Unlike Amity and North House - the other "mansions" in camp - Kirby House was the year-round, primary residence of its owners: James & Nellie Kirby. They were already wealthy when they bought the land for their new home. They were not just building a house, but an entire dream estate.
The first thing to be constructed was the the lake: Jim patented the design for the lake filtration system the same year he bought the land. As the basin of the lake began filling, work began on the construction of the house. Timber was felled on the property to be used in the construction. Spring water from the hill behind the house was piped in.
Inside Kirby House
Photo: Ann Marie Niziolek
The multi-level, Swiss Chalet style design was full of odd nooks and crannies. The living room, with its massive fieldstone fireplace, is level with the wide veranda. From the living room, one can descend down into the basement, or up a half-flight of stairs to the dining room, which overlooks the living room like a balcony. A niche with a built-in sideboard holds small, leaded glass casement windows that open to allow supplies to be passed directly outside to picnickers. A bedroom with its own fireplace opens off the dining room. A set of stairs leads to more bedrooms, but first to yet another balcony overlooking the dining room. The "upstairs" bedrooms are built on two two differnt levels. One room leads into another until they end at a second staircase which descends to an office (halfway down) and the kitchen. The kitchen opens into the dining room. It also has its own door to its own porch. The kitchen porch doubles as the garage roof. As a finishing touch, the year of the house's completion is set in stone on the outside of the chimney.
The house was originally powered by electricity generated at the mill. It was air conditioned by springwater flowing over the roof.
The millhouse was finished as a workshop for Jim. It contained a loft with a balcony looking out over the lake. The swinging bridge was built over the dam. A diving board was attached to the dam (facing the lake). A stationary bridge was constructed to carry the new driveway over the creek and out to Rt 303, where the end was marked with massive stone gate posts. A flower garden was planted on the hillside just to the west of the house. A combination picnic shelter and boat landing was added to the lakeshore, as was a long pier extending halfway across the lake at its shallower end. Finally, the famous dancehall built on springs turned out to be a successful engineering experiment!
The Oviatt farmhouse became the groundskeeper's house. If there was a barn or other outbuildings, they were probably put to use. There is some passing reference to farming on the estate, but at the time of this writing, detailed records have not yet been found. It is well known that the Kirbys raised a fine herd of cattle when lived at their second Richfield estate, where they lived from 1936 to 1958. It seems likely that may have started at the first estate.
The village of Richfield published a small book of noteworthy events for its annual reunions. In these it was noted that the Kirbys opened their lake to villagers for swimming twice a week during the summers, and fishing during other seasons. Mr. Kirby was on the committee that aranged for electrification of the entire village.
Jim and Nellie had no children together, although he had three children from his first marriage. Jim had family living nearby; his mother was a Bigelow - one of the pioneer families of Richfield. Jim's only sibling, his brother and business partner Walter, lived in Richfield with his wife and two children. The Walter Kirby family were frequent visitors.