One morning in 1888, three-year old Katherine Willetts posed with her dolls in a sitting room of her parents’ mansion. The sun that shone on Skaneateles Lake glowed in her face and dress. She was born in this house. Her parents, Louisa Frost Willetts and William Russell Willetts, owned the mansion between 1878 and 1892.
William R. Willetts had purchased the mansion from his mother, Amie Willetts Lapham. She was the widow of Anson Lapham, who had died in 1876. He called the mansion “Lake Home.” It was originally built by Richard De Zeng.
On February 18, 1879, William R. Willetts married Mary Hill Prentice of Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. She was the sister of his brother’s wife, Emma Prentice, who had married Joseph C. Willetts in 1872. William and Mary made their home in Skaneateles. Her parents, a couple of wealth and position in Brooklyn Heights, visited in 1880. Sadly, Mary Willetts died on February 16, 1881, two days before the couple’s second wedding anniversary.
On September 8, 1884, William R. Willetts married Louisa Frost of Delhi, N.Y. The couple at first lived abroad, but then returned to Skaneateles. Their first daughter, Katherine Willetts, was born at home on November 14, 1885, and spent the first seven years of her life at the mansion, before the family moved to a house on West Academy Street. The mansion changed hands again before being bought by S. Montgomery Roosevelt, who renamed it Roosevelt Hall.
After graduating from the Skaneateles Academy in 1905, Katherine Willetts attended the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (which in 1944 became the Rochester Institute of Technology). In 1906, she had her own summer cottage on the lake. A news account of one weekend’s activities ended with the phrase, “A jolly time was had by all.” In 1908, Katherine was one of the original members of the Monday Evening Club, a book group started by Elizabeth Cobane; the club still meets in Skaneateles.
On June 15, 1910, Katherine married John Kneeland Thorne at her parents’ home. The couple’s life together was not without sadness; their three sons each died in infancy, in 1912, 1913 and 1915. In 1956, at the age of 70, Katherine Willetts Thorne died in Skaneateles. With the exception of her time in college, she lived here all her life. She was survived by a sister, Louise Willetts, of Nice, France, and by a photograph taken when the light was just right.
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My thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society for the photo, and to Dennis Owen for the encouragement.