Auburn’s Historic National Treasure: The Seward House

January 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm 1 comment

Finger lakes Summer

Side view of the Seward House from the gardens

I visited the Seward House in Auburn, just after reading “Team of Rivals,” a fascinating 915-page book about Abraham Lincoln and the  political powerhouses competing against him in the presidential campaign of 1860. The book served as the perfect historical backdrop for a tour of this national landmark.

The book details how Lincoln, after winning the election, leveraged the expertise of his rivals by appointing them to cabinet positions, illustrating his amazing political insight and shrewdness.

Seward served as Secretary of State. Initially, he took office with a condescending and skeptical attitude toward Mr. Lincoln. Over time, he and the President became close personal friends.

The beautifully preserved Seward House is filled with hundreds of portraits, beautiful furniture and china, which he collected during the span of his 40-year political career, as Governor, Senator and Secretary of State

Knowledgeable staff is on-hand to provide guided tours, throughout the day. They share intimate details about Seward’s family and the history of this beautiful home. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed inside the house. I have repurposed a couple of postcards from the gift shop.

Finger Lakes Summer

View of the Seward House from the driveway

The house was actually built by Seward’s father-in-law, and Seward’s living in the house was a condition placed upon him when he proposed.

Our tour started downstairs. Tucked in a dark room, on the main floor, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves is the library, Seward’s favorite room in the house. There are nearly 2,500 books on these shelves. Fanny, Seward’s daughter, has her own bookcase.

Fanny was Seward’s daughter, and she led his household in Washington, maintaining a capital headquarters worthy of the Secretary of State, decorating, and entertaining a constant parade of visitors and curious locals.

The dining room represented the central gathering place for Seward to host incredibly elaborate parties with multiple courses. As an example of the extent to which they entertained, even in Auburn, Seward had a china setting for 60, which he received as a gift from Napolean’s nephew, Prince Jerome. The table’s centerpiece is decorated with an detailed depiction of a foxhunt in silver on an “epergne,” which was the fancy name for a centerpiece or fruit bowl.

Finger lakes Summer

View of the Living Room

After dinner, there were pocket doors to separate the dining room and living room which allowed men to smoke in the dining room, while the women who go into living room to play majong, and whilst.

Nationally recognized artists Emanuel Leutze, Thomas Cole, Henry Inman and Chester Harding have paintings on the walls of the house, along with regional painters, John E. Freeman, George Clough and John Carlin.

Upstairs on the walls of the substantial landing there are over 100 different photo portraits of the dignitaries that Seward met in his political career, many who were visitors to the house.

Finger lakes Summer

This was the greeter street side

As you finish up on the second floor, your guide will tell you a fantastic tale of the assassination attempt on Seward’s life. On the same night that Lincoln was assassinated, Booth and his conspirators had two other targets: Secretary of State William H. Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson.

Miraculously, Seward survives the assassination attempt, but the shock of the evening’s events proved deadly for his wife, who passed away within the year. Tragically Fanny also soon passed away, a loss from which William Seward never fully recovered.

Members of the Seward family still live in Central New York.

To visit the Seward House:

33 South Street, Auburn NY 13021, 315.252.1283

Hours Tues-Sat 10am-4pm.

Finger Lakes Summer

Historic National Treasure — right in downtown Auburn

More on Holiday traditions at the Seward House.

Entry filed under: Activities, Auburn, Christmas, Finger Lakes, Holidays, Museums, Owasco Lake. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Vanguard Printing LLC  |  January 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Beautiful settings! You can’t go wrong with seeing anything historical in Upstate New York!


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