The renaissance of one of Springfield’s grand old homes is now in the hands of Katherine Prewitt who brings her Southern drawl and commitment to re-energizing the handsome mansion on Maple Hill.
Prewitt, president of transmission for Eversource, became owner of the 19th-century home on Valentine’s Day, sold to her by Thomas Valentine, of Springfield.
She has renamed the storied Victorian, Valentine Mansion.
Prewitt and Valentine were brought together by Shirley Simolari, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties.
Prewitt was on the hunt for such a home, focusing her search on square footage, vintage, price and accessibility to her home office in Hartford. She found it via an internet search.
Its overall condition, 40-foot grand ballroom with its ornate hand-carved fireplace and view, sealed the deal.
“I was immediately drawn to the house,” Prewitt said.
It perfectly suited her lifelong plan to own a bed and breakfast, she added.
“I’ve always wanted a bed and breakfast – I almost bought one in Arkansas – but initially, it’ll be an Airbnb.”
After seeing the home online, she called Simolari to relay her interest in the home.
Within days, Prewitt flew from Alabama to Springfield. That was on Dec. 23. Two days later, on Christmas, she made her offer and on New Year’s Day, her offer was accepted by Valentine. Valentine’s Day was chosen as the closing day.
Prewitt has large plans for the 30-room historic mansion — it’s on the National Register of Historic Places — with its singular view of the city from its perch on the crest of Maple Hill Historic District.
The home, its size, grandeur and quality, is a paean to the standing of a city then bright with success and an even more promising future.
In response, Springfield’s movers and shakers began establishing their domiciles on the street, with still-recognizable names as Southworth House, the George Merriam House on adjacent Crescent Hill, the Nathan Bill house and others built by titans of Springfield’s industry. Each prominent family erected homes that were unique, grand, and in some cases, drawn by the same architect.
The home at 270 Maple was among them. The 19th-century shingle-style mansion became the home of Frederick Harris, president of Third National Bank.
Shortly after he wed Emily Osborne in 1879, the couple moved into their new house. The couple were prominent socially, leaders in the social set of the day.
They had two children and Emily went on to live in the home until 1940, some 60 years after she moved in. The Frederick Harris School in Springfield was named after her husband shortly after his unexpected death in 1926 according to a newspaper account.
When the home was first constructed, it was much smaller. Additions in 1886 were followed by the construction of the grand ballroom in 1900.
Particularly notable in the 11,102 square foot home is that grand ballroom graced on one end by an ornate floor-to-ceiling fireplace surrounded by hand-tooled wooden vines and leaves that cascade down each side of the structure.
According to Valentine, the room, fireplace and surround was created by Italian artisans who were brought in to complete the two-year task.
Immediately noticeable as guests enter is the foyer complete with Italian mosaic flooring. Ten unique fireplaces will be converted to gas, Prewitt said.
The clear view from three-quarters of the house is the result of the June 1, 2011 tornado, which struck the city and took with it a forest of mature trees.
There is some minor work to be done, Prewitt said, including refurbishing the original refrigerator which reclines in the home’s basement. She also wants to rebuild a carriage house that once graced the property.
Former owner, Valentine is president of Maplegate Rehabilitation Center on Maple Street and Caserta Company, LLC.
Its passing to Prewitt provokes sadness and excitement .
“It’s sad to see it go,” Valentine said. “It’s been in the Valentine family for over 35 years. But I’m happy to see such a beautiful lady take over and see her compassion for the home and the city for which she is a fantastic advocate.”
“This house – it belongs to the city of Springfield,” Prewitt added.
And in that spirit, she is thinking of myriad ways for people to experience the mansion, to help people understand the city’s magnificent history evidenced in one grand structure after another lining Maple Street.
She envisions the home as a “classic and classy” venue re-enlivened by events including weddings, celebrations, writers’ retreats and more. An open house is in the planning stages.
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