Volume 1, Issue 1, October, 1969
THE COHN MANSION
by Wray Barrows
AT PEDDLERS LANE AND SCOTT STREET (305 Scott) in Folsom, California, is located the home of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Fait. The home was built in the early 1890's by its first owner and designer, former California State Senator Phillip C. Cohn (1854-1928), who kept a general merchandise store on Sutter Street in Folsom. For over seventy years this was the Cohn family home. To the progeny 1 of Phillip Cohn this historic old house is rife with family nostalgia : adventure of children climbing high into the cupola, romance of a first love's kiss on the side porch or in the garden gazebo, family unity on holidays in the dining room.
Part of this old house dates back to the 1860's when Simon Cohn, 2 father-in-law of Phillip Cohn lived here. That part of the original house is today the kitchen which is connected to the rest of the house by a short passageway. It was in this original house of Simon Cohn that Phillip Cohn, then a drummer who called at Simon Cohn's general store, courted his daughter, Alice Martha, and married her. It was here that soon after his wedding Phillip's partnership in marriage also included a business partnership with his father-in-law.3
The Cohn Mansion is one of three Victorian homes that occupy the same hill overlooking Old Folsom's Sutter Street Mall. Unlike the Burnham House and the Hyman House 4 it is unique because of its design. Actually the other two houses are more opulent because of their use of rare woods that decorate their interiors, and they look more pretentious because they are larger.
Phillip Cohn designed the house himself. Generally, Victorian houses can be placed in specific classifications. Not so with the Cohn Mansion. Its neighbor, the Hyman House, is baroque Victorian. Its other neighbor, the Burnham House, is late Queen Anne. The Cohn mansion has a design all its own. The reason for this is that Phillip Cohn chose those parts of Victorian design that pleased him and corrupted them into the plans for his house. Most American examples of Victorian architecture were distortions of European originals. Cohn, though, distorted his house even more. European Victorian houses were of brick or stone. American Victorians were adapted to wood. Phillip Cohn built a frame house. The American style added more of the Gallic touch not seen in Europe: more balusters, consoles, and finials were added to gables and porches. To this distortion, Cohn added a touch of the Romanesque revival popular in public buildings railroad stations, churches, schools of the 1890's. To do this he adapted the Victorian cupola to the characteristic Romanesque composition, a sturdy tower with pointed roof. Then he included a Romanesque entrance, cavernous, spanned by a great semi-circular arch, from a second-floor balcony into the second-floor central hallway, and he placed it next to a Queen Anne style gable.
This single feature has made the Cohn Mansion the most often sketched and photographed house in Folsom. It is not uncommon to find a variety of interpretations, of the Cohn Mansion displayed in art shows throughout Northern California. And it is always the square tower that dominates the picture.
Inside, the house was once provided with furniture of the Victorian period. The dining room with its mahogany-beam ceiling once boasted a dining room suite of matching wood as were also the sideboard and builtin china closet that uses the entire wall. Floors and stairs were covered with Turkish carpets. Burlap walls that substituted for the usual dark Victorian wallpaper with crimson and gilt design, were hung with stilllife, seascape, and landscape pictures which were either prints of the masters or steel engravings. The one major piece of furniture still in the house is a square grand piano like those once so popular in eighteenth century homes throughout the United States.
Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Fait have been refurnishing the house and restoring it since they became its owners in 1966. The one part they have not considered to need repair is the basement. This part of the house, a full one-story high, is constructed of solid granite blocks, eighteen inches square, cut from the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada. Here it is that the Faits' invited guests can see how solidly the whole house was built. For they know they are looking at the solid foundation on which the house has stood for these many years.
Very little in this house has been modernized. A first floor bathroom and a fire alarm system are the only apparent changes in the entire house.
A small room, two steps up from the second floor hall into the cupola, was the study of Phillip Cohn. It was here he re-treated from the noise of his family. Large enough only for his desk built against the east wall and a bench for two beside it, the room was hardly large enough to encourage many visitors. Consequently, only those he took into this sanctuary ever went there.
The Cohn Mansion, unlike most Victorian houses, has less than its share of ornate fireplaces. It has only two : one in its first-floor double parlor and a second one in the second-floor master bedroom.
The mantle over the fireplace in the parlor once held one of the most complete collections of Indian baskets, made by the many tribes of California Indians, that was not a part of a museum in the Sacramento area. They were collected by Phillip Cohn during his travels about the state. Once these baskets were the prize possession of his daughter, Mrs. Dora Jacobs, when she made her home here.
Dora's daughter, Miss Alice Jacobs, is the remaining representative of the Cohn family now living in Folsom. She was the last of the Cohns to live in the family home.
PHILLIP C. COHN
Senator Cohn, represented Sacramento County in the California State Senate from 1913 to 1916. He is shown here at his Senate desk.
Photo courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Fait
1. Dora, who married Julius Jacobs; Mabel, later Mrs. Z. Williams; Selma, who is married to Judge Albert H. Mundt; Henrietta, who married Lloyd Whelan; Simon A. Cohn (1901-1956); and Charles P. Cohn.
2. Simon Cohn (1830-1895), born in Poland, arrived in California in 1852 and in 1856 settled in Folsom. His signature, written in 1857, was found recently in a journal of Folsom's original fire company. He is interred in what was the Folsom Jewish Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery), which had been established by the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Folsom. This organization was founded in 1860 at the urging of the traveler, I. J. Benjamin. See his THREE YEARS IN AMERICA, 1859-1862, translated from the German by Charles Reznkoff, (Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1956) Volume II, p. 49. See also Winfield J. Davis, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1890), pp. 690-691.
3. Phillip C. Cohn, born in New York City, settled in Folsom in 1874. In 1912, he ran for the California State Senate. He was elected and served, representing Sacramento County, from 1913 to 1916. See Frank C. Jordan, compiler, CALIFORNIA BLUE BOOK OR STATE ROSTER, 1913-1915, (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1915), p. 495.
4. Jacob Hyman (1830-1902), a native of Poland, was another early Jewish figure in Folsom, arriving there in 1860. He is interred in Lakeside Cemetery in the portion which was originally the cemetery of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Folsom. See Winfield J. Davis, op. cit., pp. 678-79.
Davis, Winfield J., AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA (1890).
The Folsom Telegraph, 1863-1900, in California State Library, Sacramento. Jacobs, Dora Cohn (1887-1957), interview by author, 1956.
Jordan, Frank C., CALIFORNIA BLUE BOOS OR STATE ROSTER, 1913-1915 (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1915).
Judah, Theodore, "Map of Folsom, California, 1856), Sacramento County Recorder's Office.
Lakeside Memorial Lawn Cemetery headstones.