News: Neillsville - Tufts Museum (1983)

Contact: Kathleen E. Englebretson


Surnames: Tufts, Robinson, Bruly, Bruley, Dewhurst, Hemphill

----Source: Marshfield News-Herald (07 October 1983)

NEILLSVILLE - The house was built in 1885 - a time when horses provided transportation, and lumber was king. It has stood through westward expansion, two world wars, a depression and the industrial growth of a nation.

Now, through the generosity of its last owner, and the volunteer help of a lot of people, the house will probably stand for another 100 years, providing Central Wisconsin with a glimpse of its past.

The Tufts Museum, at 26 Hewett St. Neillsville, was opened to the public in June, after Jennie Tufts, who died in 1982, stipulated in her will that her home be donated to the city for use as a museum.

"Jennie loved her home and liked people to appreciate it, so wanted it left as a museum," explained Florence Robinson, Museum director.

The Tufts role in the history of the house is relatively recent.

The museum, according to the Museum brochure, "reflects the changes... as well as the personalities of each succeeding generations of owners."The house was built in two parts. Emery Bruly built the original north section in 1885.

"Bruley was a blacksmith, an inventor of sorts, and a prominent businessman," Robinson said during a recent tour of the home. "He lived here for about a year, and in 1886, exchanged houses with the Richard Dewhurst family, when the southern portion of the house, the pump house and the carriage house was added."

In 1890, Dewhurst, a lumberman, state legislator and founder of the Neillsville bank, replaced the original porch, giving the house a Colonial look.

The Dewhursts kept the house until 1922, when their daughter, Mary, and her husband, Wallace Hemphill became the owners. They lived in the house until Mr. Hemphill's death in 1958. Col. William and Jennie Tufts purchased the house in 1861.

Extensive remodeling and redecoration followed -- done mostly through the mail, since the Tufts wanted to remain at their home in Tacoma, Washington, until the renovations were completed. As it turned out, Col. Tufts never lived to see the house finished. He died in 1963, and his wife carried on with the project, moving into the house in 1965 and remaining there until her death.

Once the city accepted the house as a museum, plans were made to restore it as a turn-of-the-century mansion.

"We actually haven't tried to restore the house the way it was built, but have gone after a turn-of-the-century look," said Robinson.

"We hope that when you go through the door, it's like a step back in time.'

Once through that door, a visitor first notices a divided stairway installed by the Tufts.

"Col. Tuft was a fan of (the film) Gone With the Wind," and designed the stairway to look like the one at Tara," Robinson said.

To the left of the stairway is the parlor, or Bruley room.

"The north parlor is the most Victorian, so has the oldest feel to it," Robinson said, pointing out the only one of five original fireplaces left. "All of the artifacts here are of the mid- to late-1800s."

Helping create a typical Victorian look is a four-piece settee, circa mid-1800s, a fern in the alcove, lace curtains and, of course, a fainting couch or day bed, for the Victorian ladies.

To the left of main stairway is what is now known as the "Red Room." The viewer immediately notices the striking red and gold wallpaper and rich red curtains.

"it's a large room, untypical of the Victorian era," Robinson said. "It originally was two rooms, with back-to-back fireplaces, bu remodelled by the Tufts to accommodate their Oriental rug collection.

Emery Bruley left his mark with the initial "B" etched unto the windows in the parlor and the stained glass windows in the Red Room. Windows in both rooms are of etched glass.

The Red Room contains a grand piano, silver candelabra, three-piece settee and Queen Anne side chairs.

Adjoining the Red Room is the formal dining room, complete with a working Victrola, buffet and set table of Haviland china, salt cellars, a knife rest and depression glass.

Upstairs, there is a mini-conservatory (Victorians grew plants everywhere," Robinson said), a child's bedroom, master bedroom and display, or "tulip" room named because of the hand-painted tulip wallpaper from Holland.

A back room now used for Museum offices, was originally a maid's bedroom, Robinson said.

"We had a woman in her 80's visit us, and she told us she was a maid in this house when the Hemphills owned it," Robinson said. "And the main thing she remembered was ironing the linen napkins and placemats. They were used once, then sent out to b e laundered, and this woman said she couldn't have a wrinkle in them. She also remembered serving buckwheat pancakes every morning.

Most of the rooms in the house are enlivened by striking, bright wallpaper, Oriental rugs and crystal chandeliers. Period furniture pieces and accessories on loan, and background information supplied by tour guides give one feeling of how the wealthy class lived during the turn-of-the-century.

The museum visit doesn't end with the house, however. A trip through the back yard shows an old sun dial, two arbors and a rock garden. A marble lily pond has been filled in and planted with flowers.

The carriage house in the back of the house contains two old-fashioned buggies, a blacksmith's shop and three horse stalls.

A fountain in the front yard was built by the Hemphills, and activated in the spring to herald in the new season.

Perhaps the spirit of the Museum can best be described in the inscription on the sundial in the back yard: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be."



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