George W. Fisher built this magnificent Queen Anne Victorian mansion for his wife Ella (Farnum) Fisher in 1885 for $20,000. The 35’ x 50’ carriage house cost another $4,000. It took one year to build the 20-room home, which features nine fireplaces, imported stained glass, and a variety of distinctive wood paneling and matching pocket doors (oak in the hall and dining room, cherry in the library, and mahogany in the parlor and front room). The house includes hand-painted ceilings, hardwood floors of various designs, walnut mantels, and ornate, hand-crafted firebacks, as well as several porches, and a three-story turret overlooking Grafton Common.
Imagine Victorian ladies and gentlemen arriving by carriage under the porte cochere to visit the Fishers, who were prominent, wealthy leaders in Grafton. A successful mill owner, George began working at his father’s textile mill in 1868 at 25 years old after graduating from Yale. When his father died, George oversaw the mills to increasing prosperity. Ella taught in Grafton schools for three years, but she also came from a wealthy family and was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her father Peter Farnum owned a textile mill within a mile of the Fisher Mill. From these mills sprouted Fisherville and Farnumville, villages populated by mill-working families, many of whom were Irish, Polish and French-Canadian immigrants. Labor was cheap and included children as there were no child-labor laws, but the Fishers were known for their generous support of churches, schools, and libraries to improve the quality of life in the villages.
When George, 33, married Ella, 21, on January 18, 1876, it was not only the social event of the year, it was the union of two very powerful Grafton families. But their lives were not without loss. In 1881, a fire destroyed the Fisher Mills; George scrambled to rebuild, investing heavily to expand the mill from its original 5,000 spindles to 40,000. The investment paid off as the Fisher Mills were quite profitable, employing 700 mill hands and producing more than 1.5 million yards of cloth in its heyday. Since there was no income tax, the Fishers’ wealth continued to grow, yet Ella and George remained childless. They lived together in their lovely mansion only 15 years. George died in 1900, leaving Ella a widow, and although she lived another 49 years, she never remarried.