Friday, July 30, 2010

Potty Mouth: Archeological Find at Clermont

Clermont has been a busy place for the past few weeks as we were granted some special attention from our state maintenance crews. Much-needed work has been completed on pathways, utility buildings, and inside the mansion.

At right you can see our Master Plasterer Scott Pulver drilling holes into the ceiling of the Sewing Room (image removed). These holes were then injected with a substance that re-adhered failing plaster to the ceiling before being re-filled and plastered over. This laborious process not only repaired the damage done by a leak in 2008, but also preserved the historic plaster underneath. Wow!

But while work was being done in some previously-excavated areas, our work crews happened upon a few archeological finds. They were kind enough to preserve them for us: a few thick pieces of green glass, a wine glass base, an oyster shell, and several pieces of blue ceramic (shown below).

There was much speculation around the office about the interesting bits and pieces. What were they from?




We were then paid a visit by the State archeology team last Wednesday as they dug test pits near Clermont Cottage to prepare for future restoration work on that building. While the crew was here, we took the opportunity to pack our archeological finds off with them.

The wine bottles were indeed 18th century, as we had guessed, and here's what archeologist Paul Huey had to say about the blue ceramic sherds:


Fragments of an engine-turned and decorated pearlware chamber pot, originally with a rim diameter of 8.5 inches, dating ca. 1780 to 1820.

“Several fragments of pearlware are from an engine-turned and decorated pearlware chamber pot. It would date from between about 1780 and 1820, and the diameter of the rim was originally 8.5 inches. Pearlware with the same inlaid rouletted checkering pattern were excavated at the site of Fort Watson in South Carolina, occupied in 1780 and 1781. Examples of this type of ware were also excavated in a privy pit at McKnight’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, filled about 1810, according to Ivor Noël Hume.”

Such a nice dovetail with our earlier post about bathrooms at Clermont! There you have the pre-plumbing indoor bathroom neatly unearthed in our back yard.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Shall We Set the Table?

For many modern Americans casual home dining has limited the importance of setting a fancy dinner table. But at Clermont and in an historic sites around the country, setting and re-setting the dining room table seasonally is something that we put a lot of thought into.


Setting and re-setting the dining room table at Clermont is rather a big deal. This is for a number of reasons.

First of all, you have to think of almost every single thing on the table (each plate, each fork, each spoon) as a separate artifact. This fact alone means that on any given day, our dining table can be set with 30-75 artifacts which must be appropriately handled, checked for wear, and have their movements tracked so nothing is lost. They can also be composed of up to four materials (metal, ceramic, wood, and one time horn), each of which also has different rules for handling.

Then you mix in the props--faux food, flowers, and decorative items--and you have a lot to manage to create a new table setting. Even something as "simple" as changing the table cloth can mean a couple hours worth of work.

Here at Clermont, we do it about three times per year: once in the spring, once in the fall for Halloween, and a grand festive setting for Christmas (seen above at left).

And that's just the half of it. Setting the table in an historic house is not just as simple as finding a good ettiquette book and following the instructions. Modern table setting diagrams, like the one at right, can be found all over, along with lovely ideas for fancy table settings, but I'm not setting a modern table.

I need to think about a number of factors when preparing our table.

--What time period are we representing?
--What kind of meal? Daily dinner? Formal party?
--What time of year is it? Is there a holiday that should be taken into consideration?
--Are there any original source documents that tell me what Alice did in this case?

Luckily for some sites, extravegant meals and parties resulted in lots of visitor accounts of how the table was set. Our neighbors at Olana have a wonderful collection of visitors' accounts of the table settings there. What flowers were used and how they were arranged? What dishes or foods were appropriate for the season? How should we set the table for a birthday? They've got a lot of answers to look to (for a 360 degree image of their dining room in spring, click here). Period desrciptions, when you have them, are absolutely invaluable.


I need to think more about what Alice and John Henry Livingston would have liked just 100 years ago, but Alice did not write about her dining room table--at least not in anything that I have found yet. I have to get a little more creative with my research.

In an interview with her daughter Honoria, we found that the silver candlesticks left by the Chancellor were usually arranged in the middle of the table for light (no overhead lighting was ever installed in the room) and two later candlesticks stayed on the pier tables at either end of the room for additional light. As a result of this interview, you will find those candlesticks almost invariably out on display in those locations. Because they are almost always there, we have been able to wire them with electric candles that provide a nice romantic glow on rainy days or after-dark tours.

Moving on to dishes, I have a reasonably broad selection to consider. All of them come from different time periods as far back as the late 18th century, but Alice liked to use the old dishes to show off her family's herritage. She would have picked and chosen what colors and patterns fit the season and her personal tastes. There's a nebulous descriptor for you--her personal tastes. It's hard to guess at someone's taste when they've been deceased for fifty years. At least I know what she didn't like. Alice tucked away the plates shown at right away in the Cow Barn for years. They would have been fashionable during her youth, and Alice's decor did not favor Victorian touches like this.

Instead she seemed to favor things that came from a few generations earlier, particularly the Federal era (around 1790-1820). These would have blended better with her Colonial Revival decor. The serving dish at left for instance was purchased by Chancellor Livingston in France around 1801, and would have provided Alice not only with a pretty table setting, but also a good excuse to talk about her fine pedigree.



Once I have my dishes, silverware, and glassware picked out, then comes time to lay them all out. It's not just as simple as "forks on the left, glasses on the right" like I do at home. Instead I rely on Alice's little book of "Table Service and Decoration." I've already blogged about this book's wearying collection of rules for table ettiquette. It's not even all that complex in the grand scheme of history. But it gives the propper layout and usage of each little piece of silverware and dish--right down to which way to point the knife blade (in towards the plate).


Since we are interpretting the twentieth century, we do not get as elaborate as some historic sites (a Guilded Age site might include as many as ten or more forks). A usual setting here includes 2-4 forks--one for each course, with the exception of the soup course, which gets a spoon. Some clever napkin folding (a decorative element that dates well back into the nineteenth century), and a few wine and water glasses, and the place settings are complete.



No fancy dining table could be complete without a centerpiece (check out Staatsburg State Historic Site's at right!), and at Clermont these range from the simple to the large and elaborate. Fashion for centerpieces changed regularly dating back for centuries. At some points, huge sugar creations of classical buildings (complete with working canals and boats) could adorn a high profile party table. Long-standing traditions focused on floral arrangements or evergreens in the winter, augmented with porcelains, ribbons, or other colorful bits. Period magazines are repleat with ideas, further supporting the concept of how important they were.


The secret to a good centerpiece has turned out to be getting some height (we generally insert some thick books or upside-down dishes in the middle) to build an appealing overall shape. If you have one (though sadly we do not) a good epergne adds an historical touch of class. Some of these date back to 18th century and were filled with colorful candies and other things that would add beauty to a table. A tall fruit bowl (below) or footed compote (right) is a good second, and our tall candlesticks on either side add some height as well. Alice's centerpieces can't be too tall or that diners could not see over them. On longer dinner tables, you were expected to talk to the diners on your right or left, but with only six place settings here, it would be a bad idea to build a wall between sides of the table.

Voila! The table is complete. After a few hours of research and a few more of moving artifacts, the seasonal table alterations are complete. The next time you stop by a historic site and pause in the dining room to admire a well-set table, be sure to remember just how much thought went into each bit of it. Or perhaps, like me, you can take a few of these handy suggestions home and impress your own guests. Ever since I got my own footed compote as wedding gift (I do wish I'd registerd for two), I have been gradually adding my historic table wisdom into table settings. Even if it doesn't help me cook any better, at least it makes my dinners look good.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Never too Early: Halloween Silhouettes in July

Since one of the main focuses of my job at Clermont involves planning events, as soon as one is over, I am already looking forward to the next. It's only July, but I am already thinking about Halloween...


Even though there was heat advisory out for yesterday, I am already thinking about cold breezes, crackling piles of dry leaves, and jack-o-lanterns. I am researching what to do at Clermont this Halloween. Our Legends by Candlelight Ghost Tours are one of my biggest annual events (and personally, I like it even better than Christmas) so I am already planning decorations, researching ghosts, and looking for new costumes.
I have gotten a lot of inquiries about silhouettes from past years. Cutting out spooky shapes from black construction paper is a surprisingly-effective way to decorate for Halloween and is completely historic (and inexpensive)--hooray! I use it annually to great effect and am working on new ways to make it fun this year.
I've gotten asked several times about where to find these silhouettes, and my usual source is period drawings. You can find great images of cats, bats, etcetera on Halloween greeting cards, which many people have been kind enough to post online. By saving them on your computer, blowing them up, printing them, and then tracing them, you can get a fabulous period illustration. I love this method because you can get the right concept of line, proportion, and style that may look quite different from modern cartoon images.

However, I have to admit that I have a new source too. I don't usually give props to big companies on this blog because I figure they have no trouble being found by the public. But I have to say that Martha Stewart's webpage has lead me to some really great, period-appropriate Halloween crafts.
Not everything on the site is historic of course. Glow-in-the-dark pumpkins and some very modern centerpieces may be pretty--but they can't find their way to my dining room table at Clermont. Nevertheless, there are some really nice silhouettes, and my personal favorite item is these invitations, which look like they fell right out of an emphemera-collector's desk drawer.
Good luck to all my fellow Halloween-lovers out there. If only I could start decorating the mansion now!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Crops of All Kinds": Clermont Livingston's Garden Journal

I got a request from a friend to share a little bit more about early gardens at Clermont. While not a lot of records exist about the earliest plantings, I do have Clermont Livingston's garden journal to help me on my way. I hope this is what you were looking for Tina!

In the nineteenth century journals became increasingly popular as education levels increased and the price of paper decreased. Plenty of anthologies have been published of these journals and other books have been published analyzing these compendiums of daily life.

While some journals make for good beach reading (Nancy Shippen Livingston's journal, for instance, reads a bit like a romance novel or an Oxygen network movie), many record the days in the sparsest assortment of words that can get little mind numbing. Some record little more than just the weather!

Clermont Livingston's journal, which runs from 1856-1880, at first seems to be barely more than a weather journal. November 28, 1856--"First snow of the season." February 23, 1857--"The ice still jambed up in front of this place." But as spring warmed up, Clermont finally had something to talk about: his farm.

The estate was a working farm in those days. Apples from the orchard were boxed and sold, and what appears to have been fairly large vegetable and fruit gardens in addition to a green house and more orchards supplied food to Clermont Livingston and his two children: Mary (b. 1842) and John Henry (b. 1848).

This was not an uncommon practice. Food from the gardens at Olana was proudly served by Frederick Church to his visitors (in addition to more exotic imported foods like bananas). and other neighboring estates also supplied their summer kitchens with the foods they grew themselves on their vast acerages.

So what foods came from our gardens? I've already touched on the orchards. Clermont grew 12 different kinds apples. Apples were a valuable fall crop in part because the fruit could be eaten throughout the winter and even into the leanest times of early spring.

In 1861 Clermont sold 67 barrels to New York City (shipped from the dock at the foot of our bluffs) or nearby residents. Eighteen and and one yhalf barrels were "reserved for winter use," while still more were pressed for cider, which took one farm hand about a month to complete. Some apples were also pickled and still more were sold down to New York City in January of that winter.

But the orchards yeilded more than just apples. Each spring Clermont noted when his various trees blossomed, the prospect of sweet, juicy fruit enough to make his imagination wander. "Cherries & Peaches & pears in blossom. Fine prospect of fruit," he wrote on May 5, 1862. Three varieties of pears were amongst those grown at Clermont, and peaches and a nectarine tree were mentioned once being forced into bloom in the greenhouse in January! The apricots were among the earliest spring blossoms and were mentioned specially most years. Plums, which had been grown at Clermont since the eighteenth century were also a favorite summer fruit.

Just where exactly Clermont's orchards were, I wish I knew. I know that some rose on the hill above what is now the cutting garden, where a few apple trees remain in pictures from the early 20th century. But given the variety and quanity of fruit grown, I have to wonder where the rest of these magnificent trees were planted.

Many fruits were emblematic of summer plentitude. June 17, 1857 Clermont proudly recorded, "Had first dish of strawberries dowa variety." For about month each summer these could be spotted on the Livingston's dinner table.

Musk melon, or canteloupe, were also worthy of plenty of anticipation. Not only did Clermont note when he planted them annually, he soemtimes even took note of them ripening in the garden. I can just picture him eagerly palming the fruit on the vine, hoping it would be ready to eat soon. This warm-weather plant was (along with several others) sometimes forced in a glass-over hot bed while the outside weather was still cold to facilitate its successful ripening. In verious years he also aparently experimented with other melons to accompany these: Nut Meg, cetron, Japan, and water melons are all mentioned.

Grapes in six varieties (also sometimes sold to New York) and rasberrries rounded out the abundant fruit crops.

Clermont's vegetable crops were nothing to sneeze at either. Like the fruit, these could be pushed into early bloom by planting them in hotbeds. This was an important technique since in April, the winter stores were running out (or simply becoming miserably monotonous) and spring crops would not otherwise be ready to eat for months to come. Tomatoes, "salad," spinach, eggplant, radishes, squashes, and celery all found themselves at home in hot beds in various years.


Celery was still a slightly exotic food in the mid nineteeth century, and special serving dishes, shaped like vases, were made to show it off on a well-set table. I imagine having it fresh at Clermont was a small point of pride for a man who spend so much of his time and energy on gardening.

Asparagus was an early bloomer, and Clermont noted his first crop of it almost without fail in the journal. Beds and fields of peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, and peas were also planted on the estate.

As I have already mentioned, little evidence exists to tell us where exactly all of this food was planted. Like the orchards, I can only imagine that all of this variety required a large area (or several disbursed around the property) to provide adequate room for growing. Some crops were planted around the foot of the orchards--rye and potatoes in particular.


And what sort of dinners did all this food yeild? Diets were increasingly varied for those who could afford it in the 19th century, and it would have fallen to the auspices of the cook to ensure that the Livingston's tastes were satisfied. Did Sarah Joseph Hale's recipees for squash pies ever find their way onto young John Henry's dessert plate? Did any of those strawberries end up in a strawberry shortcake?


Unfortunately for me, the answer has yet to be found since Clermont Livingston's primary interest seemed to lie in growing the food. Most processing and all cooking was left to his ample domestic staff, in 1860 including a 40-year-old black cook named James Hammond, and somewhat later, a 21-year-old cook named Estelle.
What we can read from the text is the amount of work, thought, and anticipation that went into each year of production. This is a story of the annualized and consuming nature of farm life. While the journal gives brief mention to the social events of the year ("John's [John Henry's] wedding day"), the meat of Clermont's life was devoted to the things he accomplished and the environement he existed in: "Filled my ice house today," "Commenced mowing the orchard," "Snow on the mountains this morning." For a man who shared his name with the estate he lived on, it seems only fitting that he should be so emotionally and physically tied to its working success.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cars and Clermont

The Livingstons loved their cars. Although for a long time John Henry vehemently opposed automobiles even driving onto the estate's grounds, in 1917 he finally relented and purchased the family's first car. In Honoria's eyes, this was late, as many wealthy families had been purchasing automobiles since the tale end of the nineteenth century, and Henry Ford had released the affordable Model T before her birth in 1908.

The Livingstons' purchase of a car was an event important enough to merrit Alice getting out her camera and snapping a few photos. The children hopped right into their favorite places: Honoria in the comfortable and scenic back seat, Janet with her hands on the steering wheel. I am always struck by the amount of pride this photo seems to convey. The festive mood has even spread to Christopher Meyers, the coachman, whom you can see joking with John Henry at right.

Photographs of the Livingston family and their cars followed occassionally in the years to come, especially in the post WWII years. This car, probably from 1948 or '49, demonstrates the persistence of Livingston pride in their automobiles--particularly Janet's.

When I first arrived at Clermont, a brief annecdote was relayed to me about Janet Livingston "tearing around Tivoli in her little red sports car." Is this the infamous red car? Either way, it was important enough for her to drive it over to the mansion and pose it by the lions for a picture. This one is part of a series where she manuevered it all around those front steps to get the best image of it that she could. You can see it again at right, prowling through the woods. Someone who knows cars better than I do might be able to identify it by the striking grill (I've heard both Pontiac and Chevy suggested).

For Rex and Honoria, the cars became emblamatic of their annual travels. The two snowbirds spent their winters in Sarasota, FL and their summers at Sylvan Cottage just up the road from Alice Livingston. Quite a few pictures exist of Honoria mid-journey posed in front of the car with one of their canine companions. My favorites are of the Volkswagen Beetle (but that may have something to do with my father's devotion to vintage Volkswagens). The practical and affordable little car seems quite in contrast to Janet's glamourous monster purchased some ten years before.

The Livingstons housed their cars with love, building garages onto every residence. The mansion housed a garage in the basement next to the laundry room in the 1930s HABS survey. This was neatly fenced off to conceal it's utilitarian function. But later on, when Alice moved out to Clermont Cottage, she added a large two-car garage in the front of the little house with one bay for herself and one bay for Janet, who came up from the city on weekends to care for the estate and her mother. Honoria and Rex had a small one-car garage up at Sylvan Cottage. This was painted to match and had applied trim over the door. There was no hiding these garages! The mid twentieth century had made automobile a something show off.

I have heard from vintage automobile lovers that a big part of car collecting is nostalgia. Remembering the cars you grew up with and the times you had in them: family vacations, dates, hours spent crammed together in a small space that bred both frustration and love. When I found a 1970s picture of Rex at the wheel of a 1920s car, I imagine that these were the memories its occupants were running through.

I have to wonder, will anyone have this kind of love and nostalgia afor the cars of my youth? Will I be walking down the road one day and stop to marvel at a perfectly-restored Plymouth Horizon? While the cars of the 1980s wait in limbo for their fates to be decided, the car lovers of today continue to work on the dwindling remains of other favorites: Mercury Comets, Bel Airs, and Chevy Impalas.

I hope some of these nostalgics will bring their cars out to our Cruisin' Night this Saturday. While I don't remember many of the cars myself (being, as I mentioned, a child of the 1980s), they still speak to the pride of ownership and a love of design--and who can't appreciate a siny old car?

*The Sock Hop and Cruisin' Night is Saturday, July 17th from 6-9pm. Entrance is $10 per car--vintage cars are free and encouraged to come early for special parking. The event will include 50s dance demonstrations, hot food, and a concert of 50s music by the Greyhounds.


**Because I am not well-versed in car identification, I have not attempted to name most of the cars pictured above. Any assistance on this matter is appreciated!




Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beating the Heat in History

As some of you may know, New York is in the midst of a heat wave with Poughkeepsie temperatures topping 100 for the first time in nine years. Never fond of air conditioning myself, I thought I would look at some of ways Americans have struggled to make it through the crush of summer heat throughout history.


When temperatures in New York climb into the 90s nowadays, the hum of air conditioners fills the air. Air conditioners were invented in the first decade of the 20th century in Buffalo, New York for industrial use, and they gradually have become staples in American homes until some people won't even consider purchasing a house without built-in central air conditioning.

Prior to this development however, early Americans struggled with the same summer temperatures that plague us annually, and centuries of tradition built in Europe (where temperature extremes were not quite so broad in localized geographic regions) were combined with new techniques for creating comfort.

Europeans were surprised when they first arrived in America. They were ill-prepared for temperatures that could range about 100 degrees over the course of the year. English arrivals in particular were surprised, as in an average year the maritime temperate climate of Britain saw swings ranging only between 30 and 90 degrees. Clothing in particular was based on this climate, and Europeans were not eager to budge on their sense of fashion and decency. They steadfastly stuck by their layers and layers of clothing (often constructed of wool) that insulated their bodies against to moisture of English summers.

Consider Judge Robert R. Livingston above, whose suit includes all of the fashionable neccesities for a gentleman of the era, including shirt, waistcoat, frock coat, breeches, and undoubtedly stockings, all of which would leave nothing but hands and head exposed to the air. Add to this a wig on top of your head, and you're talking one warm set of clothing! None of these pieces could be disposed of in polite company. Being caught without your jacket as a gentleman was decidedly undignified.

I will add nothing about women's clothing but let you use your imagination. The last time I dressed up for an "UnderWhere?" lecture, I was wearing 14 separate pieces of clothing.

But over time strategies were developed that helped people to cope with the heat. Clothing-wise, underwear became very important in this respect. Linen shirts for men or shifts for women were the "underwear" the time. These garments covered the torso and arms and absorbed sweat sway from the body. It's small comfort, and does not really make you feel dry, but regular changes of body linens could help to improve the situation (if you could afford it; clothing was expensive, and having many shifts or shirts was a mark of some wealth). A mid-day change of linen provided a feeling of refreshement that may have been similar to taking a cool shower today since changing your underwear was considered to be the standard ritual of self-cleansing.

The arrival of the Victorian era provided little relief in fashion. For women and men, long sleeves were still required, but for women, the development of the cage crinoline allowed a little airflow under the skirt. Nevertheless, this fashion was highly ridiculed for its impracticality as it took up quite a lot of room and was considered by some to look outlandish.

Lightwieght sheer dresses became popular for women in the middle of the century as well. Made of silk or cotton, these helped to minimize the weight of fabric covering the body without actually revealing too much skin (all that underwear kept you from seeing anything too interesting). Men had few options in hot-weather clothing but wool and linen suits. At least they had finally given up on wigs.

The real key to staying cool in the summer in both the 18th and 19th centuries was clever management of your environment and diet.



Georgian-era homes like Clermont (popular in the 18th century) were constructed with central halls that enabled air flow to cool the home. By opening the front and back doors, a cross-breeze could take stagnant air out of the house. This could be particularly effective in homes like Clermont; seated on the bluffs above the Hudson River, we are often treated to a respectable summer breeze.



This center hallway was then treated as a room instead of just a passageway (as we tend to think of it now). Afternoons could be spent in this location playing cards, sewing, or dining. A large enough hall could even be used for dancing once the night had cooled the air sufficiently.

The hall's lack of windows also made it a cooler location. Although large windows were highly sought-after (and expensive) the single panes of glass magnified sunlight and heat. Consequently, many 18th century homes made use of shutters. Thick stone or brick walls created neat pockets that shutters could be folded into when not needed, but when the sun beat down, the shutters could be closed down to minimize the sun's penetration. This created cave-like interiors that staid cooler, and one or two shutters could be opened when light was needed for reading or other tasks. Windows could then be opened allow the passage of air behind the shutters--although often it let in many bugs and an onslaught of dust.



The shuttering technique remained common through the nineteenth century (seen here in an 1853 watercolor from "At Home: The American Family 1750-1870"), though window covering became more diversified. Louvered shutters and blinds increased in popularity along with shades and curtains (as fabric became more affordable).

Many museums, including Clermont, continue to make use of their shutters to reduce energy costs in the summer or even as their sole environmental control when air conditioning is not available. Although it may seem dark to modern eyes, the reduced or indirect lighting was the way that historic peoples knew their homes.

Sometimes no amount of shuttering could ktep out the heat, and people followed the shade around the house. Furniture was often moved into shaded doorways where families could take advantage of the cooler air. Windsor furniture, like the chair pictured at right, began to be perceived as appropriate for locations where cool was desired. The open back would likely have allowed air passage aroung the body to help dry sweated clothing. In 1765, a New York merchant offer Windsor charis "fit for Piazza or Gardens," and netted hammocks provided locations for afternoon naps in southern regions.


In the 19th century, Victorian homes began to create their own shade, and porches became a common feature on homes. Architecturally, these "outdoor rooms" provided a buffer of shaded, cool air along adjacent windows and could be used as sitting space when interiors were inadequate. Clermont Livingston added a large veranda to the front of Clermont in 1844 (removed by his son in the 1920s).


In 1873 Cecelia Cleveland wrote of her visit to Chappaqua, NY saying, "The music-room is, I think, the coolest and pleasantest room in the house. It is one of the additions built by uncle after he had purchased this house—a large, square room on the ground floor, with curtained windows opening upon the balcony, and upon the old apple-tree." On several other ocassions as well, porches provided she and her family with cool respite when the house was still too hot.


Diets also changed in the summer, not only in response to the changing availability of food, but the changing needs of the body. Cool summer fruits, especially watermelon, offered a pleasant treat. Clermont Livingston recorded eating strawberries, melons, cherries, peaches, grapes, pears and rasberries--all from his own garden in the 1850s and 60s. He also recorded growing both musk melons and Japan melons, which were most likely eaten raw.


Cool drinks were also growing in popularity. The Temperance movement encouraged the consumption of cool water or lemonade. And tea, which had been drunk hot throughout the year in the 18th century, began to be served with ice in at least the 1860s. In 1833 a visitor to the Greek isles recounted staying cool with beverages as well: "We had plenty of soda-water, porter, and ale, which were kept constantly flowing; for the heat was excessive."


In the early 19th century, ice also began to provide relief from summer heat, and a large ice industry began to develop. Clermont Livingston recorded each year the filling of of his ice house to the mansion's south. December 15, 1856, February 5, 1858, and January 9, 1862 all mention the laborious task of cutting ice and hauling it to the subterranian structure which would help to preserve the ice into summer. Amongst other things, the ice could be made into ice cream, a special treat that deserved its own serving dish when the Chancellor discovered the food in France around 1801. The ice cream urn (seen at left) still stands in Clermont's dining room in a place of honor.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's book Farmer Boy, about her husbands childhood in upstate New York, also recounts a story about the children stealing an afternoon making ice cream to cool down on a hot day.

Even more cool foods to grace American tables as the century went on. Ice box pies like key lime and lemon meringue became part of the diets of more and more people. Jello, popsicles, and more followed when refridgeration eventually improved our cooling technology in the 20th century.


When all else failed, travel could provide releif from the heat as well. For city dwellers, getting out into the country was paramount if you could afford it. Both Clermont and Arryl House began as summer retreats from the heat, odors, and illness of cities in the summer. More distand travel could help as well. In July of 1865, Clermont Livingston recording visiting Lake George, Niagra, and New Port, New York. And in the 1880s his grandaughter Catherine began spending her summers in the popular summer retreat of Bar Harbor, Maine. The wealthy developed many seaside enclaves like Bar Harbor (seen at right) and eventually the Catskills where reliably cool evenings offset the heat of the days.


While there are many things I am grateful for living in the twentieth century, there some historical things which seem to always be useful. I'm not willing to give into the temptations of air conditioning most days, and I find it useful to know about the many techniques we have employed over the centuries to get through weather like this. While I can't make as many trips to Bar harbor as I might like, a good dose of watermelon or ice cream (for my health of course!) as always good cures for the heat. Hopefully for anyone else out there who is so techonology-averse as I am, this blog has proven useful!