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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

The Building of Ivison Castle and Carriage House

Updated: Apr 19

By Rod Leith 

The recent reconstruction of a fire-damaged historic house in the East Hill section of Ithaca, New York,  holds a special meaning to the history of Rutherford’s venerated Ivison Mansion and Carriage House, commonly known as Iviswold Castle and the nearby Stable and Groom’s  Quarters, presently headquarters for the Woman’s Club of Rutherford.

Previously, the only Ithaca name historically associated with the design and development of the famed Ivison Estate was the well-regarded architect, William Henry Miller (1848-1921). Miller’s eclectic Victorian style, reflected throughout the three-story house, received acclaim from a Scientific American magazine piece in 1891. But little known - and certainly not sufficiently credited - is the man who was Miller’s master carpenter for the woodworks installed at Iviswold and the carriage house. 

The fire-damaged 1870 house, rebuilt in 2014, was the residence of William H. Perry (1839-1910). A former New England whaler turned carpenter,  Perry was responsible for planning and preparing the oak, mahogany, and walnut pieces that formed Iviswold’s decorative patterns. His carpenters handcrafted the wainscoting, found in rooms and the covering of interior walls, and they meticulously performed the inlaying of metal, marble, and wood in fireplaces, hearths, and hall benches. Their work created the charm of an occasional oaken window seat. One critique of the mansion that would credit Perry’s thoroughness was stated in a “Who Was Who in America” account. “The floors of random width quartered oak, are practically as good today as when first laid, true to line, without sag,” stated the 1972 account. See photos below.

In her assessment of the historic building in 2004, architectural historian Constance M. Grief commented on features on the first floor that intrinsically reflect the design demands of Miller, matched by the responding performance of seasoned carpenters. “There was a fireplace against the south wall on the first floor, with an adjacent ‘nook’ covered by a shallow, curved ceiling,” Ms. Grief observed. “This was a U-shaped feature, combining a storage bench and seating, tucked against the south side of the first run of the stair.” Architect Miller visualized his client’s wishes, but the mechanics’ artistry delivered on his designs.

Miller began his studies at Cornell in 1868, according to Miller biographer Mary Raddant Tomlan. He came under the tutorage of Andrew D. White (1832-1918), the first president of Cornell University. Perry is believed to have settled in Ithaca in about 1870. His small cottage was erected on Eddy Street that year, according to the records of the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission ILPC). That same year William and Matilda  (Barnes) Perry had their first child, George W. Perry, born in Ithaca. While Miller studied and practiced architecture at Cornell, Perry found work with John Snaith, an English architect who opened a practice in Ithaca in 1869.

Exactly how Perry and Miller first met is undocumented, but Perry is reported to have built a house for Miller on a lot that became 122 Eddy Street. Miller’s residence was next door to or certainly near the Perry home, making them neighbors as far back as the 1870’s. They both raised families. Miller, who married Emma Halsey in 1876, had four children. The Perrys raised a daughter and three sons, including George,  who became a builder,  and Chapin C. Perry , who studied law at Cornell. Chapin Perry later resided in Emerson, New Jersey, and practiced law on New York’s Madison Avenue.

Ithaca's First Unitarian Church

One other Miller-Perry commonality was their church. Miller, according to Tomlan, was fond of music and collected rare art. He played the organ at the Church of Christian Unity, Ithaca’s Unitarian Church. Perry’s funeral service in 1910 was conducted by Rev. C.W. Helzer, minister of the Unitarian Church, founded by Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University. Miller had designed Ithaca’s first Unitarian Church and after it burned in 1893, Miller was commissioned to design the new Unitarian Church. Miller hired Perry to do the church’s woodwork.

The McGraw-Fiske Mansion

Another mansion that turned into a collaborative effort of the two men came with Miller’s commission to design a mansion for Jennie McGraw Fiske, who became a millionaire in 1877 with the death of her father, millionaire philanthropist John McGraw. The Fiske Mansion, which burned in 1906 after it had become headquarters for the Chi Phi Fraternity, was built on the shore of Lake Cayuga. It stood there like a French chateau, with castle-like turrets and a porte cochere facing a circular carriage pathway. Considered a “Miller Masterpiece,” Tomlan, in a talk in 2011, remarked that Miller’s buildings “look good from many angles.” She could have been speaking of Rutherford’s Iviswold.

Sketch of Ivison Castle

It was late in August of 1887 when William Perry received the award of a contract for the “remodeling of a large mansion in Rutherford, N.J.” Parcels for the Ivison Estate had been acquired in 1886, following the closing of the Hill Home School in 1882, by Floyd W. Tomkins and his daughters. Perry was quoted in an Ithaca newspaper saying he had decided to cancel his engagement as superintendent of construction for a Buffalo architect, Green & Wicks. Ironically, E. B. Green had been William Miller’s partner before he joined with Edward B. Wicks, an MIT architecture graduate.

Perry’s Rutherford assignment to build a country manor for publishing magnate David B. Ivison (1835-1903) was a great challenge for many reasons. At the time, there was a serious shortage of capable artisans in the Bergen County area. An item in a Hackensack newspaper in July 1887 warned that a “scarcity of mechanics (carpenters and masons) is retarding further building operations.”  It would require a corps of carpenters to complete the exterior and interior building of this mansion,  measured to cover an area of 100 by 120 feet, plus a spacious veranda, porte-cochere at the main entrance, and a carriage house with living space for groomsmen.

Over the next six months, Perry’s Planning Mill on South Cayuga Street in Ithaca produced the woodwork for the Ivison mansion was prepared and schedules were maintained for the shipment of materials by rail. At that time, the DL&W Railway had leased the rail line of the New York Lackawanna, upgrading DL&W from a regional railroad to a New York to Buffalo trunk line. Perry could haul materials a short distance to a rail depot on Buffalo Street in Ithaca for the trip to Rutherford, a distance of about 220 miles. According to Ithaca newspapers, Perry prominently advertised for carpenters. Possibly his son George, then 18, was one of them.

By mid-February of 1888, David Ivson’s mansion was being wired for electricity. The encapsulation of  Tomkins‘s “Hill House,” built in 1869,  was complete. The mansion, resembling a 16th-century French chateau, attracted some of the country’s leading innovators. A motor, designed by Frank J. Sprague of the Edison United Manufacturing Company – aka Edison Light –was installed to distribute power throughout the three floors. Henry  S.C. Sweeting of Auburn, N.Y.  completed the stone and masonry on the main house and stable. Ivison hired famed New York landscape architect, Clarence Tynan Barrett,  to design the sprawling lawn and gardens. An ornamental iron fence stretching the full length of Ivison’s  54 lots from West Passaic, to Montross, around to the stables on Fairview Avenue. Ivison committed to street improvements and the installation of patent stone sidewalks around the estate’s perimeter.

According to Ms. Greiff’s 2004 assessment to support the national registration of Iviswold as a historic place, portions of the grand woodwork of the Miller-Perry remodeling period were either ripped out or covered over, starting with the ownership by the Union Club in 1925 and later Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1942. More recently, much of the interior decoration was carefully restored under the supervision of Historic Building Architects, who were hired by Felician College after the school was awarded restoration grants by the Bergen County and New Jersey Historic Trusts.

Miller and the carpenter corps supervised by Perry turned their attention to the carriage house in 1888. The stable property on the Fairview Avenue end of the estate was acquired by Ivison on July 21, 1888. The groom’s quarters “clearly was designed by Miller,” Ms. Greiff asserted, dispelling any question of its architectural pedigree. The carriage house “harmonizes in style with his (Miller’s) design for the alterations of the house,” she stated.  

The stable exterior structure consists of brownstone, clapboard, and a double wood paneled door, covered by a slate roof.  In Ms. Greiff’s opinion the carriage house “lost its integrity, having been gutted and fitted with a new interior for its function as a clubhouse.” When the Woman’s Club purchased the property in 1924, it was a “neglected, deserted stable, which the club remodeled,” according to Margaret R. Smith’s 1964 history of the club.  When he died in 1903, Ivison, left his horses and carriages to his widow, Emiline Matilda (nee Crane) Ivison, who died June 8, 1924.

The painting and demolition during the 1924 “remodeling” notwithstanding,  Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner, the architectural historian currently helping the Woman’s Club with its landmarks registration and restoration effort, believes there is the hope of restoring the interior charm of the original building’s interior. Portions of the original woodwork were painted over, she said. “It (original wood decorations) still exists,” she said. 

Miller residence, 122 Eddy St., Ithaca, NY. Photo credit: Zillow

In Ithaca, meanwhile, the one-time home of William Perry, destroyed by a fire in March 2014, has been rebuilt on its original footprint.  The ILPC directed the owner to file a Certificate of Appropriateness and assure that the 11-room, 3-story  wood frame house, with a roof-top cupola,  be rebuilt on the “old footprint and (the owner be required to) replicate the (original) architectural design and details.”  According to architect Jagat P. Sharma, the only exception in the integrity of the historic house is that access to the copula can no longer be made from the third floor.

Brian McCracken, Historic Preservation Planner for ILPC, says it is important that Perry’s homestead is rebuilt to replicate its original exterior design. After all, Perry, who was struck by a train and tragically killed in 1910, was considered one of the foremost contractors in the Ithaca region. Sharma said he does regret that the interior woodwork, installed in the old house (probably by Perry), was destroyed beyond reclamation. “There was a staircase and woodwork throughout of heavy oak,” he said, describing it as very ornate. “It just could not be saved,” he said.

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