If These Walls Could Talk... The Stirling Mansion

The world is full of historic buildings and structures.  We love to visit, learn the story and history, and photograph these structures to help preserve them for future generations.  Join us as we share the stories, history, and memories of historic buildings & structures we have had the pleasure of light painting.  

Christmas with a Side of Jazz

Jerry first met the owner, Cesar & Ricky, at an open house over the winter holiday season.  He was instantly taken with the beauty of the craftsmanship of the woodwork, the chandeliers, stained glass windows up the staircase, and the hand-painted ceilings.  Cesar & Ricky frequently host gatherings to showcase and promote local talented musicians.  Much like the Gertrude Sternbergh did during her lifelong residence at Stirling. 

The spotlight during this visit was on local Jazz singer, Lucille DiGiamberardino.  Her melodious voice delighted all that were in attendance.  Cesar gave Jerry a tour of the home and told of some of its histories.  It was very clear that Cesar not only appreciated the history of the building but shared a passion for the arts with the previous owners.  

The Gables at Stirling Guest Hotel is the new name of the Stirling Mansion.  From private events to large weddings, the Stirling is the perfect place for elegant occasions.  Brides can descend the magnificent grand open staircase complete with large stained glass windows and a mythological winged-female figure sconce.  Guests can mingle in the drawing-room with its massive stone and wood mantelpiece and beautiful columns complete with ionic capitals.  As you stand in the music room you wonder at all the sounds that these walls have heard over the last 120 years.  

 After touring the guest rooms and hearing some of the stories from Cesar, we knew we had to come back and preserve this regal place with one of our light paintings!   We love to hear, revel in, and preserve the history of the things around us.

Stirling Mansion

Sitting on a hill in Reading, Pennsylvania is the chateauesque style mansion built for James Harvey Sternbergh.  Some consider Stirling Mansion to be one of Berks Counties' last great private residences still in existence.  Stirling received its official designation as a historic place in 1980 when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Its construction started in 1890 and was finished in 1892.  Stirling Mansion was named after Stirling Castle in Scotland.  Stirling Castle was named for its impressive view and is considered one of the most castles in Great Britain.  When Sternbergh commissioned the mansion it was to be built in the far suburbs (at the time) of the City of Reading.  It too was built high and had an impressive view of the city below.

The mansion is a testimony to the vision and talent of both Sterngergh and American architect, Theophilus P. Chandler (1845-1928), who worked together to create the design.  The outside is magnificent with its granite ashlar, gargoyles, and delicate floriform carvings.  The balustraded veranda at the top of the twin curved steps invites visitors to stand and wonder at what was, what is, and what will be.  As Jerry was on the balcony adjoining the two 2nd level bedrooms, we wondered what kinds of secrets were shared there among the sisters.

The interior is just as magnificent as the outside!  The large, carved mantels, the mahogany wood, chandeliers, frescoes, stained glass windows are simply awe-inspiring.  One thing we appreciate is how master craftsmanship in wood and stone stands the test of time.  It is just as beautiful now as it was over 100 years ago.  If you stand still and close your eyes you can almost hear the peels of laughter, clinks of china, giggles of children, and the wonderful sounds of music that these rooms have heard over the years.

Today the 9 bedrooms have all had a full bathroom added to allow B&B guests to enjoy today's amenities while enjoying yesterday’s grandeur.  Each bedroom has hand-painted ceilings, decorative tile work, and other impressive accouterments that attest the Sternbergh’s spared no expense in creating their mansion.  The final family owner, Gertrude, was committed to maintaining the character of Stirling.  She commissioned the complete restoration of the hand-painted ceilings from master painters.  I can attest that laying in our bed and staring at the ceiling does make one wonder and dream.

The Original Owners of Stirling.

Stirling remained the private residence of the Sternbergh family for over one hundred years.  James Harvey Sternbergh was a local iron and steel magnate.  He was only 56 when he commissioned Chandler to design and build his mansion, which was a reflection of Sternbergh’s financial success, business acumen, and entrepreneurial skills.  Mr. Sternbergh settled in Reading in 1865 where he established his iron and rolling mill to make nuts, bolts, rivets, and washers.  He invented the grinding machine that enabled hard metals to be ground more effectively and for a cheaper cost than in the past.  He was said to have been an inventor at heart and in 1867 invented, designed, and patented the machine for making hot pressed nuts which were popular into the 20th century.  His products and machinery also won him many accolades & medals in prestigious places like the Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia in 1876, Chicago Exposition in 1883, New Orleans Exposition in 1865, and the Paris Exposition in 1876.

Mr. Sternbergh’s business skills were not his only positive attributes.  He was active in the Reading business community.  He served as a director in the Second National Bank of Reading and the Reading Trust company.  He also founded and was the first president of the Reading Board of Trade and founded the Reading Young Men’s Christian Association.  His civic and social interests were of importance to him.

The Sternbergh family, most recently James Harvey Sternbergh’s daughter Gertrude, carefully maintained the mansion.  Gertrude was born in the mansion and continued to live there until her passing in 1996.  Through the family's careful maintenance, Stirling remains much the same as it was when it was originally completed.  

Room #8.  Diana’s Suite.

We were thrilled that Cesar invited us to enjoy the Mansion after we spent several hours light painting the outside!  Oftentimes when we create one of our fine art images, we pack up in the wee hours and return home.  This would be different!  We did pack up our gear, but instead of returning home, we entered the empty mansion.  I imagined what it must have been like for Mrs. Sternbergh to be the lady of the house all those years ago.  I sat on the settee in front of the fireplace in the receiving hall and listened for the peels of laughter that were surely here at one time when the home was filled with 11 children.  As a father of a master woodworker, I have come to appreciate the beauty in hand-carved wood and this home did not disappoint.  My Dad would love to visit this place.  We spent the next hour or so wandering around the home exploring the 9 bedrooms, sitting rooms, and hidden passageways.  All of the bedrooms still have furniture that is original to the Sternbergh’s.  I walked into Gertrude’s childhood bedroom and smiled as I pictured a young girl playing with her dolls and shooing her brothers out.  

As I stood at the doorway to Room #8, I knew immediately that we’d be up late tonight.  We simply MUST light paint this room to preserve its glory.  From the four-poster bed, the sofa, dining table to the luxurious drapery to the carved wood and tile fireplace mantle and surround.  I was giddy with excitement to be able to have this room and this mansion all to ourselves for the evening!

 

Click here to see more images taken on our stay at The Stirling Mansion.

 

For more information on Jerry Keefer's Light Paintings visit KeeferFineArt.com.

Visit here if you're interested in staying at or having your event at The Gables at Stirling Guest Hotel.

 

 

About the author: Lori Keefer is an entrepreneur, Jerry’s other half, avid bird watcher, lover of a good cup of hot tea, and your guide in systems for the entrepreneur and essential oils. The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author. You can connect with her on her personal website, her business website,  on Facebook, or Instagram. 




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