Lockwood Matthews Mansion

The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion was built by banker-railroad tycoon LeGrand Lockwood, who, in 1864 began construction of his estate on the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Connecticut. Designed by European- trained, New York-based architect Detlef Lienau, the mansion, which was completed in 1868, is considered his most significant work. American craftsmen, along with many immigrant artisans, were employed to execute construction of the grand castle which cost nearly $2 million to build. Lockwood's financial reversals in 1869 and his untimely death in 1872 resulted in the loss of the estate, then known as "Elm Park." The mansion's mortgage, controlled by Cornelius Vanderbilt, was sold to Charles D. Mathews and his wife Rebecca in 1876 for the sum of $90,000. Mathews, a prominent importer, from Staten Island, New York, and his family, resided in the mansion until 1938. In 1941 the estate was sold to the City of Norwalk for $170,000 and designated a public park. When the building was threatened with demolition in the 1950's, local preservationists succeeded in saving the mansion and formed the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum, Inc. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971, the structure serves as a valuable resource of 19th-century American history. The Museum's mission is to conserve the building while creating educational programs on the material, artistic and social culture of the Victorian era.

 

Huge cranes being used lift 20" thick

blocks of granite forming the building's

exterior, ca. 1865

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockwood engaged the services of one of the foremost architects of the time, Detlef Lienau. Commissioned to design a manor house unequalled in America, Lienau set out to do so in latest and most fashionable style. He combined a Classic plan with contemporary European as well as American features. The intended result was that each exterior shape reflect a specific function of the interior space. The Victorian demand for the picturesque was satisfied by including two turrets and a large veranda. More than twenty years before the famous Vanderbilt homes in Newport and New York were planned, Lienau introduced the style of building, via the Lockwood Mansion, that would become characteristic of the Golden Age. Artists and artisans were brought from Europe to work on the building. The stonemasons and woodworkers from Italy arrived on the decks of the ships which transported the rare woods and marble. These craftsmen lived in the outbuildings on the property during the construction. The stonecutters earned $1.00 a day, the woodworkers half that.

 

Italian Stone-cutters working on

the construction of the mansion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As with most larger construction endeavours of the time, there were losses of life. A story in the New York Sun on October 2, 1869 describes "A terrible accident resulting in the death of Mr. Samuel Stevens occurred on the premises of LeGrand Lockwood...A large bed of mortar had been mixed, which had become frozen hard on the surface...on Friday morning, Mr. Stevens went for the mortar as usual, when the bed caved in and buried him up. He was soon dug out but life was extinct..." Work on the estate was almost complete in 1869 when the Lockwoods moved in. "Black Friday" came later that year, causing financial ruin to many. LeGrand Lockwood did not escape without his share of losses.

 

The estate became the property of the City of Norwalk in 1941 when it was purchased for $170,000. The purchase designated its use for "park purposes" and the Mansion and its outbuildings became city offices and storage space for records and heavy equipment. At the end of WWII, the greenhouses were razed and their site was used to park municipal vehicles. The museum was open to the public for community meetings until 1950. At this time it was learned that a women's peace group which was given permission to meet in the rotunda had communist leanings. The embarrassed city officials had the building immediately declared a fire hazard by the Fire Marshal and closed it to the public! Five years went by and the Connecticut Turnpike came through town, acquiring the south end of the property. In 1958, the city built its new police station on the east side of the park. Finally, in 1961, plans were made to have the Mansion demolished and to build a new City Hall with reflecting pool in its place.

 

Faced with the threat of the Mansion's demolition, concerned citizens rose up to form the Common Interest Group which managed to open the Mansion for tours and circulated a petition to call attention to the "park purposes" for which the property was originally intended. This group managed to get a referendum placed on the ballot to "renovate and preserve the Mathews Mansion." The referendum was passed by a margin of 3 to 2, thus saving the Mansion. The Common Interest Group brought suit against the Norwalk Common Council when they went ahead with its plans to build the City Hall on the Mansion's site. Taken to Connecticut's Supreme Court of Errors, the decision became a significant deterrent to the demolition of historic buildings throughout the country. In 1965, the Junior League of Stamford -Norwalk was granted a $1.00 a year lease on the Mansion for the purpose of restoring it and opening it as a museum. A corporation, the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum of Norwalk, Inc., was formed in 1966 and restoration work was begun. A board of trustees was elected to administer the Museum, a restoration architect was hired and funds were raised. In June 1967, the Mansion was reopened to the public. During the summer of 1969, the Mansion was opened for guided tours and in 1971, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Mansion a National Historic Landmark.

 

For more details about the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion including visiting hours, events and exhibitions please visit http://www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com