The Rowell Murder 1883


Around the corner from 20 Prospect, on the corner of Ellicott and Richmond Avenues, stands the stately Rowell Mansion. An impressive edifice of yellow brick, with large columns and an elegant portico, it commands the top of the hill looking out over centennial park and the NYS School for the Blind.

The Rowell Mansion

The Rowell Mansion

The mansion has undergone some significant restoration in the 1990’s, but back in the 1970’s it did not always look so nice. The yard was surrounded with overgrown shrubs, and the bricks had been discolored with age. At night, it was a dark and gloomy place. All children grow up telling stories of the local haunted house. To the kids in our neighborhood, this was the place. We used to tell each other stories about a murder that had occurred there, and about blood stains and screams that could be heard in the entryway. On Halloween night we would dare each other to walk up the front steps and ring the door bell. I never could muster the courage to, but those that did would say that when they stepped onto the porch they could hear a gunshot, and screams.

Little did I know…

There really was a murder in the foyer. And the story was far more intriguing than our childhood imaginations could even concoct.

On the night of October 30th, 1883, Edward Newton Rowell shot and killed Johnson Lynch of Utica, after catching him in the act of adultery with his wife Jennie. The plot twists and turns are significantly convoluted, and deserving of a southern gothic novel. This is the stuff that Faulkner, O’Connor, Wolfe, Harper Lee and Capote would draw upon in the 20th century. The suffocating social mores of small town life in the Victorian era. The passion of gas lit evenings, and dark tree lined streets. A scent of powder and perfume, the scratch of corsets and high collars, the electricity of a forbidden touch. Rage and jealousy, a gunshot in the darkness, and screams piercing the quiet of an autumn evening.

When it all was over, Batavia had held the limelight of the national media for a sensational trial in the old courthouse. Shocking revelations of behavior of upstanding citizens had come to light, and the murderer came away from the ordeal as the most sympathetic character of the story. Rowell was acquitted, and later divorced his wife. He went on to raise their two daughters himself, and kept his mansion on the corner. He split from his treacherous business partner, and founded his own rival company. He built a business empire out of the Rowell Box Company, and overcame the scandal to achieve great wealth and status.

It is a story as epic as a Greek tragedy, and as American as “Gone with the Wind”. That it is little known in the town in which it occurred is astounding. I am tempted to try to write a novel of historical fiction around it, if only to give it the place that it deserves in our collective history.

UPDATE – 2013: I did write the novel!

http://www.amazon.com/Box-Shaped-Heart-Thomas-C-Gahr/dp/0615807232

cover

19 thoughts on “The Rowell Murder 1883

  1. Well done on all the articles that I have read. If you do write the novel be sure that a signed copy is headed our way.

    I did enjoy your Father’s Day contributions, “The iCubs” and the “Corn Fed Indy”

    Loved the barns too.

    Great job.

  2. Pingback: The Sidewalks of Batavia « 20 Prospect

  3. Correction: I would be remiss in mentioning that in my research, it appears that the murder occurred in a house on Bank Street, not at the Mansion on the corner of Richmond and Ellicott Ave.

    It seems that the Mansion was built by Rowell for his 2nd wife, after the divorce with Jenny, and when he had amassed his fortune from the Box Company.

    Sorry for the lack of attention to detail, or as they say in Journalism, “creative license”.

    • I lived in the mansion with my father Dr. Malakie in the early 1990’s.

      The murder did not take place in the Rowell Mansion. My father did many wonderful renovations to the home, but unfortunately could not get help from the state or historical landmark society to revise the multifaceted roof of the home.

      The home was pretty neat to live in with lots of stuck up neighbors around the corner.:):)

      • Lawrence:

        I bought The Rowell Mansion 5 years ago, December 29th to be exact. I am in the process of restoring the home and would like to get it on The National Register. It is already a local landmark. I didn’t realize the Malakie’s had children. Were you their only child? Do you remember much about the interior or have any pictures that you can share with me?

      • Lawrence, I remember your father very well. I visited once and your home was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe the transformation from what it was to the lovely place your parents created.

  4. Lawrence,

    Thanks for sharing. I bet it was quite an experience living there. I was very happy to see the renovations that your father did to the place. I always wondered why the roof was half finished. I think it has been restored now though.

    As I mentioned in the comment section, I realized my mistake on the Murder location.

    I hope the “stuck up” neighbors you mention were around the corner on Ellicot Ave, and not on Prospect!

    Tom

  5. Tom, who are you? I grew up in Batavia, graduated from Batavia High in 1975 so I’m very curious! I now live in Egypt so I’m regaling my Egyptian friends with tales from home. I googled “Rowell mansion murder” and thought I’d get a Wikipedia entry, so I was delighted to find your blog. Thank you! By the way, at one time I lived on Bank Street next door to the house where the murder took place. Thanks for your great blog, it’s just the thing for a homesick former Batavian. God bless.

  6. This is a cool post, thanks for sharing all that information! My husband was born and raised in Batavia, and when I lived up there with his family in 1999, we drove by that house often and I was always curious about the history of it. I’m glad I was able to find something here, thank you!

  7. Am fascinated with any history on Batavia . I lived two doors down from the infamous house on bank street and have been in the Rowell mansion many times. The new book is very entertaining as well as informative. Always looking for new information on Batavia. Martha

  8. My father and his family lived on Prospect and there are still many families left there from the 60’s…the murder , however took place at 123 Bank st…My eldest child was E N Rowell in the 4th grade as a famous Batavian

  9. My boyfriends family lives in the house on Bank St where the murder did occur. They have lived there since 1970. I had heard all the stories and thought “yeah right” and then I went and did a little history on it myself. Then i read your book and when you described the layout of the house, alot of it is still the same (just a few minor renovations done over the years).

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