The Jewett Mansion


Seeing a postcard of the Masonic temple circa 1920 has prompted me to fill in some gaps in the building’s lineage, which begins with Freeborn Garrettson Jewett, born in 1791, named for a then-famous Methodist pastor, and destined for a distinguished legal and political career.

When studying law, Freeborn G. Jewett met and married Fanny (Frances) Warner. In 1815, the couple moved to Skaneateles and in 1816, Fannie presented her husband with his first and only child, a son, William H. Jewett. In addition to a law practice in the village, Freeborn Jewett held a succession of offices: Surrogate of Onondaga County (1824-31), New York State Assemblyman (1826), U.S. Congressman (1831-33), Inspector of Auburn Prison (1838-39) and District Attorney of Onondaga County (1839). He was appointed an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1845 and in 1847 was elected as one of the first judges of the New York State Court of Appeals. By the drawing of lots, he became that court’s first Chief Justice. He was re-elected in 1849 but resigned in June of 1853 because of ill health.

Freeborn Jewett copy

His labors had made him a wealthy man, and in 1857 he saw the completion of his brick mansion on Genesee Street, on land he had purchased from Winston and Thankful Day many years earlier. However, he died in January of 1858 before being able to spend much time in his new home. He was remembered for “the clearness of his intellect, the justness of his judgment, the purity and benevolence of his heart.”

Fanny, his widow, received the house plus $25,000 in cash. But William H. Jewett, their son, was given nothing outright. Rather, a sum was set aside so “trusted friends” might provide William and his wife, the former Eliza Riddle, with “the means of a comfortable living but in no event to advance them any money to expend on their own account.”

By way of explanation, Freeborn Jewett had written, “I am not insensitive that the provisions of this instrument, so far as my only child is provided, may strike the minds of many as extraordinary. It is indeed painful and grievous to me to feel compelled by his conduct to dispose of my property so as to prevent him from participating in the enjoyment of it after my decease.”

William Jewett had not turned out as hoped. In spite of family connections and his father’s wealth, or perhaps because of them, he did not have to do much, nor did he choose to. He went to Yale, practiced a little law, and was said to have a “splendid intellect, combined with a genial social temperament, a ready wit, and genuine kindness of heart.” But he was also “eccentric.”

William was briefly the publisher of The Skaneateles Democrat. He talked Harrison B. Dodge into becoming the editor. As publisher, Jewett’s role was to drop by Dodge’s office, unannounced and unwelcome, fill the room with cigar smoke, and leave.

If he was upset about being disinherited, William Jewett did not have long to stew about it. He died the year after his father, in August of 1859, at the age of 43. He left behind his mother, Fanny, his widow, Eliza, and one son, Freeborn Jewett Jr.

After Freeborn Jewett Sr.’s death, Fanny Jewett continued to live in the brick mansion, with a companion and a maid, until her death on April 7, 1867, at the age of 75.

Eliza Riddle Jewett, William’s widow, remained in her smaller home as well, with a boarder and a “hired girl,” but on July 11, 1866, in the village of Skaneateles, she married a widower, William Marvin, and her prospects brightened.

William Marvin, of whom I have written before, had served for many years as a federal judge in Key West. After the Civil War, he was appointed Governor of Florida, and then elected as a U.S. Senator by the Florida legislature. But the U.S. Senate refused to seat him, at which point he had enough. In his own words from his 1892 Auto-biography:

“On the 11th day of July, 1866, I married Mrs. Elizabeth Riddle Jewett. I had met her two or three years before at Saratoga Springs, and was much pleased with her personal appearance… She had, at the time I married her, a pleasant home in Skaneateles, New York, and being tired of public life, and having no special fondness for the practice of law, I settled down in this beautiful village.”

Marvin purchased the Jewett mansion – either from Fanny’s estate or from Freeborn Jewett Jr., who, in some accounts, inherited his grandmother’s real estate – and moved in with Eliza, his new bride.

With William and Eliza Marvin safely in the mansion, I’m going off on a tangent for a few paragraphs, because I cannot leave this particular Jewett family story untold:

As Freeborn Jewett Sr. had made an ironclad trust for William, his eccentric son, so Fanny Jewett created a trust for the care of Freeborn Jewett Jr., her grandson. The wisdom of Fanny’s decision soon became apparent.

In early April of 1869, Freeborn Jewett Jr. was returning to Skaneateles by train from New York City. The train was stopped at Hudson, N.Y., by a flooding stream, and when it resumed its journey, Jewett Jr. was not to be accounted for.

On April 12th, the New York Tribune reported sighting him in Canada, but this was later said to be incorrect by the Auburn Daily Democrat and the Buffalo Evening Courier. On April 18th, The Ithacan reported, “No further traces have been discovered of Mr. F.G. Jewett, the missing banker of Skaneateles, who was last heard from in Poughkeepsie. His friends are now convinced he is partially deranged.”

The Utica Daily Observer added, “It is not improper to say that he was a genial, whole-souled fellow, well liked by all who associated with him, his only failing being that he would at times take a drop too much, and at such times was generally uncontrollable.”

On April 21st, the Troy Daily Press reported that a “Detective Putnam of Syracuse” learned Jewett Jr. had left New York in the company of a bookkeeper from the Metropolitan Hotel, borrowed $50 in Rochester and bought a ticket to Suspension Bridge (which then spanned the Niagara River linking New York and Ontario). There he pawned a set of diamonds for less than half their value and crossed Canada to Detroit, from whence it was said he may have gone to Jackson, Michigan, or to Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Putnam, Jewett Jr.’s wife and her mother were engaged in the pursuit together.

The Troy Daily Whig reported, “Whether Jewett is detained by some designing person for purposes of their own, or whether he is traveling about in this singular manner on his own account (and if so, why?) are questions that cannot at present be answered.”

Finally, Jewett Jr. was found in Manhattan, Kansas, working as a day laborer. On the evening of April 26, 1869, the New York Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, he was returned to Skaneateles. But he was not done.

Less than a year later, in March of 1870, Jewett Jr. again vanished, this time from Syracuse, where he had gone for the day. Several weeks passed without news, until a letter was received at his place of business – the Skaneateles Iron Works in Skaneateles Falls – from England. The “England” that’s across the Atlantic Ocean.

Jewett Jr., appearing destitute but “respectably connected,” had applied for assistance at the U.S. Consulate in the port city of Southampton, after having walked there, 80 miles, from London. The Consul “made provisions for Jewett’s maintenance while intelligence of him could be sent to his friends in Skaneateles and a reply received from them.” A letter was sent and Jewett Jr.’s friends sent money for a return ticket. In April, the Utica Daily Observer wrote, “His besetting sin is a seemingly inextinguishable love of intoxicating drinks, and to this cause must be traced his remarkable conduct.”

Once again, he was brought home. A lack of further published reports suggests that he began to behave himself.

Back at the mansion, William and Eliza Marvin had settled in, living “in wealth” with two servants. Judge Marvin served as president of the Skaneateles Library Association from its founding until his death. He was president of the Village Board of Trustees in 1876. He served as Senior Warden of St. James’ Episcopal Church and as chairman of the Lake View Cemetery Association.

“I have employed my time in working in my garden,” he wrote in 1892, and what a garden he had to work in. His yard filled the center of the block bounded by Genesee, Academy, Jordan and State streets, pretty much where the municipal parking lot is today. Imagine that paved lot as a well-tended green space, and you have William Marvin’s garden and orchard.

When Eliza Marvin wife died in 1901, William wrote, “Our married life was peaceful and happy. I shall soon rejoin her.” And so he did, in 1902. He was buried in Lake View Cemetery.

The mansion was inherited by Marvin’s daughter, Hattie, the child of his first wife who had died while the girl was an infant. Hattie was married to Marshall Independence Ludington, so named because he was born on the Fourth of July. In 1898, Ludington was appointed Quartermaster General by President William McKinley and 12 days later the U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana harbor. Ludington was tasked with supplying U.S. forces in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion ignited in China, and Ludington was responsible for provisioning that conflict as well. On April 12, 1903, he was promoted to Major General and retired from the Army the next day. He and Hattie traveled before returning to live in Skaneateles.

Harriette “Hattie” Marvin Ludington died in Savannah, Georgia, in 1910, and Marshall Ludington died in 1919, having been a resident of Skaneateles for 16 years.

The Jewett/Marvin mansion, in accordance with the wishes of William and Hattie Marvin, was willed to the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York for use as a home for indigent women. But as the diocese already had such a home in Binghamton, they sold the house to Skaneateles Lodge No. 522, Free & Accepted Masons, on April 20, 1920, and after a year of alterations it was occupied on November 2, 1921. It has served as a Masonic temple since that time.

* * *

A portrait of Freeborn Jewett Sr., painted by Skaneateles artist John D. Barrow (1824-1906), was presented to the New York State Court in Albany in 1885. It hangs in the Richardson Courtroom at Court of Appeals Hall.

Freeborn Jewett Jr. worked at various clerical jobs in Albany, N.Y. He died in June of 1915 in Santa Barbara, California. A son, Edward Taylor Jewett, survived his father and inherited the $20,000 principal of the trust fund.


One thought on “The Jewett Mansion

  1. Pingback: The Masonic Temple, 1924 | Skaneateles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s