Chapter 21. Railroad Mogul of Norwalk

 

In Norwalk there is an absolutely beautiful mansion that will take at least an hour and a half to see. The visitor can then walk around Elm Park, in which the mansion is set. This tour is highly recommended.

The mansion was owned by railroad mogul Legrand Lockwood. This man has an interesting history for we usually just read about the victors in the economic struggle for survival. This, however, is the story of one of the victims of constant corporate take-overs.

He was born in Norwalk in 1820. In 1832 he left his hometown when his father moved the family to New York City. When he was eighteen he began his career on Wall Street as a clerk in a brokerage firm. In 1842 he married the former Ann Louisa Benedict of New York and Norwalk. The couple had eight children in all.

The Vanderbilts started a steamship line to San Francisco shortly after the California Gold Rush, and Lockwood became the director of the line. By 1857 he formed his own banking firm, Lockwood and Company. He became one of the country's first millionaires with his involvement in railroad and steamship businesses. In 1862 he started the Horse Railroad in Norwalk.

In 1863 Lockwood returned to his boyhood home to purchase thirty acres of land running from West Avenue to the Norwalk River on which to build his country cottage.

Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum
295 West Avenue (I-95 Exit 14N/15S), Norwalk, CT (Open Tues-Fri 11-3, Sun 1-4, March to mid-Dec)

Workers started building this mansion of more than fifty rooms in 1864. In 1868 Lockwood moved into the estate known as Elmenworth. From here he could keep an eye on two of his business ventures for the Norwalk Horse Railway ran on West Avenue past his house and the Danbury-Norwalk Railroad ran along the Norwalk River.

The mansion's designer was Detlef Lineau, trained in Europe. The mansion is a mixture of French chateau, Second Empire style incorporating Renaissance Revival and Neo-Greco elements with late Gothic features. The plan of the house is a Greek cross of equal arms with the corners between the arms filled in. The outer walls are made of hand-cut granite. There is a lovely porte-chochere at the front door. Lockwood's initials are incised in the keystone. Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame laid out the grounds, which contained a carriage house, vegetable, fruit, and flower gardens, lawn, and a large pond.

The interior is attributed to Leon Marcotte, a renowned decorator of the time. The most noteworthy interior feature is the octagonal rotunda with a double skylight forty-two feet above the parquetry floor (of five different woods). On the second floor is a balcony which circles the entire rotunda. There is also a marvelous fireplace here. Over the fireplace is glass with an etching, representing Pomona, goddess of fruit trees. The smoke flues travel on either side of the glass. The other side of the etched glass can be seen from the Music Room. The sliding doors to the room are very intricate, and are made of bird's-eye maple and inlaid with ebony and boxwood. Decorations of musical instruments are found over the doors and mantel. Apparently, the Lockwood were very religious for there is an oratory (i.e., a small chapel or room for private devotions) in the house. It is octagonal in shape and located off the master bedroom.

Lockwood reached the pinnacle of success in 1869 when he became the controlling stockholder in the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. However, he only held this for a few months for this was the year of the famous "Black Friday." Started by robber baron Jay Gould, the ensuing panic ruined scores of brokerage houses. Lockwood was one of these. He had to mortgage his estate. Moreover, to get his firm going again he had to sell his $10 million worth of stock in the Lake Shore and Michigan Railroad to Commodore Vanderbilt. The Commodore also gained control of the mortgage on the house.

Lockwood lived for a total of four years in the house and then contracted pneumonia in 1872 and died within ten days. His sons took over the running of Lockwood and Company, but the Panic of 1873 led to the demise of what was left of the firm. His wife had to sell his art works and other collectibles but still could not meet the payments on the mortgage. Consequently, Vanderbilt got control of the house.

In 1876 the mansion was sold to Charles Drelincourt Mathews, a New York importer from Staten Island. His daughter Florence lived here until her death in 1938.

Other Sites

Visit the Maritime Center at Norwalk (10 North Water Street). This museum explores the maritime history and marine life of Long Island Sound. There is also an aquarium. In Bridgeport, see the sites connected with P.T. Barnum.

 

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