Since the late 19th century, Binghamton has been known as the Parlor City, celebrating its prosperous business developments and affluent residents. However, the city’s rich history has continuously been threatened by deterioration and demolition of the landmarks that represent and tell stories about these past achievements. Kilmer Mansion, located at 9 Riverside Drive, is one of the few grand parlors that remains intact and in use in the area, but not without abundant care and necessary support from the community.
Kilmer Mansion was built for Jonas M. Kilmer in 1898, who gained his worth by selling a kidney medicine named “swamp root.” In addition to their fortune, the Kilmer family was known for founding The Binghamton Press, owning the Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Exterminator, an essential element to the spirit of the city and selling their yacht to the U.S. Navy in World War I to use as a vessel. It is essential to note how each of these contributions affected the Binghamton area, as well as how the Kilmer family sought to make a long-standing, positive influence on their surrounding community.
Originally, adjacent to Jonas’ house stood the mansion of Willis Sharpe Kilmer, Jonas’ son, with the Edward Rose and Robert Rose mansions stationed nearby on Riverside Drive as well. Unfortunately, each of these mansions was demolished throughout the years, with Jonas M. Kilmer’s mansion being the only one to remain and act as a legacy for the Kilmer family. Actions to preserve the remaining mansion are an even more imminent concern, as it risks the fate of its counterparts if not properly restored.
Luckily, Kilmer Mansion has thus far been protected from being torn down due to the stewardship of Temple Concord. However, decay from time and the elements have been an unavoidable conflict for the mansion and require urgent attention. Namely, the porches and terraces demand renovation, both being closed for repair, and the north terrace has a collapsed floor. Additionally, destruction can be seen on the turrets and gargoyles, both irreplaceable artifacts of this 1890s architectural masterpiece.
Despite areas in need of repair, the mansion’s overall impressive architecture remains visible throughout the site to this day, consisting of towers, ballrooms, lions and dragons on the exterior, painted ceilings, patinated wood, embellished plasterwork and marble. The mansion and its incomparable design can be experienced by visitors as it is open for tours, concerts and other public events, as well as a venue for private events. In order to protect the future of the mansion, however, donations are crucial and should be given to the Jonas Kilmer Mansion Restoration and Preservation Fund. Along with donations, Kilmer Mansion also offers volunteer opportunities.
It is critical to support historic landmarks that not only educate people about the past but also reinforce the strengths and shared values of the community. Kilmer Mansion has endured the test of time so far due to the work and energy that organizers have put forth, alongside contributions from the community through both donations that go directly toward repairs or through participation in fundraising events. Likewise, Kilmer Mansion is able to give back to the community by bringing people together under a common agenda and appreciation for history, with the spirit of togetherness that I could imagine Jonas Kilmer would be advocating for.