Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Palace of the Livingstons: A Tale About Staatsburg from Our Fellow Bloggers

This sharp little tale of neighboring Staatsburgh State Historic Site is one of the livelier retellings of this old story that we've read yet.  It was written by Conrad Hanson, executive director of the Friends of Clermont, a Woods Road resident, and author of the Schoolfield Country House Blog.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Get Set: A Set of Girls' Petticoats in Clermont Collections

Part of our pursuit as a museum is to recapture the day-to-day of people's lives, and one of the most common experiences for parents is getting their children dressed every morning.

Dressing children throughout history has been fraught with  issues practical, moral, emotional, and financial.  What is appropriate for their age and gender?  How well does it fit current fashions?  How well can it be cleaned?  How long will it last before the child outgrows it, and a new one must take its place?  How on earth do you convince a young child to hurry up and put their clothes on!? (okay so the last one is one from my own experience)

In 1830, Lydia Child devoted a seven-page chapter in "The Mother's Book" to "Beauty - Dress - Gentility," in which she warned

"Extravagance in dress does great mischief both to fortune and character; but want of neatness and want of taste are peculiarly disgusting."

Even then, the fear of placing to great an emphasis on physical beauty was being balanced with the concern that the opposite extreme would leave children looking like sloppy urchins.  Louisa May Alcott balanced the same concerns in her books, first admonishing Jo in "Little Women" to wear a corset lest she look unseemly, and then gently scolding Meg for borrowing a French corset that pinched her sides for the sake of vanity.

Clermont's costume collection houses a good selection of children's costumes, especially from Honoria and Janet (above, at right): baby gowns and caps, children's dresses, and even dress-up costumes lovingly folded up and stored as reminders for the future.

But the box that caught my this time was a collection of things that appears to have been from their mother's generation.  Alice Delafield Clarkson (at left) was born in 1872 and grew up largely at nearby Holcroft.  She was a well-dressed young lady and fairly representative of what you might expect a well-to-do girl of the late 19th century to look like.  It is likely the little trove I found belonged to her since on quick inspection, the shape is more consistent with torso-hugging late-nineteenth century modes than the broader ones of Honoria and Janet's childhoods.

The big gray garment box contained exactly nine items: a light-as-air cotton slip or petticoat and 8 matching flannel petticoats.  These plain clothes were finely-made without being showy-- practical without being dull.  They were just the thing for little Alice.

The petticoats are cream wool flannel, surprisingly soft and light if you haven't handled a lot of historic wool products.  Wool could be woven in many weights and textures--a lot of which have been abandoned today.
Growth tucks have been let out.

At 29" long, the petticoats likely fell somewhere below the knee for their original wearer.  Little girls wore short skirts until somewhere in their early or mid teens.  It allowed them the physical freedom to run and climb and play.

In spite of their almost utilitarian look, they are finely constructed, with neat little flat-felled seems, and pretty hand-embroidery along the scalloped hem.

Button holes in waistband.
You can see in the picture at right that there is a long fold along the bottom.  That was a growth tuck: a little fold of fabric stitched in place that could be released as the child got taller (see below at left).  These tucks have all been let out, but the wool was pressed in that fold for so long, it was apparently hard to convince it to stay down flat.

The waistbands all have button holes in them. The could then be attached to a vest or corset waist like the Ferris Good Sense waist shown above.  This popular technique kept the petticoats from slipping down a child's straight-waisted body and falling off all the time.  

These petticoats address many of the problems that mother faced when dressing their children: balancing beauty with economy and practicality.

Embroidered hem is constructed by folding the fabric under,
embroidering the scalloped edge, and trimming away the
excess fabric.
The repetition of eight matching petticoats gives a sense of the repetition of the morning routine, and perhaps that is what I like best about them.  Eight matching petticoats would have eliminated the need to do much thinking in the morning when dressing a child. They could be piled on top of each other for extra warmth.  They could be relied upon as one easy step among all the challenges of parenting.

While Alice was most likely dressed by a nanny in the morning, just like her own children thirty years later, the job of selecting and purchasing her clothing still would have fallen to her mother.  It was just one of the many way wealthy mothers supervised their children's health and upbringing while delegating the mundane activities of dressing, feeding, and basic instruction to servants, while reserving an hour or so each day for their version of today's "quality time."

So these petticoats were most likely worn by Alice, chosen and purchased by her mother, and put on the girl by her nursemaid.  That's a little piece of three different people's "every day," all from one set of undergarments!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Looking for a Livingston Family Resemblance

 One of the first questions people want to know about a baby is "Who does it look like: the mother or the father?"  With babies, this can be a hard call.  How do you compare a baby's face to a grown-up's?  But photography gives us a great tool for comparing people at the same age, and who doesn't love pulling out their old baby photos for comparison?

A while ago, I got into a debate with my mother about who was in a photograph: her or my sister?  (I finally won when I pointed out my sister as a baby in the background of the photo).  And thinking of this made me wonder if the Livingston family resemblance--which has often been heralded as being pretty intense--would show up as well in photos.

So below I have assembled three Livingston mothers and daughters for comparison.  See what you think:

1.  Alice Delafield Clarkson (1840s-1910s) and Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston (1872-1964)

Our Alice (Honoria and Janet's mom) was, in fact, named after her mother, and--lucky for us--the two were both photographed around the same age.  Alice the Younger is 8 years old in her photo on the right, a little girl with knee-length skirts and loose wavy hair, which were markers of childhood in the late 19th century.  I like the fact that the large, regular waves suggest that she wore her hair in braids when she went to bed.

Her mother appears to be about the same age when her photograph was taken, maybe a year or two older, although the caption in our archives has her labeled as 16.  She is wearing a large coat with sloped shoulders in a popular silhouette for the 1850s, and her shorter skirt (just ankle length) is held out by a nicely rounded hoop.  Her big sausage curls suggest that instead of braids, she slept last night in rag curls.

Finding a likeness in the two girls means zooming in for a closer look, but their similarities aren't necessarily as easy to express as the details of their clothes.  Is it the nose?  Is it the chin?  The clothing is distracting, but nevertheless it's not unbelievable that the girls are related.

Alice Livingston and her mother seemed to have had a pretty close relationship when she grew up.  Her parents might have begun to despair of ever seeing grandchildren by the time Alice finally had children at 36, but once she did they did their best to be part of the girls' lives with regular visits.  Alice also kept her mother abreast of the day-to-day details of her babies' lives by writing letters.  Everything from overall behavior to diet and digestive function were worth sharing.  Alice also sought comfort from her mother when Arryl House burned down and talked to her about her distress over her husband's reaction to the loss.  It's the sort of relationship that many of us might recognize today, only with less texting.

2.  Catherine Hammersly Livingston (?-1873) and Katherine Livingston Timpson (1873-1933)

If working from two photographs was hard, it's a little harder working from a photograph (right) and a photograph of a painted portrait (left).  But that is all we have for Catherine.  Nevertheless, seeing the women as adults makes it a little easier to identify their similarities.  Maybe it's just easier having a fully-developed facial structure that helps.

Katherine was not lucky enough to have her mother's advice about children when she grew up.  Her mother had died shortly after Katherine's birth, and instead the little girl was raised first by her aunts and later by her step mother.

Instead, Catherine's only way to directly ensure her daughter's future was through a sizable trust fund.  This money helped Katherine throughout her life, paying for swimming and tennis lessons, trips to Bar Harbor, and traveling in England and all over the world as a young woman.  Years later, when Katherine's marriage grew rocky, that money also helped her to purchase her own house and live financially secure away from her husband, something that not all women in her situation could hope for.

3.  Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston (1782-1964) and Honoria Livingston McVitty (1909-2000)  

Alice Livingston (from above) grew up and eventually had two children of her own: Honoria (at right) and Janet.  Honoria was a glamorous girl who definitely got her mother's large, dark eyes.  Beyond that, though, the two look very different.  Photographed somewhere around their mid 20s, it's not easy for me to pick out the similarities.

Like Alice and her mother, Honoria and Alice also remained fairly close as the years went on.  In fact, after Honoria married, the newlyweds moved into Sylvan Cottage, about 1/2 a mile away just inside Clermont's gate.  A few years later, her mother moved into the property's other cottage, and the two women lived down the road from one another for the next 20 years, until Alice's death at 92 years old.

I was kind of interested to notice that Honoria looks even more like her sisters: Janet and her half-sister Katherine.  I guess there really is a family resemblance after all.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Summer Retreat: The Livingstons and Bar Harbor

While she was paging through some files, Clermont's Education Assistant Emily discovered a little photocopy of Alice Livingston's 1964 obituary.

Let me just explain the "files."  People have done a lot of research here over the years, and it's all kept in 4 drawer filing cabinet full of photocopies and hand-written transcripts.  Or sometimes it's buried in someone's computer files.  Or sometimes it didn't get put into a file folder, and I find it floating around my office a few years later.

Actually, that was the case with the obituary.  I put it in Alice's file folder now so it won't be such a "discovery" the next time.

The obituary contained the usual:

"Mrs John Henry Livingston, 92, died April 20 in Tivoli-on-Hudson at her home 'Clermont Cottage."

Yup, that's right, she died in the cottage.  Ghosts, anyone?

But it also included a brief run-down of the places she'd lived with her husband John Henry:

"For two years after their marriage, the couple lived in Europe.  In addition to the estate 'Clermont,' they owned homes in Aiken, S.C., and Bar Harbor, Maine..."

Wait a minute!  As a native Mainer, I couldn't let the Maine residence slide by unnoticed.  This little reference was also interesting seeing as John Henry's older daughter Katherine Livingston had charged two trips to Bar Harbor against her trust fund in 1887 and 1890.

Just a few minutes on Google gave me a fuller picture of the Livingstons' relationship with Mount Desert Island.  At various times, the Livingstons owned at least 9 cottages in the popular resort town.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Bar Harbor's "cottages," they were serious business.  They were given exotic and romantic sounding names like "Blair Eyrie" (at left), "Witch Cliff," and "Casa Far Niente."  The most extravagant cottages could sport as many as 80 rooms, plus 30 more for servants (Wingwood House, built 1925).  They were crowned with towers and wrapped in broad porches and balconies.  The gardens were elegant; the rooms were refined.  In short, it was the fashionable "anti-Newport."

Chatwold is best known as belonging to Joseph Pulitzer,
but it was first constructed for a Livingston bride.
The town's reputation as a summer playground for the wealthy had begun some decades earlier with the arrival of artists like Frederic Church.  By the end of the century members of the Vanderbilt family and Joseph Pulitzer were traveling there every summer.  In 1888 "Chilsholm's Mount Desert Guide Book" called the town, "the unchallengeable queen of eastern summer resorts."

Still another called Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island  by W.D. Lapham and published the same year described the summer season thus:

"From June to early September, its streets are thronged by the gayly dressed, migratory butterflies of the world of fashion, airing their silken wings in the cool sunshine of the Maine coast..."

The Livingstons evidently enjoyed "the queen" of resort towns as well.  Chisholm's explained:

"Beyond St Sylvia's stands the cottage of Morris K. Jessup, the New-York banker; opposite which is the handsome new place of Col. E. W. Bass, a professor at West Point.  Beyond (on the right) is Marigold, built in 1888 for Clermont Livingston; and The Bowlder, the new house of [his grandson] Clermont DePeyster."

Clermont Livingston, 1880
So Clermont, Alice's father-in-law, was something more than just the homebody gentleman farmer we remember him as from his farm journals.  In 1888 he built a brand new place for himself in one of the most fashionable (and relatively remote) watering holes of the era.  Hmmmm.  One has to expect that if he built a house there--instead of just staying in one of the many grand hotels--he was expecting to visit on an almost annual basis and stay for an extended period of time.

St. Sylvia's Catholic church was just down the road from
Clermont Livingston's house on Kebo St.
These two residences also informed Katherine's 1887 and 1890 trips.  Clermont DePeyster grew up in the the same household as Katherine under her father's care.  He was her first cousin (and thus the grandson of Clermont Livingston), but the two seemed to have had more of a brother-sister relationship.  He was about 20 when he built his Bar Harbor house around 1888 so perhaps Katherine was staying with her cousin, if not her grandfather on some of those trips.

"Rocklyn" was Philip Livingston's second Bar Harbor cottage
and dates back to 1881-2
In addition to the two Clermonts' homes, other Livingstons owned Bar Harbor cottages as well. When Louise Bowler married into the Livingston family in the late 1880s, she brought the celebrated "Chatwold" with her.  "Callendar House"--an "imposing" brick Colonial Revival house on Schooner Head Rd.--was built, burned and rebuilt in 1901-1904 by Mrs. John C. Livingston. Philip Livingston built "Far View" in 1909 on Eden St., only one year after his wife had died in another Bar Harbor residence--possibly "Rocklyn" on Eden St (at left).  Johnston Livingston owned the predictably-named "Livingstone" cottage on Kebo Street, not far from Clermont Livingston's house Marigold.  It appears that unlike some, Johnston Livingston was in Bar Harbor for the long haul, appearing not only in an 1888 guidebook, but also a 1905 social register.

Herbert Livingston Satterlee had some sort of house on Great Head, but I can't find a reference to its name or appearance.  My only clues were photos showing the view from the house, which turned up on the Library of Congress website.

When it comes to John Henry and Alice Livingston and the mystery of the house mentioned in the obituary, things get more confusing.

According to the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, John Henry appears to have inherited his nephew's house "The Boulder" on Kebo St.  There is no word on "Marigold," as Chisholm's Guide called Clermont Livingston's house, but it does say that in 1904 John Henry owned "Teviot," also on the west side of Kebo St.  It is possible that he inherited his father's cottage and renamed it. ("Teviot" appears to have been sold by 1905 to another New York family named Auchincloss.)

The MDI Historical Society also lists John Henry Livingston as owner of "The Triangle" at the intersection of Eden St. and Mount Desert St.  So at various times he owned three different Bar Harbor cottages?  Well, la-di-dah!

You might be wondering what on earth did people do in Bar Harbor, and from my research it turns out they did pretty much the same thing that people do there today:  they road around on the pretty back roads and bridle paths.  They hiked.  They rented canoes and paddled around the harbor, as Edith Warton recalled doing in her youth.  They went yachting.  "The bay throughout the season is crowded with yachts," wrote the Lapham guide.  The water was deemed too cold for swimming, but still they played along the water's edge, exploring the tide pools or dipping their toes into the water at sandy spots.  They shopped, mingled at balls, and parties, and dances, and flirted with one another on the broad porches of the hotels.

The Lapham guide wrote:

"The cottages vie with each other all summer, in afternoon and evening parties in all varieties known and these, with formal calling, make the social burden almost as heavy as in town."

Shopping was as much a part of vacationing then as now.  Chilholm's guide wrote:

"Main Street ...is lined by the chief shops of the village, and several of its hotels.  It is a busy, crowded street, with plank sidewalks, and borders of irregular and huddled buildings.  In the Oriental stores are treasures of Banares brass and India silks; at Huyler's delicious ice-cream soda and confections, Jacqueminot roses and pink pond-lilies;...at Bee's the novels and newspapers of the day; at the Indian stores odd baskets and carvings; at Koopman's and Clothier's rare antiques and old English furniture, Norwegian silverware, and other precious bric-a-brac."  
Main St. 1888

The list goes on and on.

Men gathered at the Mount Desert Reading Room, a palatial new building that housed "a spacious hall, billiard-room, smoking-room, reception-room, parlors, library, and reading-rooms, each with a great fireplace and beautiful architectural details."

It was this brilliant and bubbly world that Alice and her husband, or Katherine before that, would travel to in the summers.  After arriving by steamer (or later by train), they would breath in the the renowned Bar Harbor air, flag down some sort of cart, buckboard, or carriage, and ride up the hill to whichever quiet cottage was waiting for them, windows open, curtains blowing in the breeze.

What happened to all of these glamorous and beautiful cottages?  Can you go on a tour of Livingston homes in Bar Harbor?

Sadly no.  In 1947, a devastating fire wreaked havoc on most of the island, destroying a large part of the island's architectural treasures, particularly in the town of Bar Harbor.  While some of the cottages survived, many were torn down in the decades to come as they became too onerous to keep up, or needed to make way for more fashionable and lucrative accommodations.

Today Bar Harbor still has a number of the structures that made it famous.  Others are built on the magnificent terraces that remain from the gardens of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Ghosts of the past linger there, like this overgrown gate on Kebo St., just across from St. Silvia's church, where perhaps John Henry and Alice once heaved a sigh of relief to begin their Bar Harbor season.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

5 Things You Should Know About the Livingston Family

The Livingstons were an extremely prominent family in early American history, but lots of people today have never heard of them.  Here are seven facts you can whip out at a party to show that you know your American history:

1.  Robert R. Livingston did not sign the Declaration of Independence
(But he did help to write it)

Unless you follow Clermont's blog, (which we think you should!) Robert R. Livingston is probably the only Livingston you might have heard of.  We often get inquireies about him as "The Livingston who signed the Declaration of Independence," but in reality he never did.

He was a valued member of the 2nd Continental Congress, and he was one of John Jay's best friends.  He was part of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence (also including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Roger Sherman), and some think that the Declaration's striking similarity to the Dutch Plakkaat van Verlatinge--which declared the Netherlands independent from Spain in 1581--may be due to Livingston's New York upbringing.

Robert's family were greatly influenced by their Dutch heritage: his great grandfather had emigrated from the Netherlands, he spoke Dutch fluently, and New York itself held onto many important Dutch traditions.  The Plakkaat van Verlantinge was still being published in many Dutch publications while Robert was growing up, making it quite likely that he would have been familiar with it.  Did his input shape the structure of Jefferson's now-hallowed document?

Unfortunately for posterity, Robert left Congress before the Declaration was officially signed.  Torn between the need for strong federal government and the needs of New York State, Robert returned to Kingston, where he was just as active in trying to keep local order in the midst of a chaotic rebellion.

So which Livingston signed the Declaration of Independence?  It was Robert's cousin Philip who got immortalized on this national treasure.

2.  It wasn't just Robert R. Livingston who joined the American Revolution

It wasn't just Robert R. and Philip who were busy during the Revolution.  Quite a bit of the family found one way or another to get involved.  Robert's brother Henry Beekman Livingston was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army.  Another brother John (at below, at right) sold supplies to the army.

But it didn't just stop with Robert's immediate family.  William Livingston, who came from the manor side of the family, represented New Jersey in the Continental Congress and was the state's first governor.  A different Henry Livingston was also a Colonel in the Continental Army (which makes things really confusing when you're researching).  Still another, John Henry Livingston from Poughkeepsie (who became a Reverend later on) is noted for drawing a confession out of a prisoner with no more than a deadpan apology that that the man would be killed in the morning.

The Livingstons were numerous and prominent in a time of upheaval so their descendants were eager to track their activities.  While his might have been the most public and possibly the largest leadership role Robert R.'s contributions were part of a much wider family involvement.

3.  A Livingston Exhibited with the Hudson River School Painters

While many members of Livingston family were artistic, only one Montgomery Livingston was totally obsessed with art.  He was classically trained in Europe and returned to America in the late 1830s, eventually inheriting Chancellor Livingston's old mansion, New Clermont.  He quickly filled the house with canvases, a printing press, and other art supplies.

While Montgomery may not have achieved the rockstar notoriety of Thomas Cole or Frederick Church (who had residences nearby his own Hudson River home), he exhibited his paintings at the National Academy of Design, and a catalog of those works shows that he was traveling to many of the same places to generate his art: Mount Desert Island, the White Mountains, and a variety of Hudson River and Catskill destinations (Moore's Bridge above is one of those and is currently on exhibit in the NY state capital), as well as some Swiss scenes from his early travels.

His death at age 39 limited his overall output, and possibly played a part in limiting his fame as well.  Nevertheless Montgomery's work is still collected, and his White Mountains and Catskill Mountains scenes in particular seem to have generated a lasting legacy.

4.  The Livingstons constructed dozens of Hudson River Valley mansions

Clermont my have been the heart and soul of the Livingston clan, but it was certainly not the only mansion they called home.  Between both branches of the Livingstons, they owned some 900,000 acres of land at their peak, and over the generations, they divided that land up among their many children.  Livingston family members can claim links to about three dozen mansions in the area, once leading to the nickname "Livingston Valley."

From the 18th century through the late 19th, romantic names like Rokeby, Oak Hill, Edgewater, and Wildercliff cropped up as each child inherited their piece of Livingston land to start their family on.

Even with all these other mansions around, Clermont remained the center of the Livingston family as the oldest mansion that anyone really liked.  Sure Robert the First Lord built the first Livingston house where the Roeliff Jansen Kill flowed into the Hudson River.  That house was little more than a trading post however.  It was agreed that it was uncomfortable and unsuited to the life of a country gentleman, and it was torn down in the 18th century.  An heir tried to build a newer, grander manor house, but his inheritance was not what he expected, and he had to stop after completing just the basement and first floor (that house was called "The Hermitage").

Clermont was loved and honored by it's heirs, and they preserved it as a tribute to their family prowess, even while they updated it to sit their modern needs.

5.  There are many Livingstons still alive today (and they're all over the world)

 We get the question frequently--"Are there any Livingston left alive today?"  Yes!  The Livingston family is widespread, and many of them maintain relationships with Clermont and our Friends group.

Clermont's last residents Honoria and Janet never had children, which might give the impression that this was the end of the Livingstons.  But there are as many as three hundred that come to the Livingston Family Reunions every five years (at left).

Janet and Honoria may have been the last Livingstons to reside at Clermont, but the generations in the 18th and early 19th centuries had many families of 7-10 children, and Honoria had many, many cousins, second cousins, and so on.  Have you ever heard me reference the family genealogy?  It is no less than two inches thick, and must weight about seven or eight pounds.

Still other family members contact us periodically to clear up questions about their lineage or even to donate objects that relate to Clermont's history.  In fall of 2014 we were visited by Katherine Livingston Timpson's great-grandson, who generously donated a small cache of photos and portraits.  This gift gave us new insight into a portion of the family we knew little about after their 1905 move to England.

Yet another branch of the family contacted us long-distance from India, rekindling a relationship more than two hundred years after their Livingston ancestor fled New York because of Tory sentiments.

The prolific Livingston family left ancestors in many places all over the world, and almost all them carry some part of the pride that lead Alice Livingston to designate Clermont a museum in the 1960s.