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A Brief History of the House

a black and white photo of a three story victorian house that has a damaged and collapsing porch
Wistariahurst after the Mill River flood of 1874

Wistariahurst was the home of the Skinner Family, owners of the Skinner & Sons silk mill in Holyoke, Massachusetts at the turn of the 20th Century.

Designed by William Fenno Pratt in 1868 in Haydenville Massachusetts, the Skinner home was constructed across the road from Skinner’s Unquomonk Silk Mill on the Mill River. In 1874, the Mill River reservoir dam burst, and the flood waters destroyed everything in their path including William Skinner’s mill. His home was spared but his business was gone.

a photo taken from the street of the front of a large house, completely covered by vines, with two lion statues framing the entrance
Wistariahurst was named after the vine which covered its entire facade, and which can still be seen (on a small scale) today.

Holyoke, with its newly constructed dam and canals, enticed Mr. Skinner to rebuild his mill alongside the canal by offering his business a free land lease for 5 years, and also land on which to build a house for $1. Skinner had his home dismantled, transported by oxcart and rebuilt where it stands today.

The home is named after the wisteria vines planted in the 1880s by Sarah Skinner, William’s second wife. In its heyday, the wisteria vines densely covered all three stories of the home, making for an unusual site.

the corner of an ornate room, with a crystal chandelier, leather wall coverings, and a portrait over a marble fireplace
The famous leather room at Wistariahurst

After William and Sarah Skinner’s deaths the property was deeded to their two unmarried children, Will and Belle. Much of the house as one sees it today reflects the style and taste of Belle Skinner, who implemented interior designs and renovations in the time she was in residence here. In 1913 she built the Music Room for her growing antique musical instrument collection. In 1927 she added the Great Hall and Marble Lobby as formal entertaining spaces. She also moved the original front entrance of Wistariahurst from Pine St to Cabot St, and added the fossil-lined drive and porte cochere.

Wistariahurst spans 17,500 square feet of living and storage space across three floors and two basements. The Main House has 26 total rooms, with 15 bedrooms (5 of which were for live-in help), 9 bathrooms, 19 fireplaces, 25 closets, and 121 windows.


Use the links below to read more about the history of Wistariahurst.

Gardens & Grounds
Dinosaur Footprint Driveway
Skinner Servants & Staff
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