Wanna Tour The House In 1894?

In January, 1894, shortly before Susan and Harrison Cross moved into their new home, along with their granddaughter, Mary, a reporter from the Emporia Gazette wrote a detailed article.

A curious aspect of the article is that nothing about the decoration was mentioned. Nothing. There is no mention of colors, wallpapers, drapery, furniture, lighting, or artwork.

While the house was fully wallpapered, did this happen after the Cross family moved in?

Moreover, when construction began on the house the national economy had been doing well. However, when the house was completed in early 1894, the economic landscape had vastly changed, into what is now called The Panic of 1893. This makes me wonder: was the house ever furnished?

 

 

 

 

 

The article is accurate save three issues:

  • Several rooms mention “cherry” or “birch” trim but these are faux bois finishes.
  • The “improved elevator to the second floor” was actually a dumbwaiter from the basement to the first-floor kitchen.
  • The second-floor hall is described as “beautifully relieved with Gothic arches and heavy oak carved columns” but it seems doubtful that such features existed. The description however does match the first-floor niche. (UPDATE: This has been clarified. See comments below.)

The third floor description is interesting with “servant’s bedrooms” and “bathroom” and “two large storerooms”.

There was a bathroom. Adjacent, was a room finished in plaster (the rest of the third floor was/is wood). There is no evidence of any additional bedrooms, most of the third floor being one gigantic room. While the original floor plan hints (dotted lines rather than solid) at some division of the gigantic room, no evidence exists that this wall was ever built. Note: The lack of evidence does not preclude such features as having once existed.

Having this 1894 description has repeatedly proved invaluable in answering numerous questions and revealing several lost aspects of the house.

 

38 Comments

  1. Victoria Jones on April 29, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Is it possible that the floors were off in verbiage? Maybe the language of the area or the article author personally would call the basement the first floor and the main floor the second and so on.

    Just a thought.

  2. Seth Hoffman on April 29, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    The statement near the end that “The wall decorations ARE being done by N. L. Lunbeck, which is a guarantee that it WILL be first-class in every respect.” suggests that the wallpaper hadn’t been hung at the time of the article’s writing. It seems that would explain their omission.

    BTW, I always enjoy the complete overuse of superlatives in writing and advertising of that era. Just about any modest house was described as the “best” in some respect!

    • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      An excellent point, Seth!

  3. Sandra D Lee on April 29, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    This is the most fascinating, remarkable “1894 detailed tour,” of the magnificent Cross House!!!

    I love all the artisans were recognized!

    Items that are missing or changed probably meant they were over😱 budget, out of 💰 money or both!

    I believe Mr. Cross was financially strained once construction was completed or near completion?

    Also, I believe there might have been an economic Panic during those years?? 1892-94?

    My grandparents and great grandparents were born in 1862-1919 and alive during my childhood in the early 50’s. Exceptions would be those born before 1882, as they passed away in 1930’s-1940’s or before “me”.

    I vaguely remember Panics late 19th-early 20th Century being discussed.

    All were from horse and buggy days and before modern conveniences, hot/cold running water, modern plumbing….not to mention eras of radio, early cars, ubiquitous phones and before rotary dialing was common. Also phonograph, stereos were yet to come….Victrolas hand cranked or electric…gas lights to electric lights…silent movies to “talkies”…..and vaudeville to live theatre and musicals….lastly coal or steam heat and cooking over wood stoves transitioned to gas/electric….

    When I would visit grandparents for lunch when in grade school, dinner would be mid-day and they sat on the front veranda on gliders or rocking chairs “watching the machines go by”…..Hahahaha

    I have a photographic memory so I vividly remember many of these visits, conversations and family political squabbles….Hahahaha

    Roosevelt/ Truman were either anathema or revered ….Hahahaha Hoover or Coolidge also the same …along with Harding, Taft, etc.

    I hail from Toledo Ohio where a great many presidential libraries and birthplaces are recognized.

    It is very near Michigan border on Lake Erie and about 50 miles from Detroit & Ontario, Canada.

    Anyway I have veered away from original comments….

    This post was the most delightful because it answered so many questions!

    • Mike on April 29, 2020 at 10:49 pm

      Sandra, I have done a little research on the Cross family, and it would seem that H.C. and Susan were not affected by the panic of 93. When Mr. Cross died in 94, he left Mrs. Cross an estate valued at several hundred thousand dollars. Their son was not quite as fortunate when it came to his business dealings.

      • Sandra D Lee on April 29, 2020 at 11:47 pm

        Mike

        Thanks so much for this information.

        It was very helpful.

  4. Don on April 29, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    I would be ecstatic to find such an article written on our home!! This is everything gift wrapped and a true treasure!!

  5. David McDonald on April 29, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Ross, I’ve got an idea. With your questioning of the 2nd floor description:

    I saw the pictures of all the later modifications that had been made (and were being ripped out/undone) to turn it into a hotel-more bedrooms, bathrooms etc, that weren’t original – is it possible that these described design elements had been removed to make way for these new bedrooms/bathrooms?? “Gothic arches and heavy oak carved columns” do NOT a bedroom/bathroom make.

    The author wasn’t likely to outright lie, but, as Seth points out “the overuse of superlatives”, and wanting to have a good, and perhaps a profitable relationship with (you know, speaking highly of and bolstering the egos of) the Cross’s moving forward, might the author have filled in the gaps because the house might have been “almost” finished? I would tend to believe that there is more than a grain of truth in the writer’s description of the home.

    Besides, those design elements would add ALOT to what seems like a radically underdesigned space (the way it looks now). Especially since most more fashionable and wealthy Victorian era homes extended their design style to the 2nd floor area right around the landing after you come up from the first floor. You know, keep impressing your guests as they tour the house.

    The Colonel Hecker mansion on Woodward here in Detroit does this (look it up-the architect took inspiration from French chateau). But that extravagance is not extended to the more private areas as you go deeper into the 2nd floor – the rooms are void of decoration. When I toured the home back in 92 and saw this – that’s what drove the point home for me – that they were TRYING to show-off. Just a thought. Might u try and put back these design elements??

    • David McDonald on April 29, 2020 at 5:18 pm

      And, if i remember correctly, Ross, you wrote about the Hecker mansion here also.

    • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      David, I have the original second-floor drawing and there is no indication of such a feature. Nor can I imagine where such a feature might have been on the second floor.

      However, the first-floor niche could be described as such, and I suspect that the writer simply got the floor wrong.

      • David McDonald on April 29, 2020 at 6:04 pm

        Gotcha! Knew you’d fill in the blanks! 😁 and now that I think about it, youre right, there is no real space for those decorations.
        But, yea, such a great thing to find that article! I want to come visit sooo much! Here’s to dreamin… 😊

      • Kristi on April 29, 2020 at 9:21 pm

        Ross, when the reporter wrote: “The hall is beautifully relieved with gothic arches and heavy oak carved columns, of the finest workmanship.”, I do believe he was writing about the first floor stair hall because the next sentence begins with “This hall, as well as the one above, is also lighted from the north with the finest of leaded and stained windows…”. I believe “the one above” refers to the second floor hall. Perhaps this clears up the mystery concerning the missing second floor ornament.

        • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 9:26 pm

          You are brilliant, Kristi!

          In re-reading that whole part, it becomes clear that the writer is, in fact, talking about the first-floor niche!

          Thank you!

  6. Devyn on April 29, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Wow! What a treasure to have this! The closest I have ever had to this is a description of our last home, a 1910 Beaux Arts apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I have pasted below as I have a feeling you would find it to be entertaining.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    The Manchester
    A modern fireproof apartment house of the highest class, situated on the northeast corner of Broadway and One Hundred and Eight street, having southern exposure, commanding a view of the entire length of Bloomingdale Square and far down West End Avenue and Broadway, and it’s only one short block from the most beautiful portion of Riverside Drive.

    The location is most convenient to subway express station and all modes of transit.

    Absolutely fireproof, with concrete sound-proof floors and partitions, and exterior light courts. The apartments are arranged in suites of six, seven, and eight rooms, two baths and large foyers.

    All main entrances to apartments are through a large foyer hall, leading directly into the living rooms. The chambers are entirely separated from the living quarters. The servants enter their part of the apartment through an separate entrance from the hall, through which all deliveries must be made; service from the kitchen to the dining room is through a large butlers pantry. By locking the pantry door the entire apartment is shut off from the servants quarters, although the servant has access to and from the apartment. This gives each apartment the advantages and privacy of a private dwelling.

    All rooms, excepting the dining room are finished with genuine mahogany doors and trim of white enamel on hardwood, rubbed to a smooth finish. Dining rooms are wainscoted seven feet high, beautifully paneled, exposed ceiling beams; some are finished in rich mahogany, others are in quartered English oak. Parquet floors in every room, including private halls and chambers, laid in squares of quartered oak, one inch thick, and borders.

    Solid porcelain fixtures are provide throughout, including kitchens. The electric fixtures are of an original and exclusive design, with ample outlets permitting any desire effect in lighting.

    Three high-speed Otis elevators with all the latest safety devices, separate service elevator.
    Combination lock wall safes.
    Well-trained employees, day and night. The services of a first-class valet can be obtained
    Special arrangements for men servants in upper story of building.

    • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 10:47 pm

      Devyn, as a former New Yorker, I love these kind of descriptions!

  7. Arkay on April 29, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    What a treasure that article is. Even if it’s not entirely accurate, it gives us clues to the original layout and construction.

  8. Michael J Bazikos on April 29, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    My house was built in 1900. I was fortunate because save for the bathrooms on the first and second floors, none of the woodwork was painted. I easily stripped the one layer of lead paint. None of the walls was painted. Every single room, even the kitchen and the pantry, was papered, ceilings included. In one room I found strips of original forest green colored paper. It was reminiscent of a William Morris pattern. I am quite fortunate that I didn’t have to deal with lead paint throughout my house. And I am a huge fan of wallpaper. It is decidedly unfortunate that period wallpapers are a boutique item, and nowhere near the ubiquitous and cheaply priced originals. I neglected to mention the woodwork in the house was chestnut throughout, except in the kitchen, powder room and pantry. There it was hard pine in the same profile as the rest of the house. The roof is Peach Bottom Slate and in excellent condition. It still has at least another hundred+ years of life.

  9. Chris on April 29, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Oak vault in the butler’s pantry? There is your answer for the pantry mystery. Save for the lock bar.

    • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 9:10 pm

      Agreed; I noted that previously. And the lock bar makes sense on a “vault”!

  10. Bo Sullivan on April 29, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    I find the description of the house as “Romanesque and colonial style of architecture” interesting. Perhaps these are just “big term” musings of a poorly informed writer, but let’s take him seriously for a moment…

    I’m guessing the stone work and round arches could have given it Romanesque qualities to the average observer (the heavy tower forms probably resonated a bit too), and the carved column capitals may have been perceived as derivative wood versions of the kinds of carved stone capitals so common on Romanesque architecture. Still, the connections are not super obvious compared to what we think of as Romanesque style today.

    We’ve also discussed in the past how Queen Anne Free Classic drew from Colonial Revival roots, and this DNA is not super obvious either. The classical pressed steel swag panels are perhaps the most likely signifiers, along with the porch pediment. Some of the gable forms and massing owes a subtle debt to McKim, Mead & White and the later-named Shingle Style, which was considered “colonial” when popular in the 1880s.

    All in all, a lot to unpack and explore in just six words…

  11. Bo Sullivan on April 29, 2020 at 10:28 pm

    Also interesting in my reading are a few other things:

    1. The use of the spelling “mantles” instead of “mantels” – common today as well (like grills and grilles).

    2. That there were (Tennessee) marble slabs on the tops of the first floor radiators – any still around? [Ross: Yes. Most are extant.]

    3. The fact that the leaded art glass – arguably the most prominent and costly decorative feature of the house – gets only one mention, late in the description, and and in the halls, where it is (debatable) less visually impactful than other rooms.

    4. The reference to N.L. Lunbeck and the paper hanging is a great one, and I agree with Seth’s comment about Lunbeck hanging the papers during/after the article was written. Supposedly it took six weeks to six months (or more) for plaster to cure enough for hanging paper without risking damage to it from lime burn out and spotting, so it often happened well after a house was “finished.” However as we’ve talked about with the picture moldings, at least some trim didn’t go on until after the paper went up, so the sequencing here is hard to know. The Lincrusta may have been put up sooner as it was more durable, but maybe not – and it was integrated architecturally with the woodwork in fairly significant ways.

    Painting on plaster had to wait even longer, so the reference to painting in the article likely refers to the exterior, or maybe the wood in the attic (do you think it was painted from the start?). [Ross: No. It was shellacked.] If all the trim was installed and stained/painted/faux finished before the paper went up, you may have found evidence of over-brushing on the plaster under the paper – certainly would have made the painter’s job easier to not have to worry about damaging paper hangings!

    The article is a priceless source of information – thanks for sharing it Ross!

  12. Bo Sullivan on April 29, 2020 at 10:30 pm

    Do you think maybe all the glass hadn’t yet been installed in the house?

    • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 10:37 pm

      Hello, Bo!

      I’m presuming you mean the stained-glass?

      If so, good question!

      • Michael Bazikos on April 30, 2020 at 9:34 pm

        It’s always possible that not all of it was made at the same time and clear glass was first installed. Just a guess. Then when they were delivered, they were installed, possibly in stages.

  13. Mike on April 29, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    What a wealth of information, and how lucky you are to have it. While walls can’t talk, this is almost as good 🙂

  14. Jonathan Wilkerson on April 30, 2020 at 1:33 am

    Interesting thing that caught my eye- the current “screen doors” were “storm doors” with cut glass!

    • Ross on April 30, 2020 at 8:32 am

      I suspect, Jonathan, that is another thing which is inaccurate. I think the writer is referring to the inner doors, which are filled with dazzling beveled glass.

      I have the original screen doors, which are just screened.

  15. Sherry Hyman on April 30, 2020 at 4:01 am

    Hi Ross, the article says the Cross family has lived on the property for 28 years?? Any idea what their previous home looked like??

    • Ross on April 30, 2020 at 8:29 am

      Sherry, they had their previous house moved a few block away. It’s now gone. Sigh!

  16. Tara on April 30, 2020 at 11:45 am

    So odd how things were then. If I had a house built today, I highly doubt that I’d allow a posting in the paper: “The Tara Family recently completed their 3 story mansion, complete with maple and oak flooring, luscious, unpainted molding, perfectly cut crown, zero wallpaper, real wood doors, leaded glass in the kitchen cabinets, Viking appliances, and a leak proof basement, complete with panic room and safe.” CODE WORDS: “Please come rob us now, ’cause we’re obviously loaded.”

  17. tura wolfe on April 30, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    Mary and her Grandparents were full of pride and happiness over their great new home. I am sure they treasured their Grandchild and loved the article she wrote for the local paper. Too bad there were not dozens of pictures. It is the same story we see today in Architectural Digest, Traditional Home, and Southern Living magazines. For years my local newspaper had an interior design section featuring beautiful homes and gardens. And …..of course The Decorators Show House. As I was growing up my next door neighbor, ASID interior designer, had her home featured in House Beautiful. I was her teenage paid helping hand. And, she did work me. It was good because I learned a lot growing up to work in three interior design showrooms.

    So glad Ross and Cross House have this document into the past. Yes, more description would be glorious, but no two ways about it, the article is a treasure. I know we on the blog are very, very, very, very, envious. Just like Ross had the green eye of envy for that absolutely fabulous green sink!

  18. Nancy from Georgia on April 30, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Drat! Drat! Drat! I was breathlessly reading, hoping the name of the stained glass artisan would be named! I’m quite shocked that the stained glass windows were given such a slight mention. They are a feature at least as important as woodwork and painting! Why would they not be credited!? Gnashing of teeth here. Grrrr.

    • Ross on May 1, 2020 at 12:31 am

      Nancy, I’m pretty sure that the architect of the house designed all the stained-glass.

      But…I’ve no idea of who made the windows.

      • Nancy from Georgia on May 2, 2020 at 9:57 am

        They are of extraordinary design! Not the run of the mill patterns that were common. To me it’s on a par with Frank Lloyd Wright’s custom design for each of his houses. Phenomenal!!

  19. Brian A on April 30, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    I think Ross shared a portion of this article before because of the reference to the “heavy oak locker” in the butler’s pantry that was the subject of such intense mystery and discussion a couple years ago. In any case, what an amazing historical account to have of the house!

  20. Ann on April 30, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    N.L. Lunbeck doing the decorating was Narcassus L., who was 48 years old in 1900, wife Cora, son Richard, living in Emporia. He is listed as a decorator in that census.
    In the 1880 census, he and his family are living in Iowa, where he was born. He was then 28 with 3 children. Claridel age 7, Richard age 4 and Florence 6 months. In this census, Narcasses is listed as a painter.
    By 1910, Narcassus is 58 yrs old and listed as a florist and gardner (sic). The change of careers is not as unexpected as one might think, because in the 1880, he is living next door to an John Linbeck, I presume his father, and who was a horticulturist.

    So the paint analysis revealed precisely what this article says, that the kitchen was finished in natural pine.

  21. Thomas on April 30, 2020 at 7:35 pm

    What if the Cross’s already had moved into the house while it was nearing completion? For example, what if they were living in the house while the interior details were being done, and maybe hadn’t brought in furniture yet? Or maybe the article was talking about the interior architecture of the house?

  22. Kim on May 6, 2020 at 10:23 am

    What a lovely write-up. I appreciate how the economic downturn was alluded to in gratitude, “… expenditure of the money necessary to accomplish it has gone far to keep a number of our laboring men and mechanics in a more cheerful spirit than otherwise could have been expected…”, very telling of a stressful time for local trades & craftsmen.
    As well, it’s delightful to know that faux-finish artist Richard Hughes of Topeka, snagged such a great gig! Faux-finish artisans did everything from graining (as the article mentioned) to full room murals. These often itinerant, artisans were indispensable partners of architects yet, many were overlooked in their contributions to design. That small mention may have secured his employment elsewhere, during a rough time.
    This splendid tour of the newly errected Cross Home is helpful in reassembling, not only the history of the building but also, the history of a local culture in a transitional time. 🌻

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