The Baker Mansion
Baker mansion was originally home to ironmaster Elias Baker and his family. Baker purchased the nearby Alleghany Furnace in 1836 in partnership with his cousin Roland Diller. Elias brought his wife, Hetty, and their two sons, David Woods and Sylvester, from Lancaster County to what was described as a "tolerable good mansion house" near the furnace. Shortly after they arrived, a daughter, Anna, was born. A fourth child, Margaretta, was born in 1839, but she died of diphtheria at the age of two.
In 1844, Elias Baker bought out his cousin's share in the furnace. That same year, he contracted with Baltimore architect Robert Cary Long, Jr. to design him a new home. Work got underway on the mansion in 1845 but many problems and delays retarded its completion until 1849. The total cost was about $15,000. The cost overruns, coupled with falling prices for iron, pushed Mr. Baker to the brink of financial ruin before the home was finished. Still, Baker, ever the determined businessman, pressed ahead and achieved his dream house. He would enjoy it for fifteen years until his death in 1864. Hetty Baker remained a widow until her death in 1900.
David Woods Baker married Sarah Tuthill in 1851 and they had one daughter, Louise, in 1852. However, Woods was killed in a steamboat boiler explosion just two and a half weeks after the birth of his daughter. Louise later married Ernst Beckman and returned with him to live in his native Sweden. Sylvester and Anna both remained single and lived in the mansion until their deaths. After Anna died in 1914, the mansion was closed until 1922, when the Blair County Historical Society leased the building and opened it as a museum. With the community's support for a major fundraising campaign, the society was able to purchase the house in 1941. Since then, the mansion has served as the Society's headquarters and has become beloved community landmark.
In 2001, the Society completed an exterior rehabilitation, returning the building to its original appearance. Work has begun on interior rehabilitation. The project is financed in part from a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital grant and from local matching funds the Society is working to raise.
Library From this library, or office, Elias Baker directed his business affairs. His original desk, wrought iron swivel chair, and double-lock safe remain. The large bookcase to the left of the door holds many of the Baker family's books. Early views of the property are also displayed.
Dining Room The six chairs, mahogany sideboard, mantel clock, and framed lithograph are original Baker family pieces. In the corner of the room is the dumb waiter, which carried food up from the basement kitchen. A speaking tube in the wall next to the dumb waiter allowed the Bakers to communicate with their servants.
Reception Hall Guests were greeted in the reception hall and then ushered into the parlor. The ornate plaster work on the ceiling was intended to impress visitors upon entering. The area has recently been restored to its original color scheme.
Double Parlors This ornate room was designed for formal entertaining. The Bakers imported the hand-carved oak parlor suite from Belgium. This intricately carved furniture remains in the room, along with the original carpet and the Bakers' piano.
Sitting Room The sitting room was where the Bakers passed much of their time. The sofa, carved straight-back chairs, carpeting, and the wrought-iron lamp on the piano are original to the home. Also on display is a heating stove manufactured at Allegheny Furnace and an 1890s Regina music box.
Bell Room Most of the second floor rooms are now used by the Society as exhibit areas. This room, once a dressing room for the adjoining bedroom, now memorializes Edward Bell, another early Blair County ironmaster and founder of the community that became Bellwood. All of the furnishings in the room belonged to the Bells. The wedding dress of Edward Bell's daughter Elizabeth, who married William Dysart in 1830, is on display.
Snyder Room When the Society opened Baker Mansion in the 1920s, Plymouth Snyder, a local druggist and state senator, was among the first to donate artifacts for the museum. His collection has been displayed in this former bedroom since 1923. Besides medical items, the exhibit includes mounted birds and animals, popular decorations in Victorian homes.
Sewing Room The Baker women used this room for embroidery and fancy needlework. A professional seamstress made their clothing. The room holds two ladderback chairs that the Bakers brought from Lancaster County in 1836.
War Veterans Room This room displays the Society's collection of military artifacts including a Civil War Draft Wheel used in Blair County to select men for service. The two plaster statues came from the World War I Victory Arch erected on 11th Avenue in Altoona.
Hall In the second floor hall are pictures and biographical information about the Baker family and a display of the types of tools used in the construction of Baker Mansion.
Master Bedroom The original Baker furnishings in this room include the bed, dresser, washstand, and carpet. The two built-in closets in the room are an unusual feature for the period.
Nursery The Baker children were too old for a nursery when the family moved into the mansion, but this room is used to display a variety of children's toys and furnishings dating from the 1840s through the 1930s.
Lincoln Room This room commemorates the 1862 Loyal War Governors Conference, at which 13 northern governors met at Altoona's Logan House Hotel to pledge their continued support to President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War effort. Portraits of the governors hang above the fireplace, and a model of the Logan House is on display. The Logan House was torn down in 1931 to build the present Altoona Post Office. Pictures and mementos of other Altoona landmarks are also exhibited.
Davis Room These basement areas were originally storage space. The room now displays items on the history of education in the county. It is named for Taring S. Davis, a former county school superintendent.
John Blair Room This room holds exhibits relating to early forms of transportation, including models of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. The room is named for John Blair, an early state representative from this area and the man for whom Blair County is named.
Cohn Room This room displays rocks and minerals from the area, as well as projectile points found locally. A piece of pig iron from Alleghany Furnace and heating stoves from various iron furnaces depict the Juniata iron industry. The steps lead to the ice room, which provided refrigeration for the Bakers' food.
Herb Room This small room held kitchen supplies and food. The Bakers owned twelve farms which were operated by tenant farmers. Half of the produce of each farm was paid to the Bakers. A large collection of early kitchen appliances is displayed in the room.
Kitchen All the meals were prepared in this room. At first, cooking was done in the fireplace and the bake oven in the adjoining room, but later a cast-iron cook stove was installed. When the food was prepared, it was sent to the dining room on the dumb waiter. Off the kitchen is the refrigeration room, where meats, dairy products, and produce were stored. Beyond its back wall is the ice room, which was filled with blocks of ice cut in the winter to chill the food.