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Phelps Mansion: A Short Stay for the Family, A Lasting Impression on Binghamton

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -

The Phelps Mansion is a familiar structure on Court Street in Binghamton. Bearing the name of the fifth mayor of the city, it may be a surprise to some that the Phelps family only lived in the building for a ten year period.

Sherman Phelps made his fortune by investing. After moving to Binghamton in 1855, he purchased a bank that originally stood on the corner of Court and Chenango streets, just a two block commute from his impressive home. The mansion was designed by architect Isaac Perry, who is known for his work on the New York State Capitol as well as many other prominent buildings in the Binghamton area.

"Something very remarkable about this house is that it was built in 18 months," says the Phelps Mansion House Manager Joe Schuerch.

The Phelps family moved into their Court Street home in 1872, but one family member never saw the completion of the mansion.

"His wife, whose name was Elizabeth, unfortunately she passed away before the mansion was constructed," says Schuerch.

Although Elizabeth never lived in the house, a sitting room was reserved for her use, furnished with her belongings.

"Some people believe it was just kind of there as a memorial or a tribute to her," says Schuerch.

The rest of the Phelps only enjoyed the home for a short while. Sherman died in 1878 at the age of 64, only six years after moving into the mansion. Two years later, his youngest son Arthur died at 21-years-old. The very next year, in 1881, his oldest son Robert also died. Robert's wife Harriett passed away in 1882.

Within four years, everybody who lived in the house was gone.

— Joe Schuerch, Phelps Mansion House Manager

Some say the Phelps family still lingers, keeping an eye on the mansion.

"We've had some previous caretakers who actually lived here in the house," says Scheurch, "They had two dogs that lived here with them, so sometimes they say that the dogs would bark when no one was in the house."

Past care takers have also said the elevator would move on its own, opening on the second floor with no one inside. Objects have also been reported to move from one place to another without the help of staff.

"Nothing to scare you," says Scheurch, "Just kind of saying 'we're here keeping an eye on the house.'"

Relatives eventually sold the property. It served as a private home for a few families before being bought in 1905 by the Monday Afternoon Club. The ladies civic organization purchased the building for a meeting space, adding on the ballroom addition in the back of the house.

"They owned the house until about 1986," says Schuerch, "They started transitioning from a private club to a foundation and eventually into a historic house museum which is what we are today."

The structure of the house has gone relatively untouched. The few changes have been joining the ballroom, which used to be a separate building, to the main house, and the removal of the original slate roof. The roof and third floor of the building was taken down in 1941 due to extensive water damage. The roof was replaced in 2002, to bring the mansion back to its former glory.

"Everything we do is to keep the house open and going, so that future generations can enjoy it," says Scheurch, "So if you've never been come visit, if you have come back and visit again."

Phelps Mansion Museum is open for guided tours Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

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