[Featured Image courtesy of Barbara Nielsen – Cray House, 603 South 2nd Street, circa 1927]

By Julie Schrader

The Cray House, located at 603 South Second Street in Mankato, was the former residence of Mankato entrepreneur, Lorin P. Cray and his wife, Lulu.

The elegant Queen Anne style house, built in 1898 at a cost of $13,000, is constructed of buff Chaska brick, red Mankato brick, pink granite, and Kasota limestone. The house was designed by architect Frank Thayer and William Mitchell was the contractor for the exterior.

Typical of the period are the towers, side balcony, garland design porch trim, columns, and the stained, etched and beveled glass windows. The exterior of the house remains essentially the same as when it was built.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen- The grand staircase decorated for the YWCA Centennial Anniversary of the Cray House in 1998.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen – The grand staircase decorated for the YWCA Centennial Anniversary of the Cray House in 1998.

Judson Day and his partner Ebenezer Sheldon were awarded the contract for the interior. Special design features of the interior are the beautiful honey oak woodwork which features a hand carved garland and rosette design, a perforated spandrel arch between the reception hall and the alcove. Guests entered the reception hall and would wait until the maid summoned Lulu or Lorin or they could leave their calling card in a tray for the Cray’s.

The Cray’s love of music and the opera included a Victrola in the parlor and a grand piano in the living room.

The grand staircase has rope design balusters that turn on a landing in the tower. The only fireplace is in the library, which is where the Cray’s spent much of their private time.

Cray House, 603 South 2nd Street, circa 1927
Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen – Cray House, 603 South 2nd Street, circa 1927

On the second floor there are three large guest bedrooms, a master bedroom with adjoining dressing room, a maid’s room, and a modernized bathroom.

During the time the Cray’s were living in the home, these were sleeping quarters for themselves and their guests. During the 1930s-1960s, these rooms were home to many girls from small towns who came to Mankato to attend the Commercial College or the Normal School (Minnesota State University, Mankato). A house mother was in charge and rules were strict.

The third floor or ballroom had a wide board hardwood floor for dancing, theater, opera, and parties hosted by the Crays. The famous operatic soprano, Lily Pons, once sang to a house full of guests.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen - Cray House, 2003
Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen – Cray House, 2003

Brilliant Affair

The following excerpts from an article that appeared in the Mankato Free Press on January 2, 1900, describes the elegant entertaining that often took place at the Cray home.

Reception at Judge Cray Residence Last Evening

Mr. and Mrs. Cray and Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Delightfully Entertain 200

One of the most successful functions ever given in the city was the reception last evening given by Judge and Mrs. Lorin Cray and Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Spencer at the residence of the former, 603 South Second Street.

Prof. Brastad’s mandolin orchestra were stationed at the head of the stairway and rendered a number of pleasing selections while the guests were arriving, and afterwards furnished inspiration and time for the dancers. As the guests descended the stairs from the dressing rooms, to which they had been directed by polite little ushers, their names were announced and they were received in the drawing room by the hosts and the hostesses, who extended a cordial greeting and wished each a happy New Year.

The splendid and costly new residence of Judge and Mrs. Cray presented a most brilliant scene. The two floors and the attic were thrown open to the guests and were aglow with electric lights. Each room was tastefully decorated with cut flowers and festoons of evergreens, while in the dancing apartment two huge American flags were extended across the center in graceful folds. Punch bowls were set at convenient places, and delightful refreshments were served throughout the evening in the dining room. At ten o’clock the dancing began in the large attic department and continued for two or three hours. Handsome souvenir programs were supplied the guests, containing a list of ten dances. The mandolin orchestra received many compliments on its excellence. Judge Cray and his estimable wife have every reason to feel proud of their fine mansion which they occupy, and which is truly an adornment to the city.

Getting to the Cray House

Warren Street did not go by the Cray house when it was built. The Crays most often used the side porch entrance onto Warren Court instead of the formal entrance onto Second Street. The mounting block for the carriage was located in Warren Court. A carriage house was once located on the east side of the house.

The Cray’s had one of the first two automobiles owned in Mankato. The chauffeur would often arrive late because people on the street would stop to ask questions about the vehicle. A chauffeur, a maid, and a cook were employed by the Cray’s. The maid’s room was on the second floor and there was a maid’s stairway to the kitchen that led to the second floor.

Lorin Cray

Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen - Lorin Cray
Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen – Lorin Cray

Lorin Cray was born October 19, 1844, in Mooers, New York. He was the son of Delevan and Charlotte (Chappel) Cray.

His family moved to Wisconsin and then in 1859 moved to Blue Earth County, MN. At 17 years of age, young Cray enlisted in Co. D, 9th MN Volunteers and served in the Dakota Conflict and the Civil War. He was severely wounded in the shoulder at the battle of Nashville, Tennessee.

Behind his activities, however, was a thoughtful sympathy and tenderness for the human side of life. He never lost the human touch. March 1927 Mankato Free Press obituary of Judge Lorin Cray

In 1869 he married Sarah Tremble who died in 1890.

Lorin was admitted to the bar in 1875. He opened a law office in Lake Crystal where he practiced until 1887, when he moved to Mankato. Judge Cray served as the attorney for the Chicago, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Omaha Railway Co. and the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Co. He served as Judge for the Sixth Judicial District until 1908.

Judge Cray was the first president of the Mankato Citizen’s Telephone Company and president of the First National Bank. He was active in the Old Settlers Territorial Association, the Blue Earth County Historical Society, First Presbyterian Church and was instrumental in the organization of the YWCA in Mankato.

Lulu Murphy Cray

Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen - Lulu Murphy Cray, ca. 1912.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen – Lulu Murphy Cray, ca. 1912.

Lulu Murphy Cray was born April 26, 1860, in Lake Crystal, MN. She was the daughter of Civil War Captain A.J. Murphy and his wife Nancy Snowden who came to Minnesota and settled on a farm on the shore of beautiful Crystal Lake.

Captain Murphy became the proprietor of the Central Hotel and raised a family of three children: John Craig, Lulu, and James.

Her family described her as a woman of strong convictions and a sincere Christian, kind friend, and an extremely generous and charitable person.

Lulu was working as a drapery designer and seamstress when she met widower attorney Lorin Cray in Lake Crystal. They were married on September 18, 1892, in a ceremony held at Lulu’s brother, James Murphy’s farm near the shores of Loon Lake. Judge Cray and his wife Lulu moved into their new residence in Mankato in 1899, later to become known as the Cray Mansion.

Lulu was a seamstress and what today we would call an interior designer. She sewed and fashioned draperies.

She was a kind, gracious and cheerful woman. She was always happy to greet people and she enjoyed entertaining guests. Josephine Murphy, Lulu’s niece, often reminisced and told of the grand parties that she attended at the Cray mansion. Lulu loved to have dinner parties. Her table would be set with the delicate white Haviland china which her mother purchased in Europe years before and had given to her only daughter. Their large dining room table was designed with buzzers beneath the tabletop so that Lulu or Lorin could summon the servants from the kitchen to serve the guests.

Lulu made sure that every guest had a gift at his or her place at the dining table. Quite often she would give the women pink roses, as she seemed to have a fondness for the color pink. Often following their dinners, the Cray’s would entertain their guests with dancing, theater or music events that were held in the ballroom in the upstairs attic.

Christmas at the Mansion

Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen - Christmas tree in the Cray Mansion, 1998
Photo courtesy of Barbara Neilsen – Christmas tree in the Cray Mansion, 1998

Christmas became a special time at the mansion for Lulu’s family. Every window in the living room was adorned with evergreen wreaths and a large, decorated Christmas tree.

In 1926, Jean Rose Sutherland (Lulu’s great niece) was treated to a Christmas party in which Lulu dressed up like Santa Claus. All the preparations were done for Jean Rose’s enjoyment.

The passing of Lorin & Lulu

Judge Lorin Cray passed away March 3, 1927, at the age of 82.

Front page coverage on the Mankato Free Press stated:

“Born in an age where the survival of the fittest was a common term, pushed on always by a restless, ambitious spirit, added by great energy and dominated by a keen mind, he fought his way to the very front ranks of hardy pioneers. Behind his activities, however, was a thoughtful sympathy and tenderness for the human side of life. He never lost the human touch.”

Just a few short months later Lulu passed away on August 1, 1927, while on a trip in Duluth, Minnesota. Her family described her as a woman of strong convictions and a sincere Christian, kind friend, and an extremely generous and charitable person. She was very close to her nephew, James Murphy and nieces, Josephine, Louella, and Flora Murphy.

Judge Lorin and Mrs. Cray gave to their family as well as their community. Their last gift was to bequeath their home and a trust fund to the Mankato YWCA, as organization they had a personal interest in from the time it was formed in Mankato.

Lorin and Lulu Cray are buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Mankato.

Author


  • Julie Schrader is a long-time Mankato area resident, author, historian, and owner of Minnesota Heritage Publishing. She also authors the blog, Betsy-Tacy's Deep Valley.