Weedsport, NY


Orrin W. Burritt Mansion ---National Register of Historic Places: #07000864 2696 Van Buren Street | Weedsport, New York 13166

A brief history of the Burritt Mansion by Historian Bruce Harvey

The Burritt Mansion, built in 1876, is a perfect example of the exuberance of Victorian America. The late 19th century in America was, as one author noted, “The Age of Energy.” As America’s industrial might was unleashed after the Civil War, this energy charged all aspects of American society. American architecture also was lifted up by this tide of excitement, as newly wealthy American merchants and industrialists followed wave after wave of fashionable styles, often mixing them indiscriminately. After the soberness of the Federal and Greek Revival styles of the early 19th century, Americans of means sought more exotic sources for their buildings, mining Romanesque, Gothic, Italian, French, Spanish, and Moorish sources for inspiration and design details.

The Burritt Mansion shows all of this energy and range of exotic influences. Orrin Burritt was a native of Connecticut, and in 1850 he moved to Weedsport, then a bustling stop on the Erie Canal. He joined his cousin’s hardware store when he arrived, and owned the business two years later. Building from his hardware store as a foundation, he became an inventor with two patents for metalworking machines, and a successful real estate investor with several business blocks in Weedsport’s downtown. In that era of civic-mindedness, he also took a lead in community affairs, serving as Village President, and as a member of the Village Board, the board of the Weedsport Rural Cemetery, and the Weedsport School Board.

Burritt demonstrated his success and energy in the house he had designed for him on Van Buren Street. Victorian Americans with money, like Burritt, adored ornamentation, and the more ornate, the better. No surface, either a wall or a roof or a railing, was allowed to remain safe and plain, and on his house the various architectural styles overlap each other with abandon. One of these styles is the Italianate, seen in the rounded arches above some of the windows, and in the broad eaves that overhang the walls that are supported by curved sawn wooden brackets and rows of little tooth-like dentil moldings. An important Italianate feature in the house originally was a turret that rose from the roof above the front door; this was removed, though historical photos show what it was like.

Another prominent style in the Burritt Mansion is the Queen Anne, which had recently arrived from England; this can be seen in the wide porch that wraps around the front and west of the house, and that forms such an open welcome to visitors. The balcony that projects out from above the front door, with the gently pointed arches and the slender twisted columns that support the dome above, shows the influence of Moorish architecture from medieval Spain. The house even features some Colonial Revival influences, like the triangular pediments on the verandah above the doors and on the stylish porte-cochere that was added in about 1910. The profusion of details from various historical periods and exotic locations was meant to delight people who walked by and visited the house. Orrin Burritt would have been pleased to know how well-preserved his house remains, and how much of his energy remains visible today.

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