The Willard-Case Mansion was home to two prominent families for almost 100 years. The Willards and Cases, related through marriage, were both wealthy and philanthropic and left a considerable legacy to their community.
The mansion is a Greek Revival brick home that was built in 1836 for John Seymour. Seymour lost heavily in the Financial Panic of 1837, and the property was purchased in 1843 by Dr. Sylvester Willard, a physician married to Jane Case. Dr. Willard and his father-in-law Erastus Case became extremely wealthy backing Thomas Kingsford in the Oswego Starch Factory.
The original design of the mansion was a symmetrical four-square plan, and Dr. Willard added the east wing in the 1850’s to create a “business” entrance with dispensary and exam rooms. The east wing extension contains the Tiffany stained glass window that was commissioned in 1890 by Dr. Willard’s daughters, Georgiana and Caroline.
In 1876 the Willards enlarged again, with a two story north addition including an ornate dining room in Renaissance Revival style. This addition cost more than $40,000. Sylvester Willard died in 1886, and Jane in 1890. Daughters Georgiana and Caroline never married and continued to live in the mansion.
In 1892-1894, the sisters built and furnished the Willard Chapel at the Auburn Theological Seminary in memory of their parents. The interior of the Chapel was designed and handcrafted entirely by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York, after the window was designed for the mansion.
When Caroline died in 1916, the mansion passed to Willard Case, the nephew of Jane Case. Willard and his son Theodore converted one of the backyard greenhouses into a scientific laboratory. Theodore and his family lived in the mansion while working in the laboratory, and he moved his family to a truly stupendous home on Auburn’s South Street in 1930.
In 1936, Theodore sold the mansion to Walter Long for the formation of the Cayuga Museum of History and Art, for “$5 and a box of cigars.” He continued to operate the Case Research Lab until 1941, when he donated the lab and all of its contents to the Museum.
The Cayuga Museum has been open in the Willard-Case Mansion since 1936. The fully-restored Case Research Lab has been open to the public since 1994. In 2012, the Museum restored the estate’s brick carriage house, in which Theodore Case installed both a theater and a full sound studio, into a multi-arts space.