A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
Jones of Binghamton
He Paid the Freight

The Jones Mansion

"I grew up in that old carriage house" said John Darrow, as he pointed to a red house in the distance. Having lived in the area his entire life, Darrow has seen residents of the historic home of General Edward F. Jones come and go. So it was fitting that two years ago when an opportunity to buy the house presented itself, he jumped at it.

Although added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, "It was a mess" said Darrow. Prior to his purchase of the house, several years of neglect had taken a toll. The roof leaked so bad that when it rained, "water would pour right down the stairwell" Darrow said, and although the house has 4 baths, "only one worked when we moved in."

Repair and restoration is not new to Darrow, owner/operator of Parlor City Restorations. His restoration of the Jones house is a work in progress and definitely qualifies as a labor of love. So far Darrow's efforts have made an impressive difference. Intricate carved wood panels have been meticulously stripped and refinished, as have the wood floors and the magnificent oak staircase. A new roof put an end to the stairway waterfalls. Darrow's creativity and attention to detail is obvious. Pointing out the impressive brass work on the roof peak, Darrow commented, "I made that out of plumbing fixtures."

For many years an authentic civil war cannon sat on the property. Darrow remembers the cannon being sold, then later, regrettably, he passed up an opportunity to buy it. "I was just out of high school" said Darrow. "They wanted $5,000 for the cannon but it might just as well have been $55,000."

General Edward F. Jones

General Edward F. Jones was the original owner of the home. During the Civil War, Jones was a commander of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment and later the Twenty-sixth Massachusetts Regiment. After the war, Jones was awarded the honorary rank of Brigadier General.

Born in Utica, New York, Jones was raised and lived in New England. After the war, in the mid 1860's, Jones and his wife moved to Binghamton where he established a company: Jones Scale Works, to manufacture scales and farm implements. His slogan: "Jones of Binghamton, he pays the freight," would become well-known, and for nearly forty years the business thrived.

Over that time Jones would become a prominent businessman, a civic leader holding offices of police commissioner and parks commissioner, and a successful politician. In 1886 he was elected New York State lieutenant governor and would serve two terms in that office.

From what Darrow has been able to determine, Jones commissioned the house to be built in the 1870's or early 1880's. At the time, there were few homes on Binghamton's semi-rural west side. Among them were the fashionable estates of J. Stewart Wells (now Parson's Funeral Home), and Senator Edwin G. Halbert, both homes designed by Binghamton's most prominent architect of that period, Isaac Gale Perry.

Although the designer of the Jones house has not been firmly identified, it was almost certainly one of two significant Binghamton architects, either Isaac Perry, or T.I.Lacey. There is no doubt in Darrow's mind that Perry designed the General's house.

The Jones estate was located off Main Street, just east of Chestnut. Sitting back some distance from the road, the main home was accessed from Main Street by a 500-foot private drive.

The house is a magnificent example of Queen Anne style architecture. As described in the National Register application: "The design is a complex amalgamation of forms, materials and textures. The brick and stone building is irregular in form and massing, featuring multiple cross gables and dormers, decorative vergeboards, projecting bays of various shapes and sizes, varied window types and groupings, and a tower with a decorative multi-stage chimney incorporating patterned and molded bricks." In other words, this is one gorgeous house.

The oak staircase
Magnificent woodwork and fine architectural detail is found throughout the interior of the house. Rooms on all floors have exceptionally high ceilings and many of the windows are of stained glass. There are eleven fireplaces, two split-flue chimneys, and although no longer in operation, an elevator.

Both Jones and Isaac Perry were active in the Freemasons and Masonic symbolism can be found throughout the house, most notably on the third floor where Jones operated a Masonic lodge.

Under certain lighting conditions, the Masonic "all seeing eye" appears over the staircase. The design of a small addition, built by Jones in 1888 as an office and museum for his military collection, is of special significance. One window of the room aligns with the sun creating deliberate light patterns at Summer solstice, another at Winter solstice, and a third at Spring equinox.

Darrow pointed out that even the General himself makes an occasional appearance. Unexplained noises are often heard, and Jones' ghostly apparition has reportedly been seen more than once moving through the house.

In 1913, at age 85 and blind, General Jones passed away. Thirteen years later his second wife died. Pointing out the spot in an upstairs bedroom, Darrow said "She died right in this bed when a piece of the ceiling broke loose and fell on her."

Over the years the property was subdivided, the other original buildings of the estate were lost, new homes were built, and the private drive was realigned and converted into a cul-du-sac. The Jones mansion fell into disrepair.

Today this neighborhood is quiet except for the sound of children playing. The dead-end street is lined with cars, tall trees shade the homes, and down at the end of the drive the jewel of this neighborhood is coming back to life. The 130 year old mansion of General Edward Jones, the last surviving structure of a once magnificent estate, has been rescued - and if Darrow has his way, soon a statue of the General will stand proudly in the median of this quiet drive.

Preservation Updates

The Press Building

A Grand Opening at the newly renovated Press Building, now known as "Professional Towers at 19 Chenango Street" is planned for tomorrow's First Friday Art Walk. The event is being held by the building's newest tenant, Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP. A collection of vintage and current photos of the building will be on display in the new lobby, including rare 1904 construction scenes and recent photos showing the building before, during, and after renovation. Visitors can take the elevator to the 12th floor to see the law firm's new office area, a display of local artwork, and spectacular views of the city.

Senior partner Mark S. Gorgos, Esq. commented that the move to 19 Chenango Street has exceeded all of their expectations. "Our decision to help in the rebirth of this important downtown landmark is working out well for us. It's yet another affirmation of the longevity and vitality of this community."

The ribbon cutting ceremony is by invitation and starts at 4:00 PM. The Grand Opening is open to the public and runs throughout First Friday Art Walk, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.

Preservation Month

Preservation Month 2008, an exhibit sponsored by PAST, the Preservation Association of the Southern Tier, continues to be on display through June. The ongoing exhibit is located upstairs at the Broome County Public Library, next to the History Center.

The Castle

Plans are moving forward to renovate the historic New York State Inebriate Asylum at the Greater Binghamton Health Center, for use by SUNY Upstate Medical University. For internal planning purposes, the university has established a rough timeline for the project, as follows:

Award of the contract to the supervising architectural firm is expected to happen in July of this year, with construction documentation to be completed by February, 2009. In April of next year the construction bid and award process is expected to take place, with restoration of the building beginning in May, 2009. Exterior restoration is anticipated to take approximately 18 months.

Each month leading up to the 150th anniversary of the Castle, on September 24, this column presents excerpts from documents of the asylum's founder and first director, Joseph Edward Turner.

In 1854, Turner petitioned and reached an agreement with the State Legislature to help fund construction of an inebriate asylum. Turner was to raise $50,000 and the State would match that to cover the $100,000 cost of construction. For the next few years Turner traveled throughout the state collecting contributions and selling $10 subscriptions.

After considering sites around the state, in May, 1858, the citizens of Binghamton donated 252 acres of land for the asylum. The following month Turner traveled from his home in New York City, to Binghamton. On June 3 he met with Binghamton's Asylum Locating Committee at the Exchange Hotel. During that meeting it was decided that after collecting another $10,000 they would be ready to start construction - with or without the State's matching funds.

In less than two weeks, Turner called in subscription commitments and met his goal, and although it would be several years before State funds were made available, on June 17, on a hillside east of Binghamton at the former Lyon's farm, ground was broken for the New York State Inebriate Asylum. Three months later the basement would be complete and on September 24, 1858, a grand ceremony would be held to commemorate the placing of the cornerstone.