Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lynhurst, the "Joslyn's Castle"

3902 Davenport
Lynhurst, George and Sarah Joslyn Mansion
Building permit: 1903
Building style: Arts & Craft, in Tudor Revival Scottish Manor House style
Architect: John McDonald
Owners: George and Sarah Joslyn

The 'Joslyn Castle' was built in 1903 for George and Sarah Joslyn, who called their Omaha home Lynhurst. Designed by local architect John McDonald, the castle is an excellent example of high style Scottish Arts & Crafts. The house is a predominant landmark in the neighborhood and the city, with its corbelled towers and chimneys, crenellation battlements and stepped gables, set on five and one-half landscaped acres surrounded by a wrought iron fence. The interior retains nearly all of its original integrity, with stunning stained glass windows that contain renditions of Wisteria vines and Scottish thistle and rose, & seven species of hand carved woodwork (each representing a continent) on the main floor. In 1907 a portion of the front porch was enclosed for a sun room and construction began on the music room which once contained an
Opus 1035. (only one other of these organs is know to still exist.) The jewel of the Joslyn estate was a glass palm house with Sarah's collection of an estimated 1,200 orchids and other rare ornamentals. Unfortunately it was decimated by the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado. Rather than reconstruct the palm house, the framing was donated to the City of Omaha and reassembled in Hanscom Park. The Joslyns contented themselves with rebuilding only the conservatory attached to the house, hiring the famous Chicago landscape architect Jens Jensen to design it. Following George's death in 1916, Sarah opened their home to American soldiers in route to Europe in 1918. Welcome to feel at home, the soldiers played billiards and bowling, used George's former exercise room and enjoyed swims in the pool on the grounds. As a tribute to her husband, Sarah built the Joslyn Memorial. Although originally intended as a concert hall she directed that the building was a gift to the people of Omaha and they should decide which direction it would best develop in. Mrs. Joslyn died in 1940, endowing the museum but leaving unspecified instructions for the fate of the estate, asking only that it possibly be used for the benefit of children. From 1944 until 1989, the Omaha Public Schools' offices were located in the house. (The State of Nebraska now owns the property but has no endowment to maintain it.)

Bloggers Notes; The National Register Landmark Nomination describes this house as "Scottish Baronial" which in not a period of architecture but a style of the Victorian movement. I think it may have been the best guess at the time the National Register nomination was written because there was little understanding of the Art & Crafts periods that were flurishing post 1900. The Nebraska Historical Society helped define the mansion for the Nebraska Historical Society Marker as a high style of (Arts & Crafts, Tudor Revival) manor house. If you interpret the entire property and all its design elements (not just the exterior of the buildings) the conclusion would be Arts & Crafts- Tudor Revival in a Scottish manor house style. Bungalow Magazine had a recent issue on several Scottish Manor houses that were built in the same period, reviving the notion of a (perhaps idealized) pre-industrialized era. The interior of the home is filled with tudor revival design elements with Scottish Rose & thisle(an Arts & Crafts motif) along with other Arts & Crafts themes including very simple but beautiful wood work. Keep in mind the Arts & Crafts movement was an design movement rebelling against the Victorian-Industrial Revolution(mass production) movement. The Arts & Crafts movement elevated the status of hand crafted products above manufactured products. The Arts & Craft movement began before 1900 and floushished from about 1890 to 1920s. The Joslyn house was build in 1903.

The landscape is not part of the Nation Register Nomination but is historically significant none the less. The grounds resembled the naturalist form of landscaping popular after the Chicago Worlds Fair , Fredrick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park) and during the Arts & Crafts movement. The only formal flower beds on the property were located between the front gate and the entrance to the house. In 2004, under the auspices of the Joslyn Castle Neighborhood Association, $13,000 was raised by writing multiple grants in order to replentish some of the missing vegetation. In 2005, after 3 years of planning, 34 trees were replanted along with shrubs and bushes in an attempt to restore some of the lush landscaping that once existed.

The term 'Joslyn's Castle' was coined by a local newspaper. Mr. Joslyn did not like the term and wanted the home referred to as Lynhurst. Joslyn's Castle was by no means the first home in referredefered to as a "castle". The 'Yates Castle', at 32nd Avenue and Davenport, was the first home in Omaha dubbed a Castle according to local newspapers. The Yates Grade School and Hill Side Court apartments now occupy the location of the once grand Yate's home.