History of the S.K. Pierce Mansion
Sylvester Knowlton Pierce was, by the middle of the 19th century, one of the richest men in the entire county. He was born in Westminster, MA, on April 11, 1820, the seventh child of Jonas Pierce. Because his father died when the boy was but three years old, S.K. Pierce had a hard life ahead of him, which formed his character and paved the way for his success. He and his brother bought a factory at age 20, and in a few short years he was a multi-millionaire ($2.5 million in sales in the 1870s and 80s). Mr. Pierce was to become the founder of the SK Pierce & Son Chair Company.
In 1875, S.K. Pierce built a 3-story mansion in the town of Gardner, still celebrated as the furniture capital of New England, about 60 miles from Boston. He purchased a circa 1820 house on the corner of Union Street and West Broadway, moved the house and built his mansion on its foundation. The mansion took 1.5 years to build, with 200 men working around the clock.
After its completion, the mansion was considered a modern marvel of its time, complete with a cistern that caught rainwater in the attic for the various sinks throughout the house. Mr. Pierce also had a tunnel constructed in the basement of the mansion that led directly underneath the front entrance to his chair factory across the street. S.K. Pierce spared no expense in creating the perfect home for his family. The massive ornate windows incorporate several different types of exotic wood for their design.
The mansion contains 57 windows, 72 doors, plus front doors 10-feet high and 520 lbs. each, all still fitted with their original woodwork and fixtures. Among its architectural features is a circular wooden staircase leading to a widow's walk, typically found on on coastal houses, originally designed to observe vessels at sea. In the 18th and 19th centuries, sailors' wives used such platforms to look for signs of their husbands returning home. In Pierce’s time, the addition of this structural embellishment on structure far removed from the ocean further denoted the grandeur of the mansion and the wealth of its owner.
Tragically, S.K. Pierce’s first wife, Susan, became ill only 3 weeks after moving into the mansion. She died of Erysipelas (a painful disease that would eat away at her face and hands) a week later. Two years later Mr. Pierce remarried, this time to Ellen L. West, on January 23, 1878. Born on November 6, 1850, Ellen was a good 30 years younger than her husband and closer in age to her stepson, Frank. She bore Pierce two sons: Stuart K., born on February 8, 1879, and Edward W., born on September 19, 1882.
All of the boys eventually became partners in their father’s chair-manufacturing business. Sylvester Pierce passed away on January 28, 1888. (The family plot is up the street.) In the early 1900s, Stuart opened up the first Buick dealership; the first Buick was sold here. His brother Edward became jealous and opened his own dealership. In 1915, Stuart opened the first Studabaker dealership.
The mansion became a stopping place for New York elite as they traveled to New Hampshire and Vermont in the Gilded Age. The home hosted the likes of P.T.Barnum and President Calvin Coolidge. Later in the 20th century, Norman Rockwell was among the elite guests that enjoyed stays at this Second Empire mansion with its characteristic mansard roof.
President Calvin Coolige
P.T.Barnum and Tom Thumb
P.T. Barnum and family
Decline of the Mansion
Eventually the mansion became an inn/boarding house from 1926 to 1966, known as The Victorian Inn or the Victorian Tourist Home. The house passed from the Pierce family in 1966. Edward, the last of the Pierces to occupy the home, believed his mother was haunting the mansion, claimed that he would see his mother walking in the halls.
Jay Stemmerman, connected to the Pierce family through his aunt, who was the last known servant at the Pierce mansion, became the owner from the mid-1960s through the 80s, though he abandoned the building long before his death in 1991. His daughter, Jane Stemmerman, sold it in 2000 to Suzanne Casanova and Mark Veau, who married in the house. Suzanne owned the mansion until 2008; however, she left the mansion in 2006. The mansion stood vacant for 2 years until it was purchase by the current owners in November, 2008.
Tragic Deaths and Spirits
Following are some of the known spirits who inhabit the mansion:
Mattie Cornwall seems to be one of the most active spirit in the mansion. It was said she was in love with S.K. Pierce and the house and considered this to be her only home. One of S.K. Pierce’s 23 servants, the young (18-22 year old) nanny/house servant continues to haunt the mansion.
(A photo captured in a 2nd-floor window by a Boston paranormal investigator shows what appears to be a woman dressed in white, looking out the window.) The previous owner’s daughter Suzanne affirmed, “She would brush my face and sit next to me whenever I was working on my needlework.”
Susan Pierce, S.K. Pierce’s first wife, died tragically of Erysipelas shortly after the mansion was finished. She spent only 2 and a half weeks in her new home before her death, but investigators have captured evidence of her presence there.
Edward Pierce’s daughter died of influenza, which many feel was during Spanish flu pandemic.
Around the turn of the century (late 1800s), the mansion left the Pierce family and became a brothel for the local gentry. During that period, something went terribly wrong and a woman (thought to be working there as a prostitute) was brutally murdered. Her spirit has been picked up by many psychics, and her presence is now felt in the house.( EVP has been captured in the red bedroom that sounds like a woman moaning in pleasure. )
The sound of a little boy is heard throughout the home, and he has been seen by many who have visited the mansion. (His image was captured by an investigator taking a photo of a mirror.) The owners recently found out that children have drowned on the property.
A man named Eino Saari, who lived in the mansion when it was a boarding house, died of smoke inhalation in the master bedroom on April 9, 1963, in a fire that was confined to the mattress. Many believe his death to be the result of spontaneous human combustion.