Eight That Can’t Wait 2019: Oneida Community Mansion House

170 Kenwood Avenue, City of Oneida – National Historic Landmark

Update Fall 2020

OCMH Director Christine O’Neil reports encouraging progress since the Mansion House was designated one of the “Eight That Can’t Wait” last year. This includes awarding of a $600,000 state EPF grant in support of the $1.2M project to correct masonry and drainage-roof problems. OCMH also received $52,000 last winter from the Preservation League of NYS and the Northern Border Regional Commission for the Northeast Heritage Economy Program. In addition, OCMH has initiated a “Save the Roof” campaign. In total, contributions and grant awards total $815,000 toward the $1.2M project, as of October 2020. Crawford & Stearns, Architects and Preservation Planners have been hired to develop plans, with an expected start date of spring 2021.

OCMH continues to learn and share the needs and its National Historic Landmark property through tours, educational programming, and participation in the upcoming Statewide Preservation Conference to be held virtually in December.

Challenges: Deterioration, Insufficient Funding

The Oneida Community Mansion House, begun in 1861, was the home of the utopian Oneida Community, and tells the story of America’s most successful experimental community. Today, the sprawling 93,000-square-foot building, part of a 250-acre historic property, serves as a museum, residence, inn, and performance space owned and operated by the non-profit Oneida Community Mansion House (OCMH), chartered by the New York State Education Department. PACNY is listing the building on the 2019 Eight That Can’t Wait in support of the organization’s efforts to address significant roof and masonry deterioration on the sprawling 150-year-old building complex.

The south wing of the Oneida Community Mansion House, 2019. (PACNY)

The Oneida Community, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848, was a perfectionist religious communal society, part of the larger religious awakening in the first half of the 19th century that led to central and western New York’s reputation as the so-called Burned-Over District. The Oneida Community’s radical social practices, which included advocating for women’s equality, challenged contemporary ideas of family and gender roles in ways that are still relevant today. After the community dissolved in 1881, it evolved into a joint stock company, Oneida Limited, best known for producing silverware. The company exhibited social consciousness, concern for their employees, and innovative business practices.

The original Main House (right) completed in 1862, photographed ca. 1875. (Oneida Community Mansion House)
The Mansion House complex today. (Oneida Community Mansion House)

The Oneida Community’s progressive philosophy is evident in the Italianate-style Mansion House, which was begun in 1861 and expanded several times through 1914, covering 93,000 square feet. The brick building has been well stewarded over the years, but today is suffering from significant water damage, especially at the complex Mansard roofs and built-in gutters. This has led to extensive masonry deterioration and damage to exterior woodwork and interior finishes. Several areas have recently been covered by rubber sheathing to prevent further deterioration. In addition, there are many areas where the brick walls are deteriorating due to past use of incorrect mortar.

A 2019 survey of roof leaks and areas that are in critical need of repair. (Oneida Community Mansion House)
Masonry deterioration below the eaves, 2019. (Oneida Community Mansion House

OCMH completed a Building Envelope Condition Report in 2017 that identifies $6.5 million worth of critical repairs. OCMH recognizes the value of preserving the historic integrity of the Mansion House. It sees preservation as a process and philosophy that can be interpreted and experienced by visitors. OCMH has hosted tours for PACNY members and provided preservation educational opportunities to students and the public at large.

To undertake the extensive critical repairs to the Mansion House, the OCMH needs to raise awareness about the historical significance and funding needs among the public and granting agencies. Based on sound administration and history, OCMH is poised for success, but requires support from preservation organizations. PACNY looks forward to lending its support to the OCMH as it continues to preserve one of Central New York’s most important historic properties.

Detail of masonry deterioration below the eaves, 2019. (Oneida Community Mansion House)

Sources: Christine O’Neill, Executive Director, OCMH, Eight That Can’t Wait nomination form, 2019; National Historic Landmark documentation.

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