Beneath the Grime: A Dazzling Center Table Revealed

Classical center table in the manner of Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854). New York, ca. 1825. Carved, gilt-stenciled, and bronze-mounted mahogany. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Florence van Rensselaer, 1947.01

Decorative arts specialist and BPMM Curatorial Committee Chair Carswell Rush Berlin writes about a center table in Bartow-Pell’s collection and discusses its classical origins, stencil decoration of American furniture in the 1820s and ‘30s, and the table’s recent conservation treatment.

Two hundred years of dirty grunge has been carefully removed by conservator Cynthia Moyer from a carved, gilt-stenciled, and bronze-mounted mahogany Classical center table in the manner of Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854). This project was made possible by a conservation treatment grant from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network.

The table before treatment

This center table was made in New York in about 1825 and, like its many counterparts of the period, reflects the fascination with and taste for Classical antiquity that swept the Western world after the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. A center table was a new form of furniture at the beginning of the nineteenth century and—like scroll-arm sofas and couches, klismos chairs, curule-base furniture, sarcophagus-shaped cellarets, and tables with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic elements—was derived from ancient Greek and Roman furniture forms. As such, center tables not only reflected an international style but, in the United States as well as in France, also had philosophical and political meaning through an association with Greek democracies and the Roman Republic. This style of furniture was pointedly used in allegorical paintings by artists in Paris at the time of the French Revolution—such as Jacques-Louis David—as symbols of the Republican society that the anti-monarchists aspired to create.

Conservator Cynthia Moyer reassembles the table at Bartow-Pell. Photo by Mariah Stokes

Bartow-Pell’s table is a particularly fine example of the form, with its gilt-stencil decoration and a gilt-bronze collar at the base of the pedestal. Its quality and several construction details suggest the hand of Duncan Phyfe, New York’s most famous and influential cabinetmaker. The piece relates perfectly to its setting in the double parlors at Bartow-Pell, one of the best Greek Revival interiors in New York, and is surrounded by other fine examples of period New York furniture. It was a gift from Florence Van Rensselaer (1865–1957) in 1947 when she was President of the International Garden Club (now the Bartow-Pell Conservancy). Miss Van Rensselaer’s famous family can be traced back to the Dutch settlers of New York (she wrote books about their genealogy) and was connected to the important Livingston and Bayard families, which were all clients of Duncan Phyfe early in the nineteenth century.

It is not clear exactly when gilt-stencil decorations began to appear on American furniture. Stenciling was used in the Federal period (1785–1820) but came into its own as an art form in the mid-1820s, lasting as a popular feature for almost ten years. It may have been as a result of the multiple trade embargoes that were imposed by the United States on Britain and France from 1808 to the end of the War of 1812. This would have made gilt-bronze and English lacquered brass furniture appliqués more expensive and difficult to import, driving  furniture decorators into a seven-year practice of improvisation, which resulted in the realization that Classical furniture could be dramatically decorated without expensive imported metal mounts. Or it may be that the style developed organically when American cabinetmakers saw new opportunities to cover flat expanses of mahogany with gold on Empire-style furniture. In any case, beginning about 1825, designers of high-style American Classical furniture in the Empire mode went crazy for gold stencil decoration on over-the-top concoctions, which often included gilded carving, bronze powder and vert antique paint decoration (which imitated weathered bronze), anthropomorphic and zoomorphic elements, marble columns, and gilt-bronze column capitals and bases. Although gilt stenciling was also used in England and France, those pieces were nothing like the ones being produced in New York and Philadelphia, so exuberant were they!

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe. Center table, ca. 1825. New York. Tiger maple with gilt-stenciled decoration and faux-rosewood graining. Courtesy of Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc.

The stencils themselves were usually adapted by American cabinetmakers using books imported from England. Because any American cabinetmaker could buy the same set of stencil patterns, it is difficult, even impossible, to identify a cabinetmaker by the stencils he employed. Geometric bands were often used, as were sprays of fruit and foliage and other designs incorporating standard classical motifs such as anthemions, scallop shells, harps, urns, acanthus leaves, swans, classical visage, and the like, often in combination. This type of stencil decoration can be seen in both of the pier tables in the north parlor at Bartow-Pell as well as in the center table discussed here.

The surface for a stencil was prepared by first applying a coat of shellac over the mahogany or rosewood. Indeed, sometimes the mahogany veneer was painted with striations to make it look like rosewood, called faux-graining, and then the stencil was applied over that and finished with more layers of shellac to protect it. The stencil was often preceded by a layer of black ebonizing paint as a foil for the gold, so the gold could be scratched away with a stylus to reveal the black in order to create texture and definition, as in an etching. Sometimes black lines were painted over the gold for the same purpose and effect.

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe. Pier table, ca. 1820–25. New York. Rosewood with gilt-stenciled frieze and shelf with die-cut brass inlay around the base. Courtesy of Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc. This is the very treatment that the stenciled guilloche pattern on the base of Bartow-Pell’s center table was designed to imitate at a lesser cost. 

Stencil decoration was used on every form of furniture by at least a half dozen well-known New York firms, including Duncan Phyfe (active 1795–1847), Deming and Bulkley (active 1820–50), Holmes and Haines (active 1825–30), Meeks & Sons (active 1798–1867), Kinnan & Mead (active 1823–30), Williams & Dawson (active 1824–32), and probably by many more whose names are unknown today.

Detail of stenciling on Bartow-Pell’s table before treatment

To simplify a long and painstaking process, the conservation on Bartow-Pell’s center table involved removing two hundred years of grime, composed largely of soot, dust, and tobacco smoke trapped in later, discolored layers of varnish. This is tricky because the stencil was essentially floating between layers of varnish or shellac, which made it quite challenging to clean away the dirt without also cleaning away the stencil. (Do not try this at home!) After these layers were removed, losses to the decorative gilt work were restored.

Gilt stenciling on the base after treatment
Brass collar after cleaning

Bartow-Pell’s table also has a gilt-bronze collar at the base of the column that supports the top. This decorative element was removed and cleaned, revealing the dazzling matte and burnished fire-gilded surface. The collar now matches the color of the gilt stenciling, which was designed to look like brass string and filigreed brass inlay. Two areas of ebonizing, or blackening—the knife-edge molding just below the marble top and the capital at the top of the pedestal—were also cleaned and consolidated, and inpainting was carried out on sections where losses were present. This returned the contrasting areas of black, which, set against the figured mahogany veneer, add an extra layer of sophistication to the total composition.

Conservation and restoration of our most important objects constitute a vital part of Bartow-Pell’s plan for collection care and enhance the interpretation of our Greek Revival period rooms. Thanks to funding from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network, the original splendor of this handsome table—now on view in the north parlor—can be admired once again.

Carswell Rush Berlin, Bartow-Pell Curatorial Committee Chair

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Beyond Calico and Gingham: Fashion and the Irish-Immigrant Domestic Servant

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

One summer day in 1867, Catharine Burns, “a poor servant girl,” boarded the Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn while lugging a valise full of her clothing, according to the New York Herald (September 11, 1867). She was on her way to start a new job, or so she thought. William Smith, who had claimed “he had a good place at service for her on Staten Island,” met her when she reached the Manhattan side of the East River and “took charge of her baggage.” But on their way to the Staten Island ferry, “he gave her the slip and ran away with her clothing,” which was valued at forty dollars, an amount equal to about four or five months’ worth of wages. This would have been a huge loss for the unfortunate Catharine, who was later able to identify the culprit in his jail cell. Did her suitcase contain well-worn dresses? Some new clothes for a new job? A bit of special finery?

Legions of nineteenth-century Irish immigrants spent most of their waking hours in practical work dresses and aprons as they scrubbed floors, tended fires, plucked chickens, ironed tablecloths, emptied chamber pots, and took care of children. But what else do we know about their clothing? Did these women also dress up in the latest styles? Did fashion play a role in what society called “the servant question”? What stories can their clothing tell?

Attic servant quarters at Bartow-Pell

Irish immigrants poured into the United States looking for a better life during the potato famine of the 1840s and in the decades that followed. Young women who worked as domestic servants were given the generic name of “Bridget” (or “Biddy,” the diminutive form), a term that was often laden with anti-Irish sentiment. These girls usually came from rural areas and were young, unmarried, Roman Catholic, and sometimes illiterate, which placed them near the bottom of American society. They worked as chambermaids, “waitresses” (waiting at table), cooks, nursemaids, and laundresses.

Lilly Martin Spencer (American, 1822–1902). The Jolly Washerwoman, 1851. Oil on canvas. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through a gift from Florence B. Moore in memory of her husband, Lansing P. Moore, Class of 1937

Employers regularly placed newspaper advertisements for “a neat and tidy girl,” which implies that—since this requirement had to be specified—not all domestic employees were fastidious about their appearance. “There is nothing so sets off an establishment as neat and appropriately dressed servants, and yet they are seldom found even in the most magnificent of our houses,” gripes the author of “Your Humble Servant,” an article about Irish domestics published in the June 1864 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. But savvy servants looking for work were aware that good grooming and appropriate attire would help them find the best positions. “Wanted—A SITUATION BY A RESPECTABLE young woman, who is neat and tidy in her person, to do chamberwork and waiting, or as chambermaid and to do fine washing and ironing,” a servant girl looking for a job announced in the New York Herald, on October 18, 1859.

Young Woman and Infant, 1860–65. American. Tintype. Private collection. We do not know the identity of this teenage girl, but she might be a nursemaid. (It is also possible that she is a mother holding her own child or even holding her sibling.) In any case, the sitter’s tidy, calico day dress would have been appropriate attire for a servant is such a position. The simple lace collar and cameo brooch add a hint of finery.

Calico and gingham were practical options for good, simple work dresses. “Plain, dark calico dresses, two gingham lawns [a dress made of a fine linen or cotton fabric woven in checks, plaids, or stripes] . . . and dark gingham aprons” are mentioned as suitable attire for a servant in “Six Months in the Kitchen,” a story published in the July 1861 issue of The Ladies’ Repository: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to Literature and Religion. Some employers wanted their domestics to wear caps. “Your Humble Servant” describes a housekeeper who “keeps a supply of white caps and gingham dresses, and makes it a condition on hiring a waiting-maid or nurse[maid] that she should put her head into the one and her body into the other.” However, the writer bemoans, “all her attempts upon Bridget have failed. She prefers shaking to the wind her frowsy locks reeking with castor-oil and bergamot and bobbing about, her hoops hung with rags, to wearing ‘a cotton night-cap and a common gingham frock.’”

Frederick Burr Opper (1857–1937). The Goose That Lays the Golden Egg. Cover illustration from Puck, August 22, 1883. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. “Bridget” wears a blue gingham dress with a rust-colored calico apron.

Servants’ clothing was still a thorn in the sides of employers almost thirty years later when The Biddy Club: And How Its Members . . . Grappled with the Troublous Servant Question was published in 1888. This book presents a series of fictional discussions among a group of employers—each one with a different point of view—about how to manage a variety of servant-related issues. Mrs. Hughes, a character who is described as a paradigm of good sense, “‛had been much annoyed by their poor dressing’” so she required her servants to wear “‛a calico gown made with full skirt and plain waist. Each girl had three of these suits, and wore one mornings with gingham aprons, and another afternoons with white aprons, white surplice or collar, and cap.’” “‛Could you get your girls to wear caps? I have had some trouble about that,’” another woman asks her. ‛Some girls did not object at all; others did,’” replied Mrs. Hughes. “‛But Mr. Hughes and I were both so annoyed by finding an occasional misplaced hair that I made a rule that the cook must wear a close cap whenever she was on duty.’”

Several members of the Bartow household pose in front of the mansion. Albumen print (detail), ca. 1870. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The servant seen at the left has light-colored hair, pale skin, and a pleasant expression on her face. She wears a neat, white cap and a light-colored dress, and her tidy appearance must have pleased Mrs. Bartow. This young woman could either be Kate Marshall, twenty-two, or Annie Regan, twenty-six, both born in Ireland, who were among the female domestics enumerated in the 1870 census. She is probably serving as a nursemaid for the Bartows’ daughter Clarina Bartow Morgan, who was living in her mother’s household at the time with her first five children (ranging in age from eight-years-old to an infant). To learn more about the people who lived and worked in the Bartow household, click here. For the story of this rare Bartow photograph, click here.

Meanwhile, employers were not the only ones thinking about clothes, and a fashion revolution was brewing below stairs. Servants, of course, had had an interest in fashion long before Irish immigrants took over the domestic drudgery of American homes. In “Madeline Malcolm” (Atlantic Tales, 1833), Eliza Leslie describes two well-to-do friends in Philadelphia who disguise themselves as servants: “The two young ladies did not know, or did not recollect, that when real servant-girls go to the theatre, they generally dress as well as they can and take pains to appear to the best advantage. The clothes that Madeline had selected were quite too dirty and shabby for the occasion.”

Favorite Investments. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1852. “Lady—’Goodness! Bridget, what is that you have on?’ Bridget—’Shure! an’ didn’t I hear you say these Westkitts [waistcoats] was all the fashion? An’ so I borrer’d me brother Pathrick’s to wait at the table in.'” Biased representations of Irish servants were common in the nineteenth century. This caricature accuses “Bridget” of a misplaced love of fashion and derides her thick Irish brogue. But her mistress—who wears a men’s collar and necktie—is also a subject of ridicule, as are all women who follow the whims of fashion. In addition, this cartoon is a commentary on the contemporary issues of gender equality and women’s rights.

Servants’ finery was a hot topic in the nineteenth century. In “Homes—American and English” (The Family Herald, 1860), a British journalist comments that American servants, “Being strongly infected with the national bad taste for being over-dressed, they are, when walking the streets, scarcely to be distinguished from their employers.” Similarly, in the words of “Your Humble Servant,” “Bridget” is “as fond of fine feathers as her mistress and often carries a twelve-month’s wages on her back. She will spend all her money for a silk dress, a lace collar, a velvet hat, and a flashy parasol. . . . Indoors and on duty, she is as slattern as a beggar; outside on a Sunday or a holiday, she is as fine a lady as her mistress and might readily be mistaken for her.” “American Dress” (Putnam’s Magazine, April 1870) even attributes an increase in clothing sales to the phenomenon. “As every woman is a lady—as Biddy, the Irish maid, dresses as nearly as she can like her mistress . . .—the trade in fashions is brisk beyond all conception.”

Crinoline for Domestic Use. Punch’s Almanack for 1862. “Missus. ‘Mary! Go and take off that thing, directly! Pray, are you aware what a ridiculous object you are!’” The mistress of the house is an object of satire in this cartoon from the humorous British magazine Punch.

Employers were clearly concerned about their domestics’ love of fashion. In a lively debate, the ladies in The Biddy Club express strong opinions on the matter. “‛If a girl comes to you all dressed in cheap and gaudy finery, you don’t want her. Even if she’s dressed soberly, but with clothes beyond her means and station—imitation seal-skin cloak, kid gloves, or anything of that kind—you don’t, as a general thing, want her,’” one woman warns disapprovingly. But others are more tolerant. “‛Oh, I never trouble myself about their dress, so they do their work and look well,’” said the woman dubbed the “Imitation Millionaire.” “‛I don’t think that’s any of our business,’ remarks another participant. “‛I do,’” a fellow club member protests, “‛but I don’t know just what to do about it. I’m often bothered by having my cook put more white skirts into the wash than I do, and I’ve known her to spend a long time ironing fancy lace collars.’”

A love of clothes even resulted in crimes by and against domestic servants. In 1836, for example, Margaret Reynolds, “a good looking girl,” “was tried [in court] for stealing from a fellow servant a quantity of clothing” (New York Herald, March 3, 1836). And we have already read about Catharine Burns, the servant girl who lost her apparel to a con artist. The monetary value of Catharine’s loss, however, paled in comparison to that of three well-paid servants working at the Sinclair House, a hotel that once stood on Broadway and Eighth Street. On June 16, 1867, the Herald reported that Hannah Harrison had forgotten to blow out the candle on a wash stand before falling asleep. Fortunately, no one was injured in the resulting fire, and there was minimal damage to the building, but the three women’s belongings went up in flames. “The greatest loss occurred in burning servants’ clothing. Mary Melville, the head chambermaid alleges her loss to be $1000. Fanny McGovern, the cook, lost about $300. Hannah Harrison lost about $150.”

Domestic Servant, ca. 1863–65. American. Tintype. Private Collection

The British caricaturist John Leech (1817–1864) satirized the idea of servants putting on airs—which he called “servantgalism”—in his humorous illustrations for Punch in the 1850s. The derisive term made its way across the Atlantic, where tensions between servants and employers often ran high. On October 18, 1862, the New York Times reported in “Servantgalism—A Domestic Sues Her Mistress for Slander” that Eliza Malone was suing her employers, Elizabeth and Benjamin M. Stillwell of Thirty-Fourth Street, for two thousand dollars in damages after Mrs. Stillwell had accused Eliza of stealing a pair of diamond earrings and Mr. Stillwell fired her. The plaintiff claimed “to have suffered great damage to her character for honesty and her standing among the servant girls in the neighborhood.” Eliza was obviously innocent of thievery in the affair of the diamonds since the slander case was allowed to proceed in court. She had every right to be outraged.

Frederick Burr Opper. Our Self-Made “Cooks”—From Paupers to Potentates. Puck, January 30, 1884. “They are evicted in the old country—But in America, they do all the evicting themselves.” This gaudily dressed cook has been reading a fashion magazine and socializing with a policeman instead of doing her job. When the demurely attired, novel-reading mistress of the house dares to interrupt, the imperious “potentate” haughtily banishes her timid employer from the kitchen. This illustration addresses multiple themes—servants’ love of finery, relations between employer and employee (“the servant question”), immigration, upward mobility, and literacy.

Did some employers fear that their position in the social hierarchy was threatened by servants dressing in fine clothes? Discouraging employees’ taste for fashion could be seen as a way to suppress upward mobility and keep the lower classes (and immigrants) in their place. In addition, the issue was sometimes a moral one. “Household Reform: A British Plan to Reform the Sumptuary Excesses of the Kitchen”—which ran in the Chicago Tribune on February 5, 1868—reports on an opinion piece by “A Clergyman’s Wife” that had recently been published in the Pall Mall Gazette. The zealous British authoress wants to “stem the tide of sin” by creating a uniform—or livery—for female servants, whose current style of dressing, she says, is “disgraceful” and immoral. “In consequence of the reckless expenditure of women upon their dress,” she cautions ominously, “husbands become drunkards, and quarrels, and even murder, too commonly follow. It is lamented by numbers of masters and mistresses that the dress of female servants is in general quite unbecoming their status in life.” Even murder!

This extreme point of view provoked a backlash from the Tribune, whose American commentator observed that “no doubt, the servants nowadays spend their money upon a style of dress which makes them look none the better, and the practice is to be deplored for more important reasons than the pangs of a mistress on beholding her housemaids dressed like her daughters. But something equally deplorable is the sort of ignorance amongst the ‘upper classes’ which accounts for notions like the livery league of our [British] correspondent.” An essay in Modern Women and What Is Said of Them (1868) also disagrees with the clergyman’s wife. Extravagant dress, the author argues, is the fault of employers, not their servants. “A neat and simple style must come from above, and not from below. . . . When ‘ladies of position and fortune’ cease to lavish their thousands on millinery, their copyists in the nursery and kitchen will cease to spend their wages on a similar object. . . . The chief incentive to showy dress among the ‘lower orders of females’ is unquestionably a desire to ape the extravagance of their betters. Remove that incentive, and the evil which a ‘Clergyman’s Wife’ so forcibly deplores will soon cure itself.”

Frederick Burr Opper. The Irish Declaration of Independence That We Are All Familiar With. Cover illustration from Puck, May 9, 1883. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Servant dress was part of a larger dialogue. Employers constantly complained about the lack of competent domestic help. Servants complained about their mistresses and wanted better working conditions. Flora McDonald Thompson summed up what was known as “the servant question” in an article published in the March 1900 issue of The Cosmopolitan: “What shall we do with our ‘hired girls?’” and “What shall our ‘hired girls’ do with us?” The topic hummed through parlors, on the street, and in the kitchen and scullery.

Many Irish immigrants were young women exploring the modest freedom that came with earning their own money. And they often lived in cities where shopping for—and wearing—new clothing would have been fun. More importantly, however, fashion was a means of asserting their independence from menial jobs, impoverished backgrounds, and low social status. Hard work, ambition, and—yes—dressing up improved the domestic servant’s chances of moving up in the world.

Margaret Adams Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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Pell Family Portraits: Amelia Grace Pell Craft and William E. Craft

Unknown artist (American). William E. Craft and Amelia Grace Pell Craft, ca. 1843. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

A rare pair of portraits depicting Pell descendant Amelia Grace Pell Craft (1806–1888) and her husband, William Edward Craft (1800–1852), are recent additions to Bartow-Pell’s collection. These works, which date to about 1843, were painted by an unknown artist, probably in New York City.

Headstone of Joseph Pell, the fourth Lord of the Manor of Pelham (ca. 1715–1752), great-grandfather of Amelia Grace Pell Craft. Pell family burial ground. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. Joseph Pell’s age when he died has sometimes been transcribed as 31 but he was actually 37. By analyzing the numerals in the date of 1752, it is clear that the stone carver made sevens with down-slanted tops and the numeral one as a straight line.

The Pells once owned fifty thousand acres of land in what is today the Bronx and lower Westchester County. By the late eighteenth century, however, the family’s vast holdings had been broken up, and the descendants of the Lords of the Manor had largely dispersed. Two eighteenth-century headstones in the little woodland burial ground at Bartow-Pell memorialize Amelia’s great-grandparents, Joseph Pell, the Fourth Lord of the Manor of Pelham (ca. 1715–1752), and his widow, Phoebe (ca. 1720–1790). Both Amelia and her third cousin and contemporary Robert Bartow were direct descendants of Joseph’s father, Thomas Pell II, the Third Lord of the Manor.

William P. Chappel (American, 1801–1878). Fly Market, 1870s. Oil on slate paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Edward W. C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps, and Pictures, Bequest of Edward W. C. Arnold, 1954. The Fly Market was demolished in the early 1820s, long before this work was painted, but an inscription on the back reads: “the Old Vly Market in Maiden Lane & Pearl St N York 1808.” The Fly Market was established in 1699 in an area that the Dutch had called Smee’s Vly. “Fly” derives from the Dutch words “Vly” (marsh or meadow) and “Vlie” (valley). The butchers’ stalls, which are depicted here, sold high-quality meat and were strictly regulated. One of these stands was owned by Amelia Craft’s father, John Pell.

Amelia Grace Pell was christened in New York City at St. Mark’s Church on January 21, 1806. She was the daughter of Mary (ca. 1775–1851) and John Pell (1769–1819), whose father was Joseph Pell, the Fifth Lord of the Manor. John was a butcher who owned a stall in the Fly Market, New York City’s principal public market at that time. A former apprentice described “his ‘Old Boss,’ John Pell, as having a strong, but a well educated mind, honest and just in all his dealings, and a gentleman of the ‘olden time’” (Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1868). He was also an alderman for the tenth ward. The prosperous meat seller died in 1819, leaving his house at 69 Bowery to his “dear wife Mary Pell the mother of my children” and $1,000 to each of his nine offspring, including Amelia. His widow—Amelia’s mother—continued to live in the residence until her death over thirty years later in 1851.

On July 8, 1824, Amelia Grace Pell married William E. Craft in New York City. The Reverend Henry J. Feltus of St. Stephen’s (Episcopal) Church, a friend of her late father’s, officiated. The newlyweds would eventually become the parents of nine children—six boys and three girls—born between 1827 and 1849. Like Amelia, William had roots in Westchester County and came from a family of food merchants in lower Manhattan, where his father, Sutton Craft, is listed in various New York City directories and jury censuses as a grocer and butcher. William and his brother Isaac apparently joined their father in the grocery business as young men, and in the 1830s, William E. Craft became a director of the Butchers’ and Drovers’ Bank, suggesting that he was both successful and ambitious.

Advertisement for William E. Craft’s businesses in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Kimball & James’ Business Directory for the Mississippi Valley, 1844

Sometime around 1843, Amelia and William—along with Isaac Craft—moved from New York City to Lawrenceburg, Indiana, a lively trade hub on the Ohio River. Kentucky was just across the border, and Cincinnati was only about thirty miles to the east. It is unknown why the family—which now included six children (three more were subsequently born in Indiana)—packed up and headed west. But records show that, since at least the late 1830s, the brothers had bought hundreds of acres of property in Indiana and Michigan. Perhaps, like many people, they were drawn by the prospect of buying cheap land and taking advantage of tempting economic opportunities. And indeed, William did very well as a merchant in Indiana, where he owned the largest distillery in Lawrenceburg as well as a flour mill and a saw mill. He was also a dealer in groceries, hardware, and dry goods, both wholesale and retail. But in February 1844, Craft’s malt house—the building where malt was prepared for use in the distillery—burned to the ground in the middle of the night. “Our citizens were aroused at half past 1 o’clock on Friday morning last by the alarm of fire. The Malt House, connected to the large distillery, and owned by W. E. Craft, Esq. was wholly destroyed. It was not insured. Loss $2000. Fortunately, the main building was preserved.” (Political Beacon [Lawrenceburgh], February 22, 1844) And to add insult to injury, some of the Crafts’ supposedly respectable neighbors engaged in a crooked scheme to steal large numbers of hogs from these New York City transplants. “Craft of the largest distillery at Lawrenceburgh keeps constantly in his pens some 5000 hogs. Out of this number it is difficult to miss half a dozen. It seems the butchers at Lawrenceburgh have been in the practice of supplying the Lawrenceburgh market by stealing from this monster pig pen. About the 1st inst., Mr. Craft, having some suspicions that his hogs were disappearing rather strangely, set a watch to see where they went. About 11 o’clock at night of the 3rd inst. (it being the first night of the watch), four of the Lawrenceburgh butchers were seen to go to the pen, drive out 8 or 10 hogs, drive them to the slaughter house, slaughter and supply the market the next morning. They were arrested and recognized to Court. They were old citizens of Lawrenceburgh township, and most of them have families.” (“Profitable Business,” Indiana American, October 17, 1845)

Sadly, in July 1852, William died near Troy, Indiana, over one hundred and fifty miles from his home, which probably means that his death was unexpected. Amelia was left on her own with a house full of teenagers and several children still under the age of ten. Sometime in the mid-1860s, she moved with some of her children to Indianapolis, where she died on June 30, 1888, at the age of eighty-one, thirty-six years after the death of her husband.

The dress on the left dates to about 1843. Like Mrs. Craft’s dress (center), it has a fan bodice with cartridge pleats above the pointed, piped waist, and long, narrow sleeves topped by sleeve caps made of the same fabric. The ruched self-trim is similar to that in a fashion plate from 1842 (right). Left: Dress, ca. 1843. Wool, silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009. Center: Amelia Grace Pell Craft (detail). Right: Fashion plate (detail), Godey’s Lady’s Book, October 1842

Mr. and Mrs. Craft sat for their portraits in what were probably their best clothes. These styles are typical of the 1840s. Amelia’s elegant crimson velvet dress—which dates to around 1843—has an elongated, tight, V-shaped, fan-front bodice extending over the top of the arm to create a stylish sloped-shoulder look. Gathers at the shoulder seam and fine cartridge pleats at the low, pointed waist control the fullness of the fabric. Piping—which strengthened seams on snug bodices—is visible along her waistline. The long and very narrow sleeves of the period were cut on the bias to add some stretch and were sometimes topped by sleeve caps, like the ones seen here. At her wrists, our sitter wears removable lace frills—known as manchettes—that coordinate with a frill along the neckline. Finally, Amelia would have had many layers of petticoats under her very full skirt to add bulk and shape for a fashionable silhouette. Her hair would have been gathered in a knot low on the neck. It is parted in the center, smooth and flat, but this style would soon become outdated when puffs of hair over the ears later came into fashion around 1845.

Daguerreotype, 1840s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Herbert Mitchell, 2008. The young woman pictured here wears a hairwork bracelet that is similar to the one worn by Amelia Craft. Both women wear this jewelry over fashionably narrow sleeves and manchettes (sleeve frills).
Amelia Grace Pell Craft, detail

In addition to her gold wedding band, Amelia wears a hairwork bracelet. The hair was likely provided by one or more loved ones, or it was quite possibly a love token from her husband. Skilled hair workers at jewelers and small manufactories turned strands of hair into handmade jewelry, but some women made ornamental hairwork at home as a piece of fancywork. There was a ready market for these goods, which were both sentimental and fashionable.

The narrow black coats worn by both William E. Craft (left) and the artist George Henry Durrie in his 1843 self-portrait (right) have a slit at the bottom of the sleeves to make these tight garments easier to put on. William Durrie’s cutaway style is clearly shown just below his vest, and it is very possible that Mr. Craft is wearing a similar tailcoat. In typical 1840s style, the men are clean-shaven with side-parted hair that falls over the ears. Left: William E. Craft. Right: George Henry Durrie (American, 1820–1863). Self-Portrait, 1843. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Mr. Craft appears to be wearing a cutaway dress coat (a tailcoat or swallowtail coat), which was proper attire for formal occasions (versus a frock coat, which had a full knee-length skirt that fell from a seam at the waist). “Wear frock-coats in the streets, dress-coats in the dining or drawing-room,” advises Etiquette for Gentlemen (New York, 1848). Although neckties were predominant, stocks—neckcloths like the one here—were still worn. A black satin vest completes the ensemble. Like many men in the 1840s, the sitter is clean shaven and wears his hair in a popular lank (straight and limp) style parted on the side. The letter in his hand is addressed to “[W.] E. Craft Esq.,” New York, which not only identifies the sitter and his place of residence but also tells the viewer that William Craft is a gentleman and someone of high social status.

The likenesses of Amelia Grace Pell Craft and William E. Craft were probably painted shortly after Robert Bartow finished building his country estate on land owned by his Pell ancestors. Now, these Pell portraits are on view in the downstairs sitting room at Bartow-Pell.

Margaret Adams Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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A Modern Man: A. J. Downing and the American Gentleman’s Country Seat

Alexander Jackson Davis (1803–1892). Original drawing for View in the Grounds at Blithewood, Dutchess Co. N.Y., The Residence of Robert Donaldson, Esq. Frontispiece of A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening by Andrew Jackson Downing, 1841.The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1924. Davis, the well-known New York architect, and Downing were frequent collaborators.

A. J. Downing (1815–1852) was full of modern ideas about landscape gardening. And he particularly wanted to create a tradition in the United States that was inspired by—but separate from—British and European precedents. He also recognized the need to adapt these practices for the American climate, soil, landscape, and culture. Today, he would be an enthusiastic Instagram influencer with thousands of followers, but in the middle of the nineteenth century, it was his book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening—first published in 1841 when he was just twenty-five years old—that attracted attention.

John Halpin (active 1849–1867). Andrew Jackson Downing, ca. 1852. Engraving. Copy after Mathew B. Brady (1823–1896). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. A. J. Downing was born in 1815 in Newburgh, New York, where he continued to live until his death. Downing worked in—and later took over—his father’s nursery business, but he eventually sold it and turned his attention solely to landscape design and writing. He married Caroline Elizabeth De Windt, the granddaughter of former president John Adams and grandniece of John Quincy Adams. On July 28, 1852, Downing and his wife were on board the steamboat Henry Clay when the vessel caught fire in the Hudson River near Yonkers, New York. Tragically, he was one of many who lost their lives in the disaster, and his brilliant life and career ended far too soon at the age of thirty-six.

Although Downing wrote much of the Treatise for the gentleman of leisure with a country house, he wanted all Americans—not just wealthy landowners—to enjoy the pleasures of the garden, landscape, and nature, and he worked hard to popularize his ideas. Furthermore, as societal and economic changes swept through the nineteenth century, families looked to the stability of the home in order to preserve the domestic circle, and this was accompanied by a love of country pursuits and nature. “A taste for rural improvements of every description is advancing silently, but with great rapidity in this country,” Downing penned in the Treatise’s opening lines. He felt that it was important to “render domestic life more delightful” by enhancing the natural beauty around one’s residence. He even said that this made Americans more patriotic and better citizens by increasing “local attachments.” “The love of country is inseparably connected with the love of home,” he declared.

Thomas Cole (1801–1848). A Pic-Nic Party, 1846. Oil on canvas. Brooklyn Museum, Healy Purchase Fund B. Downing was a great admirer of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, whom he called “the greatest of our landscape painters.” (The Horticulturalist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, July 1848). In 1836, Thomas Cole married Robert Bartow’s first cousin Maria Bartow (1813–1884). Picnics and other rural pursuits were extremely popular in the mid-nineteenth century. Here, adults and children enjoy the peaceful beauty of nature as they relax in harmony with the serene landscape. This idyllic pastoral scene depicts majestic trees and undulating soft, green ground dappled by light and shadow; a sky illuminated by late-afternoon sunlight; and water reflecting the tranquil surroundings.

The ultimate status symbol for people of means in the mid-nineteenth century was a country seat. Better than a collection of pictures, “the sylvan and floral collections, . . . which surround the country residence of a man of taste,” are confined only by “the blue heaven above and around them,” the Treatise tells us. (Downing had a way with words.) He defined landscape gardening as a fine art, like poetry, music, and—especially—landscape painting.

But the Treatise goes beyond idealistic philosophy and theoretical precepts. It was also a practical how-to guide. The book includes sections on trees and plants, preparing the ground, laying out roads and walks, building artificial lakes and waterfalls, designing flower gardens, and much, much more.

Creating a manmade landscape that appeared natural required a great deal of skill. Downing’s approach included strategic groupings of trees and shrubs; curvilinear paths and roads; undulating surfaces (including lawns of velvety green grass); carefully planned views and vistas, and a sympathetic connection between the house and grounds. And he felt strongly that in order to succeed “in the modern style,” it was important that the parts of a landscape be interconnected. In his view, “the chief beauty of the modern style is the infinite variety produced by following a few leading principles and applying them to different and varied localities; unlike the geometric [old-fashioned] style, which proceeded to level, and arrange, and erect its avenues and squares alike in every situation, with all the precision and certainty of mathematical demonstration.”

He believed that trees arranged in a diverse composition of “groups, single trees, and large masses”—and “even the grove or wood”—would “produce that diversity, and that breadth of light and shadow, so agreeable in real landscape and so enchanting in fine pictures.” “All variety, grandeur, and beauty would be lost,” he warned, if scattered single trees or “uniform groups alone” were used.

William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893). Woodland Path, Pelham Priory, 1856. Watercolor on paper. Ex-collection Catherine Boericke

Roads and walks, in Downing’s opinion, should be laid out “in easy flowing lines, following natural indications.” The “approach”—the drive leading from the public road to the house—was the most important of these. In the past, this was usually a straight road leading directly to the front of the dwelling. But Downing regarded the rigid linearity of earlier times as inflexible, inartistic, uninteresting, and unnatural. A curved approach also allowed one to see the elegance of the façade as well as one of the side elevations. However, Downing cautions, “the curves should never be so great, or lead over surfaces so unequal, as to make it disagreeable to drive upon them . . . [and] the road should never curve without some reason.” But, take note! “Since the modern style has become partially known and adopted here, some persons appear to have supposed that nature ‘has a horror of straight lines,’ and . . . they immediately ran into the other extreme, filling their grounds with zig-zag and regularly serpentine roads, still more horrible, which can only be compared to the contortions of a wounded snake.”

The Treatise repeatedly emphasizes the importance of a unified connection between the house and grounds. “If our readers will imagine, with us, a pretty villa conveniently arranged and well constructed, . . . properly placed in a smooth well kept lawn, studded with groups and masses of fine trees, . . . however there is felt to be a certain incongruity between the house, a highly artificial object,” and the “beautiful nature” of the “surrounding grounds.” How could the two be more harmoniously linked? Downing suggests a terrace, perhaps with a wall or balustrade adorned with urns and vases. And “on the drawing-room side of the house, that is, the side towards which the best room or rooms look, we will place the flower garden.” Now, he says, “the mind is led gradually down from the house.”

Landscape Gardening, in the Graceful School. Illustration from the 1844 edition of Downing’s Treatise

Downing was inspired by the eighteenth-century British ideals of the beautiful (“graceful,” “general,” or “natural” beauty, to use his terms), which was “characterized by simple and flowing forms,” and picturesque beauty, which was “expressed by striking, irregular, spirited forms.” “We think the Grecian and Roman styles [of architecture] (especially the former) should be chosen . . . when the landscape is that of graceful beauty.” “The Tudor and Rural Gothic styles are . . . most happily exhibited in connection with picturesque scenery.” “Graceful” and “picturesque” landscape designs complemented the various architectural styles of the 1840s—from Greek Revival to Gothic Revival to Italianate.

Landscape Gardening, in the Picturesque School. Treatise, 1844

In 1841, Downing observed that “within the last ten years, especially, the evidences of the growing wealth and prosperity of our citizens have become apparent in the great increase of elegant cottage and villa residences . . . wherever nature seems to invite us by her rich and varied charms.” The Bartow mansion was built between 1836 and 1842, exactly during this period. Did Robert Bartow (who, by the way, was a retired book publisher) read Downing’s treatise and follow some of his advice?

The Residence of Rev. Robt. Bolton, near New Rochelle, N. Y. Engraving after a drawing by Alexander Jackson Davis, Treatise, 1844. In an 1862 family history, Robert Bolton Jr. describes his late father’s passion for laying out the grounds of their 1838 family-built home and school, the picturesque Pelham Priory. “The grounds and woodlands were being more and more cultivated and adorned under Mr. Bolton’s eye and became objects of admiration to visitors,” he says. On October 1, 1841, Alexander Jackson Davis—who drew illustrations for the second edition of the Treatise—wrote in his day book about visiting the Priory, “Rode to New Rochelle . . . dined at the Neptune House and visited Mr. Bolton. Sketched his places.” And on April 10, 1844, he made the following entry: “Drawing Bolton’s Pelham Priory on Wood for Downing $10.00.” The artist took some artistic liberties, placing the waters of Long Island Sound closer to the house, for example.
William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893). Pelham Priory, Main Portal, 1856. Watercolor on paper. Ex-collection Catherine Boericke. Robert Bolton’s old friend Washington Irving (whose residence is also illustrated in the Treatise) reportedly provided yellow bricks from the old church at Sleepy Hollow to form the date “1838” above the door. A picturesque neo-Gothic folly—which is not depicted in Davis’s drawing made twelve years earlier—can be seen at the left.

The estates of two of Robert and Maria Bartow’s neighbors appear in the 1844 and 1849 editions. “The seat of John Hunter, Esq., is a place of much simplicity and dignity of character. The whole island may be considered an extensive park, carpeted with soft lawn and studded with noble trees.” The classicism of Hunter’s estate—which reflected Downing’s idea of graceful beauty—contrasted with Robert Bolton’s Gothic Revival pile built in 1838, an example of the picturesque. “A highly unique residence in the old English style is Pelham Priory, the seat of the Rev. Robert Bolton, near New Rochelle, N. Y. The exterior is massive and picturesque . . . it has at once the appearance of considerable antiquity . . . and one may more easily fancy himself in one of those ‘mansions builded curiously’ of our ancestors in the time of ‘good Queen Bess.’”

Bartow mansion, built 1836–42, front façade. While Robert and Maria Bartow’s new mansion and its outbuildings were under construction, the family lived in an older house on the property. On June 17, 1838, Augustus Moore, the family’s tutor, described the property in a letter to his sister Lydia. “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. . . . Has splendid gardens with gooseberries, currants, etc etc etc. The gardener devotes his whole time to it . . . Mr. Bartow and I have many pleasant walks about the place examining the improvements etc.”

In 1836, Mr. and Mrs. Bartow purchased the estate that had once belonged to his Bartow and Pell ancestors, and over the next six years, the couple built a new house on the property. “The present proprietor has lately erected a fine stone house, in the Grecian style, which presents a neat front with projecting wings,” their neighbor Robert Bolton Jr. wrote in A Guide to New Rochelle and Its Vicinity in 1842, the year in which the mansion was completed.

Plan of a Country Seat after Ten Years’ Improvement. Treatise, 1841. “From the windows of the mansion itself, the trees are so arranged as to group in the most pleasing and effective manner; at the same time, broad masses of turf meet the eye; and fine distant views are had through the vistas in the lines.” This is similar in many ways to the layout of the grounds of the Bartow estate as seen in the New York City surveyor’s map of 1885.
Map Showing Topographical Survey of Land to Be Taken for Pelham Bay Park (detail), 1885. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. The City Surveyor’s Office published this plan of the Bartow estate in 1885 before the family was required to sell the property to the city to form part of the new Pelham Bay Park. The curving drives, naturalistic grouping of trees, and carefully planned vistas recall designs in the Treatise. However, Downing would have objected to the line of trees along the approach road. (Only the left side of this road exists today.) The Pell Treaty Oak is the single tree on the left side of the front lawn. Downing considered oaks “the most majestic and picturesque of all deciduous trees.”

Although scant documentation from the 1840s has been found, it appears that perhaps Robert Bartow was influenced by some—but not all—of Downing’s principles. A couple of later sources provide a few clues. In 1885, when the Bartow family still owned the property, a plan of the estate was published that is comparable to one in the 1844 edition of Downing’s treatise. Both plans feature a curved approach road leading to and from the house; a secondary road to the outbuildings; open lawns; a combination of scattered and massed groups of trees; “fine distant views . . . through the vistas in the lines;” and an orchard set off to one side near the public road.

Bartow mansion. Albumen print, ca. 1870. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. This photograph was taken about thirty years after the house was completed, and the haphazard single shrubs seen here were probably not part of the original plan.

The Bartow mansion sits on a small knoll, and the 1885 plan indicates that—like today—there was a terrace at the rear of the mansion facing Long Island Sound, providing a link between the house and grounds. Downing, however, would have called the uniform rows of trees lining the carriage drive a “violation” of “the principle of unity” because they were at odds with a “natural” grouping of trees and shrubs. In his opinion, this type of incongruous arrangement showed a deplorable “absence of correct taste in art.” And the great man probably would have been appalled by the awkwardly random shrubs at the front of the house that appear in an 1870 photograph. By this time—about thirty years after the grounds would have been laid out—much of the original planting scheme may have been abandoned. Although Robert Bartow possibly followed some of Downing’s modern guidelines for graceful beauty, it is noteworthy that the 1844 edition of the Treatise did not include the Bartows’ new mansion but instead praised both the nearby Hunter and Bolton properties.

Bartow mansion, rear façade, October 29, 1905. “A conservatory is frequently made an addition to a rectangular Greek villa as one of its wings,” Downing tells us in the Treatise, advising that it should connect by “a glass door with the drawing room.” Furthermore, he declares that “Nothing can be more gratifying than a vista in winter through a glass door down the walk of a conservatory, bordered and overhung with the fine forms of tropical vegetation. . . . Let us add the exulting song of a few canaries, and the enchantment is complete. How much more refined and elevated is the taste which prefers such accessories to a dwelling rather than costly furniture or an extravagant display of plate!”

As Robert Bartow wandered around his estate in the early 1840s and watched the fine new house and outbuildings taking shape, he must have been thinking about his vision for landscaping and gardens. Was he pondering Downing’s modern ideas? Perhaps Bartow admired both traditional designs as well as more contemporary ones, and the mansion’s grounds were a mixture of both. At any rate, it is probably safe to say that he wholeheartedly agreed with Downing’s desire to use landscape gardening “to embody our ideal of a rural home.” (1844)

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

Unless otherwise noted, the 1841 edition of Downing’s Treatise has been quoted here.

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All the Colors of the Rainbow: Ombré Patterns from 1820 to 1850

Silk dress (sleeve detail), American, 1840s. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Melvin C. Steen, 1978. The ombré trimming on this 1840s dress in Bartow-Pell’s collection exemplifies the widespread use of rainbow patterns in the 1840s.

Luminous, colorful, undulating—and sometimes even iridescent—the new French ombré wallpapers and textiles of the 1820s were so vibrant that these nuanced designs in shades of one or more colors were often called rainbow patterns. They were also known as irisé (iridescent), ombré (shaded), and fondu (melted).

The Industrial Revolution was an age when manufacturers produced exciting new goods for an expanding consumer market. In his 1846 treatise on dyeing and printing calico, the British chemist Edward A. Parnell put it like this: “At the present time, science and its applications seem to go onward almost together. No sooner is a new fact announced than it is made available for some useful purpose, and never was there an age so fertile in discovery as that in which we live.” Rainbow patterns fit the zeitgeist perfectly.

Wallpaper (sidewall), 1820–30. Block-printed paper. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Harvey Smith

It all started with wallpaper. In about 1820, the legendary Zuber factory in Alsace began making papers with shaded grounds composed of subtle gradations in tone from dark to light (which could also be overprinted with another pattern). In order to achieve this effect, Jean Zuber used an innovative printing technique developed in 1819 by his relative Michel Spoerlin of Vienna, which allowed several colors to blend together like the rainbow. Twenty years later, in 1839, the British chemist Andrew Ure wrote about printing rainbow papers with blocks: “The fondu or rainbow style of paper-hangings . . . is produced by means of an assortment of oblong narrow tin pans, fixed in a frame, close side to side . . .; the colours of the prismatic spectrum, red, orange, yellow, green, &c., are put, in a liquid state, successively in these pans, so that when the oblong brush . . . is dipped into them across the whole of the parallel row at once, it comes out impressed with the different colours at successive points.” A printing block—used later in the process—“takes up the colour in rainbow hues and transfers these to the paper.”

Advertisement for “New and Splendid French Paper Hangings,” including rainbow papers. Daily Richmond Whig (Virginia), April 26, 1830

Textiles began to be produced in ombré palettes not long after Zuber’s irisé papers first appeared, and the astonishing array of fabrics in the new rainbow-striped patterns must have delighted shoppers in the 1820s. In 1826, the author of “London Letters to Country Cousins” gushes about the dazzling new and colorful fashions: “I do not think anything so beautiful in its way was ever before invented as the patterns of morning dresses of this season. . . . The prevailing trait of them has been brilliance and variety of colours—chiefly the primitive, or rainbow colours—and often all these united in one pattern. But the effect produced in many cases has been what I could not have thought possible—a species of optical illusion, produced by printing one pattern over another, and sometimes two—so as to give the impression of seeing one through the other.”

Visiting dress (detail), 1820–23. American. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1976

Over the next few decades, rich and inventive ombré designs would be especially eye- catching on cotton, silk, and light wool dress fabrics. These effects were achieved through various methods, including block-printing, roller (cylinder) printing, and the use of brushes. In A Practical Treatise on Dyeing and Calico-Printing (1846), Parnell discusses improvements patented by Louis Joseph Wallerand in 1844 that “consist in giving shaded stripes of color to woolen, silk, cotton, or other fabrics . . .  in a more expeditious, economic, and perfect manner,” adding that the same machine “may also be used for dyeing shaded stripes to form a ground upon fabrics intended afterwards to receive a printed pattern.” In 1846, the French chemist Jean-François Persoz wrote in detail about the printing and dyeing process in his four-volume work Traité théorique et pratique de l’impression des tissus (Theoretical and Practical Treatise on Printing Fabrics). And on June 21, 1849, the British civil engineer Charles Augustus Holm was awarded a patent for “machinery for shading or printing paper, silk, and other fabrics with one or more colours . . . to produce greater intensity of colour or, as they are termed, rainbow patterns.” His system used movable, perpendicular blocks in combination with a “vacuum table” and “atmospheric pressure.”

Couleurs primitives imprimées en fondu (Primitive colors printed in fondu). Fabric sample in Traité théorique et pratique de l’impression des tissus, vol. 2, by Jean-François Persoz, 1846. Persoz was a French chemist who in 1846 published a four-volume treatise on textile printing. Among the many samples he included is this fondu pattern composed of the seven colors of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These were once known as the “primitive colors.”
Top: Noir et lilas fondu au rouleau (Roller-printed black and lilac fondu). Bottom: Chaine [sic] coton, impression orange et violet fondus (Cotton warp printed in orange and violet fondus), Persoz, vol. 4, 1846. Cotton was sometimes used for the warp (lengthwise threads) and paired with another fiber, such as wool, for the weft (horizontal threads).

American manufacturers at this time were scrappy competitors in the busy domestic market for printed fabrics. Demand was high. Women in the 1840s, for example, required about eight yards of fabric every time they wanted a new dress (not including the lining). The Proceedings of the National Convention for the Protection of American Interests (1842) tells us that thirty-seven factories in the United States printed 158,028,000 yards of calico in 1840, but it also reports that Americans imported vast amounts of dyed, printed, colored, and white cotton cloth from abroad. Furthermore, a British government committee on copyrights in the design industry, published in 1840, points out that a high American import tax did very little to stop large quantities of calico being exported to the United States, especially from Manchester. (British mills, however, relied heavily on American cotton for their raw materials.) American “printers turn out good work; calicoes are manufactured there, and the machines are constructed upon as good a principle as in England.”

This illustration from Persoz’s 1846 treatise depicts a machine that uses the latest technical advances to print multiple rainbow colors with an engraved cylinder. According to Persoz, it is similar to a device developed in 1845 by Messrs. Colon and Lalan in Suresnes, near Paris, that produced “de très belles impressions en fondus au rouleau et sur chaîne-coton” (“very beautiful fondu roller prints on a cotton warp”).
Fonds ou ombrés par teinture de MM. Jourdan (Dyed backgrounds or ombrés by Messrs. Jourdan), Persoz, vol. 4

John Royle, a master engraver for calico printers in Manchester, appeared before the British government’s Select Committee on Copyright Designs on May 11, 1840. He had worked in the American calico-printing industry in New York and Providence from 1831 to 1837 and testified that he was one of many Englishmen in the trade who had been induced by higher wages and more regular work to emigrate to America. Royle warned that the Americans “are making very rapid progress” and were soon likely to become England’s rival in the print trade. He also noted that manufacturers in the United States produced both original designs and copies of English and French patterns. French calicos were also exported to the United States, and according to Daniel Lee, a merchant in Manchester, “Many Americans have establishments in Paris for the express purpose of purchasing prints there.” As for ombré prints, John Brooks—who had worked in the Manchester calico-printing trade for thirty years—complained that other British manufacturers were copying his style of rainbow patterns because “now there is a rage for shades.”

Dress (detail), ca. 1843. American. Wool, silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Brooklyn Museum Collection
New French Goods. Advertisement from the New York Herald, August 22, 1845. James Beck & Co., a dry goods store at 359 Broadway, offered “the richest assortment of Fancy Goods that has ever been shown in this city, having been selected for them in Paris.” These items include “ombre shaded” wools and rainbow-striped silks.

The fashion for ombré dress fabrics continued into the 1850s. “A decided novelty is the soie arc-en-ciel. This “rainbow silk” is made in various colours,” The Ladies’ Companion announced in March 1852, “but we may describe two or three dresses. One has a deep flounce, shaded in shot from a dark to a light blue. . . . Another, in a similar style, has all the shades of rose colour shot with white. . . . A third is shaded from a full blue to white.”

Robert Peckham. The Hobby Horse, ca. 1840. Oil on canvas. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. The fashionable ombré carpet seen here has a foliate design of graduated shades of red and green. The wallpaper appears to be in a shaded pattern as well.
Carpet fragment, 19th century. Wool. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Rainbow patterns were also very well suited for the flat-woven floor coverings known as Venetian carpets, which were commonly found in bedchambers and on stairs. “The pattern is generally in stripes and shaded like the rainbow, and the great object of the manufacturer is to bring off the shade of colour from dark to light imperceptibly,” The Saturday Magazine (London) related on December 24, 1836. Today, some fragments of these carpets survive in museum collections. Click here to see a magnificent example dating to 1830–60 at Old Sturbridge Village. Shaded colors were used on patterned ingrain (flat-woven and reversible) carpets as well.

Miser’s purse, 1840–60. American. Cotton, metal. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Daniel M. McKeon and Robert Hoguet, Jr., 1965
Goblet, ca. 1820–40. Copper lusterware. British. Ex-collection Mary Means Huber

The influence of ombré shades can be seen in other items ranging from fashion accessories to embroidery to ceramics. Miss Warble, a character in The Lion: A Tale of the Coteries (1839), wears “a flaunting rainbow shawl.” Shaded ribbons were popular trimmings for bonnets. And in 1854, Mrs. Ann S. Stephens gave her opinion on the current trend for ombré embroidery silk in The Ladies’ Complete Guide to Crochet, Fancy Knitting, and Needlework: “Waistcoats and other articles are now much embroidered in soie ombre, that is silk shaded in varieties of one colour. I cannot say I think it so pretty as the variety of natural colors, or even a single self-shade. It is, however, fashionable.”

The smallest things sometimes have a larger story to tell. In this case, a tiny embroidered flower on a dress trimming at Bartow-Pell reminds us of one of the creative wonders made possible by nineteenth-century technology.

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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Nineteenth-Century Women Lean In

In honor of Women’s History Month, BPMM Education Committee Chair and board member Joseph P. Cordasco discusses the different lives of two women—both born in the nineteenth century—whose portraits hang at Bartow-Pell.

When I tour historic places, I often wonder to myself: “If only these walls could talk, what treasured tales they could tell.” As we celebrate Women’s History Month at the Bartow-Pell Mansion, we have not one but two walls that “talk.” They tell the tales of women struggling for empowerment at a time when final decisions were left to men. On the wall of our sitting room hangs a double portrait of a young married couple living a comfortable life in mid-nineteenth-century America. There’s nothing particularly special about Daniel MacFarlan and his wife, Mary Jane. You will find no Wikipedia page devoted to either one of them, yet their portrait perfectly illustrates a time when women lived in a world where they struggled to find a voice. Let’s explore the nuances revealed in this painting.

Theodore E. Pine (1827–1905). Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan, 1858. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Gregg, 1950. This portrait is on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell.

Daniel MacFarlan is standing next to his seated wife. Dressed in their finery, they appear to be a loving couple successfully navigating their lives. This is likely to have been the case, especially when one considers that they commissioned this painting by a prominent artist of the 1850s, Theodore Pine. In the background, we can see an idyllic riparian scene, not an unusual background for a double portrait during this period. The scene shows Mrs. MacFarlan’s ancestral home, which was located in the lower Hudson Valley near present-day Newburgh, N.Y. Maria and Robert Bartow could have commissioned a similar portrait of themselves on their estate overlooking Long Island Sound.

Mr. MacFarlan is finely dressed in a fashionable black coat, the dominant figure in the painting. He grips his top hat in one hand, which rests confidently on his hip next to the gold chain of his pocket watch. One gets the impression that he has successfully engaged with the world beyond his home. Politics, commerce, and social competition are likely to be getting most of his attention beyond the role of breadwinner. We know, in fact, that he tried his hand at various businesses and even decided at one point to run for elective office.

Mrs. MacFarlan is seated in her husband’s shadow wearing a black dress with white lace accents. If we were living back then, we would quickly recognize that she is wearing the apparel of grief. The mourning brooch pinned to her neckline probably contains the carefully woven hair of a dead child, and the artist further obliges her by placing a rosebud in her hand, symbolizing a life not brought to full bloom. Indeed, the MacFarlans lost a daughter, Marietta, three years before this painting was made. Society expected women of her station to memorialize their loss to the community, and she would have worn several ensembles over time, each marking a particular stage of her bereavement. A similar mourning brooch might well have been found on Maria Bartow’s vanity as well, for she lost two children within days of each other.  

In contrast, we would be hard pressed to note any outward sign of Daniel MacFarlan’s grief. Indeed, it was considered unmanly to grieve the loss of a loved one, at least in public, for to do so would have revealed one’s weakness. Grief was a burden that society expected women to bear alone. Although the painting appears to show this young couple facing life on an equal footing, such a relationship was far from reality in America at this time. Living in a world dominated exclusively by men, women of the upper and middle classes were taught from childhood that their special calling was to be a “devoted wife” and “loving mother,” termed by some historians the “Cult of Domesticity.” The principle of “separate spheres” appeared to be accepted by both men and women as they carried out their respective roles in society.

Family, home life, and morality summed up the wife’s inward focus. It was in the home where her husband would find the support and the refuge he needed in what his wife must have considered a mysterious and seemingly turbulent world beyond the front door. A married woman was legally dependent on her husband and enjoyed no more rights within her marriage than her children did. Worse yet, women had no legal way to leave an abusive relationship. Under federalism, it was up to each state to enact laws giving women marriage equality, and it wasn’t until 1848, just two years before the MacFarlans married, that New York State would be one of the few states to enact laws that gradually gave married women rights within marriage. Before then, Mrs. MacFarlan could not legally own property, spend money, or even prepare her own will without her husband’s consent.

However, this change in the law, although welcomed by women, was largely driven by the boom-and-bust cycles of the American economy, as husbands saw the benefit of sheltering assets in the names of their wives. Marital inequality had been a matter of English Common Law, a legacy of our colonial heritage, but it was one of the nagging issues that captured the attention of women at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, where women activists gathered together to fight for greater equality, especially for the right to vote. It is likely that both Mrs. Bartow and Mrs. MacFarlan were aware of the convention and followed its progress within their social circles. This would become a decades-long fight led by women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, although at times competing strategies among women’s groups complicated their progress. Ultimately, a national organization was formed to put unrelenting political pressure on Congress, and by 1920, the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing universal suffrage was secured.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, women increasingly demanded a larger role in society beyond the home. Female seminaries began to offer young ladies a more rigorous education, and it soon became evident that formal education would be a gateway to a more fulfilling life. Although the teaching profession, closely allied to parenting, had always been accepted for women, other professions were not. Undaunted, strong women continually challenged the traditional mores. By the second half of the century, colleges like Vassar (1865), Wellesley (1875), and Smith (1875), among others, were admitting only female students. Many of them established roles for themselves in the issues of the day, advocating for temperance and abolition and eliminating discrimination between the sexes. Unfortunately, access to a high-quality education was limited for many years to white women born to privilege.

Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman, ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02

In another corner of the mansion, you will find the portrait of Zelia Krumbhaar Hoffman, who used her voice and her position to advance the role of women in shaping a new century. Let’s meet her.

Wearing a fashionable 1920s evening gown, Zelia Hoffman appears self-assured in this portrait. She stands rather than sits, with her eyes engaged, which suggests the activism that characterized her life. Born in Indiana in 1867, Zelia Krumbhaar Preston and her upper-class family lived in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Europe, and New York. We know little of her early years, but she went on to attend Oxford University, which may have contributed to her lifelong love affair with England. At 33, she married Charles Fredrick Hoffman, scion of a wealthy family with holdings in real estate and insurance. Blessed with “boundless drive and energy,” Zelia was not content to be the passive wife of a Gilded Age businessman. A suffragist at heart, she supported the push for the nineteenth amendment. As a result of her interest in horticulture and garden design, Zelia became instrumental in forming the International Garden Club (IGC), and it was through her efforts that the old Bartow mansion was repurposed as its headquarters. Funds were raised and spent to transform a tired-looking estate into a world-class garden club. The Great War (World War I) temporarily short-circuited her plans, but Zelia, undaunted, plunged right into the war effort. She headed several committees to provide war relief on the home front. When she heard of a milk shortage that threatened the health of infants living in New York City‘s tenements, perhaps resulting from a scheme to drive up prices, she quickly organized a dairy farm in the lower Hudson Valley to fill the need. As head of the National Special Aid Society, Zelia supported American volunteer airmen fighting side by side with French fighter pilots as they formed the Lafayette Escadrille. It was hoped that this early military aviation unit would influence American public opinion into pressuring President Wilson to abandon his policy of neutrality.

In 1919, after the war’s end and in the wake of her husband’s death, Zelia relocated to England. She soon became a British subject, but she remained active in progressive causes. After heading the local Women’s Liberal Association, she stood for Parliament in 1929, one of the few women in that period to run for a position as a Member of Parliament. She died quietly a few months after her election loss.

During her remarkable life, Zelia Hoffman never saw a problem that effective leadership couldn’t solve. She consistently networked, making use of all the resources at her disposal. She refused to be the woman who stood by; she lived to lean in.  

Like Zelia Hoffman, nineteenth-century women built launching pads for their granddaughters and great-granddaughters, so that they could continue to shatter glass ceilings on their way to the stars.

Joseph P. Cordasco, Education Committee Chair, Bartow-Pell Board of Directors

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Baubles and Bling: Holiday Trees Sparkle at Bartow-Pell

Maxine DiCarlo of La Gravinese Jewelers decorated this year’s tree in the front hall with shimmering metallic ribbons, white baubles, tinsel, and strings of luminous crystals. La Gravinese Jewelers has been a family-run business since 1917 when it was founded in Manhattan. In 1964, they opened their first retail store just outside New York City in the village of Pelham.

Sparkling baubles gleam like diamonds and rubies. Treasures from the woods, fields, and shore bring nature’s beauty inside. Handmade ornaments recall a charming childhood Christmas in the Victorian era. Lace adds a touch of delicate luxury. And festive decorations celebrate the many wonders of the Bronx.

Eleven joyful trees brighten the mansion’s period rooms and carriage house this holiday season. The décor’s theme—Baubles and Bling—is a tribute to Bartow-Pell’s monikers #bronxjewel and #hiddentreasure. We are also proud to showcase the exciting talents of our local creative community, whose diverse imaginations—and hard work—have given us not only many visual delights to explore, but also an abundance of holiday spirit.

“Chandelier,” North Parlor, Susan Chesloff and Alison McKay, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Bartow-Pell’s Museum Administrator, Susan Chesloff, and Executive Director, Alison McKay, have designed “Chandelier,” a dazzling evergreen-and-crystal confection in the north parlor that complements the mansion’s magnificent 19th-century chandeliers. The dynamic duo’s inspiration was not just visual. They also looked at the etymology of the word “chandelier” and its origins in French and Latin, ranging from chandelle (candle) to candere (be white, glisten).

“Bronx Gems,” Dining Room, Nicole Perrino,

The dining-room tree—”Bronx Gems”—was designed by Nicole Perrino, founder of Bronxmamas, a website “that highlights all of the great things for families to enjoy in the Bronx.” This busy mother is the author of “The Unmuted,” a newsletter about happenings in New York City public schools, and she is also involved in the Bronx non-profit Windows of Hip Hop. Nicole’s tree depicts “true Bronx gems—the places, people, and history of the Bronx.” She has a great story to tell about one of the decorations and how it came to be. “One of my ornaments was originally a thermos, but I turned it into a can of spray paint to represent hip hop, since the Bronx is where it all began. Artist Andre Trenier spray-painted the thermos for me, and he and artist Kay Love tagged it up for me. It’s my favorite ornament.” Nicole wrapped gifts with Bronx maps and logos to go under the tree, and she added photographs of some of the borough’s residents to the mantelpiece as a finishing touch.

“Sparkle and Shine,” Downstairs Sitting Room, Athena Kerin, Pelham, New York

Athena Kerin is dedicated to “making the world a brighter place for the next generation” and is the tree decorator of “Sparkle and Shine” in the downstairs sitting room. “Inspired by this year’s theme, Baubles and Bling truly resonated with me,” she reveals. “The appreciation for sparkles and shine allowed me to translate illumination into a Christmas-tree design that guests can enjoy.” And what is the significance of four special figures on Athena’s tree? “The tree-decorating activity also created a unique experience and memories for my family of four, reflected by the only four snowman ornaments.” “May the ‘Sparkle and Shine’ Christmas tree shed light during the Christmas season,” she says radiantly.

Vilma Wiesenmaier of VP Designs, Pelham, New York, created the tree in the Orangerie using handmade lace ornaments, cascading white ribbons, and bunches of red berries.

Handcrafted lace ornaments—made by Vilma Wiesenmaier of Pelham, located just over the New York City line in Westchester County—adorn this year’s tree in the Orangerie. Vilma is the owner and designer of VP Designs, a manufacturer that uses couture laces and trims to create lace products for the home. The company has been in business for forty-two years and supplies Neiman Marcus and high-end linen stores across the country. “I have a love for creating lace masterpieces,” she says. About five years ago, VP Designs started to produce lace ornaments in their “Graced with Lace by Vilmuska” line. “I believe everyone needs beauty in their lives, and every home should be graced with a touch of lace,” which brings “traditional elegance and charm to your home and family gatherings. . . .These cherished luxuries make for memorable moments.”  

Vivette Davis-Scale and Akilia (“Keely”) Scale filled their stunning tree in the Lannuier bedchamber with a dazzling array of white and rose-tinted baubles, ribbons, and lights. A pair of glimmering reindeer add to the magic.

Mother-daughter duo Vivette Davis-Scale and Akilia (“Keely”) Scale (find her on Instagram @allbronxeverything) have teamed up to add some Bronx bling to the Lannuier bedchamber. When asked to decorate one of the mansion’s trees, they were excited and delighted. The result is “Bling,” which honors “the beauty of the borough they love so much.”

“Vintage Treasure, Upstairs Sitting Room, Melissa Mullahey

“Vintage Treasure” in the upstairs sitting room was created by Bronx-born-and-bred artist Melissa Mullahey, a tattoo artist who loves to paint and has worked in Throggs Neck for twenty-six years. Melissa, her family, and her dogs live near Pelham Bay Park, where they “have spent many, many days exploring and enjoying its incredible beauty! It is such a beautiful and big part of my life, that I wanted to incorporate my feelings for the park, as well as the mansion, into my tree,” she says. “The mansion is a hidden treasure that many people still don’t know exists, and when I step through the doors I am taken back in time. It is truly magical. I hand decorated each ornament with materials such as faux pearls, lace, feathers, and chandelier crystals to represent that rich vintage beauty.” She added birds, pine cones, and pink floral bunches “to accent the beautiful pink antique sofa and curtains in the room, while bringing in some nature from the park.” Handmade garlands made of pine cones and pink floral vines adorn the fireplace mantel and desk. And “hints of gold are scattered throughout on mini pinecones and faux grapes to keep the mansion’s glamour intertwined with the nature that surrounds it.”

George Bartow’s Bedchamber, Dr. Maryann Pfeiffer, Pelham, New York,

George was the Bartows’ eldest son, and his bedchamber is decorated with handcrafted ornaments made from recycled and natural materials by Dr. Maryann Pfeiffer, a former board member of the Bartow-Pell Conservancy (and returning tree decorator). “I love creating, and the idea of bling and baubles was interesting, but I wanted to turn it on its head and look at it from another era, specifically the Victorian age,” she explains. Her goal is “to capture the magic of the season through the eyes of a young boy, George.”  Maryanne also wanted her ornaments to “be something a young boy of the era would be able to make,” so she “decorated the tree with branches, pinecones, and ribbons. I created some bling using marbles, wire, and baubles that are handmade. The angels were made from scrap wood and tin cans and are decorated using pyrography (wood burning).” Her hope is that George would be proud of this tree and happy to call it his own.

Theresa Zongrone was inspired by rubies, rubies, rubies when she created this magnificent tree in Clarina Bartow’s bedchamber.

Just like her work, the tree that Bronx artist Lovie Pignata decorated in Bartow-Pell’s carriage house, “#pelhambayparkrocks,” is inspired by the natural beauty of our borough. “Like the many cultures of the Bronx, the shoreline of Pelham Bay Park is full of multifaceted treasures,” she says when describing the idea behind her decorations. “Glacier erratics, quartz, gneiss, mica, marble, and schist are just a few of the natural bling that can be found in Pelham Bay Park.” Lovie’s tree is a collection of images taken in the park over the last several years. She made mirror ornaments using decoupage and acrylic ornaments printed with her photographs. “Shortly before Covid, there was a geology walk scheduled in Pelham Bay Park where I was going to be serving hot chocolate,” she recalls. Although the walk had to be canceled because of the pandemic, she hopes to learn more about the rocks of the park whenever the event is rescheduled.

What baubles and bling can you discover amidst the holiday greenery this year at Bartow-Pell? We hope that you will visit us soon to view these enchanting trees and explore the magic of our #bronxjewel. Many, many thanks to our very talented tree decorators, and happy holidays!

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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Mourning Marietta: A Family Story in Portraiture

Theodore E. Pine (1827–1905). Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan, 1858. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Gregg, 1950. This portrait is on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell and hangs in the downstairs sitting room.

Mary Jane and Daniel T. MacFarlan sat for this large double portrait about three years after the death of their young daughter Marietta. What is the story behind this handsome couple? And what can the portrait tell us about mourning in the 1850s?

Daniel T. MacFarlan (1828–1897) and Mary Jane Merritt (1829–1905) were married on November 20, 1850, at her parents’ home in Middle Hope, New York, a hamlet on the Hudson River that is part of the town of Newburgh. The young newlyweds set up housekeeping in New York City, where MacFarlan worked as an agent in his father’s real estate office at 180 Tenth Street. Daniel must have had a knack for selling things, because he was also for a time an auctioneer of household goods, with some “auction sales at the residences of families breaking up housekeeping” (New York Herald, May 5, 1855), a role that was probably linked to his work as a real estate agent. While still in his twenties, MacFarlan narrowly lost a hotly contested race for councilman in the 50th district of the 17th ward in 1855. (At that time, New York City’s Common Council consisted of one alderman for each of twenty-two wards, and one councilman for each of sixty districts within the wards.)

Map of part of the village of Yonkers: Showing 72 desirable lots to be sold at auction on Thursday June 9th, 1859, at 12 o’clock at the Getty house, Yonkers, 1859. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library

In 1860, after a decade of city life, Daniel and Mary Jane moved to Yonkers, where MacFarlan joined other new suburbanites on the daily trek into Manhattan, thanks to the expansion of the railroad. The Art Journal of 1861 described this Hudson River commuter town as “a large and rapidly-growing village about four miles below Hastings and seventeen from New York. Its recent growth and prosperity are almost wholly due to the Hudson River Railway, which furnishes such travelling facilities and accommodations, that hundreds of business men in the city of New York have chosen it for their summer residences, and many of them for their permanent dwelling-places.”

Daniel continued to work with his father for a while, but about 1863, he got into the maple syrup and sugar syrup business, working from an office on East Thirteenth Street. This venture, however, seems to have been short-lived, and at some point in the mid-1860s, he embarked on a more prosaic career as a life insurance agent. By 1872, he was a vice president for Asbury Life Insurance Company at 805 Broadway, which was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church and named after Bishop Francis Asbury, a founder of American Methodism. The MacFarlans were leading members of the First Methodist Church in Yonkers, where the couple and their surviving daughter, Helen, were active in the Sunday school and missionary societies. Daniel was also a “local preacher” (i.e., lay minister) and served as an officer in the National Association.

As a preacher, auctioneer, and candidate for public office, Daniel MacFarlan clearly had a talent for public speaking. He also enjoyed singing and seems to have had a mellifluous voice. “The children were led in singing on this occasion by the Rev. Daniel T. Macfarlan, who for a number of years had charge of the singing of this [Sunday] school and always took a special delight and pains in training the children. He will always be remembered as the sweet singer of the school.” (Church and Sunday-School Work in Yonkers, 1889) Daniel must have enjoyed being around young people, too.

The Daughters of Daniel T. MacFarlan (detail). On July 5, 1856, MacFarlan wrote in his diary, “’Went to Newburgh after breakfast for Mr. Pine the Artist, where I met him and brought him up home to sketch the house (probably the home of his in-laws, the Merritts, in Middle Hope, New York) for the purpose of placing it upon the Children’s portrait.’” (American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Daniel’s wife, Mary Jane, grew up on the Merritt family’s ancestral homestead in Middle Hope, New York, “the place being handsomely fitted up, and being one of the most picturesque and attractive in the town of Newburgh” (History of Orange County, New York, 1881). Her father, Daniel Merritt, was a farmer, who was “closely identified with the progressive and evangelical enterprises of the day.” He was also one of the founding trustees of the Middle Hope Methodist Episcopal Church. According to American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985), the landscape in the background of the Macfarlan portrait is believed to depict this small village on the Hudson River where Mrs. MacFarlan’s family had lived for several generations.

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan (detail). The Hudson River and the village of Middle Hope
The Middlehope M. E. Church. Illustration from History of the Town of Newburgh by E. M. Ruttenber, 1859. Mrs. MacFarlan’s father, Daniel Merritt, was one of the founders of the Middle Hope Methodist Episcopal Church. The building was dedicated as Asbury Chapel in 1822 and was the only house of worship in the village before 1859. In the MacFarlan portrait, either the artist has embellished the church by adding a steeple or it has been cropped off in this engraving.

Daniel and Mary Jane had two daughters—Helen (1851–1940) and Marietta (1854–1855). The eldest, Helen, continued to live with her parents as an adult and never married. She became a music teacher and lived to the ripe old age of eighty-eight. Marietta died a few days after Christmas on December 29, 1855, of an unknown cause. She is likely the daughter recorded in New York City archives as being born to the MacFarlans on October 5, 1854, which means that she would have been almost 15 months old at the time of her death.

Theodore E. Pine. The Daughters of Daniel T. MacFarlan, 1857. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Gregg, 1950. The elder MacFarlan daughter, Helen, sat for this portrait in June 1856, a few months before her fifth birthday. Sadly, the likeness of her younger sister, Marietta—who had died about six months previously—is posthumous. The children hold roses and forget-me-nots, which are representations of love, innocence, and remembrance. Marietta’s posy includes an unopened rosebud (a well-known symbol of the death of a child), and the trampled rose lying on the ground reminds us of how quickly a young life can end. The dog affectionately places a paw in the toddler’s hand, a sign of faithfulness—even after her death—but his playful posture suggests happier family times. Whether intentional or not, the evergreen trees in the distance recall eternal life.

Daniel and Mary Jane must have been doting parents, since they commissioned a double portrait of their girls from the Manhattan-based artist Theodore Pine (1827–1905) before they asked him to paint their own portrait. Perhaps a sense of urgency after the death of Marietta prompted them to capture their children on canvas as quickly as possible. In any case, affluent nineteenth-century American households were often child-centered, and many families of means hired professional portraitists to immortalize their young offspring. These portraits adorned parlor walls and allowed family members and visitors alike to admire (and—in the sad cases of childhood mortality—remember) the young sitters. (In the same spirit, today’s proud moms and dads snap photos with their cell-phone cameras and post them on social media.)

Daniel MacFarlan wrote in his diary that Helen sat for her portrait in June 1856, according to the Met’s American paintings catalogue, which also surmises that Marietta’s likeness in the double portrait of the girls was based on a bust-length portrait of her painted by Pine from a death mask.

Mourning ensemble, 1857–60. American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Janet K. Smith, 1941.

So, let’s turn back to the portrait of Mr. and Mrs. MacFarlan to learn something about how they mourned the death of their toddler. Despite the smiles on their pleasant faces, several clues tell us that they are still grieving.

Even though it had been three years since the loss of Marietta, Mrs. MacFarlan is still wearing a black dress. Her white lace collar and undersleeves were permitted after the initial stage of deep mourning but before the period when gray, purple, lavender, and white dresses were allowed. Although there were definite rules about what to wear during the different phases of mourning, the length of time one spent in these garments was up to the individual. “There is such a variety of opinion upon the subject of mourning, that it is extremely difficult to lay down any general rules upon the subject. Some wear very close black for a long period for a distant relative; whilst others will wear dressy mourning for a short time in a case of death in the immediate family. There is no rule either for the depth of mourning or the time when it may be laid aside.” (Florence Hartley, Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, 1860) A closer look at the picture reveals that Mrs. MacFarlan has pinned a popular style of mourning brooch—made of plaited hair (probably taken from Marietta) and surrounded by a border of black enamel—to the center of her collar. However, mourning wear for men was much less restrictive, and black coats—like the one seen here on Mr. MacFarlan—were commonly worn, not just for mourning.

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan (detail). Mrs. MacFarlan’s mourning brooch is made of plaited hair that probably belonged to her daughter Marietta.
Brooch, ca. 1830–40. English or American. Braided hair, glass, pearls, gold, and enamel. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Georgina and Louisa L. Schuyler. This piece is typical of mid-19th century mourning brooches and is similar to the one worn by Mrs. MacFarlan in her portrait.

Finally, the portrait is sending another message of grief through flowers. Mrs. MacFarlan tenderly holds a white rose, a red rose, and a red rosebud in her left hand. Roses are a longstanding symbol of love and death. Red roses signify love, while white roses represent innocence and purity. In funerary imagery, the unopened rosebud refers to the life of a child before it has had time to blossom, a young life unfulfilled. These references would have been recognized and understood by nineteenth-century viewers. And what is the bereaved mother holding in her right hand? It’s hard to tell, but her fingers rest lightly over her heart.

Memorial to Nicholas M. S. Catlin, ca. 1852. American. Oil on canvas. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. Roses, forget-me-nots, and a plucked flower are among the symbols of love, remembrance, and early death in this memorial to a beloved child, which also includes a weeping willow tree and a funerary plinth. The subject, Nicholas Catlin, died at the age of one year, one month, and fifteen days.

Unhappily, the MacFarlans were joined by many other grief-stricken parents in the days before vaccines and antibiotics. Robert and Maria Bartow also endured the all-too-common heartache of the death of a child when their three-year-old daughter Clarina died on December 18, 1835. More tragedy ensued when their son Robert followed his sister to the grave three days later, one day shy of his first birthday. They were two of the Bartows’ eventual nine children.

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan has been on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum from the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1989.

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Behind the Closed Door: Privacy by Design in 19th-Century Houses

Arnold Moses, photographer. Bartow-Pell Mansion, November 17, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. Many of the original doors in Bartow-Pell’s first-floor rooms are made of rosewood and other expensive woods and fitted with fine silver hardware. However, not everyone could afford such an elegant display of wealth and taste. To save money, homeowners often mimicked this fashionable look with faux-grained woods and door knobs made of silvered glass. The niche in Bartow-Pell’s entrance hall once housed a cast-iron stove.

She knocked at the parlor door, “and was answered by a low ‘come in.’ She opened it, entered, and closed it.” (Eliza Meteyard, Mainstone’s Housekeeper, 1864)

Yes, that’s right. Doors—like the one in this novel from the 1860s—were generally kept closed in 19th-century interiors. But that was only part of a broader plan to ensure household privacy through architecture.

Robert Peckham (American, 1785–1877). The Raymond Children, ca. 1838. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1966. In this portrait from about 1838, two children stand in front of a closed parlor door at their home in Royalston, Massachusetts.

As in any era, designs for 19th-century houses responded to the lifestyles of the period. This was a time when middle- and upper-class households included not only family members, but also the servants who cooked their food, emptied their chamber pots, cared for their children, and groomed their horses. Employers and servants, adults and children, and women and men often moved in separate spheres, and it was important to preserve authority, domestic hierarchy, and the integrity of the family circle. Privacy, comfort, convenience, and efficient traffic flow needed to be taken into account. Physical dividers and other design elements—such as doors, corridors, staircases, and floor plans—were used to control and separate various spaces within the house and dictate how they were used, when, and by whom.

Let’s start with doors. Most rooms had multiple entries, which allowed for good flexibility and control over the space. Some doors opened into corridors; others connected to adjacent rooms. Closed doors signified exclusion. Open doors were useful for social events in formal spaces (especially the popular pocket—or sliding doors—of the period) or between family bedchambers when privacy was not required. Closed doors increased heat retention from fireplaces and stoves in cold months. Open doors created cross breezes in the summer.

Corridors and staircases were like public roads within the house. The idea of corridors as pedestrian streets is brought to life by a former student at the Pelham Priory school for girls, which operated from the late 1830s to 1882. Emily Earle Lindsley reminisced in 1933: “The long hall on the second story was named ‘Broadway’ and that on the third floor, ‘Fifth Avenue.’ Quaint, meticulous Miss Allen, the housekeeper, occupied a room, the short entrance to which was known as ‘Maiden Lane.’” (Christ Church at Pelham: 1843–1943)

Robert S. Burton. First Floor Plan, Bartow-Pell Mansion, 1986. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. The main floor of the Bartow mansion is arranged in two parallel enfilades. Multiple doors offer both flexibility and control in these spaces.

The Bartow mansion (built 1836–42) is a good example of how doors, corridors, and floor plans were designed to safeguard the family’s private life while allowing open access to public spaces within the house, if desired.

On the first floor, the main block has both public and semi-public rooms: the entrance hall, double parlors, dining room, and sitting room. Two Palladian-style wings housed kitchen and work areas on the north side, and what we believe was Robert Bartow’s library and office—and an adjoining conservatory—on the south side.

Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1757–1827). Disappointed Epicures, 1809. Hand-colored etching. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959. Servants often had to move in and out of closed doors while waiting at table. The hungry gourmands in this humorous scene are infuriated when two footmen in the half-open door are tripped by a dog, which causes the tureen and a platter full of food to crash to the floor, ruining their much-anticipated dinner.
Arnold Moses, photographer. Entry hall, Bartow-Pell Mansion, November 17, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

The entrance hall provides access to the rest of the house through a series of doors and a couple of staircases. All of these doors would have regularly been kept closed in order to define the boundaries of this very public area; however, they could also be opened up for receptions and evening parties or to enhance air flow. Just inside the front door, a discreet set of stairs—with a handsome newel post—is located under the principal staircase, giving the servants a direct route from the basement to greet visitors. The more elaborate main staircase gives access to bedchambers and to other private spaces on the upper floors.

Bartow-Pell’s double parlors are part of an enfilade on the mansion’s first floor. Photo by Richard Warren

A sense of spacious grandeur is achieved through the use of enfilades. This architectural device—which derives from European palaces—employs a series of interconnecting rooms aligned on a straight axis to create superb views through rooms when doors are left open. The aim was not only to impress but also to create flexible spaces. One of the Bartow enfilades even extends to the conservatory. The great English landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752–1818) describes a similar design in Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). “These rooms have been opened into each other, en suite, by large folding doors; and the effect of this enfilade, or vista, through a modern house, is occasionally increased by a conservatory at one end.”

Wilhelm Bendz (Danish, 1804–1832). The Waagepetersen Family, 1830. Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark), Copenhagen. This domestic scene depicts a well-to-do Danish businessman at home as he takes a break from his deskwork to greet his wife and children. Robert Bartow’s house had a similar business room with a connecting door to what was presumably Mrs. Bartow’s downstairs sitting room or morning room.
Bartow mansion, 1905. New York Public Library (left). Bartow mansion, ca. 1870. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum (right). The exterior door to what was likely Robert Bartow’s business room and library no longer exists, but it is visible just to the right of the main block of the house in this view from 1905. The fireplace in this room was probably removed in 1915 during renovations by Delano & Aldrich, but the chimney—which had already been taken down—is clearly present in earlier photographs, such as this one taken in 1870.

Robert Bartow probably managed the family’s 233-acre estate and took care of his business affairs in the south wing of the house. In 1864, the British architect Robert Kerr (1823–1904)—who had briefly practiced architecture in New York City in the 1840s—published The Gentleman’s House, or How to Plan English Residences. This comprehensive tome includes the author’s views on a “gentleman’s-room or business-room.” He writes that “in a good house there will be a special entrance made. The purpose is to admit the tenants, tradesmen, and other persons on business as directly as possible to the room in question and to no other part of the house. . . . The most eligible position will consequently be at what may be called the separating point between the main house and the offices.” An exterior door was originally in this exact position in Robert Bartow’s presumed “business-room.” In addition, as a gentleman and a former publisher of high-quality editions of British poetry and other works, Bartow may have used the south wing as his library.

Auguste Edouart (French, 1789–1861). The Magic Lantern, ca. 1835. Cut paper and wash. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Mary Martin, 1938. A servant peeks through the drawing-room door as he joins other members of the household—a couple and their children, a nursemaid with the baby, a grandmother, and even the family dog—for a magic-lantern show.

The unknown architect or builder of the Bartow mansion probably designed the house—which took six years to complete—with a great deal of input from his clients. Both architect and patron apparently had convenience and practicality in mind when planning the mansion’s work areas. The unrestored semi-basement retains most of its original layout. Windows provide ventilation and doors lead to the outside. Rooms were clearly defined for various purposes—such as cooking, baking, laundry, storage, and a servants’ dining hall—and a central corridor accommodated servant traffic. There are two staircases from the basement. One leads to the first-floor service wing (where there were additional food prep areas, pantries, and perhaps a scullery) and continues to the second floor; another staircase connects to the entrance hall and nearby dining room. It is clear that these service spaces allowed people to do their work efficiently, albeit within highly controlled areas. Robert Kerr reminds readers “that the servants’ department shall be separated from the main house, so that what passes on either side of the boundary shall be both invisible and inaudible on the other.” In the rest of the house, doors and corridors limited servants’ movements.

An upstairs room at Bartow-Pell is currently interpreted as a sitting room, although perhaps it was once a bedchamber. (Note the room’s similarity to the depiction of the Trimble family’s parlor in Edouart’s silhouette from 1842, the same year that the Bartow mansion was completed.) There are five doors in this room—two are off the central corridor; one connects to the backstairs corridor and the children’s suite; one leads to a dressing room and another bedchamber; and the last one currently opens to a closet.
Auguste Edouart. The Trimble Family, New York, 1842. Cut paper and ink. Winterthur Museum, Gift of Henry Francis du Pont

On the second floor, a central corridor is lined with doors to the four principal bedchambers (one of which might have been a sitting room). The corridor doors would have been kept closed. Let’s also remember that, like most houses built during the first half of the 19th century, the Bartow mansion did not have indoor plumbing, so bedchambers doubled as bathrooms. The three chambers facing Long Island Sound have interconnecting interior doors so that the family did not have to enter the public corridor to go between rooms. (One would not want to suddenly cross paths with a maid and vice versa!) Robert Kerr sums it up like this: “In short, whether in a small house or a large one, let the family have free passage without encountering the servants unexpectedly, and let the servants have access to all their duties without coming unexpectedly upon the family or visitors. On both sides this privacy is highly valued.” A fourth chamber on the other side of the hall is completely independent. Today it is interpreted as the bedchamber of the Bartows’ adult son George, but was it a guest room at one time?

James E. Cook. Testimony in the Great Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case, ca. 1875. Lithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton’s affair shocked Americans and resulted in a lurid trial in 1875. Beecher was the famously flamboyant Brooklyn minister whose sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Locks on the doors of bedchambers, parlors, and other rooms—although not always used—offered privacy, security, and sometimes, secrecy. In the late 1860s, Henry Ward Beecher, the charismatic pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, began a scandalous extramarital affair with Elizabeth Tilton, a parishioner and the wife of his good friend Theodore Tilton. A famous trial ensued in which Beecher was charged with adultery, and the press breathlessly followed every detail. On July 22, 1874, the New York Herald reported that “Mr. Tilton, after leaving his house in the early morning, returned to it in the forenoon, and on going to his bedchamber, found the door locked, and when, on knocking, the door was opened by Mrs. Tilton, Mr. Beecher was seen within, apparently much confused and exhibiting a flushed face.”

Dominic W. Boudet (d. 1845). The Bowie Children, 1812–15. Oil on canvas. Winterthur Museum, Gift of Katharine Gahagan, Michael H. du Pont, and Christopher T. du Pont in memory of A. Felix du Pont Jr. This scene helps us to imagine the Bartows’ school-age children—four boys and three girls—who were taught at home by a tutor and a governess for at least some of their childhood.

The children’s suite—which is on the second floor above the kitchens—is separated from the principal bedchambers by a small corridor at the back staircase. (This staircase was probably used by the children as well as the servants.) And, indeed, Robert Kerr tells us that “The most usual position for nurseries in an average house is at that point where the family sleeping-rooms and the servants’ rooms meet at the back staircase.” In the Bartow mansion, two sets of doors between the main block and the children’s quarters gave Mrs. Bartow quick access to her small children, even though a servant probably slept in the nursery. The suite has four small rooms that flow one into the other around what was once the schoolroom (with its marble fireplace). The supervision of children meant that privacy was less important in this area, which probably explains why there are no corridors.

Robert Peckham. The Hobby Horse, ca. 1840. Oil on canvas. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. Several clues in this portrait suggest that the children have just returned home from an outing. The door to the hall has been left ajar, a cap has been carelessly tossed atop the base of the hobby horse, and the little girl is still holding her bonnet.
Arnold Moses, photographer. Bartow-Pell Mansion, second-floor landing and stairs to the third-floor attic, November 17, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. This flight of stairs is the only way to reach to the third-floor servants’ quarters.

What did privacy mean for servants? Robert Kerr says, “The family constitute one community; the servants another. Whatever may be their mutual regard and confidence as dwellers under the same roof, each class is entitled to shut its door upon the other, and be alone.” Some of the Bartows’ female (and mostly Irish) servants slept in the third-floor attic. In Rural Homes, or Sketches of Houses Suited to American Country Life (1851), the architect Gervase Wheeler writes: “In the roof over the main part of the house, an additional sleeping-room, or even two or three, might be contrived for servants.” Although the women had this floor to themselves, there was very little (if any) privacy in the large dormitory-like space.

Strangely, there are no back stairs to the third-floor servants’ quarters, and the only way to get there is to take the main staircase from the second-floor landing. Was this simply because the back stairs are located in the north wing, which is only two stories high? Then again, why would Mr. and Mrs. Bartow want the chambermaid and laundress making their way to bed through the family corridor? Was this was the Bartows’ way of keeping a suspicious eye (and ear) on their employees to make sure that they were not sneaking upstairs during work hours? High turnover among the Irish meant that employers often viewed servants with distrust. In June 1864, the author of “Your Humble Servant” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine) grumbled, “She gives short or often no notice at all. . . . The household is the scene of a perpetual revolution. Today, there is a change of dynasty in the kitchen, tomorrow in the chamber or nursery. Domestic anarchy and confusion are the inevitable consequences.”

Yesterday it was closed doors. Today it is open plan. And tomorrow?

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

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Zelia Hoffman Does It Again: Untold Stories of the 1916 Flower Show at Bartow

Why is a long-forgotten flower show still relevant over one hundred years later? And why was a woman named Zelia Hoffman once a galvanizing force in the gardening world? A little digging into the past reveals some answers.

Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman (detail), ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02. Zelia Hoffman founded the International Garden Club (IGC) in 1914. The organization accomplished an astonishing amount of work in the few short years of her leadership, including the restoration of the old Bartow mansion and the creation of a formal garden by the firm of Delano & Aldrich (1915); a June flower show (1916); plans for an extensive rose garden designed by Delano & Aldrich (1917); publication of a horticultural journal (1917–19); and setting up a dairy to provide fresh farm milk to children living in poverty during the First World War (1918). Following her husband’s death in 1919, Zelia—an ardent anglophile—moved permanently to England.

On a wintry day in February 1916, Zelia Hoffman (1867–1929), President of the International Garden Club, hosted a meeting to discuss plans for a summer flower show to be held on the grounds of the garden club’s headquarters at the historic Bartow mansion in Pelham Bay Park. The group gathered at 620 Fifth Avenue in New York City, the elegant townhouse between 49th and 50th Streets that was designed by Carrère & Hastings in 1903 for Zelia and her husband, Charles Frederick Hoffman, on the site of today’s Rockefeller Center. As committee members arrived, Mrs. Hoffman’s butler would have taken their coats (probably highly fashionable furs, for the ladies) and then ushered them into either the reception room or the library. Both rooms had a view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the corner and faced the stately Buckingham Hotel across the street, a luxury residence for wealthy families that was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the new Saks department store. The month had gotten off to a snowy start, and the mere thought of roses, irises, and peonies must have been a welcome antidote to the winter doldrums for these well-heeled garden lovers.

Carrère & Hastings, house of Zelia and Charles F. Hoffman, 620 Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1903. Illustrated in House and Garden, November 1903. The Cole-Haan store at Rockefeller Center now stands on or near the former site of the Hoffman house. The 1910 census enumerates ten servants in the household—from Scandinavia, Ireland, and francophone Switzerland—including three butlers, two laundresses, several maids, and a French-speaking governess. By 1922, the neighborhood, with “its aristocratic home-like atmosphere,” was changing rapidly, according to an article about the demolition of the Buckingham Hotel, which was across the street from the Hoffman house. “With the advent a few years ago of the big department stores north of Thirty-fourth Street and the small store invasion above Forty-second Street, it became apparent that the avenue south of Fifty-seventh Street was destined for commercial uses.” (New York Times, July 30, 1922)
Mrs. E. H. Harriman, March 7, 1927. Bain News Service, Library of Congress. Mary Williamson Averell Harriman (1851–1932) was the widow of the railroad tycoon Edward Henry Harriman (1848–1909). “The inauguration of this Summer show is due primarily to the president, Mrs. Chas. F. Hoffman, actively supported by Mrs. E. H. Harriman, Mrs. H. de Berkeley Parsons, Dr. Geo. Norton Miller, and others who take a leading part in the club’s affairs.” (Excerpt from the Florist’s Exchange, June 10, 1916, in the IGC Journal, August 1917)
Charles H. Totty, Wallace R. Pierson, and F. R. Pierson were among the well-known figures in horticultural circles who served as members of the IGC flower show’s scheduling committee. Photos from The American Florist, December 30, 1922

When the flower-show organizers met at Mrs. Hoffman’s house on that cold February day, “a schedule committee was appointed which got to work at once” (IGC Journal, 1917). Eighteen horticultural experts and professionals sat on the committee, and their schedule was “afterward adopted by the members of the International Garden Club at a meeting held at the Biltmore Hotel during the time of the New York Spring flower show [i.e., the International Flower Show].”

Grand Central Palace, ca. 1916. Postcard. Avery Classics, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. The Grand Central Palace—an imposing exhibition hall on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Terminal that was demolished in the 1960s—was the site of the International Flower Show, which “attracts all classes of people, from the woman whose garden is a small window box to the wealthy country gentleman who collects rare orchids for his conservatory.” “More than 25,000 different varieties of flowers will be shown, and the exhibits will cover 80,000 square feet of floor space.” (New York Times, April 2, 1916)
Exhibition hall, Grand Central Palace. Architecture and Building, July 1911. This was the main exhibition hall of the International Flower Show. In 1914, the New York Times described that year’s event, which was attended by nearly 100,000 people. “The marble walls and columns of the hall are green with creepers and all around are banked masses of foliage and blossoms. Clipped yews and box for the formal garden, great banks of roses, azaleas with a thousand blossoms in a single clump, fields of tall lilies, masses of ferns, palm trees towering to the parapet of the mezzanine, trees full of orchids—all these and more have been brought to the Grand Central Palace.”
Marie Louise Rodewald, “waitress” at the International Flower Show, Grand Central Palace, April 1916. Bain News Service, Library of Congress. Proceeds from the tea garden benefited the Red Cross and other war relief organizations. About 150 members of the Junior League served as waitresses.
Publicity poster for the International Flower Show, 1915. The New York Public Library

The International Flower Show was a huge weeklong exhibition at the now-demolished Grand Central Palace on Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets. By 1916, this fairly new event, with elaborate exhibits in a grandiose space, had become an annual highlight not only for commercial and private gardeners but also for the public, and it would have been a must-see for IGC members. On February 21, 1916, a New York Times writer proclaimed in “Plan Flower Show to Beat the World” that it “will be the greatest show that this country or probably the world has ever known.” The prize money that year was more than $16,000 (in contrast, the IGC only offered about $2,500 in prizes for its fledgling show a couple of months later).

The Horticultural Society of New York and the New York Florists’ Club ran the International Flower Show, which was managed for many years by the English-born horticulturalist Arthur Herrington (1866–1950). In 1916, Zelia Hoffman and the IGC also hired Herrington—who had previously overseen the planting of the IGC’s formal garden at Bartow—as the secretary-manager of their upcoming show. (He was later put in charge of implementing Delano & Aldrich’s designs for the club’s rose garden, which was never realized because of America’s entry into the First World War.)

Frances Benjamin Johnston and Mattie Edwards Hewitt. Terrace Fountain, Bartow Mansion, International Garden Club, fall 1915. Hand-colored glass-lantern slide. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Arthur Herrington supervised the planting of Bartow-Pell’s formal garden in 1915.

The Biltmore Hotel—where the IGC met to finalize plans for their June flower show—had opened its doors on New Year’s Eve in 1913 at a cost of $10 million dollars. Spanning the entire block between Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues and 43rd and 44th Streets, the hotel was designed by Warren & Wetmore, who were also the architects of Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central Palace. It had one thousand bedrooms, a number of dining areas, a grand ballroom, and a variety of other high-end amenities. (The famous clock that hung at the entrance to the Palm Court was a legendary meeting spot.) The Biltmore was also a popular place for large gatherings, and its location near the spring flower show made it the ideal site for the IGC to conduct their business in April 1916.

Biltmore Hotel, New York City. The New York Public Library. The now-demolished Biltmore—which was designed by Warren & Wetmore as part of the Grand Central Terminal complex—opened its doors in 1913. This was where Dr. George Norton Miller presided over a meeting of the International Garden Club in April 1916.

Although Zelia Hoffman and the IGC were inspired by the International Flower Show, they could not compete with the enormous scale of that event in size, prize money, and showmanship. So how could the club create a smaller show that was special enough to attract a large number of visitors? A fresh angle was needed, and the pastoral grounds of the new waterfront headquarters in the Bronx provided the perfect setting for what the IGC claimed would be “the first out-door flower show held in the vicinity of New York.” In addition, the location of the Bartow mansion—which was near the Westchester County line—made the show easily accessible to amateur gardeners in the ever-expanding suburbs north of New York City. Finally, the IGC Journal discloses that the idea for a show en plein air had been influenced by English precedents. “The inauguration of open air flower shows in New York is an enterprise well worthwhile, and . . . ultimately they may be made as delightful an outdoor recreation as they have been for years in England.”

June flower show at Bartow, June 1–4, 1916. Journal of the International Garden Club, August 1917

The weather was glorious for the garden club’s show, which was held in tents on the front lawn during the weekend of June 1–4, 1916. “The grounds around the mansion were most delightful in the first green flush of the early summer, all so fresh and beautiful,” enthused the Florist’s Exchange. Judge Alton B. Parker (1852–1926)—a former Democratic nominee for president who had lost the 1904 election to Theodore Roosevelt—declared the show open and announced that Mrs. Frank Sullivan Smith (née Clara A. H. Higgins) had donated $5,000 for evergreens to be planted on the Bartow estate as a memorial to her late brother, Francis W. Higgins, the former governor of New York. (Mrs. Smith, a suffragist who lived at the Plaza Hotel, had recently been a delegate at a large women’s conference, where she spoke passionately against bias toward recent immigrants.)

Rhododendrons, flowering trees and shrubs, hydrangeas, ferns, water plants, conifers, orchids, roses, cut flowers, rock gardens, and more were among the thirty-eight categories that were eligible for cash prizes donated by IGC members. The club also awarded Certificates of Merit for exhibits of flowers, photographs, and educational materials to a number of garden clubs—including those from Greenwich, Rye, New Rochelle, Bedford, Flushing, and Somerset Hills (New Jersey)—and to organizations such as the International Children’s School Farm League, the Women’s National Agricultural and Horticultural Association, and to the Boy Scouts for taking tickets. The four-day event featured lectures and demonstrations, as well as Morris dancing presented by the folk-dance scholar, educator, and author Caroline Crawford.

Was the IGC’s flower show a success? The New Country Life reported that the “somewhat remote location failed to attract the attention of the public that its merits deserved,” and Zelia Hoffman noted that “the show was not well advertised (IGC Journal, 1917). Even though the inaugural event was somewhat disappointing, the organizers still felt encouraged and discussed ways to improve timing, publicity, and other logistics. However, they ultimately decided not to repeat the show, probably because of the First World War, competition from other flower shows and garden clubs, and Zelia’s move to England in 1919.

Although the IGC flower show of 1916 may be lost in time and the International Garden Club no longer exists, Zelia Hoffman’s legacy lives on in Bartow-Pell’s beautiful gardens, grounds, and historic buildings. Today, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the Bartow-Pell Conservancy maintain this special place for everyone to enjoy.

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

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