a married couple could have shared a single room. In addition to live-in help, day help would have been hired to care for the ground, carriages, and horses.

This room features a Singer treadle sewing machine. Maids, especially ladies maids, often repaired not only their own clothes, but that of their masters as well.

While the basement of the house did have a laundry room, the servants undoubtedly would have wanted a space to wash or dry their own garments away from the family area. The room on the left holds a large portable drying rack for this purpose.

One of the two original boys’ bedrooms is filled and open to the public. Even the children’s rooms had decorative stenciling, oak and cherry woodwork, and stained glass windows like the rest of the mansion. Beyond these rooms was a sleeping porch over the sun parlor, which later became an office.

Third Floor


Pool table from the 3rd floor of the 1890 house, perspective from the corner pocket.

Photo By Roger William Theise,

Exuberant colors and patterns decorated the walls and ceiling of the third floor recreational rooms. The billiards room lasted only until 1896 when partition walls were removed to create a ballroom. The tower room continued to be used as a children’s playroom throughout the 1920s. Additional guest rooms could be found in the south side of the ballroom.

The space on the third floor originally held a billiards room, and two other small game rooms that were connected by a hallway. In 1898, the third floor wall partitions were removed to create a large ballroom as Fredrick and Charles were now old enough to host large parties for their friends, and to court young ladies. Restored stenciling on the ceiling indicates where the walls of the other game rooms were. Photographs hanging in this area show the space at different stages between 1890 and 1973.

In 1892, the Wickwire’s had a large party with over 350 guests attending. The party lasted until 3AM and special arrangements had to be made with the electric company to keep the south circuit lights on for guests on their way home. The Cortland Standard reported on the event and stated that is was “the most brilliant reception and party of the season…The gentleman are said to have kept the third floor billiard room and smoking room, filled with Havana’s, occupied for nearly the entire night.”

The small tower room can be viewed via the four small steps on the north side of the game area. It is believed that Ardell Wickwire originally used this room, as it was the ideal spot for needlework with its windows providing ample light. A favorite pastime during the Victorian era was to watch ones neighbors passing by in their sleighs and carriages, and the tower room provided the perfect view for this. Later generations encouraged their children to play in this room where they could keep a close eye on them during parties and balls.

Fourth Floor

A narrow stairway located on the east wall of the hallway leads to the uppermost portion of the house. The cupola at the top provided an excellent view of the mansion and its carriage house, as well as a sweeping panorama of productive farmland, prosperous industries, and fine neighborhoods.

A commanding view of the city can be seen from this space. Mr. Wickwire would have been able to see his factory from here. The slate roof and candlesnuffer shaped top of the third floor tower are also visible from here. An 1892 map of the city is located on the southeast wall of the cupola.

The 1890 House Museum

Open Thursday - Saturday 11am - 5pm

Open Sundays June-September): 11am - 3pm

37 Tompkins Street Cortland, NY 13045

Telephone: (607) 756-7551



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