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.










5 comments:

  1. I love this! It exemplifies what I often tell young people volunteering with my historical society....historical research can be like surfing the internet. You find one little thing that diverts your attention and find out something you never knew, that you never knew!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a great way to put it Grace. The "aha moment" is so much fun and feels like playing detective. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. The Satterlee estate was on Great Head, and I believe it was simply known as "Great Head." The garden in your photo was designed by Beatrix Farrand. The house burned in the fire of 47, and the ruins were removed when the estate was given to the national park in 1949. The Bar Harbor Historical Society has incredibly detailed information on all the cottages - they keep index cards listing dates of construction, owners, names of the contractors who built them, and so forth. They also have photos of most of them, and maps noting where each cottage was. (I've been doing a lot of research there, as you can probably tell!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. The Satterlee estate was on Great Head, and I believe it was simply known as "Great Head." The garden in your photo was designed by Beatrix Farrand. The house burned in the fire of 47, and the ruins were removed when the estate was given to the national park in 1949. The Bar Harbor Historical Society has incredibly detailed information on all the cottages - they keep index cards listing dates of construction, owners, names of the contractors who built them, and so forth. They also have photos of most of them, and maps noting where each cottage was. (I've been doing a lot of research there, as you can probably tell!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Jennifer! So often I put these blogs together using material I find at Clermont, but there may have limited time to get in touch with other institutions. It's good to know what's out there so that when we come back to the topic later (and we almost always do), we know how to dig further. I didn't get a chance to ask them about their hard files at all!

    ReplyDelete