This rosewood chair was rescued from a fire in former Governor Joel Matteson’s private residence in 1873. Built in 1855, Matteson’s Springfield mansion boasted nineteen rooms filled with elaborate furnishings and was considered “a marvel of architectural beauty” in its day. This chair, which was originally upholstered in brocatelle, likely sat in the oil-frescoed first parlor.
Matteson was a wealthy man, made so honestly by ownership of a woolen mill and interest in several banks and stores, and fraudulently through the embezzlement of nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the State of Illinois. As Governor, he came into possession of a trunk full of redeemed, but uncanceled, canal scrip and redeemed it a second time, trading it in for state bonds. When the scandal broke, newspapers began calling his $100,000 mansion “Scrip Villa.”
The house and its contents were owned by his daughter, Mary Jane Goodell, when it caught fire on a frigid day in January 1873. The Goodells were away from home, and the fire was discovered by a passerby. A large crowd gathered, and several people went inside the burning mansion to rescue art and furnishings. The house, however, was a total loss. Matteson died three days after the fire, the shock having worsened his already frail health.