Monday, March 26, 2018

Cobblestone Manor in Smyrna


                         This is the only known cobblestone house in Chenango 
                         County, built in 1850 and known as the Billings farm.
                         It is located at County Route 630 Route 14. The Billings
                         family were early settlers and prominent farmers in
                         the area. It is being restored by Joanna Mulas.
                           The Billings house in the 19th century.  Such houses
                           were status symbols.
                                   Photo courtesy of Robert L. Matteson, Smyrna Town Historian                                            

This house is stylistically an extremely rare example of  the Regency Gothic style of architecture with its Gothic columns and wavy Gothic cornice trim with tiny pendants, on a Greek frieze with Greek acanthus leaf patterns. This was a style popularized in Britain by the noted architect John Nash in his cottage designs (1790 to 1835). His designs  may have come over to New York State with the wave of British trained architects migrating here in the 1830s and 1840s. 


                            Facing south. Kitchen windows and garage door
                            are modern.

                                                      Facing north

                           The Cobble Stone Manor
                              By John R. Parsons
                           [Earlville Standard, April 6, 1944]
    John Billings, Sr., Somers, Conn., in about 1793 bought 1,000 acres of land in the town of Smyrna but never came himself to view it. This tract had within its bounds what is now the Homer Collins farm and extended west over the hill into Cold Brook valley. John’s oldest son, Joseph W., married Abi Pomeroy and they came to Smryna in 1794 and settled on what is now George Record’s farm. 
   Another son of John Billings, Sr., was John Billings, Jr., (1760-1828) and his wife, Lucina, (1765-1845) came from Somers, Conn., with the Hall-Parsons contingent in 1797 and settled on what is now known as the Homer Collins farm. They had three daughters, Lovice (1796-1819), Nancy (1793-1873) and Mary (1789-1861) and a son, John F., (1801-1879), who with his wife, Nancy, became owners of and lived their lives upon that farm. 
    Mr. and Mrs. John F. were blessed with six children: Walter P. (1841-1842), Lucinda M. (1829-1853) and Lucretia Elmira (1838-1855) and three sons who grew to manhood. J. Monroe lived his farming days upon the side hill directly east of Smyrna village and his declining years within that village. His children were Edwin S. and Emma Billings Briggs. Monroe was a respected citizen and a strong man in the Smyrna Methodist Church.
    Erastus Billings left the home farm and became a druggist. He ran a store for many years in Smyrna and while there married in 1876 Sarah S. Dixon. Two sons, John and Walter graced their home and both graduated from Colgate University. Burdette M. Billings (1833-1917) stayed with his parents upon the home farm until both had passed on. Before this Burdette married Ella A. Long. Two months after the death of Mother Billings in 1878 Mr. and Mrs. Burdette buried their 5-year-old son, Freddie P., and the next year moved to Topeka, Kansas, where Ella Long Billings, age 72, was buried. 
    Burdette eventually came back to old Smyrna and after visiting among old friends for several weeks he placed his money with and died in an old man’s home in Philadelphia, Pa., where he was buried Jan. 26, 1917, in our cemetery by the side of his little sons. In Earlville cemetery there are three abandoned lots buried full of this batch of the John and John F. Billings families. 
    The cobblestone house upon this farm was built by John F. Billings in 1850. The cobbles were picked up on this and neighboring farms and white sand fo the pointing p of mortar was drawn by horsepower from Oneida Lake. The cobbles were run over a grader and were laid in straight lines and in different lines. It is really the work of an artisan and well worth a few minutes’ close inspection.
    John F. Billings possessed a peculiar querulous voice that was not always attractive to even his best friends. Once when with his neighbors hooking suckers through the ice, as the group crowded together to view the catch the ice began to crack. “Crowd up,” shouted uncle John, “I hope you will all get in.” Moving backward a few steps himself, he stepped squarely into one of the holes cut for fishing and was in the cold water up to his arms.
    An attache of the Billings farm was “Aunt” Nancy (1793-1873) sister of John F. It was said she was disappointed in love. Be that as it may she had some claim upon her brother for support and lived her life of 80  years in the old house across the road from the stone house. She cared for her chickens and garden and was welcome to come and go and come as she please in the homes of her neighbors. She was a harmless old woman when I began going to school and very fortunately she died six years before her brother.

    There was a house on this farm on the west side of the road and near the farm’s north line. The only occupant I can recall was John Brown, a day laborer. He left a cow that found her summer living in the highway, some hands and two pigs, there with his meager earnings, and $1 at a day he supported his family, I believe Mrs. Brown was the widow of  Waterman Curtis  (1793-1859) because there was a Junia Curtis buried on the John F. Billings lot, age 14, and a Jeremiah in 1856, age 23; then Loren Curtis, a Civil War veteran, in 18655. That old house, many years vacant. finally burned.

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