Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's With all the Hoop-lah?: Fashionable Livingston Ladies of the Mid 19th Century

One of the most ridiculed fashions of the Victorian era was the cage crinoline.  Developed in the 1850s, the hoop, as it is often referred to now, was by no means the only way to enlarge the volume of a lady's skirts.  At various times, women of fashion had experimented with horsehair padding, (the origin of the word crinoline), cork rumps, and the infamous panniers of the mid 18th century.  For a while flounced petticoats were starched and layered on top of one another, and each layer added weight, heat, and often discomfort to a woman's clothing.


In some ways, the cage crinoline managed to give women a bit of freedom from this layer cake of clothing.  Air was now allowed to circulate under the skirts, and the garment often weight much less than the alternatives.  Nevertheless it could also be inconvenient to wear because of the demand for increasing size, and storing them could be particularly awkward.  Not all women wore hoops--although they did find enough popularity with the middling and sometimes even working classes that they drew a storm of criticism.  And not all of these women wore them all the time.

Nevertheless, the large bell-shaped skirt that the cage crinoline initially created (it later shifted to a sweeping ellipses in the 1860s) has come to serve as a mascot of sorts for the mid 19th century, due in part to our fascination with it in movies like "Gone With the Wind" and basically any Charles Dickens flick. 

And so today I am taking a moment to highlight historic Livingston photos that feature women in their fashionably-full skirts.  They all date somewhere between the late 1850s and mid 1860s, and most of them have no identifying marks about them other than their New York City photography studios.  I've made some sparse comments to direct the casual onlooker, but I'm sure that lots of you will notice things that I haven't about these gowns, and I'm not going to pretend I've done an exhaustive refresher on my Civil War-era fashions.  Even so I simply believe that there can never be enough primary research out there for the the internet, and this is meant to contribute to that pool.  So enjoy!

PS.  Before you try to guess any colors from these images, be sure to check out this blog on how historic photography translated color into black and white.

Mary Livingston DePeyster--Mary Livingston DePeyster was John Henry's older sister and for a time was mistress of Clermont.  Mary seems to be proof that not every crinoline had to be a giant one.  She has rather a modest-size one on under her gown.  She also has the wide, pagoda sleeves that were popular at the time, accented with de riguer white undersleeves and white collar.  Apart from the gathering at the center front of the bodice and the bow at her neck (which appears to be fringed), her gown is quite simple. 

1862--Mary from Gussie(?).  Possibly Mrs. Parish.  This is my only photo with a precise date and features a young woman in a simple, yet beautifully-fitting gown.  At first glance, I thought that Mary was wearing a gown with a simple puffed sleeve, instead of an open pagoda sleeve.  But when I enlarged it to look at the details, I saw instead that her undersleeves are dark instead of their requisite white.  Paired with her dark collar and the noted simplicity of the dress iteself, I believe that Mary may be in mourning.

Unknown--Another well-fitting gown only this time with some really exuberant trim.  Instructions for puffing and pleating trim like this were available in ladies' magazines, but it seems just as possible that this associate of the Livingston family had the money to purchase the services of an experienced dress-maker.  Note this woman's white collar and undersleeves--in contrast to our last photo.  Interestingly, these undersleeves are not cuffed, but instead they fan out as wide as the gown's sleeves.  Also note the large oval pin she wears at her throat.

 Unkown--Looking at the profile of her skirt, it seems likely that this woman is indeed wearing a hoop, but she apparently picked one of a more moderate diameter.  She also has a pleated trim applied to her gown, though it is far simpler than the last one.  Her undersleeves are also stuffed rather tightly into a much smaller sleeve on her gown.  Her leather belt finishes off the ensemble by highlighting her small round waist.

Unkown--This woman has fantastically dramatic, wide hair, hooped earings, and matching bracelets on both wrists.  Don't miss the fact that her oversleeves are actually dark-colored lace.  You can just see it in the way her right undersleeve shows through.  This gown is another with some energetic trim--this time with the edges pinked, or cut into little peeks and scallops.  There is also a wide band of moire silk applied on the bias near the bottom.  She has a large lace shawl draped around her shoulders and a white hand kerchief draped in one hand.


Unknown--Probably my favorite photo in the little box I went through to gather these.  These two ladies just look so peasant-y and a little bit frothy.  Don't be fooled into thinking that the one on the right is wearing her corset on the outside though.  Bodices and waists like these were popular in the 1860s and highlighted a woman's smooth torso.  The ribbon trim on this one appears to match some more of the same on the cuff of her gown, and you can see that she has at least two, maybe three, rows of ruffles near the hem of her skirt.  More matching bracelets on her friend.


Unknown--Last but not least I thought this girl deserved to be included for her festively-trimmed dress.  Now only are her sleeves puffed and shirred in an unusual treatment, but the narrow, scalloped flounces on her skirt are then repeated down the front of her bodice. 

Well there you have it, a selection of some of the more interesting ladies and their clothes from the Box O' Unmarked Photos in collections storage.  The question remains: Who were all these women?  Are they friends of one of Clermont's many residents?  Family members?  For the moment their contribution to history is made through their clothing and remembered through a gesture of friendship--the sharing of a photograph. 


**For a more complete review of mid-nineteenth century dress in photographs, consider Joan Severa's books "Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900" and "My Likeness Taken: Daguerrian Portraits in America."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This IS Soda: A Long-Overdue Update

All the way back in 2011, I made this post based on a guess that this little dog might be Soda, a well-loved Jack Russell terrier from the Livingston household.  The problem came from the fact that all I had was an unmarked slide, found in my old curator's closet--not a very positive marker.  The best identifiers I had were the the fireplace (which looked to be Clermont's library) and eventually I also noticed that the one-of-a-kind balloon clock is up on the mantle (see below for an image of the clock).  So at least I knew that this was a dog living at Clermont.

Well it wasn't too long ago that while doing some work in collections, I finally came across the original and at last confirmed it--this IS Soda.  The original I found was a memorial card, lovingly constructed around the time of the dog's death with beautiful green foil and several useful details pasted to the back.  I also have to update some inaccuracies in my original post:

For one, I misidentified Soda as male, and this is definitely a little girl dog.  Sorry girl!

Secondly, I had inherited some misinformation from whomever originally told me the story.  Soda apparently started out as Clermont Livingston's dog, and when Clermont died in 1895, she must have been inherited by his son John Henry.  This comes from a note on the bottom of the card that reads, "'Soda' Beloved to Clermont Livingston."


Secondly, I got her death date wrong.  Soda died in 1902, not 1901--which is a pretty silly error since I clearly didn't read the tombstone very closely.  Doh!


Last of all comes the sad part of Soda's story, which I did not try to relate in the last post.  "Little Soda" unfortunately died a violent death, "killed by someone" in the nearby town of Madalin (now part of Tivoli).  I was once told by an older visitor to Clermont that Madalin was considered the "questionable" part of town when she was a little girl in the 30s or 40s, and she was discouraged from ever going there.  Whether that is true or not, I don't know.  The "Brutes" did their deed on May 31, 1902, and the little dog was entombed some five days later with a nicely-carved headstone--an honor paid to only one dog before her and two afterwards.

Finally, as part of their mourning process, the family assembled this pretty memorial card, complete with a newspaper cut-out of poetry to express the grief they shared over the loss.

Unfortunately, this little card is a sad reminder that the feelings and lives of animals were long viewed by a great part of the populace as being greatly inferior to those of humanity and even downright unimportant.  But it is also a touching reminder of the deep personal connection that the Livingstons shared with their pets and the positive changes that were taking place on this front in the early 20th century.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Peek Inside Arryl House

I've already spent some time gushing about Arryl House on this blog.  The Chancellor's 1793 mansion was an architectural masterpiece that competed with the homes of his contemporaries like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington for originality and grandeur.

The house was an H-shaped "villa," with its grandest rooms located in the front arms.  Huge tripple-sashed windows allowed occupants to take in the beauty of the Hudson River, and very high ceilings made the place airy and fresh.


While plenty of late 19th century photographs exist of the exterior, what's been missing from my picture of Arryl House was any glimpse of the inside.  So I was thrilled when, while digging around on another project, one of my coworkers unearthed these images:



 Apparently copied from a photo album at Calendar House, another Livingston home not far from here, the circa 1880 photos are labeled "Parlor Ideal - because of the doors painted by Montgomery."  It is supposed by former curators that "Ideal" refers to "Idele," one of the former names given to Arryl House.

And even without a more confident attribution, it seems pretty plausible.  This "parlor" could easily be the Chancellor's former dining room.  Unless the image has been mirrored, it seems to show the corner marked in yellow at right, including a door, recessed slightly into a corner, with a matching recess on the other side of the fireplace and a large window immediately to the left.

A close-up of the mirror over the mantle also shows us that there is another large window directly across the room.  I love that you can just see the house's louvered shutters closed across the top of this window.  This technique was commonly used to keep houses cooler in the summer, and it is neat to see it illustrated from the inside.

This room shows all the elegance of a late Victorian parlor, with its Rococo revival mirror, arched marble mantle, and ornate chandelier.  This was taken most likely after Clermont Livingston moved into the house with his third wife.

But the pictures do offer us some interesting clues into the house's past ownership.  First of all, the image of Montgomery Livingston door paintings are pretty neat.  Montgomery inherited the house from his father Robert L. Livingston in 1843.  He was devoted to his art and apparently filled the house with paintings, canvases, stretchers and other supplies.  A printing studio was installed in the basement.  And it seems he also put some art onto the house itself.

The six paintings include two smaller landscapes at the top (the right side of which could possibly be an image of the Palisades), a monument, a grand waterfall, a bridge or ruin, and a church.  The images bear some similarities to other pieces of his that Clermont has, such as the image of the Jungfrau Mountain pictured at left.

The other details that appear to reach back into the house's history are those nearer to the room's ceiling. You can see a deep crown molding with a dentil detail that would be consistent with the 1780s when the Chancellor designed the room in the first place.  You also get a glimpse of the vaulted ceiling, another decorative touch that would have set this room apart from its contemporaries.   

Of course, I can't help but be a little bit distracted by the intense window dressings that go with the rest of the room's late Victorian decor.  But that's just me. 

So it's just a glimpse, but any peek inside Arryl House is a huge treat for me.  It fleshes out the picture I've been trying to paint of life her at Clermont, both for the 19th century generations and a little bit for the 18th century as well. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Picturing Clermont in the Early Victorian Period

At almost 275 years old, Clermont has been a lot of things to a lot of people.  Here at the museum on on the blog, we talk a lot about the estate during the tumultuous years of the American Revolution or the last generation and the quiet family life of the early 20th century.

But what about the middle years?  What about the 19th century?  Who was here, and what were they doing?  The Victorian era is a favorite topic of discussion for a lot of people, conjuring up images of sweeping gowns and pretty white lace.  What was the reality like at Clermont?

Actually, the term "Victorian" covers a pretty broad spectrum of time.  Queen Victoria, for whom the epoch is named, ruled the English Empire from 1837 to 1901, during which time, Clermont went through four heads of household: Edward Philip, Clermont Livingston, Frederick DePeyster (son-in-law), Mary Livingston DePeyster (widowed daughter), and lastly John Henry Livingston.

Clermont Livingston took over the estate from his dad in 1844 and superintended the land and house with devotion until 1869, when he handed it over to his son-in-law Frederick dePeyster.   It is Clermont's experience of the Livingston family home that I'll try to paint today.

Clermont in the 1860s surrounded by large, grassy meadows and trees

With the stately old mansion as its centerpiece (soon to be adorned with fashionable little piazzas along the front), the estate sprawled across hundreds of acres of land, with it's most desirable being a strip right along the river itself.  To get to the house from the land , you would have had to pass through a broad expanse of orchards and gardens and barns, neatly separated by stone walls, and with a few little residences for tucked in between for the property's farm staff.  Sheep, cows, and a mixture of horses for different purposes grazed along open fields that lined the road on the way into the house.

Clermont (pronounced "Clement" by the family) was 27 years old in 1843 when his father passed away, leaving him a rich estate, complete with two well-stocked wine closets and a bevy of life-long tenants who would provide him with a reliable income (until the Anti-Rent Wars shattered that plan soon after).  The young man was still single and living at home with his step mother Mary Broome Livingston and younger brother Robert E, as shown by a description of "Articles not Assets" in the inventory of the property that was conducted just a few months later to facilitate division of the estate:

All necessary beds, viz: Bed & Bedding in Mrs. Livingston room
                                       Same in Clermont & Robert
All necessary bedstead, viz: 3

Curiously, this doesn't account for Clermont Livingston's little sister Mary Livingston.  At 21 years old, she was not yet married, but may not have been not staying at Clermont either.  Perhaps she had gone to stay with her older sister Elizabeth Livingston Ludlow.  Elizabeth was 31, married, and living in a lively social center that would have offered young Mary the opportunity to spend the winter social season scoping out eligible young men once she'd passed through the expected period of mourning.  Or conversely, perhaps it is for young Mary and not her step mother that a short list of bedroom furniture and tea wares were separated out for the "widow and child or children" in the inventory.

Indeed step mother Mary Broome took up a long list of furnishings and comforts of her own and left the house to its official heir.  The 1844 household inventory taken on Edward Philip's death shows her taking not only her clothing (worth a whopping $500), but also several pages worth of beds, desks, lamps, tables, curtains, carpets, and so much more "according to a compromise & With the consent" of the official heir.  It seems that Mary took what was most likely some of the better furniture, including a sofa worth $30, leaving the drawing room almost completely barren except for: 
1 Mirror                                                  80

Fender & fire irons                                 15

1 Glass Chandelier                                10
1 Centre table                                         5
In any case, she was certainly not being booted out to live in poverty, for she also was allowed to keep a carriage (still a major status symbol by this time), harnesses, and pair of coach horses totaling some $350.  She even filled out her larder, taking 50 jars of preserves, a "box of soda crackers," some cheese, and seven hogs. 

So there was young Clermont, a bit of a home-body by his own admission.  Just a few years earlier in December of 1841, he too had spent time with his sister and her husband in their New York City home, but even before the real onslaught of winter social season had gotten rolling, Clermont was already complaining about all of the parties he'd had to attend.  Now at last as master of the Hudson Valley estate he had the freedom to stay home in the country and tend him family's ancestral mansion and grounds.


Within a year he married his 3rd cousin Cornelia (above at right) from just upriver at Oak Hill, and their first daughter was born in 1845.  A son John Henry followed in 1848.  Still, that was no reason to kick out his younger brother and sister.  Mary and Robert E. staid on in the mansion until their own marriages a few years later--even then both both couples staid on for at least a year at their childhood home until their long-term living situations could be arranged. They most likely slept in the south wing beyond the study, whose two sunny bedrooms their father had added onto the house in 1831.

The rooms were nicely outfitted with grass "matting" on the floors, fine dressing dressing tables, wash stands for bathing, and some very good feather beds.  It may have looked a little like the image at right, a Brooklyn bedroom circa 1850-67 (from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).  Note the little wash stand at left with a wash set for bathing neatly organized on top of it.  This pairing of furniture and china, essential for daily bathing, was listed in nearly every bedroom (including one of the servants' rooms) in the house.  The widowed Mrs. Edward Livingston also took two more with her when she left.  The wash stands were considered a  self-care station separate from dressing tables, which appear in alongside them in each of the family rooms.

Servants to care for the family slept in a pair of bedrooms in the basement--also sunny, but without fireplaces to keep them warm.  Two bedsteads, 3 chairs, a wash stand, and even an inexpensive carpet were in one room, while the other had only a pair of simple mattresses on the floor.  It seems possible that a third room in the attic housed an additional few servants, with its two poor straw mattresses tucked in amongst a bunch of stored furniture and andirons.  According to the 1840 census, there were 10 people living on the estate who could have been servants, though whether they all lived inside the house or some staid in other onsite buildings, I don't know.  By the  1850, 1855 and 1860 censuses, the household staff seems to have shrunk to more like five servants.

Entering the house's spacious center hall, you would have been given a sense of stately order.  A settee, 4 chairs, and two small tables made up the usual furniture for a hallways of the period, while a clock (possibly our tall case clock as pictured at left, which still stands there), hanging lantern, and the Chancellor's wooden "spy glass" peering out the front door.  The floor was fitted out with a large--and probably rather fine--oil cloth ($50), along with a smaller carpet ($6), stair carpet, and two door mats ($2).


The mansion's rooms overall were well furnished, including a bevvy of fine pieces from the respected maker Duncan Phyfe as well as that very fancy mirror listed in the drawing room inventory above.  At $80 it was by far the most expensive piece of furniture in the house, and more than three times as expensive as any other mirror.  If only I could figure out which one it was!

Above, at right is an 1845 image from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston showing a room that with many of the same elements that would have appeared in Clermont's drawing room, including a large center table, glistening lamp, footstools, mirror over the mantle, and even a piano fuerte not unlike the one still in our collections  (if you zoom in on the image, don't miss the decorative cover that's been inserted into the fireplace to pretty it it up for the warm summer months).


Curiously, the dining room had a full array of seating furniture in 1844 when Edward Philip died.  In addition to 8 dining chairs (the dining table appears to have gone with the step mother), there is also a nice sofa ($25), easy chair ($20), and small table ($5) which could have been some sort of side table for the seating furniture.  This situation seems to have suited Clermont well, for they were never moved out.  According to his son's recollections, Clermont always "sat for preference in our dining room, where his easy chair & sofa were installed."


The family enjoyed a large compliment of inherited silver and silver plate, glass, and china for their dinners (like the tiny silver and cobalt glass salt cellar at right).  Much of this was specialized to serve specific foods, such as the swanky "celery bowl" and the fine silver castor stands and silver punch bowls  The ceramics alone included:

1 dinner set white and gilt 200 pieces               125 
                blue India 120                            50 
Desert         black and gilt  80                      50
1 Lot cups and saucers        34                       15 
19 cups and saucers  (French)                          15 
3                 “ white pieces do.                      3

I get the sense that after Cornelia's untimely death in 1851 however, that family meals became relatively staid.  When Robert E. got married in 1854, his 6-year-old nephew John Henry stood, gazing up at the "wonder pyramid of glace fruits...I had probably never seen such a thing before & it made a most profound impression!"  At least the meals were well-furnished with fine fruits and vegetables from the mansion's gardens. 

It seems that the patriarch of the estate preferred to be in the shady north-facing rooms (as our dining room is); he even selected the little north office wing pictured at right for his son's and wife's bedrooms.  In fact with the large trees you can see growing almost right up against the house, it's a wonder that much light penetrated the interior at all!  

Stepping outside of the mansion you would have found the patriarch's true love: the farm.  More than any other head of household, Clermont doted on his orchards, his gardens, and the land.  According to John Henry, "He was devoted to his country place, a good shot & a good horseman & particularly fond of flowers, working for hours himself in his greenhouse..." Perhaps from time to time he joined his cousin Montgomery, next door at New Clermont, where there was a race track installed. 

A sizable acreage was still associated with the property, though some lands were split off along the river where his younger brother and sister built their own mansions Northwood and Southwood under his supervision.  Chiddingstone (at left in the late 19th century), owned by his older sister Margaretand her husband David Clarkson sat just south of these so a whole row Livingston brothers and sisters could easily go up and down visiting each other, connected by the old locust-lined Avenue that ran along the river (the origin of our current dirt access road).

To the east, about a mile away, stood an orchard (approximate location marked with a red circle at right) with nearly a dozen different varieties of apples and pears that were both used at home and sold to the city.  Somewhere around there was also a vineyard whose grapes were sold.  Just up the hill from the mansion was the greenhouse mentioned above, where he grew assorted plants and even fruit trees like nectarine.  And a large garden still elsewhere featured extensive hotbeds and rows of fruits and vegetables. 

Outbuildings dotted the landscape around the mansion, including an ice house--which Clermont at first used tenant labor to fill in the winters--root cellar, wood house, and the first part of the carriage barn or "coach house" that now serves as our Visitors Center.  The inventory lists "barns and farm house," which likely included multiple barns for the 200 sheep, 22 cows, cattle and calves, 6 horses, and 2 oxen listed in the inventory.  Additional barns would also have been kept to house grain and farm equipment.  The farm house is most likely what is now known as Clermont Cottage and housed a farm manager and his family (Clermont and Sylvan cottages marked with red circles at left).

Sylvan Cottage (pictured at right after the addition of a deep porch) was originally built some decades earlier for farm managers or other agents, but in 1856 the house held a Danish immigrant named Wolf to teach both the Livingston children and the neighboring DePeyster.  Mr. and Mrs. Wolf kept the north room as a school room and raised their own family in the four or five-room cottage as well.  The building was heated with coal, like the mansion, and it would have always had that smell about it in the winters.

As an estate, Clermont was pretty representative of its fellows in the Hudson River Valley at the time.  The stately mansion, peering over the bluffs at the Hudson River was merely the centerpiece of a sprawling acreage and large assortment of outbuildings.  As the patriarch of this little empire Clermont, the man, spent years perfecting the farm portion, making no real notable changes to the house as he had inherited it from his father.  Indeed, it seems he never even rearranged the dining room--living throughout his life with the odd addition of a sofa and easy easy chair to the usual dining table and chairs. 

The house was well-appointed with full compliments of silver, glass, and china--everything needed to support a high status lifestyle in the mid-nineteenth century.  But even so, it remained a relatively staid place.  John Henry's childhood unfamiliarity with fancy party food as a child suggests that Clermont felt little need to do much entertaining, at least as a widower (he did eventually remarry), and a strict daily routine for the children focused on lessons and good behavior with consistent fatherly supervision.

It is a far cry from the household that John Henry created when he took over in the 1870s.  He undertook major remodeling to the house that included adding on our fanciful chateauesque roof, putting a second story on the south wing, and completely renovating several rooms.  His wives (he too was widowed and remarried twice) held parties, and his youngest daughters Honoria and Janet cavorted with a large assortment of dogs and cats in the gardens.


Although it is John Henry's household that we interpret today, his father's and grandfather's Clermont is not completely lost to us.  The inventory I've been quoting is an invaluable source for recreating this earlier picture, along with a small selection of letters and Clermont Livingston's scantily-worded weather journal.  For anyone who'd rather picture Clermont in the days of Dickens and Queen Victoria than "Downton Abbey," these are the keys to that vision.