Friday, January 27, 2012

Appleton Manor

Quite a while ago, I wrote a blog about John Henry Livingston's first daughter, Katherine. Thirty six years older than daughters Honoria and Janet, Katherine had married and moved to England by the time Alice was moving into Clermont and beginning to redecorate (and revitalize the gardens that Katherine had once cared for).

In her elder years, Katherine remained separated from her husband in a house in Devon named Appleton. Much to my chagrine, no amount of internet searching could yeild me a picture of Katherine's retreat.

But while flipping through Alice's photo album of the family's years in Europe today, I noticed her penciled caption under one particular photo: "Appleton Manor." It's mostly a photo of the gardens (one of Alice's great loves anyway) and the girls, but as I often say in reference to recreating history, I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wedding Album

Our wedding coordinator Roberta just sent me this link to a wedding at Clermont featured on the blog Style Me Pretty New York. If you need more convincing that a wedding at Clermont can be absolutely beautiful--well, then I guess I don't know what to say to you.

Anyway, don't miss the adorable croquet pictures. Lawn games at a wedding add a surprising touch of class. Who wouldn't feel special playing croquet with a glass of champagne in their hand?

A Photo Tour of Clermont

It occurred to me today that probably most of the 1,000-2,000 visitors to this blog every week have never physically set foot inside of Clermont. Using my internet stalking device (also known as a stat counter), I see that our web visitors come from down the road in Red Hook, New York, glamorous and beautiful Mission, British Columbia, and decidedly exotic Auckland, New Zealand.

So I thought I would take a moment to post a photographic tour of Clermont here on the blog. Hopefully if you are ever in our neck of the woods, but in the meantime, you can at least get familiar with the mansion through our eyes.

Ready? Here we go!

You approach Clermont down a long path called the Lilac Walk, bordered of course with tall lilac bushes. This walk was part of the Livingston's pleasure gardens in the 1810s, planted by Edward P. Livingston. It was later augmented by Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston in the 1920s. Along the way, you can just catch fleeting glimpses of the mansion and the Hudson River away to your left, and if you are lucky, you'll spot one of the brilliant orange orioles that ocassionally flit through the branches here.

At the foot of the path, you find yourself on the Croquet Lawn, facing the back of the mansion. As the name implies, this broad flat lawn was Janet and Honoria's croquet court during the summers in the 1910s. The girls played here together or with their friends the Wyatts. Today it is home to a modern croquet tournament in their honor and additionally to our Old-Fashioned Independence Day celebration on July 4th.

Don't hesitate to take a seat on the porch under the wysteria. Located on the east side of the house, this is a always shady spot on summer afternoons.

When you enter the mansion, you'll push aside the heavy Dutch door and enter under the house's main staircase (left) into the center hall. The hall devides the house from front to back, and gives access to the house's four original first floor rooms. The hall is lined with portraits of the Lords of Livingston Manor and several Federal and Late Neoclassical pier tables. A broad arch devides the front of the house from the back, a feature not uncommon in Georgian and Federal homes.

Don't miss the view out the front door (at right). It's one of the highlights of the tour. When the house was built here in the 1740s, Robert of Clermont could boast that he owned everything he could see, including five mountain tops in the Catskill Mountains!

If you turn left, you will find yourself in the Drawing Room, one of the most formal rooms in the Livingston home. This room houses some of the finest furnishings, including a clock that was brought back to Clermont from France by Chancellor Livingston in 1807. The balloon clock (pictured at right) commemorates the first hydrogenated balloon flight by the Mongolfier brothers in France. The room also features a beautiful coffered ceiling (photographed in this post), beautiful door surrounds (Colonial Revival, added in the early 20th century), and a glittering crystal chandelier. The views from the room are stellar, but you're best to catch it in the evening, when you can watch the sun set over the river and the mountains from all four of its windows.

From the Drawing Room, we turn and head into the study. This less-formal room is lined with bookcases that were constructed in the 1830s. The room is much smaller than the study, and it is dominated by its fireplace and the large Lannuier mirror atop it.

In the center of the mantel, Alice Livingston mounted a small terra cota frieze in the 1920s or 30s. She sculpted this herself to depict her two daughters, their nurse Ollie, and their two favorite dogs (Peggy and Gobi).

This little sewing box is another intersting feature in the room. It is inlaid with mother of pearl and was imported from England in the early-mid 19th century. It belonged to John Henry's mother Cornelia. The top opens up to reveal little compartments all lined with blue velvet, which held a lady's sewing notions. Below, the hanging box was intended as storage for larger things, possibly the project she was working on presently.

From the study, walk on through that dark-looking door to the right, and you'll find yourself in one of everyon'e favorite rooms at Clermont: the library. This very large room is an addition to original Georgian footprint of the house and impresses almost everyone with its extensive oak paneling and large Gothic-revival fireplace.

In the early 20th century, this was the Livingstons' place for daily relaxation, reading, and pay-time for the girls. Its windows on three sides bring in lots of sun, making this room feel cozy and bright in the winter. However, when the interior shutters are closed in the summer, it can feel dark and cool.

At this point, we've reached the far end of the house. You'll need to turn back around and trek back through the study and the center hall to get to the dining room, the other most formal room in the Livingston home. Apart from the library, this is the largest room in the house, devoted to the nightly ritual of formal meals. Of all the rooms in the house, this is also the only one that John Henry chose not to put any electrical outlets into in 1923. He prefered that the family dine by candle light.

This room houses several important portraits, including Margaret Beekman Livingston, her husband, Robert R. Livingston (the Judge) and the Thomas Sully portrait of Andrew Jackson (just visible at right). Large, impressive portraits like these lend granduer to the space.

From the dining room, you turn and walk out the door to your right and go into the servants' working area. This includees a small hallway, the butler's pantry, and of course the kitchen. Here is where the cook spent most of her time and where the other servants in the house took their meals together (in between their various duties to the Livingstons).

This north wing was chronically dark for years, necessitating the addition of a skylight in the 1860s. It is well-appointed with a large number of built-in cabinets (see below at left), a coal-fired stove, and large double-basin enamel sink.

The large copper cylinder you see is a hot water tank (the water is actually heated by the coal stove).

From here we let you out the kitchen door, used as the main entrance for servants and deliveries. The nicest part of this is that it drops you right off in the large mock orange bushes, full of fragrant blooms for a week or two in the spring. Hidden by the (rather gray-brown) bushes in the photo is a pretty little porch where you are let out.

From here, we encourage you to wander through the gardens (where this photo is taken from) and to get the view from the front of the house. So there you have it; the first floor of Clermont. I haven't showed you upstairs today because, quite honestly, this post was getting to long for my normal length limit. I will save the bedrooms for another day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Few Words About Weddings at Clermont

'Tis the season--for wedding planning, that is! If jewelry commercials are to be believed, the winter hoidays are a popular time to pop the question, and that makes the cold gray of winter, the logical time to begin planning a wedding.

The task can be daunting and fanciful at the same time. Lots of us ladies (though not all) have fuzzy images dancing in our heads of something pretty with music and a white dress and memories that last a life time. But most of us don't have big party planning experience so when it comes down to brass tacks, we're left spending dreamy hours paging through pretty pictures on the internet and trying to imagine ourselves in that situation.

Everyone has a different opinion of where to begin you planning (and I'm not going to argue with Martha Stewart or "A Wedding Story"), but at some point, you're going to have to select a location. Many historic sites--including us!--offer some portion of their grounds for weddings, and here are a few things you're going to want to consider to make sure you find the spot that is right for you:

*Indoors versus outdoors: Probably the first thing you'll want to know about Clermont weddings is that our locations are all outdoors. And what an outdoors it is! Stunning views of the Hudson River have drawn people to this area for centuries. Why do you think all of these glamorous historic mansions are located along the river? The Vanderbuilts, the Astors, the Livingstons, and the Roosevelts all enjoyed heart-throbbing sunsets here from their private porches, and in spaces that have since become public, like Clermont, you can enjoy them too. Clermont is one of the closest of all the mansions to the river, giving pleasant afternoon breezes and a sense of granduer to you wedding.

You will want to take a moment to think about the practicalities of an outdoor wedding and/or reception. Most couples choose to rent a tent (we can help you find a reputable company nearby if you need it), which provides protection from the weather and grounds the party in a particular space. Outdoor weddings also have the added benefit of the natural beauty adding to your decorations, and Clermont has many nooks and crannies that make good photographs.

*Catering: Clermont does not use an in-house caterer, nor do we require use of a sole-source caterer. We do provide a list of caterers who have successfully produced events at Clermont during the past five years, but you are welcome to pick from on or off this list.

*Selecting the right lawn: Once you've decided on an outdoor wedding at Clermont, you'll need to look for the right location with the right ambience. Clermont has about six different reception sites and ceremony sites. Some sites are small enough to feel cozy with intimate guest lists of 30-50 people; others have accomodated up to 300 people! All of our reception sites have access to electricity and running water--a must if you are going to party into the night.

At right and in the preceeding three pictures, you can see images of the Southwest Mansion Lawn, one of the most popular locations at Clermont for a wedding. Its spacious lawn can accomodate up to larger receptions, and located immediately adjacent to the mansion, it is the closest you can get to feeling like a high-society Livingston at your wedding. Direct your guests to use the winding stone staircase if you really want to make a special entrance (handicapped access is available too) or use the attractive stone patio for your cocktail hour (after 5:00pm).

The spacious North Mansion Lawn is close by and has views of both the mansion and the Italian-inspired walled garden. Spring flowers bloom along the perimeter, including magnolias, lilacs, wysteria, and mock orange. It can accomodate up to 200 people and includes use of the stone patio at the Mansion's front door (after 5:00pm). This was the location of Clermont's 18th century pleasure gardens. It is also where Honoria Livingston chose to have her wedding reception in 1931.

The secluded Cutting Garden is well-suited to more intimate receptions or ceremonies, up to 80 people. Its beds are filled with flowers that bloom all season long. Your guests will cross the little wooden bridge to find heirloom rose bushes, peonies, and thousands of annuals blooming all around them, depending on the season.

The ruins of Arryl House provide a whimsical backdrop for the lawns at Arryl North and Arryl South. Both of these locations can accomodate large tents and make beautiful lawns for a party. Adjacent to the parking lot, Arryl North gives easy access for groups with mobility-impaired guests. Its open views of the river are breathtaking at sunset. Arryl South, pictured at left, is surrounded by woodlands, lending a sense privacy that always reminds me of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

*Ceremonies: All of the reception locations can be used for ceremonies as well, but there are a few special additional ones I will mention here. The Wilderness Garden (pictured at right) is ideal for groups up to 100 people. My favorite time there is spring, when the irises are blooming.

The last spot I'll mention is probably the grandest: the Spring Garden, and unfortunately my weak photography skills just can't do it justice. Lined by fragrant lilacs, plums, and forsythia in the spring, it opens onto a dramatic view of the Hudson River or alternatively (if you turn around 180 degrees) onto the white, castle-like mansion towering above you. It is connected to the Southwest Mansion lawn by that winding stone staircase I mentioned earlier, and it was Alice Livingston's favorite spot in the sparkling Gilded Age.

*Security: For weddings continuing past sunset, a security guard will be provided for your wedding. This person will ensure that any emergencies associated with your party are efficiently and safely managed. An additional fee is associated with this service. Please note that until sunset, Clermont will remain open to the public.

*History: If you like a "sense of place," Clermont might well be just the place for you. The mansion has been here since the 1740s and has been home to quite a few society weddings over the years.

It was also burned by the British army during the American Revolution, the home of the first practical steamboat, and was known as early as the mid 1800s for its beautifully-scuplted lanscape. Some wedding couples have even elected to allow their guests to tour the historic mansion during their reception (please ask about fees and availability).

So if you are one of the many people browsing through pictures of laughing couples, bubbling champagne, and delicate flowers, you might take a moment to inquire about our comprehensive wedding packet. The best way to pick your location is to visit it if you have a chance, and we are happy to take you on a tour of the site to see if Clermont is right for you!

Please contact the Special Events Coordinator ( or call at 518-537-4240) for more information.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Company at Dinner:" The Sorrowful Tale of Nancy Shippen, part 10

Not all of Nancy's life was sorrowful. In fact, the round of parties, teas, and socials she describes are enough to dizzy the modern reader!

With the issue of her daughter's custody finally at a settlement and her dreadful husband for the moment out of the picture, Nancy Shippen Livingston could rejoin the dazzling Philadelphia social scene of the Federal era. For the 18th and 19th century wealthy, winter was the social season, and few early diaries give us such a vivid depcition of this as Nancy's. She describes dinners, teas, lectures, singing, and dancing--so often in fact that it almost becomes a routine of busy-ness.

"Sunday [Jan] 4 [1786]--Company at dinner--spent the afternoon & evening alone reading..."

Dinner was the afternoon meal and generally the largest of the day, but the evening meal could also serve as a social gathering. Restaurants as we know them did not exist yet (and were certainly not frequented by the upper classes), and social dining was done in the homes of friends.

These meals could be intimate with only a few guests: "Col. Harry & Mrs. Lee have spent this evening with us in a very friendly and sociable manner..." wrote Nancy's father in 1787. Another day in March of 1786, Nancy wrote "Louisa and I staid all night with our friend Mrs Burrows who insisted on our staying & dining with her today also." Small gathering gave time for intimate chats with close friends, less bounded by the strictures of mixed company ettiquette.

Or social meals could also be very large as Margaret Beekman Livingston described in 1788, "at dinner, surrounded by 17 or 18 people" including her son "the Chancellor." Nancy also dined with larger groups: "A company of learned men dined here today," she wrote in March of 1786 These may have been guests of her father's since she withdrew sometime after the meal and left them to themselves.

Each member of the company was responsible for keeping the gathering pleasant for all. In March of 1786, a blind philospher named Dr. Moyse spent several evenings with the Shippen home with mixed results. "The good Dr entertained us on the Piano Forti, on which he played delightfully. He insisted on my performing, I did & and accompanied it with my voice," wrote Nancy on Thursday. But on Saturday she wrote again:

Had a small party at home this even'g. The blind Philospher made one of the company. The even'g the most disadreable I ever spent--owing altogether to Mr S.'s ill-timed raillery. His extreme ill nater'd criticisms made every one unhappy. Dr Moyse far from being entertaining.

Tea held an important palce in the visiting routine. Often it was a small group of people, as small as two or three people. Nancy fmentions "Drank Tea at Mrs Vardons with Miss Craig," and "Dr Moyse drank a sociable dish of Tea with Papa & Myself...," both in March of 1786. At other times, "tea" could be an excuse to bring a much larger group of people. Only a week after the small tea shared with Dr. Moyse, Nancy had the "happiest [evening] I ever spent" with a party of ten well-selected guests for tea. (1787 French fashion plate at left borrowed from the eye-poppingly beautiful 18th Century Blog).

Tea parties could become large social affairs, as in the one held in Peggy's honor in April of that year: "20 young misses, treated...with all good things, & a violin." All the comotion! Five coaches were left standing outside the door, awaiting their cargo. Still another night, nancy threw an "elegant Teaparty" resulting in seven carriages waiting at the door. Dr. Shippen wrote Nancy's brother Tommy "Nancy made a great exertion at the nobility & aquitted herself to a charm as you know she can when every thing is to her mind..."

Large dinner parties, assemblies, and balls were still more exciting entertainments. They were beautiful, filled with glamousous spectacles of food and decoration and dress, as in those described in Louise Conway Belden's book The Festive Tradition. A 1798 dessert table in Philadelphia was once described thus:

In the middle was an orange tree with ripe fruit, [its] root...covered wtih evergreens [and] some natural and artificial flowers. Nothing scarcely appeared on table without evergreens to decorate it. The girandole...was let down just to reach the top of the tree. you can't think how beautiful it looked.

Nancy took these gatherings seriously, once mentioning that it took her three hours to get dressed, and another time mentioning with mock embarassment "Must I acknowledge that the greatest part of this day was spent in preparing for the assembly." Women especially devoted extreme attention to their appearances for these events (lampooned at right in a print by James Gilray). In fact, the only comparable modern situation I could think of would be how long it takes most brides to get ready for their weddings. If only there were a few more opportunities for us to get so dressed up today!

It seems that the social season of 1786 kept Nancy so busy, that she completely gave up writing in her diary for most of a year. Well--perhaps it was more than just parties and balls. At any rate, most of the news we have from that year comes frome letters, corresponding with Uncle Lee or her brother Tommy away at school in England. Gifts of extravagant hats and fine white cotton stockings (to serve in place of silk) mingled with his descriptions of English and Americna social life fill the letters.

It wasn't until September of 1787 that Nancy picked up her journal again. She penned a melancholy entry describing the untimely death of a Miss P Ross at 17 years of age. Nancy sat alone in her her room "ruminating on my past life & lamenting the uncertainty of all human hopes" when she remembered the diary and dug it out of her writing desk (pictured at left, an escritoire said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette).

Another death later that year was to bring an old drama back into Nancy's life. Her old flame Louis Otto's wife Eliza Livingston died in childbirth, and a new string of heart-fluttering letters began to fly between them in the winter of 1788.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From Our Fellow Bloggers

Our good friend and steamboat enthusiast Pete sent us this link to the blog of the Morgan Library & Museum today. Definitely the livliest contemporary image of Robert Fulton that I have seen, the picture had me all in smiles. Don't miss the associated essay where Fulton defends his "invention" against competitors and interlopers!