The Seward House Auburn Reviews
Historic Luxury in NY Finger Lakes Jul 17, 2014
Recently I found myself in the Fingers Lakes region of NY with a few free hours. Right across the street from my hotel, the Days Inn Auburn, was the Seward House. As someone who loves the architecture of older homes and enjoys learning more about history, I figured it was worth a visit.
Am I glad that I went! First off, I will confess that I only knew of William Seward as the politician who arranged for the US to buy Alaska (a.k.a. “Seward’s Folly”). Turns out he was also a New York State Senator, Governor of New York, a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State for both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson. Guess I missed that day in history class…
The house was built in 1816 as a ten room townhouse for Judge Elijah Miller, Seward’s future father-in-law. It underwent two additions over the years – one in the late 1840’s that included a new kitchen, dining room and servants quarters and the other about 20 years later that included a drawing room, several bedrooms and an expansion to the main dining room. Whoever oversaw these expansions took great care to make sure they all blended together seamlessly. If it wasn't for the guide pointing out what section of the house we were in I wouldn't have known where one addition ended and the other began. Adding to this consistency is the fact that almost every last item in the house was owned by Seward or his family. While not all of it is original to this house – some came from his residence in Washington – it’s all the real deal. The Seward family threw nothing away, not even the wrapping that goods were delivered in!
One of the most fascinating areas in the house is the upstairs landing. It’s a collection of well over 100 portraits and pictures that Seward collected of famous people he met, admired, wished he knew, etc. The collection includes Queen Victoria of England, the King of Siam and a whole lot more. (William Seward, fan boy extraordinaire…who knew?)
In addition to the tour of the house, you can explore the garden and the basement on your own. The basement is where the original kitchen is located and includes an exhibit on the Underground Railroad. Seward’s wife Frances hid runaway slaves making their way to Canada and both Sewards were abolitionists.
Other things to keep in mind:
(1) A guided tour is the only way to see the house. Tours start on the hour, and the last tour of the day begins at 4PM;
(2) Admission ranges from $10 for Adults to free for children under 6. Check the website for available discounts;
(3) Parking is available next to house. The entrance is on Lincoln Street; and
(4) Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Side note for fans of the 2012 Lincoln movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Seward was portrayed by David Strathairn. Apparently Strathairn did a good job as our guide had only one issue with his portrayal of Seward and that was his size. The real Seward was a short man with a slender build. The clothes on display at the house looked too small for even me to wear and I’m 5’4”.
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