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The Astraea Estate: Fiction Built on Fact

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Like the popular Downton Abbey's setting which is very much influenced by the very real and very historically rich Highclere Castle, the WEATHER WITCH series' (St. Martin's Press) Astraea Estate on Philadelphia's Hill is based on real historical homes. It is a place Jordan Astraea is taken from and a place she dreams of returning. She's had many fond memories start there--even though she has frequently felt forgotten by family in the sprawling home. It represents generations of the Astraea family, their changing tastes and fortunes.

Bran Marshall reads this description of the estate in The Hill Families of Philadelphia:

Theirs is one of the oldest and grandest houses on the Hill. Three and three-quarters stories high and an architect's nightmare, the house ambles across three acres, the original structure being built of fieldstone in a seemingly haphazard fashion, long flat stones jigsawed together in herringbone patterns creating a busy-ness of design that was at once striking and enough of an oddity that the last generation of Astraeas decided--rather than living in a stone spectacle--that section of the estate would house the growing multitude of servants. As a result, the servants are one of the best housed in all of Philadelphia, that too being a distinguishing oddity--and a costly one.

The interior of the house includes such luxuries as dumbwaiters, summoning bells, running water, decorative molding, wainscoting and chair rails, the first elevator in the New World, stormlighting, proper paint, and wallpapers and boasts multiple water closets, a warming kitchen, true kitchen, parlor, sitting room, living room, den, dining room, and six spacious bedrooms.

There are, of course, things omitted from the public record (as anyone would hope for their own home).

The exterior of "the original structure" is based somewhat on a house that stands at River and Main in Cooperstown, New York. The home is referred to as Pomeroy Place and is the first stone house built in the village, dating back to 1804. It has an amazing (and somewhat crazed) stone pattern that includes words
and a symbol created by the stones' edges. It is visually spectacular--especially the side facing the river. 

The interior of the Astraea home is inspired by another stunning New York state home: Hyde Hall (constructed between 1817 and 1834). Hyde Hall is also in Cooperstown and lords over Glimmerglass State Park. The exterior is austere, imposing by most modern tastes, and composed of heavy and monotonous ashlar limestone blocks in a Neoclassical style.

As an author of paranormal novels, I should also tell you it is one of the creepiest places I have explored on my own--you are never alone roaming the estate of Hyde Hall.

The parts of Hyde Hall that inspired the Astraea Estate are, perhaps oddly, parts I have been unable yet to glimpse in person but have read about extensively (most notably the book THE LADIES OF HYDE HALL: HISTORY, HOSPITALITY, LETTERS, AND RECIPES, 1819-1963). One of the more notable things about Hyde Hall is the way in which the servants' quarters were kept. The servants at Hyde Hall lived in areas that rivaled many of the finest homes.

There are many other aspects of the Astraea Estate that are influenced by other historic homes and buildings, including New York's Nellis Tavern (St. Johnsville) and Hunting Tavern (Andes), Pennsylvania's Ephrata Cloisters (Ephrata), and a multitude of historic homes that I have either lived in personally, been the guest in, or merely visited as a patron. Exploration and research--even when building fictional worlds--is necessary and quite a pleasure!

Indulge--dive into research!


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