Pictured is 217 Highland Avenue, known as the J.E. Masters House. The house was constructed in 1867 for Joseph Masters and was one of the first homes built in the Sedgwick Farms neighborhood, occupying a key corner at the Intersection of Highland Avenue and Oak Street. The house is probably better known as the former home to renowned author, Forbes Heermans.
Heermans was born in Syracuse in 1856 and received his early education in the Syracuse grammar and high schools before attending Cornell University, where he studied mechanical engineering. Upon graduation in 1878, Heermans returned home to become a clerk for a local manufacturing company. He began writing by submitting Sunday articles to The Herald, where he became friends with Arthur Jenkins, founder of the paper, and he soon began work as an editor.
Heermans would later move to New York City to work full-time as a writer for some of the city’s prominent newspapers at that time. He spent the late 1880s and early 1890s traveling the world, specifically the Pacific Coast, to continue his personal growth before settling back in Syracuse. Heermans would go onto write a large number of plays, novels and short stories.
Heermans is widely remembered as the editor of Edward Westcott’s “David Harum”, a book that sold over 1,000,000 copies. Westcott wrote the book on his deathbed, gaining strength and motivation from his friend, Heermans, as it was Westcott’s first and only book. When the pair had completed the book, they initially struggled to have it published as it was refused by six different companies, which frustrated Westcott greatly. He became so sick of the sight of the manuscript that he said he could smell it when he came into the room in which it was kept.
One evening, Heermans and Westcott sat beside an open fire and Westcott told Heermans that he was going to burn the book once he was alone. Heermans asked him to wait another day saying that he wanted to look it over once more and promised to return it after so Westcott could destroy it. Instead, Heermans sent the manuscript to Appleton Publishers, who accepted the work.
Sadly, Westcott would pass away before Appleton published the book and it became a bestseller. This was obviously a great source of accomplishment and joy for Heermans. At the end of his life, he would spend much of his final 2 years in the above pictured house, suffering from an illness, much like his friend, Westcott.
At the age of 72, he was interviewed by Catherine Hughes who in May 1928 wrote: “Someone has wisely said that the greatest things in life are found nearest home. Perhaps that is the philosophy which makes of Forbes Heermans, a gentle soul whose fancies shape themselves on the walls of his room and come to life through his slowly moving pen. Hemmed in as he is by illness, this optimist of 72, nevertheless finds that his fame rests within the four walls of his home at 217 Highland Avenue. Here he has found contentment, if not adventure, and here he labors with a pen which has produced some of the most stirring stories of the West that have ever been written.”
Heermans would pass away just months later and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.