HLOM: Memories of a mansion lost

Feb 20, 2012



(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is this month’s installment from the Holland Land Office Museum.)



Richmond Avenue, Richmond Memorial Library, Richmond Mansion and the Richmond Mausoleum all have a connection to the family that once occupied a mansion at 211 Main St.



It began when Dean Richmond and his wife Mary Elizabeth chose Batavia, New York, as their home in the mid-1800s.  The mansion that many remember as the Richmond Mansion was not actually built by Dean Richmond but rather by William Davis, a land speculator in the 1830s.  He built the main part of the mansion.  Over the years the land changed hands five times before the actual mansion was built.  It was still in the building stages as it changed hands three more times before Dean and Mary Elizabeth Richmond took title to the property on April 24, 1854.  The Richmonds bought the mansion for $9,000.



With Dean’s money and Mary’s exquisite taste in furnishings, the mansion eventually was considered one of the most imposing structures in the state. They began their restoration by changing the Federal style design into a much larger home with a wide front veranda supported by four stately columns two stories high.  At the top of the roof, a graceful balcony extended around the house.  Their home was surrounded by beautiful gardens with a variety of rare, often imported plants and flowers.   The interior was magnificent with a wide hall through its center, spacious rooms on both sides, large side wings extending out from the middle of the house and a long addition in the rear.



When supplies were needed, horse drawn wagons drove right into the basement of the mansion.  The design eased the unloading of coal for the three furnaces and food for the kitchen.  A large greenhouse stood amidst the formal gardens.  A lacy, wrought iron fence marked the front of the mansion grounds that also featured sunken Italian gardens.  That fence today borders the parking for the Richmond Memorial Library and St. Joseph’s Church Majestic splendor reigned throughout the mansion; one room had a one of a kind crystal chandelier.  Carved rosewood and highly polished mahogany were the prevailing woods.  One bedroom had a toilet set bearing the Tiffany mark.  The rooms were decorated with plastered moldings and ceiling center medallions from which many chandeliers were suspended.  The master bedroom had an adjoining bathroom complete with solid silver fittings.



Mr. and Mrs. Richmond hosted many brilliant galas held at their mansion including an annual holiday ball conducted in their drawing room and ballroom.  The drawing room contained a yellow velvet carpet flowered with roses, yellow damasked walls adorned with solid gold, framed artwork, and yellow satin damask furniture.  There were French plate glass mirrors and one large ornate mirror between the windows reaching from floor to ceiling.



Mrs. Richmond presided over the mansion with dignity and grace and was loved by the town as well as by visiting dignitaries.  She possessed the education her husband lacked.  Mrs. Richmond took an active part in the community, serving as president of the Holland Purchase Historical Society; she was noted for her charity and business sense.



Dean Richmond may not have had a formal education and might have appeared calculating and hard-hearted, yet he was admired by members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.  He gave generously to the building of the School for the Blind and to St. James Church.



Richmond’s death came suddenly on Aug. 27, 1866.  He was in New York City at the home of Samuel Tilden after returning from the State Democratic Convention at Saratoga.  To mourn his death in Batavia, the American flag was lowered to half-staff; the train depot and the locomotives on the New York Central Railroad were draped in black and accompanied by the tolling of muffled bells.  The funeral train was drawn by the locomotives Dean Richmond and George J. Whitney.



Dean Richmond died at the age of 62, he was Batavia’s railroad magnate, director of the Utica and Buffalo Railroad Company, First Vice President of the New York Central Railroad, and from 1864 to 1866, president of the New York Central. After Dean died, Mary Richmond’s keen business sense multiplied the value of her husband’s estate.



The Richmond mansion passed from Mr. and Mrs. Richmond to their daughter Adelaide, who left it to her niece, also named Adelaide, with the provision that upon the younger Adelaide’s death it was to go to her brother, Watts Richmond.  Dean Richmond’s grandson, Watts, then sold it to strangers.  The Children’s Home occupied the mansion from 1928 to 1966, when the Batavia Board of Education purchased it for $75,000 and tore it down to build a larger library.



Today, the Richmond Memorial Library’s Reading Room has suspended from the ceiling the chandelier that hung in the Richmond dining room.  Also, portraits of members of the Dean Richmond family can be seen on display in the library.



The ornate gold mirror, a marble mantel and rosewood carved bookcases are now part of the Holland Land Office Museum collection. Photographs of the interior and exterior of the mansion can also be seen at the museum. Please visit these historical gems and view the remnants of the Richmond ERA.



Please contact the Director of the HLOM (343-4727) or Anne Marie Starowitz at amstarowitz@gmail.com if you have any information, pictures or stories of the Richmond Mansion. 



(This article was written and researched by Anne Marie Starowitz. Information for this article was taken from the Richmond Memorial Library files with the help of Kathy Facer, Reference and Technology Librarian.)