Emma Flower Taylor Brownstone Mansion For Sale $1,500,000

Watertown, NY

Michael R. Franklin
Licensed Real Estate Broker
(o) 315.876.2262
Mike.Franklin@FranklinRuttan.com

 

Taylor Mansion History and Architecture — Photos and text by Bruce G. Harvey, Historian Click here to learn more about Historian Bruce Harvey

 

Exuberance was a prized trait in Victorian America. The popular impression of Victorians depicts them as terribly repressed and staid. However, the briefest glance at the vast cultural output of Americans from the 1870s through the 1910s reveals a world of energy, enthusiasm, vigor, and vitality. The Emma Flower Taylor Mansion in Watertown is one of the great examples this excitement on the part of Victorian Americans.

Such energy and optimism was endemic throughout the nation among all sorts of people, both rich and poor. The full flowering of Victorian-era exuberance, though, took money, and a lot of it. Roswell Pettibone Flower of Watertown had it in spades. A native of nearby Theresa, he made a modest start in Watertown as a very young man, eventually becoming a deputy postmaster, a respectable position. Ever ambitious, though, he moved into retail, opening a jewelry store with a friend, whom he eventually bought out. As a part of his upward climb, Roswell Flower married very well indeed, to Sarah Woodruff. His new bride was the daughter of the owner of the Woodruff Hotel and a prominent Watertown financier.

If we think that the phrase “prominent Watertown financier” is an abstract, absurd, or contradictory collection of words, then it is because we have forgotten just how wealthy and important Watertown was throughout most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A comment often heard is that by the early 20th century, Watertown was home to more millionaires per capita than any other American city; whether true or not, this was a bustling, active city. Located near the mouth of the Black River, Watertown was an early industrial center, because of the abundant water power, and hosted factories that produced paper, textiles, sewing machines, safety pins, and the world’s first portable steam engine. Because it was a junction of river traffic from the north country and steamers plying Lake Ontario, Watertown also quickly became a commercial hub, the site of countless market transactions that only accelerated when the railroad first arrived in 1851. There was money to be made in all of those transactions, and Mr. Flower’s new father-in-law had made a lot of it. For so ambitious a man as Roswell Flower, his new familial connections opened vast new doors.

Among his new family connections happened to be the former president of the New York Central Railway, his brother-in-law. This connection brought Flower to Wall Street in 1869 where he found wild success as a financier and trader in properties throughout the country, eventually opening his own Wall Street banking company, R.P. Flower & Co. After finding success in Wall Street in 1870s, he turned to public service and spent portions of the 1880s and 1890s in office, first as a member of the House of Representatives from 1881 to 1883 and again from 1889 to 1891. In 1891, he was elected as the 30th governor of New York, still the only governor from Watertown.

His daughter Emma, his only surviving child, thus grew up in a life of privilege, mostly in Watertown but with stops in New York City and Washington, DC. She met her husband, John Byron Taylor, in Watertown in 1886. They were married in 1890 in Washington, but settled back in Watertown. Like any good father would do, Roswell Flower offered to have a house built as a wedding present for his daughter. And not just any house, but a mansion designed by Charles Rich, one of the top-tier among New York City’s prestigious architects. Rich, with his partner Hugh Lamb, had designed a vast number of prominent educational, residential, and church buildings in New York City and throughout the state, including Sagamore, Theodore Roosevelt’s estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Despite their being married in 1890, questions of site selection, design, the loss of one child, and the birth of another delayed the start of construction until 1896. Clearly, it was worth the wait. The combination of wild exuberance and muscularity is everywhere evident in the house that Charles Rich designed for John and Emma Taylor, and is characteristic of the various Picturesque styles of architecture in America in the Victorian era.

With their varied historical references and asymmetrical outlines, these styles appealed to the restless American spirit that had become tired of the rigid restrictions of the formal classicism that dominated the earlier Federal and Greek Revival styles. By the time of the Civil War, American architects and builders were already experimenting with exotic revival styles such as Gothic, Second Empire, and Italianate. This experimentation extended through the end of the century, and led to the idea of breaking the flat surfaces and box-like format of America’s houses. An array of stylistic experiments emerged in America from the 1870s to the 1890s. Coming under such names as Queen Anne, Stick, Eastlake, and others, houses of this type were similar primarily in their widely varying surfaces that broke through the standard square or rectangle that faced the street. As Leland Roth, a recent architectural historian, has noted, “Names like Eastlake, Queen Anne, and Stick Style can be attached to this or that combination of forms and ornament; but exceptions to any rule are the rule.”

Such eclecticism is on full display at the Taylor Mansion in Watertown. The dominant motif is the Queen Anne style, which arrived from England in the 1870s where it was an imaginative take on a revival of Elizabeth architecture of the 16th century. In America, it became the most recognizable of the Victorian styles. This style has several key features, including the use of rounded corner turrets, an asymmetrical footprint and surfaces, and multi-planar rooflines, all of which are on full display at the Taylor Mansion. Variations in the vertical surfaces were also hallmarks of the Queen Anne style, with indents and projections scattered about all of the facades. On the Taylor Mansion, this included using large overhanging gables on the front and two sides, horizontal brows that project over the windows in the various gables, window bays that project from the east and west sides, and porches on the second floor that are recessed behind the wall surfaces.

Where the Taylor Mansion departs from most of its fellow Queen Anne houses is in the construction material. The vast majority of Queen Anne houses in America were built of wood, which was easy and inexpensive to use. Lamb & Rich, with the blessing of Emma Flower Taylor, chose a more durable material: brownstone. Technically, it is Medina sandstone, which was quarried in the Town of Medina, NY, near Rochester since the early 19th century and used in buildings great and small throughout the world. Great sandstone blocks were brought to the site by rail from Medina, and cut on site. The use of massive blocks of stone makes the Taylor Mansion a rarity among American Queen Anne houses.

A feature that one sees on many Queen Anne houses is the wrap-around porch, beginning on the façade and continuing around the corner of the house to the side. Here on the Taylor Mansion, the humble front porch has been transformed into a full-scale veranda which essentially is another room of the house. The veranda then extends off the east side of the house to form a porte-cochere, the open structure that gave those who lived in the house and their guests protection from the elements when stepping out of their carriages.

The Taylor’s New York City architect, Charles Rich, was well-versed in many different architectural styles, and brought that experience to bear on their Mansion. The Tudor Revival style, for example, which was presaged by the original Queen Anne style in England, is in full view in the principal tall gable on the façade, which includes half-timbering in which wooden timbers are visible within a stucco siding. The Colonial Revival style, meanwhile, can be seen in the elliptical window above the entrance, located between the large front gable and the rounded corner turret. The front door, meanwhile, with its glass panes set within a decorative metal frame, is surrounded by a flat stone arch that draws upon the Romanesque Revival style as developed by the towering, but short-lived, architect, Henry Hobson Richardson. Even the Shingle Style, that playful style derived from coastal New England resorts that the architectural historian Vincent Scully called “the architecture of the American summer,” puts in an appearance on the Taylor Mansion, with the hipped roof dormers and the way that the tiles in the side gable curve around the corner to the recessed windows.

The architectural wonders of the Emma Flower Taylor Mansion don’t cease once inside the front door. While the feel of the original house was changed somewhat when it was converted into apartments in 1940, following Mrs. Taylor’s death, the architects who carried out the work did a tremendous job in maintaining many of the key architectural details. The most impressive of the interior spaces is the grand ballroom and dining room, in what is now Apartment 3. The one-step differences in the levels of the floors indicated different uses for each space—the highest area at the north end closest to the door from the hallway, where visitors could be announced or look out at the ballroom; one step down to the dining area; and the lowest area, highlighted by the magnificent fireplace which projects into the space, for dancing and mingling. One step up from the dancing floor on the west side of the house is a large curved alcove where—what else—the orchestra would be seated for the dancing parties.

Other spaces in this remarkable house remain largely intact. The entrance hall retains its elegance and richness, despite the doors to the side rooms now beingclosed. The distinctive fireplace set into a curved alcove along the east wall, lined with mosaic tiles and featuring a comfortable bench surrounded by wainscoting; the deeply coffered ceiling; and the delicate turned spindles on the split staircase leading to the second floor landing, were all a part of Mrs. Taylor’s house, as are the walls painted white. The house had a library, now located in Apartment 1. The billiard room, an essential component of any Victorian gentleman’s house, was located off of the entrance hall in what is now Apartment 2. Upstairs, Apartment 5 contains what had been Mrs. Taylor’s private sitting room and bedroom, with its wonderfully light and airy decorative ceiling designs.

The Emma Flower Taylor Mansion is a classic example of Victorian exuberance, of a willingness to combine what seem like disparate and even clashing designs into one tremendous space to experience. Broad and muscular proportions on the exterior, using a mix of picturesque architectural styles, gives way to the interior, much of which is marked by tremendous delicacy. Throughout the interior and exterior, patient observers are immensely rewarded by taking the time to drink in the vast range of architectural details.


Broker: Franklin Ruttan 1406 North State Street Syracuse, NY 13208
(O) 315.876.2262 E-Mail: info@FranklinRuttan.com

This property marketing is in cooperation with listing Agent Cathy Garlock Broker: Garlock Realty9 Washington Street Alexandria Bay, NY
Office: 315-482-6000 Cell: 315-486-4944 www.GarlockRealty.com

Broker fully supports the principles of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Opportunity Act.

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