The Barry House: Victorian Italian Villa At Its Finest

The Barry House: Victorian Italian Villa At Its Finest

In I.M. Pei’s Wilson Commons Building: A Contemporary Mastery of Method, George brought us onto the University of Rochester campus for a tour of Wilson Commons.

Today, George ventures a little off campus to share his montage of another University of Rochester treasure, the Barry House.

Photography and text by George Cassidy Payne

Designed by Gervase Wheeler, a prominent 19th-century English architect, the rose brick and limestone mansion is considered one of the best examples of the Victorian Italian villa style in the country, according to Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator at the Landmark Society of Western New York. It was designated a city landmark in 1970 and is part of the Mt. Hope/Highland Ave. Historic District that is listed at the federal, state, and local levels. The 16-room mansion boasts eight carved marble fireplaces, 11-foot faux grained doors, original gas chandeliers now wired for electricity, and numerous collections of portraits, furniture, silver, dishes, glassware, and linens from the Barry family. On the grounds, scores of rare specimen trees are a living legacy of the Ellwanger and Barry Nursery.





The house was given to the University of Rochester in 1963 by the heirs of Patrick Barry’s daughter, Harriet Barry Liesching, who had lived there until her death in 1951. A careful restoration was carried out from 1964-65 under the direction of Elizabeth Holahan of the [WWW]Society for the Preservation of Landmarks in Western New York. According to Holahan in a 1981 UR press release, the Barry House is the nation’s “outstanding” example of the Italian style of the Victorian period. The one comparable residence, located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was razed in the 1970s despite protests from preservationist groups. In 1969 the Barry House parlor and library were featured in in Nancy Comstock’s 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America.




The development of the nursery industry in Rochester presents a fine picture of the transition of culture from the Old to the New World. Not only were the horticultural beginnings transplanted during the previous century in New York and the East moving slowly westward, but several of Rochester’s nurserymen came more or less directly from the Old World, equipped with the theories and techniques of its more advanced centers. Houghton, Kedie, and Bateham, and later Joseph Harris and James Vick, all from England, Patrick Barry from Ireland,  and notably George Ellwanger from Germany,  brought a valuable contribution to Rochester, and their eager readiness to send abroad for new seeds and plants as well as fresh ideas was no small factor in the rapid rise of the western town to horticultural leadership.

The Flower City: George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry





Expansion was one of the secrets of their success, for, by adding new acres every year or so, they were able to develop mature and model orchards on older nursery grounds. The plan enabled them to obtain an accurate knowledge concerning their fruit, a reliable stock from which to take their cuttings, and a means for demonstrating their fruit to visiting customers. With this latter point in mind they announced in successive catalogues that since their location was “nearly opposite the celebrated Mount Hope Cemetery, both places can be visited at the same time … An omnibus runs from the center of the city … every hour carrying passengers each way for one shilling.

The Flower City: George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry







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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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