Colonial Hall: The Best Things Come In PairsPosted: Updated:
You've probably heard about George F Johnson the businessman and the philanthropist, but what about George F the matchmaker? As the largest employer in its heyday, it only makes sense that the EJ Shoe Factories would end up bringing couples together. That was the case with the owners of the stately white colonial on Lincoln Ave in Endicott.
Now it's the Endicott Visitor's Center, but back in the 1900s, the mansion was home to Alphonso and Julia Bowes.
Alphonso and Julia Bowes are the original owners of Colonial Hall, now the Endicott Visitor's Center.
"He was a felt manufacturer," says Jackie Tedesco, the visitor center's co-director, "They made the felt and sold it to Mr. Johnson for the boots."
Mrs. Julia Bowes was Johnson's right-hand woman. Her official title was Executive Secretary, but she did a lot more than answer phones and take notes.
"There are stories that nothing ever got moved from one factory to the other unless it had her approval," says Tedesco, "So, she was a lot more than a secretary.”
Although there is no concrete paper trail about how the romance began, historians have put two and two together.
“We kind of romanticize, we figure he was selling the felt, she was purchasing, maybe that’s how they met," says Tedesco.
They had met and married by 1916 and started building their dream house in 1919. They married late in life, the first marriage for both of them. The couple adopted a boy and a girl and raised them in the Lincoln Ave mansion.
Old Colonial Hall on Lincoln Ave in Endicott.
Today, all the woodwork, fireplaces, and floors are original. The building was designed by architect Sanford Lacy, who designed many buildings in the area including the Binghamton Stone Opera House and the Carnegie Library, but none had quite as many doors as Colonial Hall.
French doors line the entire front of the house, with each room having two or three entrances and exits. The house is jam-packed with doors, cabinets, and closets within closets. All for the bargain price of $36,000. The Bowes' didn't just spend their money on the comforts of home. Just like the boss, George F Johnson, they preferred to share their wealth.
"Most of the parties that they held here, It was usually a fundraiser for some project," says Tedesco.
The Bowes' lived in the mansion for 20 years. It would later serve as the administration building for Harpur College, which became Binghamton University.
The state purchased the property in the 1990s to turn the home into a Visitor's Center, with the goal to educate the public about Endicott's rich history.
“To tell the story of George F, to tell the story of Thomas Watson," says Tedesco.
And of course to tell the story of Julia and Alphonso, who were part of the Johnson legacy and further proof that some of the best things come in pairs.