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Firsthand tales of Wistariahurst, Skinner family to be revealed

Date: 6/1/2011

June 1, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — If you've ever wondered what it was like to live in a Victorian mansion such as Wistariahurst, you'll have an opportunity to hear first hand what the experience was like.

For Allerton Kilborne, living at Wistariahurst was like being in a "memory palace." Kilborne, the grandson of Katherine Skinner Kilborne, the last member of the Skinner family to live in the home, will be conducting a tour of the museum at 4 p.m. on June 19. The cost is $7.

Katherine, the youngest child of William Skinner, the founder of the silk company that was located for decades in Holyoke, gave Wistariahurst to the city of Holyoke in 1959 to be used for educational purposes. Speaking to Reminder Publications from his home in Maryland, Allerton said he would relate the history of the home and the family in his tour as well as share personal insights into the Skinners.

Allerton lived with his grandmother for one year, 1958, and attended sixth grade at the Kirkland School.

Although his own family had servants and lived in large home, Allerton said there was "a completely different feel" about Wistariahurst. The 19th century was still alive in the house, he explained.

Despite a gentility that was uncommon at that time — Allerton said his grandmother still had finger bowls at the table — Katherine was "a sweetheart with a great sense of humor."

He recalled the relationship between his grandmother and her house manager and chauffer Charles Linderme. Allerton described Linderme as a "jazz musician and good looking" and he and Katherine were always "trying to put one [a joke] over on one another."

Allerton will also speak about his two granduncles William and Joseph Skinner, who took over the family business after the death of their father. He said they couldn't have been any more different. Joseph, a quiet man, married and remained a local resident, building a home in South Hadley. William was a life-long bachelor and maintained an apartment in New York City.

"William lived on a very high style while Joseph was more of a New England brother. They were very loyal to one another and adored their sisters," Allerton said.

He added that two men's personal styles and interests perfectly complemented one another in the management of the business.

Although Skinner silk was a brand known throughout the nation for decades, the company also produced other fabrics.

According to information on the Wistariahurst Web site, the family sold the business in 1961 and the Holyoke mills were closed. Located on the site of Holyoke Heritage State Park, the buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1980.

A history teacher and writer, Allerton observed, "the family's fortunes and Holyoke fortunes went hand in hand."

By the time he lived at Wistariahurst, the bulk of the city's thriving textile industry had moved south and Allerton said there was a deliberate decision by the family not to move from Holyoke.

"They believed they owed it to the city to stay there," he said.

Allerton has visited the property many times in the last 25 years and is pleased at how the museum's staff has worked to renovate and restore his family's home.

"I just know my grandmother would be so pleased the house means so much to the people of Holyoke," he said.

For more information or a schedule of other upcoming events at the museum, visit

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