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The Flavel House
The Flavel House
Architect Carl W. Leick designed a home in the Queen Anne Style, which was very popular at the time. The home has two and a half stories, with approximately 11,600 square feet.
Work on the Flavel home commenced during 1884-85 and completed in 1886. Captain Flavel, his wife Mary, and their now adult daughters Nellie and Katie moved in. Son George Conrad lived with his own family in their own home.
Captain Flavel only lived in his dream home for seven years; he passed away in his bedroom in 1893 at the age of 62. Mary and her daughters continued to live in the home, with Nellie and Katie traveling extensively between Astoria and San Francisco. Both were accomplished musicians and singers. Neither married nor had any children.
In 1922, a fire destroyed much of downtown Astoria but the Flavel mansion escaped damages.
Four years after surviving the Great 1906 San Francisco, Katie Flavel passed away. Mary and Nellie continued to live in the home until Mary's death in 1928. Ownership of the home passed to Nellie, until her death in 1933 while in New York, where she was visiting friends.
Ownership then passed to Captain Flavel's great-granddaughter Patricia Jean Flavel. She turned ownership over to the City of Astoria in 1934, as a memorial to her family.
In 1936 there was already talk of tearing down the Queen Anne style home to build a community park. But financial difficulties resulted in the property being returned to Patricia Flavel. In a twist of fate, the residence and grounds were deeded to Clatsop County that same year, with understanding that both would be kept in good repair and used for public purposes.
From 1937 through World War II, the Public Health Department, the Red Cross, and the local Welfare Commission all had offices in the Flavel house.
But again, this time in 1951, more talk of tearing down the structure started, to make a parking lot for the County Courthouse. The original Clatsop County jail had been built in a lot across the street from the Flavel mansion and the Courthouse built just adjacent to that. Locals took action and organized to save the home. The Flavel home was turned into a museum, to be managed by the Clatsop County Historical Society while the house was still under the ownership of the County.
The mansion and its carriage house were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The County transferred the title to the Historical Society in 1995.
Today the Flavel House is open from 10am to 5pm during November through April and 11am to 5pm during October through March. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
History of the Flavel Family
Captain George Conrad Flavel (1823 - 1893) came to Astoria around 1849, when he was in his late 20's; he saw opportunity in becoming a bar pilot who could guide ships through the treacherous mouth of the Columbia River. The area was known as the Graveyard of the Pacific for causing dozens of shipwrecks due to the shifting sandbar.
Captain Flavel was so successful in his venture that he expanded his business into shipping services and goods up and down the Columbia River, sailing as far south as San Francisco, CA.
During this time, he married Mary Christina Boelling (1839 - 1928), who was 14 at the time of their marriage. The couple had three children: son George Conrad and daughters Nellie and Katie.
By now Captain Flavel had became a noted local businessman and entrepreneur, with dealings in real estate as well. He had amass such a fortune that he became Astoria's first millionaire. At the age of 62, Captain Flavel decided to retire to Astoria on a permanent basis and commissioned German-born architect Carl W. Leick to design the home of his dreams.
The interior and exterior of the Flavel mansion
The Flavel mansion is two and a half stories tall, with approximately 11,600 square feet. The home resides on park-like grounds covering an entire city block. The exterior features a wrap-around porch. There is also a four-story tower with cupola, giving one a 360-degree view of Astoria and the Columbia River.
Decorative elements of the Stick and Italianate styles are also apparent in the vertical stickwork, the bracketed eaves, and the hooded molding above the windows and doors. Outlining the roof and verandas of the house is the original wrought iron and cresting.
The Flavel's gardener, Louis Schultz, began planting trees, fine roses, and many varieties of bulbs and shrubs after the home was completed. Many of the plants found in the Flavel yard today are typical of those found in Victorian gardens. The grounds are also home to a number of the trees that were named official Oregon Heritage Trees at a state-wide dedication ceremony held on the grounds in 2003. These include a Camperdown Elm, Sequoia Redwood, four Cork Elms, Bay Laurel, Pear tree, and a Ginkgo Biloba. Unfortunately, several were damaged in hurricane-force winds during a severe storm that hit Astoria in 2006.
The rooms have 14-foot high ceilings on the first floor and 12-foot high ceilings on the second, embellished with plaster medallions and crown molding. Interior woodwork around the doors, windows, and staircases are designed under the Eastlake-influence.
The house features six unique fireplace mantels composed of materials from around the world; unique decorative tiles, ornate hand-carved mantels, and a patterned firebox designed for burning coal. Other innovations included a central bathroom with an enclosed tin-plated copper bathtub, flushing toilet with a pull chain and marble sink. The house was also fitted with indoor plumbing and gaslights.
The first floor is comprised of the grand entrance hall, the formal parlor, the music room the library, the dining room, and the conservatory. The back part of the house contains the butler's pantry, the kitchen, and the mudroom.
The second floor features the main bathroom, five bedchambers, and another small room, which was used as a storage room or sewing room. The views of the Columbia River and the city of Astoria are breath-taking, as viewed from the bedroom windows.
The third floor, or attic space, is off-limits to the public and remains largely unfinished. Stair-case access to the top of the tower as well as two plain wood bedrooms used by the Flavel's domestic help are here. The basement of the house originally had a dirt floor and contained a large wood burning furnace that burned 4-foot wood logs.
In 1887 a carriage house was built on the south-west corner of the property. Used to house the family carriage, sleigh, and small buggies, it also had three temporary holding stalls for their horses, a tack room, and a hayloft upstairs. In the 1880s, Alex Murray, the Flavel's caretaker, lived there. Eventually the Flavel's Studebaker sedan, found a home in the carriage house and the family's driver kept a room upstairs. Today the carriage house functions as the visitor center, museum store, and exhibit hall, the starting point for visitors looking to tour the Flavel House museum. It is also home to the administrative offices of the Clatsop County Historical Society.
Some claim strange happenings at the Flavel House.
Having seen its own share of deaths, with three of the Flavel family members passing away in their beds while in residence, there have been reports of paranormal activity in the Flavel mansion.
On the first floor, reports of strange music filtering out of nowhere or from a music box mysteriously opened have been made of the music room. This room was one of the centers of the Flavel family, serving as an entertainment room. Both Flavel daughters were musically inclined and gave recitals in their home. It was considered a great honor in society to be invited to attend. There have also been reports of strange photographic anomalies from photos taken in the room.
The library, located across the hall from the music room, was the heart of the family. Several guests have reported feeling a presence in the room, sometimes focused completely on the Captain's very chair that still exists there to this day.
The second floor is not without its reports of strange activity. A former staff member to the museum reported coming out of his office at the end of the hall in the former servant's area and seeing a woman walking down the hallway towards them, which caused the staff member to quickly depart the area. The general theory is that the apparition was either Nellie and Katie, the two Flavel daughters.
At the end of the hall on the left is Mary Flavel's room. Guests have reported the sudden appearance of a sweet floral scent that will suddenly appear for no apparent reason. Even stranger, it is said that the floral scent will move around the room, sometimes from person to person, as if an unseen presence was walking around the room, inspecting the visitors.
As was common in the time period, Captain and Mary Flavel had separate but adjoining bedrooms. Captain Flavel had what would today be considered the master bedroom in most modern homes. The museum still displays the very bed that Captain Flavel passed away in. Various strange accounts reported by staff and visitors alike, including an actual sighting of the Captain's apparition out of the corner of the eye that appeared to dissolve into thin air. Others have reported a sense of a presence, or even suddenly becoming light-headed and nauseous while standing in the room.
The museum staff were once told by a self-proclaimed psychic that pinpointed a spot on the floor as the "center of evil" of the house. The claim led to a local historian and reporter from the local paper to stay in the house on Halloween night later, with the historian putting his sleeping bag on the very spot. However nothing out of the ordinary occurred.
Whether or not the home is haunted, it certainly seems that anything that remains behind of the Flavel family is either friendly or curious as to those who visit their home these days.
My Trip to the Flavel House
August 16th, 2008
Although I've always lived in Oregon, it wasn't until I repeatedly made mention of my desire to visit Astoria known to my family that we finally went. The weather was perfect for summer and we discovered the Flavel House museum while driving to various spots in Astoria that were used in the 1985 film The Goonies. What originally was supposed to be a stop to take a photograph turned into taking a tour.
Touring the Flavel House is self-guided but there are historical society volunteers on hand to answer questions. The starting point is the original carriage house, where you may purchase admission, as well as see the family's sleigh and other items. There is also a gift shop and visitors are encouraged to view a short film about the history of the Flavel family before walking down the grounds to the mansion.
Once inside you are greeted by the volunteer and advised that photographs are welcome as long as you do not use the flash. The rooms on the ground floor are roped off, but you are welcome to look inside. The furnishings, some originals used by the Flavel family during their lifetimes, are arranged as they would have been during use.
The extraordinary craftsmanship and attention to detail is wonderful to behold; no picture can do it justice. The dining room, kitchen, mudroom, and butler's pantry are all-access. Be sure to check out the tiny bathroom located at the end of the hall!
Upstairs, one will find the main bathroom. What a view of the grounds! Down the hallway, you can explore the bedrooms of Captain Flavel, his wife Mary, and daughters Nellie and Katie. There are original items, such as Captain Flavel's bed, while others come from the same time period.
Even the decorations are fascinating. One mantel piece features several taxidermy birds under a glass bell jar. There are mirrors and other ornaments that give the house a homey touch. In Captain Flavel's bedroom, a bookcase houses his parrot, now stuffed for all visitors to see.
Although I have visited several houses that have been turned into museums and preserved for the public, more often than not they feel more like stuffy places that aren't as welcoming as they should be. I found just the opposite of the Flavel House. Even though no one has lived there on a permanent basis for decades, the house gives off a lovely feeling, almost a welcome. I can say I was more than happy to spend several hours just wandering the mansion and its grounds, enjoying the history and architecture of the Queen Anne style home.
Visiting the Flavel House Museum
The Flavel House is located at 441 8th Street in Astoria, OR, across the street from the original Clatsop County Jail. The Flavel House is open from 10am to 5pm during November through April and 11am to 5pm during October through March. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Admission tickets may be purchased at the Carriage House. There you may also watch a short video about the history of the Flavel family and the mansion, as well as visit the gift shop.
The Flavel House Museum also hosts teas; one for Mother's Day and Plumb pudding and tea the week before and after Christmas. Check with the museum for more information and registration for the events.
No food or drink is allowed in the museum. Cameras are welcome as long as gusts do not use the flash inside the mansion.
Visit the Flavel House Museum!
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© 2009 missbat