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Fountain Elms Historic Site, Utica

Over the summer of 2007, we visited Utica, NY, to have a look at Fountain Elms on Genesee Street. The Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute was also having their July Arts Festival. Fountain Elms is a lovely Victorian Italianate home built by a prominent Utica family. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Houses. The MWP Institute beside it was designed by architect Phillip Johnson.

Arts Festival

We’ve been through Fountain Elms several times in the past, I just never had my camera with me. Yet even with my camera, the home’s rooms were far too dark for any quality photos.

this way

fountain elms ready for fourth

Fountain Elms is now a misnomer. There are no more elms. Once, streets of America were lined with these arching giants. The beautiful elm tree, nurtured here in the Northeast for hundreds of years, fell to Dutch elm disease in the 50s. A tiny Asian beetle with a fungus devastated one of our most beautiful trees, and laid waste our towns’ streets.

ElmTreesStreet

An old newspaper clipping from the 40s that I own has a photograph of one of the largest elm trees in town, on the property I own. The trunk’s diameter was over 7 feet wide. A girl, her bicycle, and her young brother are dwarfed by the massive tree. All that remains of the tree is it’s mossy footprint in my front yard where it once stood.Fountain Elms of Utica lost its elm trees, too. Valiant efforts have been made to plant locust and ash trees around the property.

Backyard

Fountain Elms was the dwelling of one of the most wealthy and philanthropic families of Utica. It was purchased by James and Helen (Munson) Williams for their daughter, Maria, as a wedding gift for her marriage to Thomas Proctor. Helen’s sister Rachel and her husband Frederick Proctor (Thomas’ half-brother) lived in a house next door, but that house is demolished now. A museum, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute is built adjoining Fountain Elms. A glass walkway connects the two buildings.

boys at back door

The museum houses one of my favorite works of art, Thomas Cole’s “Voyage of Life” series. Unfortunately, the museum now has a more modernistic bent in its art, and, IMHO, the museum is a warehouse of mostly clunky and indecent projects. Surely there remain some beautiful and uplifting works of elegance, but I am dissatisfied with what is has become, overall.

glass hall

Displayed outside during the Art Festival, we saw some lovely paintings and photographs. I especially liked this watercolor:

Birds

and this acrylic:

acrylic house

Fountain Elms houses some beautiful pieces that were part of the Proctors’ collections. The two ladies and their husbands traveled abroad extensively, and amassed a large collection– enough to fill a, well, a museum! Here’s a sweet painting of Rachel and Maria when they were young:

munson girls

The Proctor men had a nice watch collection, too. The trinkets and knick-knacks are truly exquisite.

displays

cobalt blue plate

The furniture of the house is breath-takingly beautiful. No indeed, they don’t make things like these anymore!

furniture

A display of handmade quilts had me wowed. Imagine sewing these by hand! I loved the indigo colors of this one:

quilt

The museum has a lovely backyard, replete with park benches, trees, and quaint outbuildings (which are now academies for the museum’s art students). The portico of Fountain Elms is lovely. I can see the Victorian ladies in their swishing bustles, sipping tea in the afternoon shade.

Back portico

boys by bison

Most of the house seemed historically accurate, except I did wonder if the window awnings were a modern inclusion, perhaps to keep the destructive sun rays off the artifacts. in the olden days, people used things like blinds and exterior shutters. I was also fascinated by the architectural features of the skinny chimney.

chimney

The Proctors saved the city during times of financial panic. They also donated some of their property for the Utica Public Library, one of my favorite libraries (for it has a terrific collection). Fountain Elms is well worth seeing. We like it because it is free, nearby, and has a little bit of something for everyone. No doubt we will return again!

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (7)

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  1. Collins says:

    This is a very nice site, the photos are real cool,im stumbling your site and diggin it

  2. Thanks, Collins! Glad you liked it!

  3. Alison says:

    If I’d have been there, I’d have had my nose pressed against the glass of the trinkets cabinet!

  4. Autumn says:

    I was in Utica with my husband and kids and we absolutely loved it. My children and I fell in love with it. We love history and art. This site is really great. It brings back a very nice and fun memory for us.When we get back up there we will definately be getting back there again!!!!!

  5. […] The Utica Public Library was built in 1904. The property was given to the city by two of Utica’s most famous philanthropists, Thomas R. Proctor and Frederick T. Proctor. They were brothers who had married sisters from another wealthy Utica family. The home of Thomas Proctor and Maria Williams is across the street– it’s a living museum and we have visited it several times. It’s called Fountain Elms. You can read about our visit, here. […]

  6. bertha c, lawson says:

    when is the Fountain Elms open to the public and do you have a tea/lunch area? thank you

  7. […] beetle that kills ash trees. I love ash trees. They were a hearty replacement for the gigantic elm trees that one graced Main Street America. They died off by a beetle, too, in the 1950s and 60s. So now you know where the name “Elm […]