Mar/Apr
2015

Rochester’s Own: Fascinating Old Homes

Written by By Debi Neville, Photography by Dawn Sanborn photography
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Old homes that span generations and economics spark the interest of many. We wonder about the people who lived there and are awed by the structures, which serve as calling cards for fascinating ventures into another time and way of life.  

 

Plummer House of Arts, Also Known As Quarry Hill

If the Mayo brothers’ homes are the king and queen of Rochester’s historic residential architecture, certainly the Plummer House is the grand dame. Situated atop a high hill, the mansion at 1091 Plummer Lane Southwest is an estate of 65 wooded acres, originally known as Quarry Hill.

In 1912, Dr. Henry Plummer and his wife, Daisy, began construction of the 300-foot-long, five-story home. The Tudor Revival dwelling was designed by well-known Ellerbe Architects, completed in 1924. 

The interior of the home is reminiscent of an English estate, with a great deal of wood paneling, an ornate, open stairway, beamed ceilings and a multitude of windows. Nearly every one of the 49 rooms throws its doors open to a porch allowing sunshine and fresh air to flow into the house. The 800-square-foot living room is flanked by a study and formal dining room. There are five bedrooms on the second level and a ballroom on the top floor. 

Dr. Plummer was famous at Mayo Clinic for his inventions, and they figured prominently in his home: a central vacuum, intercommunication, cooling and security system and a central control of all utilities. A garage door was installed for convenience. A sprinkler system kept the grounds a lush green. The swimming pool, gazebo and green house are long gone, but visitors still admire the stone water tower with a delicate balcony, flower gardens, carriage house, servants’ quarters and circular drive.

Plummer House of the Arts is on the National Registery and is under the care of Rochester Park and Recreation Departments.

Wilson House On Walnut Hill

As if the drive up to Assisi Heights in Rochester isn’t impressive enough, Dr. Louis Wilson’s mansion is tucked away on the bluffs of northeast Rochester. A Mayo pathologist, Dr. Wilson and his wife, Maud, purchased 41 acres and built their three-story home in 1925.

The Cotswold English-style mansion, designed by Harold Crawford, was built of Trenton limestone quarried on the farm site. A tiled entry and sun porch invited guests to a favorite spot for entertaining: a sunken library lined with mahogany. A massive fireplace warmed the room on cold days. Much of the original furniture and art still grace the estate. The second floor accommodates a master bedroom and bath, plus several guest rooms. The third floor is notable, with a projection room that seats 30 and a photographic darkroom.

Dr. Wilson was known as “The Potato King,” raising hundreds of bushels of potatoes planted between rows of apple and plum trees. Two barns housed horses, cows and livestock. An outdoor fireplace, fishpond, playground and petting zoo were available for neighbors’ enjoyment, accommodating as many as 50 children on a summer afternoon.

Given to the Sisters of Saint Francis in 1949, much of the horticulture remains. Home and grounds are well-cared for and preserved as part of the Mayo Clinic acquisition of Assisi Heights.

Prime Pill Hill 

In 1923, Dr. John L. Crenshaw, a Mayo urologist, and his wife, Nell, joined colleagues at Mayo Clinic and built a lovely residence at 832 Ninth Avenue Southwest. The area was known as College Hill but eventually took on the name of Pill Hill, in reference to all the doctors who lived there.  

The 4,000-square-foot home features four bedrooms and four baths. Modest by some standards and grand to many others, the white-clapboard, New England Colonial Revival-style house sits on the steep east side of the street. A stone wall keeps the hill at bay and necessitates steps to ascend to the main entrance. The popular Colonial style was varied with the second floor windows out of alignment with the first floor making it more interesting than many of similar style. Taking advantage of the southern exposure, a glassed bump-out bay is surely a favorite spot.

Raised gardens in the back were home to a large and rather exotic variety of peonies raised by Dr. Crenshaw, attracting national attention. A nursery named one variety in honor of him. The home has remained a private residence.

Debi Neville is a freelance writer and admirer of historic homes.

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