Living in Style: A June Day at the Bartow Estate, 1838

Image of The Pell House by Otto K. Bacher, Scribner's Magazine, April 1892

The "Pell" House, Otto K. Bacher, Scribner's Magazine, April 1892

Excerpts from a letter by Bartow tutor Augustus Moore to his sister Lydia Moore, June 17, 1838

Mr. Bartow is a very wealthy gentleman, formerly a merchant of New York, now retired from business. He has a splendid situation on the sound 16 miles from New York City, formerly his country seat where he spent the summers when he lived in the city. He has a very large farm connected with it cared for by I don’t know how many men who live in farm houses all about the lot. Has splendid gardens with gooseberries, currants, etc. etc. etc. The gardener devotes his whole time to it —has a great plenty of fruit trees of various kinds…Mr. B says a horse and carriage are at my service whenever I wish to ride and I have taken a great many with him, with boys, and alone into the country and to the neighboring villages sometimes several miles… It’s a very agreeable family. They live in first style I assure you. Have servants and waiters in abundance. One waits upon the table and another upon something else. If I want a drink of water I merely call on a waiter…There is none of that stiffness or affected greatness that you find around the would-be gentry of N.E. [Northeast] Mr. & Mrs. B. are very free, social and kind and I am treated not only respectfully but kindly.

This precious glimpse of the past arrived at the mansion a few years ago from a Moore descendent, who thoughtfully shared a transcription with us. It is a rare and evocative account of what life was like on the Bartows’ country estate in 1838.

Augustus Moore arrived at New Rochelle on the way to assume his new duties as tutor in the Bartow household. He wrote:

I found Mr. B’s coachman waiting for me with a brougham, which took me to his residence…My business is to take charge of two boys— fit them for college. One his nephew is about 14 a fairly little fellow and a good scholar—the other his son about 10, a pleasant little boy but does not like to study very well. I have to spend from 8 to ½ past 12 in the forenoon and from ½ past 2 to ½ past 4 PM with them. The rest of the time I go where I please and do what I’ve a mind to.

George Lorillard Bartow (1828–1875) is the 10-year-old boy mentioned above. He apparently did not outgrow his poor study habits since he was the only son of the family who did not attend college (his three brothers graduated from Columbia).

The Bartow mansion (1836–1842) was probably under construction when this letter was written, and Mr. Moore mentions that he had “many pleasant walks about the place examining the improvements” with Mr. Bartow. We believe that the family must have lived in another house on the property (now destroyed) during this time. Theirs was not the only notable dwelling being built in the area. The Pelham (Bolton) Priory and the Peter Augustus Jay house in Rye date from that same year, 1838.

The grounds and gardens would have been lovely then, as now. Numerous fruit trees provided a variety of fresh offerings, and the local farms supplied dairy products and other essentials. The property, with sweeping views of the Long Island Sound, was cooled by fresh sea breezes during the summer months.

The letter is a wonderful testament to the kindness and thoughtfulness of Mr. and Mrs. Bartow, who clearly treated all with respect. They were also devout Christians: “The gentleman and lady are both Episcopalians and I of course attend the Episcopal church [sic].” In 1838, the Bartows were parishioners at St. Paul’s in Eastchester (now St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site in Mount Vernon). Their daughter Clarina (1838–1898) was baptized there by Rev. Robert Bolton on June 24, 1838, exactly one week after tutor Augustus Moore wrote his letter.

Descriptions of the Bartows’ sociability and their penchant for entertaining (without “stiffness or affected greatness”) help us to imagine the lively parties, dinners, receptions, and other entertainments that filled the splendid double parlors with their magnificent architectural details and lofty ceilings. Augustus Moore explains that the family had “a great deal of company from the city as it is only sixteen miles and there is a steamboat goes mornings & back in the P.M.” The “servants and waiters in abundance” would have further ensured that their guests were entertained in “first style.”

Margaret Highland, Museum Curator

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