Friday, May 30, 2014

Domestic Service at Rose Hill

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

The step stove in the Rose Hill kitchen

A major part of our tour at Rose Hill is the story of the Swan family, who lived in the house and owned the farm for 40 years. However, they were not the only ones living and working there. During their years at Rose Hill, the Swans had many workers and servants who labored on the property. While not always obvious in tours of historic houses, domestic labor was essential to the success of upper-class 19th-century households. Over the last twenty years, many historic houses have begun to incorporate the stories of laborers and servants into their interpretations in order to tell a fuller story of their sites.

At Rose Hill in the mid-19th century, the Swans hired laborers for agricultural and domestic work. This post will focus on the female servants at the house. Interpreting the life of domestic servants in the 19th century involves a great deal of research, good luck and some speculation. While many sites, including Rose Hill, have extensive information about the family that owned the property, information about the workers who contributed to the functioning of their households can be much harder to find. At the Geneva Historical Society, we are fortunate to have some primary source materials about those who worked on the farm and in the house, and it is these materials that have formed the basis for our current interpretation of servant life at the house.

Image of Margaret Swan with her children
Margaret Swan with her three oldest children, c. 1858

Management of household servants would have been Margaret Johnston Swan’s responsibility. Having grown up in a house without servants, she certainly had experience with farm and housework. We know her older sister Nancy was cooking meals for the Johnston family by the time she was 14. Margaret probably did the same. Like most housewives, Margaret would have had to take on some tasks when servants quit suddenly. Margaret seems to have been less bothered by managing these tasks than her Geneva contemporary, Adelaide Prouty. Where Adelaide complains: “Sent away a girl today for impertinence & in consequence have had to do her work myself. I'm tired tonight–and disheartened, for oh what a tread mill housekeeping is,” Margaret writes in June of 1860 about feuding servants: “Penney and Ginney [sic] still keep up a quarrel. How long they will get along together I don’t know, neither do I care. There is plenty more as good as they.” By September, Penny and Ginny had been replaced.

Satirical illustration of a servant in the country from Puck magazine
This satirical illustration from Puck magazine showed the challenge of getting Irish servants to work in the country. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Working as a servant was one of the least popular ways for 19th-century women in America to make a living. It was physically demanding, and workers were expected to be available at any time of the day or night. Living in their employer's house, they had no expectation of privacy and could be fired on a moment's notice. Any woman with skills or opportunity elsewhere did something else. In much of the United States only Irish immigrants and African Americans would work as servants--usually because they had no other options.

Image of servant in her chemise serving a shocked couple tomatoes
Irish servants were the butt of many jokes in the late 19th-century popular press.

What work would these female servants have done? There are very few specifics in the primary sources that we have. Several documents mention Margaret having a cook. The cook would have been responsible for feeding the family and the other servants, as well as for washing dishes and keeping the kitchen clean and orderly. She may have kept up the kitchen garden for the family, churned butter, made cheese, and pickled or preserved produce. Other female servants would have fetched wood and water, cleaned rooms, emptied and cleaned chamber pots, lit fires, washed clothes and linens, and served meals. The Swans also had a nursemaid when Margaret gave birth, though it is unclear how long the nurse stayed on to watch the children.

Illustration of poor woman carrying water buckets
Rose Hill had no running water in the 1800s, so hauling water would have been a major part of servant work.

For anyone, housework at this time was dirty and difficult, particularly without modern conveniences like hot running water and washing machines. With continual soot produced by fires, lamps and candles, and no window or door screens, dusting and sweeping were daily activities. Well-off families also had furniture, glassware, porcelain and metal that had to be polished, and carpets and curtains that had to be cleaned regularly. The Swans also ran a farm, and women on farms often took care of chores like dairying and egg production. The family did not raise poultry for sale; however, they did produce about 1000 pounds of butter per year. We don’t know who churned butter at Rose Hill, but Margaret may have supervised hired help. Possibly they hired neighbors or the wives of their farm laborers to produce butter.

In the 1850s, Margaret's husband Robert meticulously recorded his payment of wages to workers, including both farm laborers and some household servants. Female servants were paid $4 or $5 per month. By contrast male workers were paid $10 per month. His account book reveals the names and pay rates of these workers. Sometimes Robert writes a comment that tells a bit more about the person or his impression of them. While we are lucky to have any records of servants, the problem with these papers is that they present only the Swan family’s views on the workers. The servants themselves have no voice. To broaden our understanding of these people, we began searching for information about them from other sources, such as census, directory and cemetery records.

image of 1850 census listing for Swan Family
The Swans had servants living at their house from the first year of their marriage in 1850.

According to the Federal census, the Swans set up housekeeping in 1850 with two female house servants. By 1860 when they had five young children in the house, they had four female servants living with them. In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, when they had fewer and older children at home, they had three and two servants respectively. Only one of the servants named in the census is found in Robert’s account book, demonstrating the turnover among domestic workers.

Tracking down these workers in other sources is difficult. After looking for the names of the Swans’ domestic workers in census records, Geneva directories and online genealogy sources, we’ve collected some data, much of it uncertain. Of the six domestic workers listed in Robert’s account books, we found very little definitive information, but enough hints to give us the outlines of a story.

Caricature from Puck magazine shows a demanding Irish servant terrorizing her mistress. Courtesy Library of Congress.

At this period in western New York nearly all women who worked as servants were young and unmarried. Some were African Americans, but many more were immigrants, with the Swans hiring mostly Irish girls in their early twenties. Many of those mentioned in Robert’s papers in the 1850s were probably married by the 1860 census and listed under their husband's names. Unless we find out whom they married, they become essentially untraceable. One example of these difficulties is in the story of Hannah Cain. Hannah was mentioned in Robert's farm account book in 1856, when he wrote that he fired her for “improper conduct with Tom.” Subsequently he reports that Tom married her and he returns to work. That is where her story ends. As there were three different men named “Tom” listed in Robert's records during the 1850s, we don’t even know for certain whom she married. We did find a Hannah Kane Harvey and Thomas Harvey buried in St. Teresa’s Cemetery in Stanley. Their gravestone lists their births in Ireland and their dates fit with the timeline of our sources, as does the birth of their first child in 1857. Robert was inconsistent in spelling names, so his “Tom Halvey” could have been “Harvey.” The family was listed in the census for the Town of Hopewell from 1860 until 1900. If this is them, Tom continued working as a farm laborer. They had several children and bought their house at some point.

Robert Swan recorded his payment of wages to some domestic servants, including Bridget Griffin.

One of the longer-serving domestics at the house was Bridget Griffin, who was living with the Swans during the 1850 census, but, according to Robert, quit “in a hurry in a passion” in 1854. Based on the records at St. Patrick’s Cemetery she married John Batchelder, a farmer and English immigrant, and remained in the area. Two other domestics, Anne McGloon and Margaret Delaney, appear to have married men Robert employed, and raised their families in Geneva.

Finding out specific information about the individuals employed as maids at Rose Hill is challenging, but researching their Irish names reveals their community’s eventual assimilation into the city of Geneva. Of the Brodericks, Murphys, Gallaghers, Stapletons and others who worked at Rose Hill, many remained laborers for their lives, but married, had children, and owned their homes by the time of their deaths. Some had daughters who worked in service like their mothers, but others had daughters who became dressmakers, milliners, teachers, or workers in new Geneva’s new industries. Their sons worked as clerks for the railroad and telephone companies. They built new institutions, like St. Francis DeSales Church and School. They fought in the Civil War and took on political roles, including as council members, mayor and police chief. In the end, although it is hard to pinpoint their individual contributions to the community, the Irish laborers at Rose Hill helped build the Swans’ success, but also built the 20th-century community of Geneva.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Herman Ten Eyck Foster Part 2

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

In May 1842 Herman came from New York City to learn farming from Mr. Owens near Ithaca.  He wrote in his diary that he was sad to leave his friends, though trying to overcome it.  By June 18, he was already waiting for the Smiths to visit him.  Herman usually called the Smiths “the boys,” but their names were Augustus and William.  We do not know what their relationship with Herman was – they might have been friends or relatives.  The Smiths arrived at the Owens farm on June 23 for a five day visit.  They brought letters from Herman’s parents, a compass (which he said was very welcome,) and “plenty of candy.”  

In September, Herman wrote that ”Mr. O. has consented to receive the boys (Smiths.)  I am very glad of it as they will be some company for me. …”  He spent December and January away from the farm, and did not keep his journal during those months.  Returning to the Owenses in February, he brought the Smiths with him and they quickly settled in.  The three young men arranged and catalogued their books (Herman said they had 101 books, all the best works on agriculture, history, biography, “etc.”), got weighed in Jacksonville (William weighed 130, Augustus 124, and Herman 160), bought a bureau in Trumansburg, and got measured for frock coats.

We can picture William and Augustus Smith looking like this in their new frock coats.  Frock coats were formal day wear.  The boys would have worn them for church and to pay calls, but not for working on their farm.  The figure on the right wears a variation of a frock coat called a cutaway, or morning coat.
On March 1, Herman wrote “Today is my twenty-first birthday.  I can hardly realise that I am so old, yet so it is.  The three young men took a wintery journey to Ludlowville to buy a wagon on March 14.  They stayed overnight with friends, and “Went to bed by a fire, quite a luxury for us and duly appreciated.”  The following Sunday, “On our way through Jacksonville A. [Augustus] got a letter from Pauline.  While reading it, and when he had reached the 8th line we were somewhat interrupted by the cutter turning over and emptying us into a snow bank.  I held on to the reins and was dragged along by the reins for a few feet on that part of the body usually denominated the abdomen.  We picked ourselves up and tried it again.  Before however reaching home we were upset 3 times.”

Summer eventually came, and marked a year for Herman on the Owens farm.  On June 9, Herman “Left home with Mr. Owen for Waterloo and to look at some farms.  . . .”  A Mr. Strong showed them around a farm owned by Mr. Malbone, “a very eccentric man, subject to fits of hypochondriacism.”   (We are not sure if this Mr. Strong was William Kerley Strong of Rose Hill.  Herman did know him.)  Since Herman’s father and Uncle Jacob had previously seen and approved this farm, Herman decided to buy it -  “Could hardly sleep for thinking.”  On Saturday June 10, he purchased the farm for $10,000.  His new property was south of John Johnston’s farm and Herman named it Lakeland.

Meanwhile, the boys were thinking of buying Mr. Van Gieson’s farm nearby.  Mr. Van Gieson was a brother-in-law of William Kerley Strong, who built the larger part of Rose Hill.  Though the parties came to a tentative agreement, when the Smiths went to Waterloo to make it official, a lawyer told them that Mr. Van Gieson did not have a clear title to the land.  Herman was very disappointed.  Eventually the boys bought a farm at Canoga, near Cayuga Lake.  We estimate that the boys’ farm was around ten or twelve miles from Herman’s, and there seems to have been a fair amount of visiting back and forth.

Throughout the summer, Herman worked on his farm house.  On August 16, he wrote “To all who may read this I would give one piece of advice – never repair old buildings.”  On September 14, he commented “House leaks considerably.”  By October he was referring to the old house and the new house.  He also noted when “all carpenters went to training” – apparently this was militia training.

Herman hired workers, including Matthias from the Owens farm, and a married couple named Pearcy for $180 for a year.  In September he wrote, “Alexander & James left for the west.”  (At this point the west may have been somewhere around the Mississippi.)  Alexander and James were probably farm workers looking for better opportunities.

As final touches to his new house, Herman fixed up the boys’ room (though the Smiths had moved by this time to Canoga,) and got a puppy from the nearby Dey farm.  On December 2 he wrote - “I put down the oil cloth and carpets.  We are now all in order.”  Just before Christmas, Herman left for New York -  “Stayed two weeks in city.  On Saturday, 30, became engaged.  On Monday, 8th, left city....”

Up next, the farmer takes a wife.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Community Stories

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

Club 86 in the 1950s.  Photograph loaned by Bill Legott

Last fall we became involved in a film project about the history of Club 86 in Torrey Park. Jim Augustine, a Rochester native whose roots are in the north end of Geneva, asked for background information about the restaurant and Geneva. We made several posters about the club and Torrey Park for an old-fashioned gig at Club 86 with their famous food and a live band. Community members were invited, free of charge; the event and interviews with those who remembered the place in the 1940s and 1950s became the centerpiece of a short documentary.

 Last month we co-hosted, with the Smith Opera House, a pre-release screening of Club 86.  Like any creation, choices were made about what to put in or leave out (a planned DVD will include much more footage and interviews) but overall the audience was pleased with it.

Much of what I’ve written so far was reported in the Finger Lakes Times or is known to those of you who were there. The larger story that doesn’t fit neatly into a daily news article is about what happens when you invite a community to tell its stories. By and large, people show up and are happy to be asked. (Jim was a genius, offering free lunch and access to a cash bar – who can say no? Sadly, the historical society can’t offer incentives like that.)

As an outsider, not growing up in Geneva in the 1940s, I’m fascinated by the internationally-famous musicians that played the club – not one-night stands but five nights. The list includes Tony Bennett, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Louis Prima, and many more whose fame has faded over time. I listen to their music and am amazed that Genevans (and people from further away) got to see them perform in a room where the furthest seat is still a short stone’s throw from the stage.

The stories I’ve heard from “insiders” are very different: each one focuses on family. “My grandmother worked there”, “I used to visit my Aunt Lena at work”, “my dad knew the Legotts and got me a job when I was 14”. The stories start with family, then usually move into working at the club – cleaning radishes, peeling potatoes, folding napkins, prepping the bar – and finally get to a human perspective of the stars. One man’s mother laundered and ironed Louis Armstrong’s famous white handkerchiefs. Another person remembered cleaning the main room while Nat King Cole practiced piano for hours in the afternoon.

I heard my new favorite story after the pre-release screening. A man came up to me with photographs of an upright piano lid. (I’ll be vague until I have permission to use names.) His grandparents were local musicians; when they went to shows at Club 86, they would invite performers back to their house for a drink. Many of the guests carved their names into the piano – the first photo I saw was Nat and Maria Cole, the next was Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton.  I had to Google names like Johnny Board and Irving Ashby, but found they were well-known sidemen in bands that came to the club.

 Many of the signers dated their scratchings and were there in the late 1940s and early 1950s. One aspect of the story is that the host couple was white and most of their guests were African American, who couldn’t stay in Geneva hotels. What was that like? Did anyone say anything? Again as an outsider, even more amazing to me is walking up to Louis Armstrong and saying, “Hi, want to come out to the house for a drink?”

The eternal challenge for local history organizations is gathering these stories. People take the stories for granted because their friends had the same experience. They may share the stories with children or grandchildren who are unresponsive, and they stop telling the stories. Or they believe their lives were ordinary and they never did anything “historical” that a museum would want to hear about it.

Well, you probably did, and we want to hear about it. We can’t offer baked ziti and a live band, but call us or stop by and share your stories, photographs, and objects.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Without a Story it is All Just "Stuff"!

by Karen Osburn, Archivist

I think I have written before that I am a collector.  I am interested in many things, try out many crafts (with varying degrees of success), read lots of books and am constantly curious.  I love working in museums because they not only provide me with gainful employment, they provide me with the opportunity to learn about and work with other peoples “stuff”.

What is “stuff”? I looked up the word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to get a complete definition; here is the Full Definition of STUFF:

1:  materials, supplies, or equipment used in various activities: as An obsolete:  military baggage
2:  material to be manufactured, wrought, or used in construction <clear half-inch pine stuff — Emily Holt>
3:  a finished textile suitable for clothing; especially :  wool or worsted material
4a :  literary or artistic production
b :  writing, discourse, talk, or ideas of little value :  trash
5a :  an unspecified material substance or aggregate of matter <volcanic rock is curious stuff>
b :  something (as a drug or food) consumed or introduced into the body by humans
c :  a matter to be considered <the truth was heady stuff> <long-term policy stuff>
d :  a group or scattering of miscellaneous objects or articles <pick that stuff up off the floor>; also :  nonphysical unspecified material <conservation and…all kinds of good stuff — Eric Korn>
6a :  fundamental material :  substance <the stuff of greatness>
b :  subject matter <a teacher who knows her stuff>
7:  special knowledge or capability <showing their stuff>
8a :  spin imparted to a thrown or hit ball to make it curve or change course
b :  the movement of a baseball pitch out of its apparent line of flight :  the liveliness of a pitch <greatest pitcher of my time…had tremendous stuff — Ted Williams>
9:  dunk shot
— stuff·less adjective

As you can see, “stuff” has as many meanings as it has forms. For the sake of this blog post I will just refer to two or three dimensional, inanimate materials that take up space in our lives, mostly my life. 

Just "stuff."

My own house is filled with “stuff”, figurines of animals, stuffed bears, model horses, lots of books, and the materials needed to do several different crafts.  I also like to cook so my house is filled with unusual bake ware, odd dishes, ceramics, and ingredients.  I could go on, but I am sure you get the idea.  My life at home is filled with “stuff” and my life at work is filled with “stuff”.  At the museum I have 50,000 photos, numerous books, some art work, manuscripts, maps, family collections, business collections, religious collections and information on the city of Geneva.  At work the majority of my collections are two dimensional, the majority being paper or film.  The 3-D collections fall under the expert care of our curator, John Marks.

Everywhere I turn there is “stuff”.  So what is the point I am trying to make here?  All of these wonderful collections are invaluable, but I don’t mean in a monetary way.  Of course some items are valuable in a material way, but almost all of the things that fill my office, fall under my care in the museum, or collect dust in my home are valuable for the information they contain, the sentimental value or attachment they hold, or what their existence tells us about the people who once owned them.

Valuable "stuff" - Clio wishes for fish.

For example, in the archive at the Geneva Historical Society we have a many photograph albums.  Most of these albums are of local people living their lives in and around the City of Geneva.  Albums like these are history.  In context they tell the visual story of a family, their friends, and their pets in a place that is common and familiar to those of us who live in Geneva.  However, a small minority of these albums are filled with images of unknown places and unknown people.  They have no context for us to place them in so we guess at the dates, guess at the places and make judgments on the images because we have no way of knowing the truth about them.  The first albums are valuable historic documents; the second albums are interesting, but not as valuable and are more likely to be considered “stuff”.

As I look around my office I see a good example of “stuff”, a dream catcher.  Now I have a dream catcher at home that was made for me by a very good friend and given to me for Christmas.  It has sentimental value, it is unique, it was made just for me, and it tells me something about my friend and her ability and knowledge.  It is valuable “stuff”.  The dream catcher in my office was a promotion from a Native American group wanting a donation.  It is not unique, it is not carefully crafted, and it has no meaning for me except to remind me that someone was looking for money from me.  As far as I am concerned it is just stuff.

Just "stuff" - V-E Day in Paris, 1945

The difference between plain “stuff” and valuable “stuff” is not so much about what it is made of, but does it have a story behind it?  Items with history tell stories and become much more than “stuff”, generic items with no provenance are less valuable no matter what they are made of and fall into the realm of just “stuff”. 

Just to see if this idea of “stuff” makes sense to you, see which category “valuable stuff” or “just stuff” you would put the following items in:

1.)    Red Fruit of the Loom T-Shirt you have worn for 2 years; Crosby, Still, and Nash Concert T-shirt from an event you attended at CMAC; Land’s End T-Shirt bought in the Land’s End Store in Maine while on vacation in 2001.
2.)   Christmas card from your first Christmas; Christmas card from an acquaintance; handmade Christmas card from a good friend.
3.)    Small dog figurine purchased when you were 10 at you first trip to Niagara Falls;  a dog figurine you bought for 10ȼ at a garage sale; a ceramic sculpture of your first dog handcrafted by a local artist.

Valuable "stuff" - Walt Doupagne (my dad) in Paris on V-E Day

Sometimes it isn’t very easy to decide is it?  These are choices we all face whether you are in the museum field or deciding which of the 263 flower figurines of your deceased aunt’s to keep.  In the end it is all just stuff, the deciding factor is the story behind each piece.  If you have an interesting story to go with a photo, book, sculpture or any object please think about writing it down and keeping it with the item so it doesn’t get thrown away for being “just stuff.”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rose Hill Mansion From Top to Bottom

Rose Hill Mansion is open and this season we have lots planned. If you haven't been to the house in a while (or even if you have!) stop out this summer. In addition to Jane Austen Day on July 26 (more on that in the future), we have rearranged the Carriage House Gift Shop and Visitor Center, are offering Top-to-Bottom Tours on the first Saturday of the month all season, and are hosting a concert series on the grounds in June, July and August.

The Top-to-Bottom tours start this Saturday and will be an opportunity for visitors to see areas of the house not open on our regular tours, including the basement and cupola. Ever wondered what the view is like from the top of the house? Now is your chance to see how lovely it is! Tours will be held at 11 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm and are included in regular admission. Tours are free for Geneva Historical Society members..

This tour is appropriate for adults and children 15 years and older. Please be advised that there are many stairs to climb and some confined spaces included in the tour. Because of these limitations, space on the tour is restricted, and reservations are required. Reservations may be made by calling Rose Hill at 315-789-3848.

Once a working farm, the house and surrounding grounds at Rose Hill are open seasonally for guided tours. Built in 1839, the elegant Greek Revival house was the center of a busy and productive farm at mid-century, occupied by the Swan family from 1850-1890. Twenty rooms of the house are restored and furnished in the Empire style, popular from the 1820s to 1850s. The property also has a magnificent view of Seneca Lake and nearby farmlands

The Carriage House Gift Shop is open whenever the house is open. The shop carries historically-inspired and locally made items, as well as souvenirs, history books, jewelry and home decorative items. A tasting room operated by Billsboro Winery is also located on the site. The tasting room is open weekends in May and daily from June to October.