Balmanno Cottage: The Other Side of the Sixties
Stereotypical images of the 1960s usually include tie-dye, rock music, protest and unrest, but this is
not the life that most Americans were living during this decade. Balmanno Cottage represents the other side of American cultural life in these turbulent years.
Acquired by Dr. and Mrs. William Walker in 1957 and bequeathed to the
Geneva Historical Society in 1997, Balmanno Cottage is a virtual time capsule
representing the lifestyle of the post-World War II years. The house is
furnished with the Walkers' fine collection of early American antiques and is
decorated in a traditional style with fabrics and wallpapers from the noted
New York design firm of Brunschwig & Fils. Combining past and present, the
Walkers approached modern life by rooting themselves in a more comforting
Dr. Walker accumulated the house's collection of antique furnishings, which
were given by his wife to the Geneva Historical Society with
the house and gardens. The furnishing collection is an outstanding
example of the antique collecting typical of many affluent Americans in the
1940s through 1960s. Collectors like Dr. Walker were often influenced and
inspired by great collectors, such as Henry Francis DuPont and John
Rockefeller. The Walker collection reflects Americans' drive in the
1950s to define their culture; an urge that led to great interest in American history, folk
culture and art. The collection includes a mixture of 18th and 19th-century pieces and consists of furniture made primarily in New York, New
England, and Philadelphia.
Blanchard Bartlett Walker (1908-1997) was the daughter of the Reverend Murray
Bartlett and Blanchard Howard. Her father served as President of Geneva's Hobart
and William Smith Colleges from 1919 until his retirement in 1936, bringing
Blanchard to Geneva for most of her childhood. Like many young women of her
class, she attended private school in Baltimore, finishing school in Europe, and
made her debut to society in 1926. Unlike most women of her status, she wanted
to become an actress and secured a role in a Broadway production. When a career
in acting did not work out, she entered the business world, working in publicity
and retail sales in New York City. Then, during World War II she took a job with
the American Red Cross, operating rest and relaxation hotels for Allied
troops. After the war she continued her career until she met Dr. William Walker,
an orthopedic surgeon, and the two married in March of 1957. The Walkers
purchased their South Main Street property the same year and moved to Geneva
Balmanno Cottage itself is an outstanding Geneva example of early Gothic Revival architecture and maintains the terraced garden lot that is a unique feature of the Seneca Lake shoreline. The house remains much as it was upon Mrs. Walker's death.
18th-century developer Charles Williamson is credited with
laying out the properties and lots on South
Main Street. Natural terraces, probably formed by the glaciers that carved out the
lake, descended from the crest of a long hill down to the lakeshore. The
Annin survey, completed in 1793, laid out Main Street on the crest of this
hill. Williamson's original plan placed building lots on the west side
of the street and designated the eastside lots as lakeside gardens.
Property owners on the west side would own land down to the lake, but
Williamson prohibited building on this land, hoping to preserve the view.
However, it was not many years before the increasing value of the lakeside
land led to the sale of the lots for building purposes. The lakeshore
and the terraced gardens then became exclusive to the property owners on the east
side of South Main Street.
The 1850 advertisement for the sale of Balmanno Cottage describes the site as
including ...Garden of Fruit and Flowers...beautifully overlooking the
Lake and surrounding country with a Hanging Garden, on half a dozen Terraces,
that extends from Cottage door to the Beach. References to other
terraced gardens along South Main Street indicate that they were a source of
beauty and pride among the residents.
Balmanno Cottage is open year round by appointment.
Please contact the Geneva Historical Society at 315-789-5151 for more information.
583 South Main Street, Geneva, NY 14456