Micah Sterling Builds Sterling Mansion, Later Becomes Home To Holy Family School
Sterling Mansion would be built by Micah Sterling in 1826 on a sprawling estate that would span several blocks and form a park known as Sterling Place. Born in Lyme, Conn., on November 5, 1784, Micah entered Yale at the age of 16 in 1800, where he was a classmate and close friend of John C. Calhoun, 7th Vice President of the United States, whom he would later name a son after.
After forming a partnership in Adams, N.Y., with Thomas Skinner around 1809, Micah Sterling would be admitted to the Common Pleas (court) in 1811 and move to Watertown shortly afterward. He married his first wife, Betsy Bronson Sterling, but their first two daughters, both named Francis Winthrop Sterling, would pass away within a few years of birth (the first lived from 1815 – 1817, the second 1818 – 1821). Their third child, a boy, would be the Rev. John Calhoun Sterling and live to be the first proprietor of the Sterling Book Stores at various locations on Public Square in Watertown, N.Y.
Micah and Betsy would have a third daughter in 1827, named Francis Hubbard Sterling, alas, she, too, would only live a couple of years and pass away in 1829. A second son, William Hopkins Sterling, was born in 1831 but only lived until 1837. Adding to the tragedy, Betsy would pass away in 1831, sometime after the birth of William. Micah would remarry 1833 to Ruth Benedict Sterling and he would have one more healthy child, Lewis Benedict Sterling, who lived from 1836 – 1899.
Micah, already well-known in the area, would be elected to Congress in 1821. After his brother-in-law Isaac H. Bronson, who also served in Congress later on, was admitted as an attorney, Micah opened a partnership with him in 1823 under the name Sterling & Bronson, which continued until 1840. Micah would also serve in the State Senate in 1836. Despite the familial tragedies over the course of these years, Micah would be amongst the most noted of his profession not only in the county and state but earn a national reputation, having once entertained President Martin Van Buren at Sterling Mansion and having been the land agent for many years to James D. Le Ray de Chaumont who had LeRay Mansion built.
Micah would pass away in 1844 at the age of 59, leaving behind his 2nd wife and two sons. John C. Sterling, as mentioned previously, would open the Sterling Book Store on Public Square for many years. Upon his retirement, his son John Sterling would take over the business and make it one of the longest-running businesses in the city before closing in the early 1920s. Ironically, father and son would both live long lives, John Calhoun living until the age of 82-83 and his son until the age of 94-95, a stark contrast to the other, immediate descendants of Micah Sterling.
In referencing the old Black River Valley Religious Institute and its close proximity to Sterling Place, the Daily Times on August 14th, 1890’s edition wrote—
The locality of the institute was very pleasant. A finer site for a school did not then exist in Watertown. In front, and looking to the south, the eye rested upon the broad acres and beautiful park of Judge Micah Sterling. There was no Park Street or Winthrop Street traversing the area, but the whole space was the well kept law of the residence property.
The place with its large gate entrance in front of the institute on State and at Franklin Street with broad gravel driveways and the fine mansion house yet standing seemed then to the children as a memorial place of old England that we would read of in some of our juvenile books and when the proprietor of the place with stately mein (sic) would promenade through the grounds the illusion would be more complete.
The Sterling mansion would remain in the Sterling family until 1910, when John Byron (J. B.) Taylor, fresh off his divorce from Emma Flower Taylor, would purchase the estate, acting on behalf of his father, make extensive additions, and use it as a primary residence. He would open up the mansion’s pool to the public each summer during specified hours which can be read about here.
On Sept. 22, 1922, the Watertown Daily Times printed an article detailing the sale of Sterling Mansion to Holy Family—
HOLY FAMILY BUYS J. B. TAYLOR HOME
Will Convert It Into Parochial School
The old Sterling mansion standing in Sterling Park between Park and Winthrop Streets and owned for several years by John B. Taylor, president of the Woodruff Holding corporation, has been purchased by the Holy Family church and will be used as a parochial school. Although the purchase price was not announced, it is understood to be about $50,000. The residence and grounds is assed for 1923 at $90,000.
Plans for the establishment of the parochial school into which the dwelling will be transformed are yet indefinite, nothing having been determined in advance of the actual purchase. The residence, however, with the large two story stone stables in its rear toward Academy Street, can accommodate 500 to 1000 students, it is believed. It is tentatively planned to have no boarding students at the school but to use the buildings only for class room purposes.
The grounds of the residence were landscaped by the Olmstead Brothers of Brookline, Mass., one of the leading firms of landscape artists in the United States, and the same firm which beautified the City park.
Probably the interior decorations of the residence are unsurpassed in the city. Although the old exterior was retained, Mr. Taylor completely renovated the interior. There are polished oak floors throughout, beamed ceilings, paneled wainscoting and mahogany doors and staircases.
In December of 2003, the Watertown Catholic Education Council announced the decision to rename Holy Family School to Immaculate Heart Central Primary. St. Patrick’s School’s name would also change to Immaculate Heart Central Intermediate. The changes were made after it was decided to close two other primary schools, St. Anthony’s and Sacred Heart School.
Today, the former Sterling Mansion is the main building for the St. John Bosco Preschool program and Immaculate Heart Central’s Kindergarten classes. According to the school’s website, Grades 1-6 are located in the primary building, renamed IHC’s Elementary Campus, “to reflect that our elementary grades are now located on one campus.”