The Latest Fashion: An 1840s Dress Tells All

Around 1840, there was a fashion reaction after women grew tired of the huge sleeves, broad shoulders, big bonnets, and sometimes outlandish hairstyles of the previous decade. It was time for a change.

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Silk dress, American, 1840s. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Melvin C. Steen, 1978. A chemisette (half-blouse) would have been worn underneath the bodice to fill in the deep V-neckline. The lace is not original.

An 1840s silk dress in Bartow-Pell’s collection enables us take a close look at the new style, which featured an elongated waist, rigid corsets, very tight triangular bodices, sloping shoulders, and full skirts. Let’s start by analyzing the bodice (or “body,” as it was often called). Fan-shaped pleats fall from gathers at the shoulders and form a long inverted triangle that dips below the natural waistline and terminates in a pointed, gathered panel. Slender piping strengthens the seams in the close-fitting bodice. Hooks and eyes close the back opening. Our dress has a plunging, open V-neck “corsage” (yet another period word for bodice), which would have been paired with a cotton or linen chemisette (a half-blouse) worn underneath. Wide lace currently fills the décolletage and runs down the back, but this was almost certainly added later, as fashion plates, period garments, and other primary sources do not show trim treatment of this sort. Besides, the large fill-in frill is awkward, especially if worn with a chemisette.

Chemisettes Godey's Feb 1847

Chemisettes. Godey’s Lady’s Book, February 1847

TC2012.12 sleeve detail

Sleeve detail with fringed ombré-embroidered passementerie and a thread-covered button accent. The arm trim rises to a point, echoing the dress’s pointed waist.

Fringed light-gray ribbon trim embroidered with ombré (progressing from light to dark) foliate motifs further accentuates the bodice’s V-shape and the slim upper arm. The Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music, and Romance reported in August 1844 that “there is a good deal of variety in the sleeves; tight ones are very extensively seen, but in general they have some kind of trimming to take off from their excessive plainness.” Long narrow sleeves (often cut on the bias) and drooping shoulders—partially achieved through the low placement of the armscye (armhole)—were a reaction against the huge sleeves and wide shoulders of the 1830s. (Click here to read about a transitional-style dress in BPMM’s collection.) A very full skirt, which would have been supported by layers of petticoats, completes the look.

Waist detailStyle in the 1840s was partly about geometry. Angles, points, and triangular shapes can be seen across the many Gothic Revival art forms of the decade, including architecture, furniture, ceramics, clothing, and more. The most obvious example of the Gothic form in women’s fashion is the triangular bodice ending in a low point below the waist. Furthermore, informed people were well aware of historical influences on clothing, and this topic was sometimes discussed in women’s magazines. In August 1844, for example, the Ladies’ Cabinet described trendy dresses that were in “the Italian style of three hundred years ago, and . . . copied from portraits of celebrated beauties of that period.” A few months earlier, in March 1844, the same magazine captured the era’s historical vibe:

The forms of these dresses, as well as the materials, approach very nearly to those that we have seen described as fashionable in the early part of the last century; the waist rendered as long and taper as possible, and terminated, for the most part, by an excessively deep point in front, and the full-flowing skirt . . . have a strong family likeness to the gowns, as they were then called, of our great great grandmammas.

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Bernardino Campi (Italian, 1522–1591). Portrait of a Woman, late 1560s. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Edith Neuman de Végvár, in honor of her husband, Charles Neuman de Végvár, 1963. Historical fashions strongly influenced 1840s styles. In August 1844, for example, the Ladies’ Cabinet described dresses in “the Italian style of three hundred years ago, and . . . copied from portraits of celebrated beauties of that period.” Note the similarities between this Italian style from the 1560s and BPMM’s dress and others from the 1840s.

What colors were in style? According to the New-York Visitor and Lady’s Album of December 1842:

The colors which are now most fashionable and likely to continue during the season, in more or less favor, are different shades of green, violet, fawns, and shots [iridescent fabrics]—such as pink and lilac, violet and green, pink and fawn, maroon and ruby-grenat [garnet]. Grey is a favorite color in silks.

In February 1844, the Ladies’ Companion grumbled that “those who sigh for . . . ill-assorted and gaudy colors are not, whatever may be their ostensible position in life, the truly fashionable and genteel. Boorishness—nay, even barbarism itself—often seeks to appear in lively and flaunting colors.” Bartow-Pell’s dress is in a stylish and sober shade—the ever-popular “fawn-colored silk” that is mentioned in numerous 19th-century sources.

March 1843 Lady's World fawn silk

The Latest & Newest Fashions March 1843. Illustration from The Lady’s World. At the center is “a walking dress of fawn colored silk, over which is worn a short green manteau.” Bartow-Pell’s dress is also made of the ever-popular “fawn-colored silk.” The Lady’s World, a women’s magazine published in Philadelphia, made sure to point out to its fashion-conscious readers that “the present plate has been engraved on steel after designs forwarded from Paris.”

The silhouette of the 1840s was narrow and elongated on top with a very full bell-shaped skirt on the bottom. This look was achieved by wearing the correct undergarments. Long, busked corsets flattened the bust and smoothed the torso through the hips so that tight bodices fit like a glove. (Click here to learn more about corset busks.) In addition, bodices were often boned. “It is usual to have a whalebone up the middle of the front; one, or perhaps two, at each side of the fore-body, . . . a whalebone at each of the side-seams under the arms, and up the outer edges of the back, where the hooks and eyes are,” Eliza Leslie instructed in The House Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy (1845 edition). A knee-length chemise (shift) was worn under the corset. This provided a soft layer between the skin and the corset and helped protect dresses from perspiration. In the 1840s, women wore multiple petticoats to add ample fullness to their skirts. Leslie wrote that “the skirt of a dress will not look well unless it is very full and wide; it should not be long enough to touch the ground, nor so short as to show the shoe binding.”

Corset Busk

Corset busk, first half of the 19th century. Wood. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum TC2012.83. In the 1840s, corsets—which laced in the back—were usually worn with a busk, a long, shaped piece of wood or other solid material that was inserted in a front placket of the corset for more rigid support.

Many writers of the period cautioned against constricting corsets and tight bodices, as these practices were often deemed unhealthy. Eliza Leslie proposed a way to alter corsets for “ladies who have sense and courage to resist the pernicious but almost universal custom of wearing long corsets with busks and whalebones.” And in her Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843 edition), the educator and author Catharine Beecher had strong opinions against tight clothing. She warned:

But the practice, by which females probably suffer most, is the use of tight dresses. Much has been said against the use of corsets by ladies. But these may be worn with perfect safety, and be left off, and still injury . . . be equally felt. It is the constriction of dress that is to be feared.

So long as it is the fashion to admire, as models of elegance, the wasp-like figures which are presented at the rooms of mantuamakers  [dressmakers] and milliners, there will be hundreds of foolish women, who will risk their lives and health to secure some resemblance to these deformities of the human frame.

Needless to say, fashionable dress in the 1840s restricted women’s movements. It was hard to bend over in a long, rigid, and tightly laced corset, and sleeves set below the shoulder made it difficult to raise one’s arms. Elegance came at a price. What were women thinking?

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Original bodice construction of Bartow-Pell’s dress with later alterations and added lace. Casing for whalebones runs up the front center and on the lower dart line to provide additional structure. A long rigid corset with more boning and a busk would have been worn as well.

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Detail of shoulder ruching and trim

It is unknown who made Bartow-Pell’s dress. It could have been sewn at home by an accomplished seamstress or fitted and stitched by a professional dressmaker. The back of the bodice was crudely altered with a sewing machine at a later date and widened with a different fabric, and the lace frill was likely added at that time. Perhaps someone needed an outfit for a costume party and decided to alter a tight old-fashioned dress and fill in the deep V-neckline? Perspiration stains under the arms may also be from a later period because the original owner would have worn a chemise to help keep her dress clean (although that was no guarantee against staining!). Today the dress is useful as a study piece. It also represents women’s fashion during the years when the Bartow family was first living in their new house, which was finished in 1842. Perhaps Mrs. Bartow even owned a similar frock.

March 1848 Paris Americanized

Godey’s Paris Fashions Americanized. Illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, March 1848. French fashions were widely copied and adapted for foreign markets in America, Britain, and elsewhere. In 1848, Godey’s boasted: “We receive our fashions direct from the publishing house in Paris, in advance of all others, by contract. We take the liberty of Americanizing them, and suiting them to the more severe taste of American ladies.” Evidently the overthrow of France’s constitutional monarchy in the revolution of 1848 did not deter Gallic trendsetters. This fashion plate shows an open bodice on the right that is similar to the one on Bartow-Pell’s dress.

Finally, what accessories would have been worn in the 1840s? We have already mentioned chemisettes, but collars, undersleeves, and cuffs were also common. Jewelry frequently included a brooch and a watch on a long chain. Shoes were usually either a slipper style (perhaps with ribbon ankle ties) or ankle-high gaiters. A bonnet would have been de rigueur outside the house both for the sake of propriety and to protect the wearer from the elements. (Click here to read about bonnets in the 1840s.) Day caps made of fine white cotton were worn by women of all ages, but this practice seems to have been abandoned by younger women later in the decade. Shawls—in stylish paisley or silk broché (brocade) for those who could afford it—and other wraps, such as capes, provided warmth. An assortment of hairstyles replaced the high hairdos of the 1830s and included braided or plain buns worn at the back of the head and styles with side curls.

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Seated Young Woman with Hand Raised to Jawline, 1840s. Daguerreotype. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Herbert Mitchell, 2008. The silk dress pictured here resembles the one in Bartow-Pell’s collection. Both have the triangular, elongated bodice of the 1840s that terminates in a point below the waist. Gathers control the fullness of the fabric at the bodice’s base (although cartridge pleats were sometimes used instead of gathers). This freckle-faced beauty wears several pieces of jewelry, including a long necklace, brooch, earrings, and rings. Her center-parted hair is flat at the front and sides and styled into braided loops and a braided coil at the back.

Bartow-Pell’s dress is a classic example from the 1840s, when women participated in a fashion revolution that brought about extreme body shaping. They did it for style, but was the tight squeeze worth it?

Margaret Highland, Historian

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A Botanical Paradise: Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London

One summer day in 2009, while rummaging through some uncatalogued volumes in Bartow-Pell’s collection of antiquarian gardening books, we unearthed something unexpected—seven large editions of the lavishly illustrated publication Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London. The title is businesslike, but the Transactions teem with the latest horticultural discoveries, innovations, and research from the first half of the 19th century. Beautiful hand-colored plates are scattered like gems throughout the letterpress pages.

Braddick's American Peach

Anonymous, British. Braddick’s American Peach. Illustration from Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, vol. 2, pl. 13, 3rd ed., 1822. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. John Braddick read his account of a new peach from North America to the Horticultural Society on November 7, 1815. While traveling in Virginia and Maryland some years previously, he had observed not only how peach trees were propagated but also that peach crops in those areas were used mainly for making peach brandy and feeding hogs. At Braddick’s request, an American correspondent sent him “a small bundle containing about two dozen trees” grown from peaches chosen for their “exquisite flavour.” Only one tree grew [which produced the peaches show here], and “is now growing vigorously in my garden at Thames Ditton.”

Sir Joseph Banks

Thomas Phillips (1770–1845). Sir Joseph Banks, 1810. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, London

The Transactions were published in London from 1812 to 1848 by the organization that later became the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). According to its charter, the society was formed “for the Improvement of Horticulture in all its branches, ornamental as well as useful.” The founders included Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), the great botanist and explorer who accompanied James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to the South Pacific; John Wedgwood (1766–1844), the son of potter and manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood; and Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809), a collector, mineralogist, horticulturalist, and member of Parliament, whose infamous mistress Emma later became Lady Hamilton and the lover of Admiral Nelson. Another important early member was the distinguished botanist Thomas Andrew Knight (1759–1838), who served as the society’s president and published many articles in the Transactions.

Exhibition Extraordinary

George Cruikshank (1792–1878), after William Henry Merle. Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room, 1826. Hand-colored etching. The British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum

The 18th and 19th centuries produced some of the world’s great botanists and naturalists, including Linnaeus, Buffon, Audubon, and Darwin, to name a few. This was also a time when many learned societies, such as the Linnean Society and the American Philosophical Society, were formed. A palpable enthusiasm for outside-the-box thinking and Enlightenment principles created the perfect cocktail for an ever-evolving fount of new scientific knowledge and discoveries. And horticulture was part of that buzz.

Early Crimson Chrysanthemum and Large Quilled Orange Chrysanthemum

William Hooker, artist, and Charles Fox (1795–1849), engraver. The Early Crimson Chrysanthemum, The Large Quilled Orange Chrysanthemum. Illustration from Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, vol. 5, pl. 3, 1st ed., 1824. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. On February 6, 1822, Joseph Sabine presented a paper describing some new varieties of Chinese chrysanthemums that had been imported in 1820 and were now thriving in the society’s garden at Chiswick.

The members of the Horticultural Society of London were at the forefront of this energy, and they sponsored expeditions around the globe in search of new varieties of plants. Landscape designer and former Bartow-Pell Conservancy president Marion Mundy described part of this quest in her text for BPMM’s 2009 exhibition The Age of Botanical Wonders: “The immense interest in growing tropical fruits and flowers in Europe’s northern climate was matched by efforts to improve and multiply domestic varieties. For fruits alone, a complex classification system was devised. Faithfully colored representations were necessary for scientific documentation of all of the new plants and for the developing commercial market.”

Keen's Seedling Strawberry

Charles John Robertson (active 1820s), artist, and William Say (1768–1834), engraver. Keen’s Seedling Strawberry. Illustration from Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, vol. 5, pl. 12, 1st ed., 1824. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. “Mr. Keens also sent to the Meeting, on the 3rd of July, specimens of a new Strawberry, raised by himself. . . . The annexed figure, from a drawing made by Mr. Charles John Robertson, conveys a very perfect idea of the fruit.”

In the Transactions, horticulturalists published their research and wrote articles on an astounding variety of topics, such as the revival of an obsolete mode of managing strawberries, the glazing of hothouses and conservatories, the application of tobacco water in the destruction of insects, and the cultivation of new and rare plants at the society’s garden at Chiswick (on property they leased from the Duke of Devonshire). The organization also developed an extensive library (which in turn helped to inspire the library of the International Garden Club at Bartow-Pell in the early 20th century). Bartow-Pell’s editions of the first series of the Transactions were published between 1812 and 1830.

Four New Seedling Dessert Apples

William Hooker (1779–1832). Four New Seedling Dessert Apples: The Breedon Pippin, The Lamb Abbey Pearmain, The Braddick Nonpareil, The Pilmaston Russet Nonpareil. Illustration from Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, vol. 3, pl. 10, 2nd ed., 1822. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The horticulturalist and naturalist Joseph Sabine (1770–1837), who was the society’s secretary, delivered his paper on new seedling dessert apples on January 5, 1819. “Mr. Hooker’s excellent figures of them will probably convey a more perfect idea of their appearance than my description.” Hooker was known for his fine depictions of fruit.

Box for sea voyage, v. 5

John Lindley (1799–1865), artist, and J. B. Taylor, engraver. Box for Potecting Plants during Sea Voyages. Illustration from Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, vol. 5, pl. 4, 1st ed., 1824. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. On November 5, 1822, the prominent botanist John Lindley  spoke about the society’s practice of importing plants and the challenges of keeping them healthy during sea voyages. Among other things, he recommended transport in wooden boxes rather than earthenware pots. “Among the cases received by the Society this year from its numerous contributors were . . . a kind of portable green-house, constructed in a very superior manner to any I have seen elsewhere.”

Amaryllis in display case

Barbara Cotton (active ca. 1810–30), artist, and William Say, engraver. Hybrid Amaryllis. Illustration from Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, vol. 5, pl. 15, 1st ed., 1824. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The spectacular oversized illustration shown here was part of a past display in Bartow-Pell’s library.

The Horticultural Society of London engaged some of the best botanical artists of the day to illustrate the Transactions, including William Hooker (1779–1832) and Barbara Cotton (active ca. 1810–30), and the engraver William Say (1768–1834). Furthermore, a sophisticated production method was used to enrich the plates. Marion Mundy wrote: “The engravings in the Transactions use a variety of techniques to achieve their remarkable brilliance, texture, and dimensionality. The aquatint was used to shade or produce a tonal effect over large areas. Stippling also helped to simulate varying degrees of solidity or shading. Finally, many of the plates in Transactions were further enhanced by hand coloring, literally creating unique works of art.” The plates, which were printed separately from the text, also include black-and-white engravings that depict the latest mechanical and architectural structures for horticultural use.  The handsome volumes were printed by William Bulmer (1757–1830), the typographer and printer known for his deluxe edition of Shakespeare, and sold by Hatchards, the storied London bookseller on Piccadilly that is still in business today.

IGC Bookplate

Thomas Maitland Cleland (1880–1964). Bookplate for the International Garden Club, 1918. Cleland was a noted graphic designer, illustrator, type designer, and artist.

In 1914, Zelia Hoffman (1867–1929), a wealthy New York socialite, Anglophile, and garden enthusiast, founded the International Garden Club (IGC) on the model of the Royal Horticultural Society at the suggestion of the English garden writer Alice Martineau (ca. 1865–1956). The club leased the old Bartow mansion from the city of New York as its headquarters, and there, just like the RHS, the IGC established gardens, formed a library, and issued a horticultural journal. Although the Transactions are not listed in the 1917 inventory of books purchased for the IGC library with donations from members, they bear a bookplate indicating that the volumes were acquired during the club’s early years.

Botanical prints have often been viewed as merely decorative. Think of all the Redouté roses—and the gorgeous amaryllis from the Transactions—that have been reproduced for framed prints and boxes of note cards. But many images of plants originated as scientific records, and the Transactions illustrations are more than just eye candy.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Dashing Through the Snow! Sleigh Riding in the 19th Century

Carriage house in winter

Bartow-Pell’s carriage house in the snow

“Ah! This looks like winter!” Snow started to fall in New York City at around two o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, January 21, 1846. It snowed hard all day, “and it wasn’t any of your common, pin-feather snow but came down in flakes almost as big as bricks,” the New York Herald reported excitedly. The next day dawned clear and bright. The sun shone “down upon the pure snow [and] made the streets and housetops glisten like diamond mines.” Conditions were perfect for “sleighing mania.”

N. Currier, The Sleigh Race

The Sleigh Race, ca. 1848. N. Currier, publisher. Hand-colored lithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Americans in cold climates were crazy about sleigh riding. Sleighs were not only sources of wintertime fun, but they were also used by both individuals and businesses when roads were impassable. Period sources—such as newspaper articles, short stories, songs, diary entries, and engravings—provide endless details about the use of sleighs in the 19th century.

winslow-homer-christmas-belles

Winslow Homer (1836–1910). Christmas Belles. Wood engraving from Harper’s Weekly, January 2, 1869

Just imagine the exhilaration of the fresh, bracing wind whooshing and blowing in your face as the horse quietly trots along the snowy ground to the sound of jingling sleigh bells. Fleecy rugs, furs, and blankets keep everyone cozy and warm. The winter merrymakers sing songs and wave and halloo to onlookers and passing sleighs.

Sleighing in New York

Thomas Benecke (American, active New York, 1855–56), artist, and Nagel and Lewis, printer. Sleighing in New York, 1855.  Color lithograph with hand coloring. 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. This scene from the 1850s depicts heavy sleigh traffic on Broadway in front of Barnum’s Museum. Stage sleighs, a dandy and his belle, boys with snowballs, and a myriad of other revelers enliven the scene while a brass band serenades them from Barnum’s balcony.

In the city, a good snowfall muffled the usual cacophony of rumbling carriage wheels and the clip-clop of horseshoes on the paving stones. The sleighing season—or New York’s “winter carnival”—was enjoyed by people from many walks of life.

Broadway and other principal streets were filled at an early hour with vehicles on runners of all sorts, sizes, and descriptions. Here comes a splendid sleigh drawn by four black prancing steeds—fine fur robes line it, and protect its inmates from the cold. In it are packed half a dozen persons—the father, the mother, and the children. It is the “above Bleecker” millionaire taking a ride with his family. . . . Then here comes an exquisite with a huge moustache and long curled hair—on his head he wears a peculiar fur cap nearly a foot high, which protects his ears, and his body is encased in a huge fur coat. His sleigh is a curious one, hardly large enough, one would think, to contain a man. The bows are brought together in the form of a serpent’s head. . . . And then comes the mechanic, and the clerk, and the laborer, and all sorts of people in all sorts of sleighs, all laughing and happy. Whoop! Hollo! Here they come—a long splendid sleigh, drawn by sixteen horses, who glide, almost lightning-like with the huge vehicle, over the snow. It is packed closely full of old men—young men—merchants—clerks—tailors—hatters—bakers—milliners—seamstresses—and, in fact, with everybody who could raise a sixpence to take a ride with. This is the truly democratic sleigh. New York Herald, January 26, 1846

Click here to view a short film from the Library of Congress of sleighing in Central Park made in 1904 by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.

American Winter Scene, ca. 1867

American Winter Scene, ca. 1867. Joseph Hoover, publisher. Color lithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Sleighing in the countryside had its own charms, even though it lacked “the excitement of a dashing, sweeping ride on one of the avenues,” as the New York Herald put it. William Augustus Bartow (1794–1869­­­) had a business career with his brothers (including Robert, who built the Bartow mansion) but later became a farmer near East Fishkill, New York, in an area close to the Hudson River where he and his wife raised ten children. Accounts of sleigh riding are scattered throughout the journal he kept from 1837­­­­­ to 1870 (now in Bartow-Pell’s archives). For example, on December 30, 1855, the family “went to church in [the] sleigh.” The diarist also noted that January 1865 was a very cold month with “sleighing since the 9th,” which continued until March. Sleighs were also kept at the Bartow mansion in Pelham, and a sleigh, sleigh bells, and a wolf skin were listed on the estate inventory of oldest son George L. Bartow (1828–1875), who lived at home with his parents, Robert and Maria, on their country estate.

Sometimes sleighs overturned or collided with each other. On the bright side, red noses and snowball-throwing boys were among the less serious drawbacks of sleigh riding.

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Louis Maurer (1832–1932), artist, and Currier & Ives, publisher. “Trotting Cracks” on the Snow, 1858. Hand-colored lithograph with tint stone. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962

Sportsmen and harness racers relished a good heart-stopping sleigh race with their trotters. In his bestselling book, the noted driver and trotter trainer Hiram Woodruff (1817–1867) recalled an electrifying race in the winter of 1842 through the not-yet-developed reaches of upper Manhattan. “The snow flew where it had drifted, and the runners of the sleighs made it shriek again as they slid over it to the music of the bells. I kept ahead, making the pace hot. . . . As we neared the city, the crowds grew greater, there was more noise and cheering, and more furious jangling of the sleigh-bells as the gentlemen drove their horses about. The more the noise and confusion, the greater the speed of Ajax. . . That was sleighing!”

Moonlight Sleigh-Ride

A Moon-Light Sleigh-Ride, no date. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Moonlit sleigh rides were enjoyed by both urban and rural revelers. On January 23, 1846, the New York Herald related that “countless numbers of sleighing parties were out, many to a late hour, many all night. Those of our citizens who slept had a fine opportunity of testing the power of merry music in inducing sleep, for the sleigh bells jingled in the city all night.” In the country, young people enjoyed what was known as a sleighing “frolic,” with supper, a dance, and—needless to say—plenty of flirting.

Sleigh-frolicking ranks very high. In small [American] country towns or villages, parties of a dozen or twenty young people (male and female) embark on board three or four sleighs, cutters, etc., and when the nights are beautifully clear, but cold as severe frost can make them, they will drive ten or fifteen miles into the country to some comfortable little tavern . . . where they spend a few hours in mirth and jollity, regaling themselves with the best that the establishment affords; when, having ate, drank, sung, danced, and “frolicked” until a pretty late hour, the sleighs are once more got ready, and in high glee and spirits they drive merrily home again. Each horse being provided with a string of good bells, the lonely and silent forests are often thus enlivened at the solemn hour of midnight by the jocund tinkling of the rapidly-passing sleigh bells. Many little love affairs are said to originate in these “sleighing-frolicks.” “Sleighs and Sleighing Frolics,” The Penny Magazine, September 9, 1837

Hollywood cameras follow a love-struck couple bundled up on a romantic nighttime sleigh ride in Christmas in Connecticut (1945), a holiday film about a spunky pair played by Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. Click here to view a clip.

Jolly Sleigh RideSleigh riding also inspired an entire musical genre. Almost everyone loves “Jingle Bells,” the catchy song written in the 1850s by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893), which was originally entitled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” But that is just one of dozens of songs and other pieces of music written for or about sleighing, especially in the second half of the 19th century. “Sleigh Ride Galop,” “Sleighing Glee,” “Sleigh Bells,” “Sleigh Bell Polka,” “Pat Fay’s Sleighing Party,” and “Sleighing on a Starry Night” are just a few of the many examples in the Library of Congress. To listen to a 1913 recording of “On a Good Old-Time Sleigh Ride,” click here.

Pork versus Milk

Henry Collins Bispham (American 1841–1882). A New York Street Scene—“Pork versus Milk.” Wood engraving from Harper’s Weekly, March 7, 1868.

Albany Cutter

The New York Coach Maker’s Magazine, November 1858

There were many types of sleighs. Stage sleighs—or omnibus sleighs—could carry large numbers of passengers for a “remarkably low charge.” Mail sleighs, milk sleighs, and coal sleighs ensured delivery of essential items. And 19th-century Americans would have recognized “pung,” “cutter,” and “jumper” as various kinds of sleighs. One of the most popular recreational sleighs was the stylish Albany cutter, a lightweight model with a curvy, almost whimsical design that was known to be favored by Santa Claus and was first made by the well-known carriage and sleigh maker James Goold of Albany, New York. Sleighs were painted in red, black, or other colors and embellished with painted decorations such as stripes. “The cutter and sleigh painting of ’94 will be a fine show of colors. Fashion be praised!,” exulted the writer of “Paint Shop Gossip” in the October 1894 issue of Painting and Decorating.

TC 1993.04

Cutter, 19th century. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, TC1993.04. This is one of two sleighs in Bartow-Pell’s carriage house collection.

Petal bell

Bells with decoration such as this are called “petal” bells. This one is a size 2.

The jubilant tones of sleigh bells make the perfect holiday soundtrack. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too,” runs the 1948–50 classic song “Sleigh Ride.” More importantly, however, bells were early warning signals of an approaching sleigh as it glided softly—and sometimes noiselessly—over the snow. Starting in 1808, William Barton of East Hampton, Connecticut, popularized a method of making one-piece sleigh bells with the jinglet (pellet) inside during the casting process, and East Hampton foundries became the leading producers of sleigh bells in the 19th century.

Speaking of jingle bells, what could be more exhilarating than the thrill of “dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh” and “laughing all the way?”

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Cheerful and Bright (and Smoky): Staying Warm in 19th-Century American Homes

Stories about the effects of cold weather in the 19th century are plentiful. Ink sometimes froze. Pitchers cracked and broke overnight when the water in them turned to ice. Bitterly cold wind made its way through poorly sealed windows and doors. Frosty mornings could make bathing torture.

Coal grate

Coal grate, ca. 1840. American or English. Brass and wrought iron. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Purchase, The Bartow-Pell Landmark Fund, 1982.01. This coal grate is one of a pair in BPMM’s double parlors. The grates were saved from a now-demolished mansion on Montgomery Street in Newburgh, New York, where they were fitted into the fireplace masonry.

So how did Americans stay warm? The answer should be simple. Didn’t people just light fires? Actually it was much more complicated than that. As is well known, the 19th century was an era of new technologies, and home-heating practices changed accordingly during this time.

Fireplaces and stoves were the primary home-heating methods. Although hot-air furnaces and systems using steam and hot water were available, their use was mostly limited to progressive, wealthy homeowners and to industrial and institutional consumers. Fireplaces, of course, were ubiquitous, and firewood had been used for hundreds of years. But coal—which was burned in specially designed fireplace grates—emerged as an alternative fuel for the hearth.

Stoves provided a more efficient way to distribute heat than the open hearth. Some were made exclusively for wood, but coal-burning stoves—which could also burn wood—had firebrick-lined sides and a grate for the coal. Retailers offered many choices. The United States patent list published in 1847 includes dozens of stoves for heating homes, and these patents dramatically increased in the 1830s and ‘40s.

Cast-iron parlor stoves were popular in prosperous mid-19th-century households. A fine example from about 1840 graces Bartow-Pell’s entrance hall and is on long-term loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A flue opening in the wall behind the stove—now covered with plaster—allowed a stovepipe connection for ventilating dangerous fumes. This evidence reveals that the Bartow family, who moved into their new house in 1842, had a similar stove to warm their front hall.

Column Parlor Stove

Column parlor stove, ca. 1840. American, probably made in Albany or Troy, New York. Cast iron. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Ellen Goin Rionda, 1953 (53.132.1a–i). Photo by Richard Warren. Hot air circulated in the columns of stoves such as this one in BPMM’s entrance hall, and the flames were visible behind the firebox’s two front doors. Stoves like this burned wood and possibly charcoal; the fuel doors were located on the side. A stovepipe would have connected to a flue in the wall for ventilation. The architectonic design of this handsome parlor stove boasts a myriad of fashionable classical motifs that reflect the high Greek Revival style of the Bartow mansion’s interiors.

The parlor stove at Bartow-Pell is typical of those made in Albany and Troy, New York, where a world-renowned cast-iron stove industry flourished in the mid-19th century. Here, raw materials, such as iron ore, were readily available. An efficient transportation network, including the Hudson River and the Erie Canal (which opened in 1825), provided convenient shipping of industrial supplies and finished goods. The Albany and Troy area also had a talented pool of innovative designers with technological expertise who were known for their ornamental and architectonic designs in the latest taste. The stove at Bartow-Pell, for example, reflects the Greek Revival style of the mansion’s superb interiors. The classical urn above the firebox would have been filled with water and used as a humidifier. According to Tammis Kane Groft, author of Cast with Style: Nineteenth-Century Cast-Iron Stoves from the Albany Area, the water was often “spiced or perfumed,” which helped to offset the unpleasant smell and dry air caused by the hot stove.

2007.10 Box Stove

Box stove, ca. 1844. Treadwell & Perry, Albany, New York. Cast iron. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of John I. Mesick, 2007.10. Box stoves were first made in the 18th century, but the design had been improved by the 1840s when this example in Bartow-Pell’s carriage house was made. One feature of these wood-burning stoves is a front plate to catch ashes and debris when the fuel door is opened. Ornamental moldings on stoves like this one often derive from contemporary architectural pattern books.

Lighting fires was often a bother. To start a new blaze in the morning, or if a poorly maintained fire went out, live coals from the kitchen stove could be used. In The American Woman’s Home (1869), the Beecher sisters wrote: “Those who are taught to manage the stove properly keep the fire going all night, and equally well with wood or coal, thus saving the expense of kindling and the trouble of starting a new fire.” For more on lighting fires in the 19th century, click here.

Andirons MMA 10.125

Andirons, 1800–1820. Boston, probably made by John Molineux (active 1800–1820). Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1909 (10.125.445a,b). In addition to andirons—such as these in the dining room at Bartow-Pell—accessories for wood fires included tongs and shovels.

“The best wood for fuel is hickory, and the next is oak. Locust is also very good; so are walnut, beech, and maple. Birch is tolerable. Chestnut wood is extremely unsafe from its tendency to snap and sparkle. . . . Pine wood is of little value as house fuel [because of] . . . its resinous qualities,” advised Eliza Leslie in her Lady’s House-Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy (1850). The high price of hickory was offset by its long-burning qualities. Despite some concerns over diminishing timber stocks, the robust firewood trade provided not only fuel for consumers, but also jobs for woodchoppers, suppliers, inspectors, wholesale and retail dealers, wood peddlers, shippers, and “carters.” According to “The Firewood Trade,” an article in the New York Herald published on May 26, 1856, business was booming.

Anthracite coal

Anthracite coal from Lattimer Mines, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Smithsonian Institution. Anthracite (“hard”) coal often came from mines in Pennsylvania and was preferred over bituminous (“soft”) coal.

Coal, however, provided a less expensive, more efficient, and more reliable alternative to wood. But change can take time, and people—mostly the women who tended domestic fires—had to learn the new techniques that were required to burn coal. Nevertheless, by the mid-19th century, coal consumption in the home had risen to record levels. Anthracite (“hard”) coal, commonly found in Pennsylvania, was more expensive but was preferred over bituminous (“soft”) coal. Eliza Leslie counseled, “In buying anthracite coal . . . that of the best quality is eventually the cheapest. It goes further, lasts longer, gives out more heat, with less waste. . . . Endeavor to obtain coal that is hard, bright, and clean-looking.” Bituminous coal, she wrote, “is much softer than the anthracite, emits more smoke, produces more dust and ashes, and the heat is far less intense, though the blaze is very bright.” An article in The American Farmer from December 15, 1826, talks about anthracite’s new popularity:

The use of the anthracite, as a fuel, has been so generally approved, that it seems likely to supersede, to a great degree, all other substances, both in manufactories and families. In almost every case, where it has been tried for parlour use, it may be said to have gained the preference over even the best hickory wood; and it is not unlikely that at no distant day, it will obtain an equally firm footing in our kitchens.

Coal, however, was dirty, and it polluted both homes and cities.

Paris l'hiver

Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879). Paris l’hiver (Paris in Winter), Le Petit Journal pour Rire, February 18, 1865. Lithograph on newsprint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1936. This cartoon by the well-known French caricaturist Honoré Daumier satirizes smoky and sooty fireplaces, a universal problem in the 19th century. Here, a prostrate gentleman is enveloped in a cloud of smoke as his companion airs out the room, but he says that he will not complain to the landlord, who would surely use it as an opportunity to raise the rent.

A few years ago at Bartow-Pell, when the Sierra Club was clearing invasive vines from the property, an astute volunteer recognized some old coal underneath the tangle of roots. These pieces of anthracite coal were promptly turned over to the museum staff and provide fascinating evidence of 19th-century heating practices at the mansion.

Henry Sargent, The Tea Party

Henry Sargent (American, 1770–1845). The Tea Party, ca. 1824. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Andirons and a blazing wood fire are just visible at the right of this elegant scene in the double parlors of what is perhaps the artist’s own home in Boston. Wood fires were considered to be more welcoming and “cheerful” than ones made with coal.

Many households likely burned both coal and wood. After the use of coal became widespread, “cheerful wood fires” were romanticized, and their appeal was touted, especially by affluent homeowners with servants. A chatty debate on wood and coal enlivens a fashionable household in “Conversations by the Fire-side” (February 1839) by Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book:

“There is nothing in nature so charming as a bright wood fire!” exclaimed Mrs. Marvin. . . . The village school-master, who was spreading his hands to the genial blaze, [rejoined], “Wood is the natural material for the domestic fire, and I marvel that those who can obtain it, will ever burn that disgusting substitute, coal.”

“Oh! I like a coal fire, a good anthracite fire, that will last bright and warm as the summer’s sun, through a whole winter’s day, and the night too, for that matter,” said Ellen Marvin quickly. “Now a wood fire has no constancy of character; it is all blaze one minute, and all ashes the next. You can never leave it with safety, nor trust to its steadiness for an hour.”

“Unblest truly,” said Mrs. Marvin, “as I think every body must be who lives in the smoke and dust of soft coal, or the dry, withering heat of the hard. I passed a fortnight in Boston, last winter, and never saw a cheerful, blazing wood fire in all that time; I was quite home-sick.”

Ads--parlor stoves and coal

Advertisements for parlor and hall stoves (top), New York Herald, November 5, 1842, and coal (bottom), New York Morning Herald, November 14, 1839. Although many consumers preferred coal to heat their homes, others favored wood. (Both fuels could be used in fireplaces and stoves.) Coal was much more efficient, but it dried out the air. The author of “The Haunted Adjutant” in Graham’s Monthly Magazine (1845) had this to say on the subject: “But you must take a glance at the roaring wood fire which goes crackling up the chimney, and acknowledge its superiority over the pitiful grates and subterranean furnaces which are drying up the present generation to mummies. If flesh be indeed grass, anthracite [i.e., coal] will soon desiccate the American public into a very creditable hortus siccus [collection of dried plants].”

Coal grates are removed by an inept housewife in “Barclay Compton, or the Sailor’s Return” (December 1842), a Godey’s short story by Eliza Leslie. “Oh! I found a coal fire quite too much trouble,” explains the protagonist’s indolent wife upon his return home following a long absence. “It was so hard to get it to burn, and it was always going out. . . . Every one of them [the women servants] hated coal fires, and I got out of patience with coal myself. So I had the grates taken down. . . . And we burnt wood the remainder of the winter.”

The “domestic hearth” was a potent symbol of the family circle and even of Christian values. Moreover, children learned important lessons around the family fireside that extended beyond the home and into society at large.

Thus it has been—here in the family circle—at the domestic hearth—amid that sacred retirement—around the family altar, that the good citizen of all times and countries, has been educated, and trained, and fitted for the upright and honorable discharge of the duties incumbent upon him from his admission into the great social family. New York Herald, February 7, 1844

Americans no longer depend on 19th-century methods to heat their homes. But just like coal consumers in the 19th century, we still enjoy a “cheerful wood fire” at the “domestic hearth.”

Margaret Highland, Historian

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If This Mahogany Desk Could Talk: A Colorful Tale of Aaron Burr and His Wives

Burr desk

Secretary desk, ca. 1833. New York. Mahogany, mahogany veneer, tulip poplar, and white pine. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Lent by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. This desk belonged to Aaron Burr toward the end of his life.

An unpretentious mahogany desk from the 1830s might easily go unnoticed in Bartow-Pell’s upstairs parlor. Although this ordinary piece is of little interest to connoisseurs of fine furniture, the fact that it belonged to the tempestuous patriot Aaron Burr definitely deserves our attention. But why is Burr’s desk at BPMM? And how does that relate to his two wives?

8817, 1968.50.1

John Vanderlyn (1775–1852). Aaron Burr, ca. 1802–3. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, Bequest of Oliver Burr Jennings, B.A. 1917, in memory of Miss Annie Burr Jennings. Aaron Burr commissioned portraits of himself and his daughter from Vanderlyn, and the artist even stayed with the family at Richmond Hill, the Burr estate in lower Manhattan near today’s Varick Street.

Our story starts during the Revolutionary War, when Aaron Burr (1756–1836) was a young officer in the Continental army. It was during this time that he was introduced to Theodosia Bartow Prevost (1746–1794), the brainy and sophisticated wife of a British officer, Lieutenant Colonel James Marcus Prevost (1736–1781). Despite her intelligence, wit, and charm, Theodosia was no beauty, and she was about ten years older than Burr, who was in his early twenties when they met. She was also the mother of five children. Burr had a reputation as a womanizer, but he was also a protofeminist, and the pair secretly formed a romantic attachment even though Theodosia was still married to her Loyalist husband. In 1782, not long after Lieutenant Colonel Prevost died of yellow fever in Jamaica, the newly widowed Theodosia wed Aaron Burr. The couple’s affectionate union was one of intellectual equality, candid friendship, and physical passion. Sadly, only one their two children—named Theodosia after her mother—survived to adulthood.

Theodosia Prevost Burr née Bartow was born in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and was the only child and namesake of Theodosius Bartow (1712–1746)—who died shortly before she was born—and Ann Stillwell (who had several more children with her second husband, Philip de Visme). John Bartow (1740–1816) was Theodosia’s first cousin. (His grandson Robert built the stone dwelling that we now know as the Bartow-Pell mansion.) According to family genealogist Evelyn Bartow, John “lived at Pelham, in the old Manor House of his grandfather, Lord Pell.”

At the old manorial residence of his ancestors, Mr. Bartow kept open house to all his relatives and friends; and his home was the centre of attraction in the society of the county from the hearty welcome they always received. Col. Burr, who had married his first cousin, was an intimate friend and frequent visitor at the house. It was at Mr. Bartow’s house, after his removal to New York City, that Burr was kindly received after his return from exile.”

Theodosia received a far more rigorous education than most girls of her time. Since her father died before she was born, it is likely that the girl’s mother played a key role in nurturing the natural intellectual abilities of her clever daughter. Aaron Burr’s biographer Nancy Isenberg describes the future Mrs. Burr’s education: “Tutored at home, she had been exposed to a cosmopolitan education that was unusual among colonial Americans.” Theodosia read Plutarch and other classical writers and spoke fluent French.

Theodosia Bartow married James Marcus Prevost on July 28, 1763, at Trinity Church in Manhattan. The Prevosts lived at the Hermitage, their home in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, which was remodeled in the Gothic-Revival style by subsequent owners and is now a museum. While her husband was away at war, the household consisted of Theodosia, “her sister Miss de Vismes, and their mother Mrs. de Vismes, and the two little sons of Mrs. Prevost,” recounted Evelyn Bartow. “The ladies were accomplished and intelligent; for a long time their house had been the centre of the most elegant society of the vicinity . . . The Hermitage, where Mrs. Prevost now resided, had a considerable library of French books. The lady was not beautiful. Besides being past her prime, she was slightly disfigured by a scar on her forehead.”

During the American Revolution, despite her marriage to a Loyalist, Theodosia adroitly presided over a social circle that included high-ranking patriots such as George Washington, who even used the Hermitage as his headquarters in 1778. Meanwhile, she was able to maintain a friendly relationship with the British. According to Nancy Isenberg, “Her home was a kind of war-free zone and sanctuary.” It was during this period that Theodosia met Aaron Burr.

Mary Wollstonecraft

John Opie (1761–1807). Mary Wollstonecraft, ca. 1797. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Bequeathed by Jane, Lady Shelley, 1899 © National Portrait Gallery, London. In February 1793, Burr wrote a letter to Theodosia in which he praised A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by the English writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797). “It is, in my opinion, a work of genius. She has successfully adopted the style of Rousseau’s Emilius [sic]; and her comment on that work, especially what relates to female education, contains more good sense than all the other criticisms upon him which I have seen. . . . I promise myself much pleasure in reading it to you.”

Theodosia and Aaron Burr had a deep intellectual and emotional connection. It was the period of the Enlightenment, and husband and wife enjoyed reading and discussing works by modern thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft. Burr was also a mentor to Theodosia’s two sons, Augustine James Frederick Prevost (1765­–1842) and John Bartow Prevost (1766–1825), who were teenagers when Burr married their mother. Frederick Prevost later lived in Pelham at the Shrubbery, an estate near that of his mother’s cousin John Bartow. (For more on the Shrubbery, see Pelham Town Historian Blake Bell’s blog.) On July 23, 1791, Theodosia wrote to Burr: “Do return home as soon as possible; or, rather, come to Pelham; try quiet, and the good air, and the attention and friendship of those who love you. You may command Bartow’s attendance here whenever it suits you, and you have a faithful envoy in Frederick.”

Theodosia Bartow Burr Alston

Unidentified artist. Theodosia Bartow Burr Alston, copy after John Vanderlyn, ca. 1850–1900. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The daughter of Aaron Burr and Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr married Joseph Alston, who was governor of South Carolina at the time of his wife’s death at sea in 1813. Theodosia’s likeness was also drawn by profile portraitist Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin.

Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr died of what was probably cancer in 1794 at the age of 48, only twelve years after she married Aaron Burr. After her death, he ardently devoted himself to the education and well-being of his cherished and highly intelligent daughter, and the two were extremely close. In 1801, Theodosia Burr (1783–1813) married a wealthy Southern planter and politician, Joseph Alston, who later became the governor of South Carolina. Tragically, the couple’s only child, Aaron Burr Alston, died in 1812 when he was only eleven years old. Meanwhile, Aaron Burr’s stormy life resembled a giant roller coaster, with numerous twists and turns that careened from his role as Vice President of the United States to the duel in which he killed Alexander Hamilton to charges of treason that linked him to a separatist conspiracy and plans for an empire in the western United States. Although cleared of treason, Burr subsequently spent several years in self-imposed exile. Not long after his return to America, his daughter set sail in 1813 from South Carolina on the schooner Patriot for a reunion with her adoring father. The ship was lost at sea off the coast of the Carolinas en route to New York, and Theodosia was presumed dead at the age of 29.

Eliza Jumel

Alcide Carlo Ercole (dates unknown). Eliza Jumel and Her Grandchildren, 1854. Oil on canvas. Morris-Jumel Mansion, Jumel Collection, 1980.429.1.91

This brings us to the second Mrs. Burr. Eliza (“Madame”) Jumel (1775–1865) was a wealthy widow when she met the former vice president in 1832, and the pair married on July 1, 1833. The bride was 58; the groom was 77. Like Burr, Eliza had a colorful history. Nancy Isenberg writes: “One archivist summed up her life this way: ‘. . . in youth a prostitute, in middle age a social climber, died an eccentric.’” The marriage lasted a mere six months before the couple separated. Eliza claimed that Burr was squandering her fortune. He accused her of being abusive and controlling. In order to get a divorce, she bribed a servant to fabricate fanciful stories of adulterous behavior by Burr. Meanwhile, Burr’s health was declining, and a stroke paralyzed his legs. He began living in boarding houses and died on September 14, 1836, the day his divorce became final.

Morris-Jumel Mansion

George Hayward (b. ca. 1800), lithographer. Col. Roger Morris’ House, Washington’s Head Quarters Sept. 1776, Now Known as Madame Jumel’s Res., for D. T. Valentine’s Manual, 1854. The New York Public Library. Madame Jumel and her first husband purchased the former Morris estate in 1810, which George Washington had used as his headquarters in the fall of 1776. (Washington also stayed at the home of Aaron Burr’s first wife, Theodosia Prevost.) Eliza Jumel still owned the home at the time of her marriage to Aaron Burr in 1833, and she continued to live in it until her death in 1865.

Burr DeskNow, let’s circle back to Aaron Burr’s desk, which is on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. This two-part secretary desk has numerous cabinets and drawers, which provide ample space for organizing papers, books, and documents. Burr was an attorney, and this desk would have been useful for legal work as well as for managing his day-to-day affairs. The desk is dated about 1833, so Burr would have owned it for only a few years before his death in 1836, including the period of his short-lived marriage to Eliza Jumel. The desk is made of mahogany and mahogany veneer with secondary woods of tulip poplar and white pine. According to decorative arts expert and BPMM Curatorial Committee Co-Chair Carswell Rush Berlin, the door and cabinet pulls have been replaced, and it seems likely that there was a wood or marble cornice that is now missing. The drawer locks bear the impression “Cowis McKee & Co., Terryville, Ct.,” a lock-making company that was established in Watertown, Connecticut, in 1832 and sold after Eli Terry II, the firm’s president, died in 1841.

Our records say that a private collector acquired the desk from a “sale of Burr’s furniture after his death.” It was given to the City of New York in 1924 and was on view at the Morris-Jumel Mansion until 2001; then it was moved to the Hermitage, the former Prevost estate in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. The Burr desk has been on loan to Bartow-Pell since 2007.

Although Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr never saw this desk, and Madame Jumel probably paid it scant attention, it tells a riveting tale filled with scandal, tragedy, romance, and drama. And wasn’t that the story of Aaron Burr’s life?

Margaret Highland, Historian

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George Inness’s The Woodchoppers (1858) on Display at Bartow-Pell

Inness, The Woodchoppers

George Inness (1825–1894). The Woodchoppers, 1858. Oil on canvas. On loan to Bartow-Pell from the Newington-Cropsey Foundation

I wrote recently about Jasper Francis Cropsey’s Summer Landscape (1853). Today I would like to consider The Woodchoppers (1858), a landscape painting by Cropsey’s contemporary George Inness (1825–1894), another artist who came of age during the heyday of the Hudson River School.

George Inness in His Studio

E. S. Bennett. George Inness Seated in His Studio, ca. 1890. Photograph. Macbeth Gallery records, 1838–1968, bulk 1892–1953, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

A year younger than Cropsey, George Inness was the most progressive of the second-generation Hudson River School painters. Indeed, he played a pivotal role in the conversion of taste away from the descriptive naturalism of the Hudson River School toward the subjective, poetic, French-inspired style that dominated American landscapes by the 1890s.

Born in 1824 at Newburg, New York, Inness, like Cropsey, had little formal training. He began his instruction with the itinerant figure painter John Jesse Barker (active 1815–56), worked as an engraving assistant, and then studied with French émigré painter Régis Gignoux (1816–1882). Inness gained most of his knowledge by studying the engravings of Claude Lorrain and the 17th–century Dutch landscapists, as well as the paintings of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. In 1844 Inness made his debut at the National Academy of Design in Manhattan and began his career as a Hudson River School artist. From the late 1840s through the early 1860s, he painted woodlands, meadows, river valleys, and twilight scenes in a predominantly descriptive, naturalistic style. Regular travel to Europe to view Old Master landscapes and to absorb the work of living artists who were investigating new ideas in painting introduced Inness to other stylistic modes. Trips to Italy in 1851–52, where he met American painter William Page (1811–1885), and to France in 1853–54, where he saw the landscapes of Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867) and other members of the French Barbizon School, moved his art in a more painterly and subjective direction.

Théodore Rousseau, The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest

Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812–1867). The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest, 1852–54. Oil on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1896. A critical influence on Inness’s subject matter and aesthetic were landscapes by the Barbizon School (artists who worked in and around village of Barbizon in Fontainbleau Forest). Their example led Inness to paint more freely, with more subtle color, and to feature intimate, unspectacular views.

George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley

George Inness. The Lackawanna Valley, ca. 1856. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mrs. Huttleston Rogers. This is one of Inness’s most famous early works. Commissioned by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad to commemorate the founding of the rail line, it is an example of Inness’s modern “civilized” landscape—a landscape that he wrote was “more worthy of reproduction than that which is savage and untamed.” Painted after Inness’s 1853–54 trip to France, it reveals his application of the broad, generalized forms, looser brushwork, and more informal composition of Barbizon landscapes to the panoramic vision of the Hudson River School.

Equally important for Inness’s development were his philosophical and spiritual concerns. In the early 1860s, William Page introduced him to the pantheistic philosophy of the Swedish scientist-turned-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1771). Inspired by Swedenborg’s doctrine that correspondences exist between the natural and spiritual worlds, Inness began to paint with increasing expressiveness. In such pictures as Peace and Plenty, 1865, he sought to convey the spiritual meaning he felt in the landscape and to evoke an emotional response in his viewers by using rich pigment, softened brushwork, and evocative light rather than detailed descriptions.

George Inness, Peace and Plenty

George Inness. Peace and Plenty, 1865. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of George A. Hearn, 1894

During the next two decades, Inness’s desire to do more than simply record nature fueled his experimentation with color, composition, and painterly technique. A five-year sojourn in Italy and France (1870–75) helped him redefine his art.

Inness The Monk

George Inness. The Monk, 1873. Oil on canvas. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, gift of Stephen C. Clark in recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the Addison Gallery, 1956.6. Painted in Italy in the early 1870s, this picture anticipates the formal inventiveness and visionary nature of Inness’s late style. Inness used a daring composition, evocative twilight, and a solitary monk to transform the natural environs of the Capuchin monastery at Albano into a mystical realm.

The Coming Storm Inness Albright-Knox

George Inness. The Coming Storm, 1878. Oil on canvas. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Albert H. Tracy Fund, 1900. https://www.albrightknox.org/. While in Paris and Normandy in 1875, Inness adopted a more expressive brushstroke and a more vibrant palette. He continued to develop this new stylistic freedom after he returned to the United States. Painted on the cusp of his late period, this picture reveals Inness’s dynamic brushwork and rich color, what he called “the soul of painting,” and captures the energy of the storm as it approaches and transforms the land.

In 1885 Inness settled in Montclair, New Jersey, and during the next decade arrived at his signature style—what Inness scholar Nicolai Cikovsky Jr. has referred to as “spiritualized landscapes.” By the time Inness produced The Home of the Heron, 1893, his landscapes had become almost otherworldly, characterized by simplified compositions in which blurred figures and forms of the natural world are seen through an atmospheric haze or colored veil, fusing the scene in a pantheistic whole. Inness died in Scotland in 1894, appropriately while watching a sunset. He remained a major influence on younger painters well into the 20th century.

George Inness, Home of the Heron

George Inness. The Home of the Heron, 1893. Oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward B. Butler Collection, 1911.31

Inness, The Woodchoppers

George Inness (1825–1894). The Woodchoppers, 1858. On loan to Bartow-Pell from the Newington-Cropsey Foundation

The Woodchoppers (ca. 1858–59), which is on view at Bartow-Pell, was painted four years after Inness returned to New York from his second European trip and exemplifies his Hudson River School naturalism, when his work was closest to that of his colleagues. But the painting also embraces a range of influences from the American Pre-Raphaelite painters and the French Barbizon landscapists, reflecting his movement away from Hudson River School literalism to a more poetic and subjective art.

Here Inness captures the solitude and majesty of a forest interior in late-day sunlight, at the moment before its transformation, both literally and figuratively. Posed in the right foreground at the forest’s edge, two woodsmen, perhaps weary from their labors, rest on logs at the side of a road. At the left, a stone wall follows the course of a river lined and overhung with trees. Sheep graze nearby and in the sunlit roadway. Waning sunlight filters through the dense foliage, highlighting leaves, tree trunks, and grasses and casting long shadows on the forest floor; in the distance some twilight color is evident. At a time when American forests were succumbing to husbandry and industrialization, the evocative light and quietude add an elegiac note. The Woodchoppers is one of the many domesticated landscapes, or what Inness termed “civilized” landscapes, that he insisted upon as a subject for art. He viewed such landscapes marked by the acts of man as modern.

Inness-The Woodchoppers detail

George Inness. The Woodchoppers (detail). This shows treatment of the foliage.

Inness in the late 1850s was experimenting with various influences. His naturalistic manner with strong effects of light and passages of meticulous detail is very much in keeping with the Hudson River School style, one that was soon to disappear from his painting. The lighting and textures are worked out with great care, and there is almost a hyperrealism in the treatment of the lighted and shadowed foliage.

This suggests that Inness was familiar with Ruskin’s “truth to nature” aesthetic associated with the American Pre-Raphaelite painters, whose works were enjoying a certain vogue in American art circles. A critic for the New York press took note of Inness’s naturalism when the painting was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1859, praising “the effect of sunlight streaming through a wood felicitously rendered. Quiet and unobtrusive, there is much careful study and close observation here.” At the same time, Inness’s overall bold, painterly brushwork, with thick dabs of paint applied in some areas, and the intimate, quiet view of the forest and elegiac mood reveal his first-hand acquaintance with contemporary French Barbizon paintings, particularly the landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. What Inness found attractive in French Barbizon painting was a pictorial poetry that allowed for individual expressive freedom and the artist’s imagination. The goal of art, Inness believed, was not to copy reality but to suggest it, not to edify but to “awaken an emotion.” The Woodchoppers demonstrates his movement toward that vision.

Gina D’Angelo, Art Historian

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Hats, Gloves, and Pearls: Fashion Promenade in the Garden, 1960

Twirling

Runway twirls and a peek of frilly petticoats. Pearls. Women in hats and gloves. And a radiant bride in a tulle veil, of course.

On a gloriously sunny Wednesday in May 1960, smiling models—most of them wearing gloves, the era’s ubiquitous accessory—floated graciously across the terrace at Bartow-Pell. Their conservatively chic ensembles ranged from sundresses to evening gowns.

Striking a pose

“Necklines on everything are plain and collarless, a frame for the throat and face,” wrote Carrie Donovan in “Fashion Trends Abroad, Paris: Review of Spring Collections” (New York Times, February 5, 1960). Many of the dresses worn at Bartow-Pell followed this Parisian trend.

The May Garden Party and Fashion Promenade was a fundraiser hosted by the International Garden Club (IGC) to “augment the maintenance funds of the estate, now the Bartow Mansion Museum,” the New York Times reported on May 15, 1960. The charity event commemorated the 45th anniversary of an “administrative effort in behalf of the Bartow Mansion and its formal gardens in Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx.” (The IGC had officially leased the mansion and grounds from the New York City Parks Department in May 1915.) For the sake of accuracy, it is worth mentioning that just the year before, in 1959, the IGC had changed the site’s name to Bartow-Pell Mansion and Gardens in order to acknowledge the Pell family’s strong historical connections to the property.

Luckily, the day was recorded with more than just a dry newspaper article. A series of contact sheets in the BPMM archives gives us a vivid view of the fashion parade and its well-dressed onlookers, providing a fun snapshot of styles and manners at the beginning of the “Mad Men” era.

Fashion show evening gown

An elegant evening gown

During the show, a musical trio played now-forgotten tunes on saxophone, bass, and accordion. A stylish woman—probably a club member—was the announcer. The models (including little girls) were most likely IGC members and their children. A bevy of svelte society ladies in sunglasses, some older grandes dames, and a few bemused men looked on. And there were lots of hats. De rigueur, naturally.

Yes, I would wear that

Charity fashion shows had been popular for decades. For example, on October 22, 1915, the New-York Tribune announced a “Bazar de Charité et Revue des Modes” at the Ritz Carlton Hotel for the “benefit of the French Wounded Emergency Fund” during World War I. And in February 1960, the March of Dimes staged its “sixteenth annual parade of styles” when “more than 1,200 persons crowded the ballroom of the Hotel Astor,” according to the Times. “A well-turned out group of women eschewed the floral spring hats usually worn at the luncheon in view of yesterday’s icy blasts. They appeared well bundled up in furs.” Anita Loos, the author of Gentleman Prefer Blondes, was one of the event’s script writers, and Salvador Dali designed some of the sets. “Fashions ran the gamut from lighthearted play clothes to elaborately designed evening clothes.”

Remember the crinolines

Runway styles at Bartow-Pell’s fashion show mostly echoed 1950s looks. Full skirts were worn over crinolines, and pencil skirts abounded. Girdles and other structured undergarments cinched waists, flattened stomachs, and created hourglass figures.

A la mode

“Like many of his Seventh Avenue colleagues, he [designer John Moore] uses gloomy prints. This range of mulberry, gray, taupe and brownish patterns are harbingers of an overcast spring.” “American Collections: Audience Cheers Spring Showing,” New York Times, November 11, 1959

Dress and coat

A colorful floral pattern brightens a spring dress and coat ensemble.

The legendary (and, at that time, young) fashion editor Carrie Donovan reported on the use of color in “Fashion Trends Abroad, Paris: Review of Spring Collections” (New York Times, February 5, 1960): “The brighter, more vivid, more beautiful the color, the better it is for spring. Plain old navy blue with a touch of white has no place in Paris where clothes are tinted Ming blue, turquoise, lacquer red, lavender, orange, apricot, coral, grass green or shocking pink.” Another Times reporter—whose story appeared on the very same day as Bartow-Pell’s event—described sales of summer styles: “Chiffon and organza dresses, particularly in more brilliant shades, were requested.” With just a little imagination, we can conjure up the multi-hued fabrics in Bartow-Pell’s Technicolor fashion promenade. Although perhaps not quite as colorful as cutting-edge Parisian fashions,  this was most certainly not a black-and-white affair, unlike our photographs.

Bride

Here comes the bride

In 1960, the year of Bartow-Pell’s fashion show in the garden, Percy Faith and his orchestra topped the pop charts with “Theme from ‘A Summer Place,’” and “everybody” was doing the twist (or soon would be). Alfred Hitchcock’s controversial horror film Psycho terrified moviegoers, while Doris Day’s sunny personality lit up the screen in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. Families sat in front of their black-and-white television sets watching the Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, and the Ed Sullivan Show. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his final year as president, and the Camelot era dawned when John F. Kennedy beat Richard M. Nixon in an exciting race for the White House that November.

Sunday best mom and girls

At one time, plants grew in the garden pavement and included sea thrift (armeria maritima), a small flowering plant.

Hats and honeysuckleIt was the start of a decade that would bring enormous social transformation, but the feminism of the “Swinging Sixties” was yet to come. Yes, some women earned a paycheck, but many were housewives who needed a wardrobe suitable for household duties and childrearing as well as for cocktail parties, entertaining, church services, and other dressy occasions. The times were about to change, however, so these ladies needed to hold onto their hats!

Margaret Highland, Historian

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