Cassadaga Manor Serves As Wedding Venue And More

The RED (Retreat Event Destination) House.

When Cassadaga natives Steve and Nancy Wickmark were home from Washington State visiting family in 2008, Mr. Wickmark attended an open house. The sellers, Al and Mary Kay Carpenter, former teachers of the Wickmarks, had owned the very large house since the 1960s. Having worked with youth, Steve told the realtor he had envisioned the house being utilized for youth programs. After they returned to Seattle, the Wickmarks received a call from the Carpenters. The home owners liked Mr. Wickmark’s idea for the use of the 1860s home they had cherished for many years and told him to make an offer.

The Pacific Coast couple’s offer was accepted, but after they moved back to Chautauqua County, they realized there were many good programs for youth already in existence. Even though they did not start their own programs, the couple provides financial funding and allows youth-based groups to use the house they named The RED (Retreat Event Destination) House.

Interestingly, the Carpenters had hired Steve years before, when he was a student, to help install radiators and to do a few repairs on the home. During that same period, Nancy had helped to refinish the house’s bannister and her sister had done some cleaning for the previous owners.

“I always feel shear relaxation and comfort when I come onto the property. The area I get the most internal feeling is when I cross the threshold into the kitchen,” says Nancy. “I just wish the building could talk and I could learn more.”

She thinks about the women who lived in the beautiful home with no indoor plumbing and electricity and wonders what their lives were like.

Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

The elegant 19th century house with seven fireplaces was built by the Denny Family in 1860. It is suitable for business meetings or larger gatherings of up to 50 guests, but is primarily used for weddings. The entire package of manor, barn and grounds has served as the venue of many weddings and receptions.

The owners do not reside on the property, but live in Mrs. Wickmark’s family home. Her mother left antiques in that home which belonged to herself and to her mother. Mrs. Wickmark displays many of those and some belonging to her husband’s mother in the RED House kitchen. The beautiful dining room is now home to the porcelain that once belonged to her mother, who was a porcelain painter.

Over the years, the house has been mentioned in several books and publications, such as Nineteenth Century Houses in Western New York and The Sittin’ Stone. The couple has placed these and old letters in the parlor for visitors to peruse.

An open staircase decorated with dental work, is located inside the double front doors. Several bedrooms with fireplaces are found on the second level. A third floor ballroom is often used to take pictures because of lighting and unique windows. Guests who climb the stairs to the cupola may see the deer and turkey that sometimes roam below.

The manor is used for the bride and groom to get ready on their big day, with the bride and her attendants using the front of the house and the groom and groomsmen using two rooms in the rear of the house. There is a front and back staircase, so the groom doesn’t accidentally see his bride before the ceremony. Rehearsal dinners and a few weddings take place inside, but most weddings are held on the grounds.

Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

The barn is the reception hot spot when there is inclement weather. It is the perfect setting for formal or informal celebrations. The current barn was built in 1910, after the first one burned. It was built from blocks made by the Cassadaga Block Company which were made from clay from Cassadaga Lake. The beams are built with peg construction. The current owners poured a concrete floor, installed a bar and plank paneling on the first level. The beams on the ceiling are original to when the building was constructed. The lower floor can be used for dinners, cocktails, dancing or whatever can be imagined.

A new open staircase was made to the second floor.

There is a unique elevator which utilizes a pulley system and is a carryover from the old barn. It is used to transport food and beverage to the upper level which is a large open area with vaulted ceilings and a food service area. Chandeliers light both floors. A covered open loft brings in the outdoors. It has drop curtains in case of inclement weather. Mrs. Wickmark has made a book of pictures from receptions that have taken place over the years, each one unique unto itself.

“We just offer the venue. They can bring in their own food, rather pot luck or catered,” she says.

“It’s a great mix of the eloquence of the manor and the rustic barn,” adds her niece, Amanda Wickmark.

The RED House is used for youth activities and special events. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

“The photographers love it,” says the owner.

Since the property is a short walk from the lake, many photographers shoot a few pictures of the bride and groom at the waterfront.

Most weddings are planned to utilize the six parklike acres where guests may socialize with one another. Some brides have chosen to set up outdoors games for their guests. One couple displayed six tractors which belonged to a grandfather. Others have displayed classic cars and there was even a petting zoo at one celebration.

Over the years the house has served many purposes. At one time it was the Homecroft Inn and at another it was Lily Dale Sanitarium, a tuberculosis hospital. About four years ago, the couple learned the house had a reflection chamber which was used by Freemasons as a place for candidates to go for mental preparation before initiation. The purpose of going to this room was so the candidate could contemplate why he wished to join the lodge. Another interesting feature that used to exist at the house was a tunnel leading to Cassadaga Lake.

The Wickmarks have included a few recipes. The one for Chocolate Chip Cookies was given to Nancy’s sister by the previous owners. They were a hit with many student’s that visited the teachers in their home. The other two recipes were handwritten in a cookbook, Sense in the Kitchen – A guide to Economical Cooking, which was published in 1884.

“It is likely that the ladies of the RED House, at that time the Denny home, used this cookbook or one very similar,” says Mrs. Wickmark. “This book was Mrs. Ida Bergquist’s cookbook. It was given to her as a wedding gift upon marriage to Samuel Bergquist who was the son of Swedish immigrants from Smaaland.”

The Bergquist’s, great, great grandparents of Steve Wickmark, lived in Jamestown at 16 Eagle Street. Sam built many cottage-style houses on lower Swede Hill in Jamestown, including the building currently housing the Vietnam Veteran’s Center on Bigelow Street.

Mr. Wickmark jokes that it is doubtful Ida ever used the cookbook or that the recipes therein were not very good, because “she certainly did not pass along any quality cooking skills to her descendants for I never considered my grandmother or mother great cooks.” He did, however, find a carefully handwritten recipe on page 296 for How to Kill Flies and a family favorite for pickled herring.

The RED House which is located at 91 Frisbee Road in Cassadaga, offers hourly rates for small events and daily rates for large events held May through October. Weekly rates will be negotiated based on use. For more information www.the-red-house.org all (716) 595-2450.

Mary Kay’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cream together:

1 c margarine

1 c sugar

1/2 c brown sugar

Mix with above:

2 eggs

2 T water

1 tsp vanilla


2 1/2 c flour (plus a tad more)

1/2 tsp salt

1 c nuts

1 tsp soda

12 oz chocolate chips

Drop by a tablespoon onto greased sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until done.

How to Kill Flies

A half teaspoon of black pepper, finely ground to be mixed with double the quantity of brown sugar. The compound to be moistened with cream to be put in a place where the flies can easily reach it.

Pickled Herring (inlagd sill)

Two salt herrings

2 red onions, diced

1 tsp whole cloves

1 tsp whole allspice

1 tsp whole black pepper

5 bay leaves

1 c white vinegar

3/4 c sugar

Soak herring in cold water overnight. Clean, split, remove all bones and skin. Cut into small strips. Make a brine of the remaining ingredients. Arrange herring, onions and brine in a dish. Serve with knackebrod (rye crisp crackers)..


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