By George Basler
Jennifer Corby had a clear goal when she became executive director of the Phelps Mansion Museum a year ago: Raise the mansion’s profile and make it an arts hub for the community.
“It’s absolutely under-utilized,” she said. “It had a very limited audience, and COVID made it even more limited.”
In the past year, Corby expanded the museum’s staff by making Joe Schuerch the museum educator and hiring a part-time events coordinator. She also solicited grant funding and donations for programs and maintenance and worked on programs she hopes will appeal to various demographic groups and ages. “We want to keep it alive for all ages and open the door for more programs,” she said.
The Phelps Mansion at 191 Court St., Binghamton, has a history that goes back to America’s Gilded Age (1870 to 1900). Built in 1871, the mansion was the home of Sherman D. Phelps and his family. Phelps, a prominent businessman, was elected mayor of Binghamton in 1872.
When the mansion was built, it was one of several stately homes on the east end of Court Street on what was referred to as “Mansion Row.” It is now the last of its neighbors. A board of trustees works to preserve the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and opens it for tours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday
But many in the community are not aware of the mansion’s history, Corby said, noting, “We’re actively pursuing things that allow us to be more visible and put revenue back in the house.”
Included in this effort is a new program, “An Evening with the Phelps,” supported by a grant from the United Cultural Fund/Broome County Arts Council. When visitors walk through the front door of the mansion, they will be greeted by actors playing Isaac Perry, a prominent local architect who designed the mansion, and Sherman Phelps himself. A guided tour of the mansion will follow. The first tour is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 7. Others will follow during the Christmas season and in the spring.
In a recent interview, Corby outlined some other programs being planned for the next few months:
- A series of four chamber music concerts, sponsored by Garufi Law, featuring musicians from the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra. The first one, by the Marian String Quartet, is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15.
- A dance series with the Blue Velvet Big Band, a 16-piece musical ensemble that has played in the community for 40 years. The series will begin in September, Corby said.
- “Cinderella in the Wild West,” presented by the Robert Rogers Puppet Company, at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 16.
- A Beijing Opera and Chinese music concert scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16.
- A Dec. 7 concert by vocalist Corinne Mammana, who has been featured in music publications as a rising star in the jazz world.
- November will see both a series of monologues on the Vietnam War by a Southern Tier playwright and a concert by local tenor Tony Villecco.
The mansion’s calendar also lists a program, “Give Me a Sign: If the Dead Could Speak,” about spiritualism in the 19th century. At 7 p.m. Oct 6-7, Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21, guests will learn about the history of spiritualism while touring the mansion. Space is limited to 15 people per tour.
In the spring, Vienna-based forte pianist Daniel Adam Maltz will return for another concert at the mansion. Maltz performed here before as the result of a grant from SCR/Stewart W. and Wilma C. Hoyt Foundation.
Corby is also proud that the Phelps Mansion will be a stop on the Downtown Binghamton Freedom Trail being planned by the Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity at Binghamton University. Twelve markers will mark the trail. The mansion will be a stop because freed slaves worked as carriage drivers and cooks in the home, Corby said.
Also in the coming year, the mansion will continue to host a Thursday lunch series and play readings by Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R.). And the building is fully open for rentals — not just the ballroom — something that hadn’t been the case since 2005, Corby said. Money raised from the rentals goes into maintaining the mansion.
“It’s the last mansion standing and a piece of history,” Corby said.
For more information on upcoming events at the Phelps Mansion Museum, check www.phelpsmansion.org or call 607-722-4873.