Unlike the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this building wasn’t always a museum, it was the country home, first for the Lockwood’s, then the Mathew’s.
Lockwood–Mathews Mansion is a Second Empire style country house, now a museum, at 295 West Avenue in Norwalk, Connecticut. It was built in 1864-68 by railroad and banking magnate LeGrand Lockwood. The 62-room 44,000 square feet mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
It has been described as “one of the earliest and finest surviving Second Empire style country houses ever built in the United States.” It sits at 295 West Ave., in Mathews Park, where the Stepping Stones Museum for Children is also located.
The estate, then called “Elm Park,” was built by LeGrand Lockwood, who made his fortune in banking and the railroad industry. Construction began in 1864 just west of the Norwalk River in Norwalk and was completed four years later. Designed by European-trained, New York-based architect Detlef Lienau, the mansion “is considered his most significant surviving work,” according to the association. Both American and immigrant artisans worked to construct and decorate the house. Prominent New York decorating firms, including Herter Brothers and Leon Marcotte were contracted to furnish the mansion’s interiors. Financial reversals in 1869 and Lockwood’s death in 1872 resulted in loss of the estate by Lockwood’s heirs. The Mathews purchased in 1874 and maintained the country home until 1938 and was sold to the city of Norwalk.
“The Museum’s mission is to conserve the building while creating educational programs on the material, artistic and social culture of the Victorian era,” according to the museum organization’s Web site. Built in 1864-68, it is an early example of the style used by wealthy New York City elites such as the Vanderbilt’s in building their Gilded Age mansions later in the 19th century, and set a new standard for opulence.
In a decades-long Christmastime tradition, interior decorators deck out about a dozen rooms in the mansion with holiday decorations. An annual “community celebration” is held in December with Christmas music, refreshments and a Santa Claus. In 2007, 10 interior decorators volunteered their services and materials for the event.
The museum has hosted an annual antique show since 1978. In 2006 the show was held the last weekend in October and attracted dealers from Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as Connecticut.
The home was used as a filming location for the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives. Paramount Pictures paid the museum $400,000 to paint its central rotunda. The studio also left behind some large paintings (in essence, theatrical pastiches), which serve to emphasize the dramatic size of the rotunda. As a result, the walls look fresh and decorated, and will remain protected until further funds become available for proper, curatorial restoration of the original damaged surfaces.
The mansion was also featured in the movie House of Dark Shadows.