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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Displayed outside during the Art Festival, we saw some lovely paintings and photographs. I especially liked this watercolor:
and this acrylic:
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:
The Proctor men had a nice watch collection, too. The trinkets and knick-knacks are truly exquisite.
The furniture of the house is breath-takingly beautiful. No indeed, they don’t make things like these anymore!
A display of handmade quilts had me wowed. Imagine sewing these by hand! I loved the indigo colors of this one:
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.
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.
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!