607 756 7551 info@the1890house.org

Chester Franklin Wickwire

The Innovator
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, where he opened a hardware store on Main 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 it would weave wire instead.  He began developing products that a farming community like Cortland would need: horse muzzles, seed spreaders, window screens to keep insects out, coal sieves, and popcorn poppers.  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 knew his business from top-to-bottom: he could operate and fix all of the machines in his factory.

Even after becoming one of Cortland’s most prominent citizens, Chester was described by his contemporaries as quiet, modest, sincere, kindly, and genuine.  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 was his gift of the first Cortland County hospital.

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.

When he wasn’t working, Chester pursued several hobbies at home, including raising and racing horses.  Chester lived in his house for 20 years before a fateful night in 1910.

While dining on corn-on-the-cob with his wife, Ardell, and son, Frederic, Chester suddenly had convulsions.  He dropped his corn and said, “It’s paralysis all right!”  Chester’s diagnosis proved right.  After rushing to the hospital, Chester was diagnosed with a stroke, and he returned to his home only to die shortly after, at the age of 67.

Support Cortland's Landmark Building

The impressive collection found throughout the 1890 House Museum offer visitors the opportunity to step back in time to 19th century Cortland.  The unique history within our walls tells the stories of the Wickwire family, their servants, and the factory workers who toiled in Wickwire Wire Mills Factory.


We strive to educate and inspire every visitor through diverse programming and exhibitions.  With your help, we will preserve this Cortland County landmark for present and future generations.


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37 Tompkins St. Cortland, NY 13045

Telephone: (607) 756 7551

Email: info@the1890house.org


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