Friday, April 25, 2014

Meet the Neighbors: Herman Ten Eyck Foster, Part 1

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

I had thought that Robert Swan was unusual in coming from a business background in New York City to farm in Seneca County.  There was at least one other man, though, who came from New York City to farm.  That man’s name was Herman Ten Eyck Foster, and thanks to Winterthur Museum, we have transcripts of his diaries from the 1840s.

We have a brief overview of Herman’s life from the memorial written by Abraham B. Conger, an ex-president of the State Agricultural Society.  It was printed in the Proceedings of 1870, shortly after Herman’s untimely death.  Born in 1822 Herman was the third son of Andrew Foster, a Scotch merchant, and Anna Ten Eyck, of a Dutch Albany family.  At 15 he entered Columbia University and earned a BA.  Though he tried being a merchant,  “his tastes, and perhaps also a regard to his health, prompted him to the study of farming.”  He spent a year on a farm near Ithaca, with the family of Aaron K. Owen, learning his new craft.  In June 1843 he bought 250 acres on the east shore of Seneca Lake, and called it Lakeland.  Lakeland was south of John Johnston’s farm Viewfields.  In fall of 1844, Herman married Pauline Lentilhon. She was the daughter of Antoine Lentilhon, a French resident of New York City.  Their marriage lasted for 4 ½ years, until she died. They had two daughters and a son.  He never remarried.
Herman tells us about his early days in upstate New York in a lively diary:  “May 3, 1842 - I felt, naturally enough, a little sad when I went to bed last night at the idea of being altogether alone among strangers without the prospect of seeing any of my friends for some months, yet I endeavored to overcome the feeling and succeeded pretty well.....”  He received many letters from home and wrote many in return, often in French.  Family and friends also visited him often.  Still, he had a little trouble adjusting to country life.  He subscribed to a newspaper, and said “It is astonishing, what patience one has when in the country to read even the advertisements.”

The Owenses were Quakers.  Herman, who visited several different churches, tried the Quaker services in May.  “Went this morning for the first time to Quaker meeting . . .  no one spoke a word, the whole time, and my thoughts were very naturally directed to my friends at home.  I do not think that their form of service is a good one, especially for the young people.”  Despite his wandering thoughts, Herman attended a Quaker wedding in June.  It was a very simple ceremony.  “We had a short address from Mrs. Otis who is I believe a preacher.  It was the first time I ever heard a female speak in public, the effect was very singular. …”  Herman played his flute for his hosts, and observed that “Though they are Quakers, they have not as many of their prejudices as might be expected.”  He was troubled, though, that “The quakers [sic] do not apparently think it wrong to visit on Sunday.”  In general, Herman thought, the sermons in local churches did not measure up to those in New York City, and “I have come to the conclusion that most people in the country pay too little attention to the Sabbath.”

Herman plunged eagerly into farm work.  On May 4, he had a plowing lesson, and found it easier than he expected.  Nevertheless, on May 30, he reported that he broke the plow.  He was amazed at the weight of the stones the farm workers could lift, but reflected that “it comes from habit.”   In August Herman recorded the arrival of a threshing machine that went from farm to farm in the area.  “The machine was put in motion by 5 horses, and required 14 hands, men and boys to tend it.  Ordinarily it thrashes 200 bushels a day, and Mr. O. had to pay $3.50 a hundred bushels.  We can not yet tell how many bushels we have, as it has not yet gone through the fanning mill.  We expect it will amount to 400.”  Mr. Owens had exchanged hands with several neighboring farmers, so he had to hire only one extra man for this job.  Herman mentioned that the wheat was rusty, and the dust all over the workers turned them red. He began keeping records of the butter produced by three cows, “as well for my own satisfaction as for that of Mr. O.”  He noted that he would draw a plan of the barn someday, because it was well-built and convenient.

Herman seems to have become close to one of the young Owens farm workers named Matthias. He often worked with Matthias, and mentioned him often in the diary.  (Later Matthias appears working at Lakeland.)  Apparently, Herman played the flute in his room, and Matthias objected.  In August, Herman went away from the house on a fine night, and played his flute; “Matthias tells me he heard it as distinctly as if I had been in my room.  I cannot help it, for music I must have.”  Besides music, Herman refreshed his spirit by visiting Taughannock Falls, having tea and dinner with neighbors (the Strongs, the Delafields, and others,) reading biographies and travel accounts, singing in a church choir, and taking impressions of flowers.  Always ready for new experiences, he worked the election in November as a clerk, and received 20 shillings – “this being the first money I ever earned.”

Taughannock Falls

Up Next:  Friends come to stay with Herman at the Owens farm

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lift Up Thine Eyes: The Upper Floors of Downtown Geneva

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

Do you walk around downtown? If so, do you look at the upper floors of the buildings? (I say “walk” because this is a dangerous exercise when driving – trust me, I’ve tried it.)

As you look at the tops of downtown Geneva buildings, two terms to know are cornice and window hood. Cornices are the decorative bits directly underneath the edge of the roof. Window hoods, sometimes called drip hoods, are anything over a window to direct rain away from the top of the window.  

Some of downtown’s upper floors are ornate:

Originally built in the late 1890s for the Baker & Stark clothing store, this is now the Geneva Bicycle Center.

Some have been hidden for decades:

Metal facades were all the rage after World War II. Traditional downtown architecture was old, and business owners wanted to look modern and space-age. They used solid metal panels, or sometimes perforated screens that allowed light into the windows they were hiding. As tastes change, the metal has been taken down. You can see the difference between the Franklin Furniture façade, and the original brickwork that was revealed around 2008.

Some have been changed:

As you can see, these three stores on Seneca Street (J.W. Smith’s, Home Dairy, and Keilty Dry Goods) originally had one roof line and identical windows. The middle building had a new façade by 1929, but the window openings are still in the same configuration and the higher cornice is false. The late Merrill Roenke told me that his father was concerned about the heavy cast iron window hoods falling off J.W. Smith’s so they removed them; he didn’t say what happened to the cornice. In the third photo you can see that the current owners have put back window hoods, but not in the original style.

And finally, some have been lost:

With our photo archives, I have the luxury of looking at buildings that are gone. This building was at 525 Exchange Street, next to the Seneca Hotel. (Some may remember when Peck’s clothing store was there.)

Does any of this matter? It’s all personal opinion and taste. I feel differently walking into a 19th century brick building with decorative cornices and window hoods than I do entering a concrete block store with large single-pane windows. Preserving and investing in downtown buildings is all about betting that enough people will feel the same way to come to those stores and spend money.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Looking Back on Chocolate Almond Coffee Cake and Department Stores

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

When I was very young I remember my mother dropping me off at my grandmother’s house in Rochester and taking a bus downtown to shop in Rochester’s department stores.  Sibley, Lindsey and Curr Co. was THE store at the time.  I used to beg her to take me with her, but she never did.  I had to wait until I was 14 to take a bus downtown with my girlfriend to get my first peek at this magical store that had EVERYTHING!  I still remember my friend, Pamm, telling me to close my mouth because it made me look like a “country hick.”  (We lived in a very rural part of Greece, NY at that time.)

As I stood under the clock in Sibley’s I knew I had never been in any store as fascinating before.  I am really happy I had that opportunity, because 20 years later that “magic” era was disappearing and the era of the suburban mall was firmly entrenched, syphoning business away from downtown stores.  Of course the malls are not solely to blame for the decline of downtowns and department stores, but it did play a part.  For someone like me, visiting stores like Sibley’s, McCurdy’s, Forman’s, or Edward’s with their very professional sales staff, who knew their frequent clients likes and dislikes and treated them with great deference even to the point of calling them when that special dress line arrived, the special bolt of cloth was in stock or your favorite author’s newest book was on the shelf was a memorable event.  I look back on these experiences with fond nostalgia.

Geneva had its share of department stores, too.   J. W. Smith’s was the big one in our city.  I didn’t move here until after the store was closed, but I remember talking with Genevans who shopped at Smith’s.  One couple told me of shopping there the first Christmas they were married and how the store wrapped everything and delivered it to their home.  Another person spoke with fondness of the store’s lending library.  I don’t recall having heard of a store with a lending library before, but I have a book in the archive with a book plate from Smith’s lending library in it.  We also have photos of the store’s interior, the fabric bolts, and millinery area.

Briefly, John Williams Smith and S.S. Cobb opened a dry goods store in Geneva in 1847 under the name Cobb & Smith.  John was a young child when the Smith family moved to Geneva from Massachusetts in 1822 and became lifelong residents from that moment on.  He worked as a clerk in various local stores until he accumulated enough experience and money to start his own business.  By 1849 S. S. Cobb left the firm and Solomon E. Smith Joined his brother in the dry goods business.  Jointly they operated J. W. Smith & Co. until John died in 1878.  The company name stayed until 1892 when a stock company was formed with S. E. Smith as President and Wm. Whitwell as secretary and treasurer.  The business name was then changed to The J. W. Smith Dry Goods Co.

On April 1st, 1929, the J. R. Roenke’s Sons, Inc. (formerly Roenke and Rogers) dry goods store, located next to Smith’s on Seneca Street, merged with J. W. Smith Company and for close to a year was run under the management of Henry and Richard Roenke.  At the end of that period the Roenkes acquired a controlling interest in the company which retained the J. W. Smith name.  When Smith’s closed in 1977 it was the oldest continuously operated Department Store in the United States. 

It was a sad day for J. W. Smith’s loyal customers when Smith’s closed in Geneva leaving the building to be used by other businesses.  For instance, Don’s Own Florists, is one of the businesses in the old Smith Building at 40-42 Seneca Street. 

As I walked around Geneva’s downtown recently, I saw signs of growth that allow me to hope the day of under-utilized city centers is coming to an end.  Stores like Stomping Grounds, Finger Lakes Gifts and Lounge, Whisper Chocolate, Mother Earth, Super Casuals and Don’s Own to name only a few are making for an interesting and pleasant shopping experience.  I was able to do the majority of my Christmas shopping locally this year which was a pleasant experience compared with fighting the mall traffic.  I anticipate the day when I can wander downtown and purchase anything I need without having to get in my car and fight the suburban traffic.  And I believe it is coming!

Oops, I forgot to tell you about the Chocolate Almond Coffee Cake.  The fifth floor of Sibley’s was a bakery and they made a coffee cake that had a chocolate almond filling in a pastry- type crust. I purchased one every time I went to Sibley’s.  They also had a gourmet grocery on the first floor which sold beautiful fruit and vegetables and items that were not found in the grocery stores where I shopped.  I remember being so disappointed when General Motors took over the 5th floor of the Sibley building displacing the bakery.  Eventually the entire food section of the store was phased out and sometime after I moved from the Rochester area, the store was closed.  The day I can buy a chocolate almond coffee cake in Geneva is the day downtowns will have come full circle for me.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Every Now and Then

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

During a session about boards at Camp Finance last year, it was suggested that a mission moment be part of a board meeting.  Loving the idea, I started sharing a mission moment (or two) during my report to the board.  Simply put, mission moments serve as examples and reminders of we, the Geneva Historical Society, exists.   Last week, I had a mission moment and was reminded of why I do what I do.

While giving a tour of the Geneva History Museum a visitor became most impressed with our collections storage.  It is here where one can find, among other things, Native American artifacts, Whale Watch wine glasses, a blue print to develop the Lake Front, furniture, and painting by Arthur Dove. As he was leaving the visitor stated that the exhibits are nice and organized but there was just something about seeing everything in one space. 

And objects (three-dimentional and papers based) are at the very heart of what we do.  Without objects, how could we tell Geneva’s stories?  How can we document the changes over time in Geneva without maps, photographs or city directories?  What would Rose Hill be like without furniture?   Who would want come to an exhibit with just text?  How can we explain John Johnston’s contributions to agriculture without a drain tile or his writings? 

Our entire collection consists of approximately 7,000 three-dimensional objects, 2,000 costumes and textiles, 1,300 cubic feet of archival materials and 50,000 photographs.   The William Walker Collection is a collection of American furniture and decorative arts from the 18th and 19th centuries.   The objects displayed within our three historic houses also include 18th and 19th century furnishings and artwork.  Located on the grounds of the Johnston House, the Mike Weaver Drain Tile Museum displays a collection of agricultural drain tiles.

Several years ago I heard that the Smithsonian displays about 3-5% of its collections.  It’s pretty safe to assume that this true for most, if not all, museums.   When not on display objects do reside in storage but they do have other uses as well.   They serve as the basis for programs for people of all ages.  Objects are available to researchers or as loans to other museums and institutions. Through social media and technology we are finding other ways to share our collections.  Several times a week John posts images on our Facebook page.  As members of the Rochester Regional Library Council we are able to digitize portions of our archival collection and these collections are accessible on-line through New York Heritage.  

And for me it all started with an object – a  quilt.  During my junior year of high school students had a shadow day where they followed professionals in a career that they were interested in pursuing.  With an interest in American History, my guidance counselor said I had two options - become a teacher or write history textbooks.  Neither option appealed to me.  Not knowing what to do with me, I was sent to the Rochester Museum and Science Center where I spent the day with a curator and educator.  And I had an awesome today!    I got a behind-the-scenes tour and received plenty of freebies from the gift shop.  Towards the end of the day I got to assist with a photo shoot of a quilt that had recently been donated to the museum.     As we got the quilt out of its box there was some general discussion about the quilt – it was a friendship quilt made in 1854.  We were told that the maker had signed one of the corners.  To my utter amazement the signature was on my corner and when I looked there was Susan B. Anthony’s signature!!   I was actually touching a quilt made by Susan B. Anthony!!  Seventeen years later words still can not describe how I felt for that hour.  In handling the Anthony quilt with my white gloves I knew what I wanted to do.  And it’s nice to be reminded of that every now and then.