Ruben Gridley Wright commissioned a renowned local architect, Captain Enoch A. Curtis, to design a home for his family in 1881. The original Victorian Design incorporated may Queen Ann features in the exterior appearance as well as more contemporary influences from Gridley’s impressions of Sacramento and San Francisco. The general contractor was John Ard and Harry Wratten was the head carpenter. Mr. Wratten came to Westfield from Buffalo to lead the construction team for daily wages of $1.25.
Work on the house began in 1881 with excavation for the basement. The cellar was dug, walls laid up, and ground floor installed in 1882. The main structure of the house was erected in 1883 and interior construction and finishes were completed in the summer of 1884. Mr. Wright owned several lumber tracks in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania; much of the hardwood used in the construction came from old growth forests along the Clarion River in an area now known as Cooks Forest. Pine lumber was used for the framing and several species of hardwood were used for the interior finishes including cherry, walnut, oak, chestnut and tulip. The interior wood finishes were carefully milled, varnished and polished. Most of the interior finishes retain their original fine grain and luster to this day.
The house exterior was extensively reconfigured in 1921 under the direction of Ruben Gridley Wright’s son Piere. While the renovations significantly changed the outward appearance of the house, the craftsmanship and quality of construction was sustained thanks to the Harry Wratten’s enduring tenure as lead carpenter.
The house sits on a sturdy foundation of laid up stone masonry around the perimeter and brick interior walls. The basement was constructed with 10-foot clear span to the ceiling joists. Sparing no expense and designed for the ages, floor joists are constructed of 2 x 12 true dimension pine on 12-inch centers. The steam boiler is relatively new technology; prior to conversion to natural gas in the 1950’s, heat was supplied by a coal-fueled boiler. Heating the spacious, uninsulated house required a full 50-ton railcar load of coal each winter. Natural gas became a far more practical source of fuel in the 70’s particularly with the development of two natural gas wells on the property. A new natural gas boiler was installed in 2014 and now provides an abundant source of steam to the 22 radiators distributed throughout the house. Fire places were used extensively before the boiler was replaced with a natural gas system. At that time, the fireplace facades were reduced in size and gas grates were installed. There is evidence of stove pipe holes in the chimneys of the upstairs bedrooms; an indication that wood burning stoves may have been in place at one time.
A large, restaurant model Magic Chef stove was installed in the kitchen in 1945. This behemoth was the centerpiece of the kitchen but was so large and cumbersome that it lost its flagship post in the kitchen when we renovated in 2016.
Other interesting features in the basement include an immense slate cold stone used for butchering livestock from a time when fresh meat was raised on the farm. Another fascinating feature of the basement is the arched brickwork between the central foyer and adjoining rooms. These arches were designed for maxim structural load bearing capacity of the foundation and this remarkable load bearing design was carried up through the interior brickwork and framing all the way to the massive roof trusses that were designed to carry the dead load of heavy slate shingles.
The three stained glass windows in the stairway landing are by an unknown craftsman. They were installed in 1884 as the house was being completed.
According to the architect’s blueprints, the original floor plan included three bathrooms configured only with tubs and wash basins. An indoor privy was located in the northwest corner of the woodshed (an unheated appendage to the rear of the house). Full plumbing, including commodes, were added shortly after the house was completed.