A Shaving Stand for George

Serpentine-front, mahogany veneer, inlaid shaving stand

Serpentine-front, mahogany veneer, inlaid shaving stand

This serpentine-front, mahogany-veneer, inlaid shaving stand is the latest addition to George Bartow’s bedchamber.

Although the piece predates the Bartow mansion by a few decades (as does the nearby breakfast table), outdated furniture was probably relegated to secondary bedchambers, just as it is today.

George's bedchamber

George’s bedchamber

George (1828–1875) was the eldest Bartow son. He was a man of leisure and probably an avid fan of horse racing like his Lorillard relatives, who owned Thoroughbreds. As a young boy, he is mentioned in a letter from his tutor, Augustus Moore, who says that George is “a pleasant little boy but does not like to study very well.” He is the only Bartow son who did not graduate from Columbia College. George never married and lived at the mansion as an adult. He died in 1875 at the age of 47 in St. Augustine, Florida, where his cousin George Lorillard had a winter home. George L. Bartow is buried in the family plot at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Westchester Square.

Margaret Highland, Education Director and Curator

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Home Repairs, Lenape-style

Long ago, the local Lenape people built their houses out of saplings and bark. Last week, experts working at Bartow-Pell continued this historic tradition as they made major repairs to our wigwam.

Jeff Kalin, whose company, Primitive Technologies, “recreates the material culture of prehistoric Native American life,” and his son, Griffin, used authentic methods to rebuild our aging structure.

The first Imagestep was to reconstruct the frame using flexible lengths of fresh cedar saplings that werImagee anchored in the ground and lashed together with strips of hickory bark. (Cedar wood is ideal for wigwam frames because it can stay in the dirt a long time without rotting.) Jeff and Griffin cut the wood with a reproduction stone axe secured to a wooden handle, and they used handmade hickory mallets to set the cedar posts in the ground.

ImageNext, the framing was ready for the siding, which is made of bark from ash and tulip poplar trees held in place by an outer frame of cedar sapling poles. Jeff was able to recycle some of the old bark by soaking it in a stream to restore its flexibility.

Sustainable materials are at the center of Jeff’s work. His saplings grow continuously from root stock that dates to the 1980s, and every part of each tree is used for something—wigwam poles, tool handles, rattles, or fuel for firing pottery.Image

Our beautifully crafted Lenape wigwam, set in the woods of Pelham Bay Park, is ready to continue its starring role in our Native American school programs.

 Margaret Highland, Education Director and Curator





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A Cup of Tea, Please

20131012_LowTea_005When a group of defiant colonists tossed 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the British and East India Company’s outrageous tax, Americans shunned the beverage in favor of coffee. But only temporarily! Americans had adored tea as much as the British ever since Peter Stuyvesant first brought it over to the colonies in 1650. So when the resentment towards England diminished shortly after the Revolutionary War, they began drinking tea again. The pastime was able to truly take off in 1840, when America began to independently trade with China, and its swift  clipper ships ensured more and fresher tea.

Hardly a home lacked tea, which was taken all day, every day—during breakfast, lunch, after dinner, and whenever one desired it. Individual family members took their tea in the bedchamber, the conservatory, and the family sitting room. Tea was also economical: housewives or servants would sprinkle used leaves on floors for fragrance and collecting dust for easy sweeping.

20131012_LowTea_030Much like the British, Americans convened for afternoon tea, or low tea. Held in the formal sitting room, or taken al fresco on the veranda or in the garden during summer, afternoon tea was a mental and physical break for all classes. Teatime was also a leisurely occasion for upper-class women, who would converse, sew, or play card games while eating cakes, cookies, tarts, and in-season fruits.

Because black tea was less likely to spoil than green tea during overseas transportation, Americans largely purchased the former. On occasion, however, the upper class was able to enjoy green tea, which was served at evening parties as a secondary option to black tea. Naturally, milk and sugar were added to both, and even extra hot water was provided in case anyone wanted to dilute their tea. The earliest iced tea recipes, which date back to the 1800s, utilized green tea as the base tea and called for liquor as well as sugar.

Teaware was considered a valuable as well as an essential commodity. Possessing the finest china was a contest amongst members of the upper class. To obtain the best, Americans bought teaware from Britain, Europe, or China, putting their most expensive porcelain on display in cabinets.

Because value was at stake, caring for teaware—especially kettles and teapots—involved special attention. In Miss Leslies Lady’s House-Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy, Eliza Leslie provides meticulous instructions for brass kettles, porcelain or enameled 20131012_LowTea_004kettles, tea kettles, and “tea-things,” requiring not just hot water and soap, but also salt and vinegar, and bran and wood ashes for the brass kettles and enameled kettles, respectively. Leslie also offers advice as to which kind of teaware is more preferable (for example, Wedgwood over Britannia metal for tea pots, since tea tends to absorb copper and taste “almost poisonous” if allowed to infuse in the latter). Moreover, she makes a point to oppose using a tea kettle for anything other than for boiling water, mentioning that some cooks would use it to boil potatoes, which “give a peculiar and disagreeable taste to the tea-water.”

While tea was considered the national drink, Americans did drink coffee, though not as much and as often. In the first half of the 19th century, green coffee beans—which were the most available type of bean at the time—were bought by the pound from local general 20131012_LowTea_079stores and had to be grounded and roasted at home. Coffee in addition to tea was served after dessert at dinner parties. If men comprised the attendees, then only coffee was provided. Casually, hotel dining rooms offered coffee for both men and women, the latter of whom especially enjoyed visiting these dining rooms while shopping.

Around 1850, the processing of instant coffee began. Instant coffee was cheaper, easier to make at home, and promised to be very fresh in comparison to imported beans. Because of this novel convenience and its higher caffeine content, coffee became more widespread, eventually pervading all economic classes during the remainder of the century. The beverage was a favorite drink for Civil War soldiers.

20131012_LowTea_033Miss Leslie’s book (1863 edition) doesn’t leave out coffee, of course. She recommends that it should not be roasted more than a pound at a time (otherwise it would be muddy), and that breakfast coffee was to be mixed with butter and eggs. As for practical applications, Leslie suggests that coffee starch can be utilized to dye chintzes (a glazed calico textile), which can then be worn for times of mourning, thus saving one the trouble of going out and spending extra money to purchase specially-made mourning chintzes.

Contrary to popular belief, late 18th-century and 19th-century Americans did not completely renounce tea in favor of coffee after the Revolution. They loved their tea dearly, and, like the British, went as far as to ritualistically incorporate the beverage into their daily lives, socially and privately. Beginning with the twentieth century, coffee gained momentum and eventually overshadowed tea. Recently, however, tea has been making a comeback, largely in the form of iced tea and newer stores selling loose teas. Perhaps tea drinking will become a favorite pastime for Americans once again!

Sarah Hansen, Museum Intern

Photos by Richard Warren, taken in the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum’s Orangerie during High Time for Low Tea, an annual event at Bartow-Pell. 

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A Stitch in Time Saves Nine? Making a Reproduction Late 1830s Dress

Going back in time becomes easier to imagine when people wear period clothing. At least, that is the idea behind docents in 19th-century dress, enabling them to guide visitors on a fantasy-filled journey to the distant past.July 1836 worldoffashionco13lond_0283

Since the Bartow family lived on this property from 1836 to 1888, in theory our docents have many 19th-century fashion options. So why is our costume closet filled with clothing styles from the Civil War era? The answer is that thanks to re-enactors, it is fairly easy to find affordable reproduction clothing from the 1860s. And simple knife-pleated skirts and Garibaldi blouses are a perfect fit for our needs.

However, inspired by an interest in fashion history, I decided to make my own reproduction dress. My focus was the late 1830s, the period when the Bartow mansion was built. At this time, the huge sleeves of prior years were going out of style. In May 1836, The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons, a monthly British magazine, proclaimed that: “The only absolute rule is to flatten the sleeve upon the shoulder, and entirely banish for ever the memory of those enormous balons, which gave to the delicate form of female beauty a breadth apportioned to Holbein’s Dutch women.” This gave the desired drooping effect to the shoulders and sounded good since I did not want to look like a football linebacker.

My project started with some research. I studied period sources—fashion plates and paintings—as well as online collection photographs from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The next step was to find a pattern that was period-accurate. I chose one for an 1837 day dress from a company that creates designs from original patterns or clothing. Finally, I was ready to buy the fabric. Using photos of dresses in museum collections as a guide, I found some similar patterned cottons, selecting one in shades of rust that was on sale. After getting some muslin for the lining and a few notions, I was ready to start.

Was I in my right mind to take on this fairly complicated project, which involved some pretty serious sewing? I would have to make a fitted bodice with difficult pleats, piped seams, and a skirt with hand-sewn cartridge pleats. Although I made a lot of my own clothing from about the ages of 12 to 22, I had sewn very little after that and had never done anything this challenging. It was too late to turn back now, so I dusted off my grandmother’s old black Singer, laid out the pattern pieces, and got to work.Repro dressMargaret's dress detail

Well, dear reader, I found out that a stitch in time does not save nine. I ripped out many seams and corrected more mistakes than I care to remember, but I finally managed to complete my dress. My new frock should be worn with the proper undergarments to create a period silhouette. A corset will smooth the tightly fitted bodice, and several full petticoats will give the skirt a nice bell shape and help the cartridge pleats spring out from the waistband. Now I am ready for a journey back in time!Girl's dress

Postscript: Shortly after I put the last stitch in the hem, Bartow-Pell was given a similar dress, featuring many of the same elements as the reproduction I had just finished—the narrow front center tab, piped seams, cuffed sleeves gathered tightly at the top of the arm and full below the elbow, and the diagonal bodice treatment. This dress is currently on view in Clarina Bartow’s bedchamber.

Margaret Highland
Education Director and Curator

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Made in New York: Recent Gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Feld

People often call Bartow-Pell to find out when we are open or if they can schedule wedding photos or a school field trip. But when the phone rang one morning in December of 2011, the voice on the other end of the line belonged to Stuart Feld of the Hirschl & Adler Galleries, offering to donate two New York tables to the museum.

2011.03One, a ca. 1820 trestle-base mahogany library table, was attributed to Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854). The other was a ca. 1815 Pembroke table formerly in the collection of the distinguished Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Berry Tracy, who had given a memorable lecture at the mansion in 1966, describing it as “a magnificent example of the Greek Revival style in America…one of the finest houses of its period.” In the 19th century, the Bartow mansion was only 16 miles from New York City, a major American cabinetmaking center. In fact, the family lived there before moving to their country estate, and Robert Bartow’s publishing offices on Pearl and Water Streets were only a short walk from Duncan Phyfe’s shop on Fulton Street in lower Manhattan.


The handsome library table donated by Mr. and Mrs. Feld now graces the downstairs sitting room, and the Pembroke table is set for a cozy breakfast near the fireplace in George Bartow’s bedchamber.These exciting gifts arrived just before the opening of Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York, a major exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The World of Duncan Phyfe: The Arts of New York, 1800–1847 at the Hirschl & Adler Galleries on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. The exhibition websites offer a taste of what we missed, and a further indication of how lucky we are to have received these beautiful gifts:



Margaret Highland

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Profiles and Poetry: Bounty from a Holiday Giving Tree

The old Bartow mansion looks especially beautiful during the holiday season. Bedecked with festive greenery, garlands, twinkling fairy lights, and storybook Christmas trees, the house is a place where dreams really can come true.

2012.04 328x377

Unknown Gentleman, 1846. Cut-out and gilded silhouette on paper.
Bartow-Pell Landmark Fund in honor
of Mary Means Huber 2012.04

“What do we need to acquire for the collection?” the holiday committee asked me a couple of weeks before our upcoming fundraisers. “We’re thinking about including a holiday giving tree for one or two objects.” Here was a chance to turn curatorial dreams into reality!

The walls in George Bartow’s bedchamber were a little bare, and for some time we had thought that a full-length silhouette portrait of a gentleman would be ideal there. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get one? And what better way to celebrate the success of our recent exhibition Shade and Shadow: A Selection of British and American Silhouettes?

It was easy to come up with another item on our wish list. Robert Bartow owned a publishing company with his brothers William Augustus and George, producing handsome leather-bound books from about 1815 to 1826. Their most ambitious project was a multi-volume series of British poetry. Our goal is to collect each one since Mr. Bartow undoubtedly had a complete set here.


Teenage Boy with a Top Hat, 2nd quarter of the 19th century. Watercolor on paper.
Bartow-Pell Landmark Fund 2012.05

And now for the happy ending. We were able to buy not one, but two silhouettes for George’s bedchamber—a dapper gentleman and a teenage boy—and three poetry books by Burns, Milton, and James Thomson (now in the south parlor bookcase).

We are grateful to each and every generous donor for making our dreams come true. Thank you!

Margaret Highland

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What Can You Learn from Old Clothes?

For many, the word “fashion” is synonymous with “superficial.”  If something goes “out of fashion,” it is gone quickly; if it is “just a fashion” it does not have much importance and will soon be forgotten. However, looking at past fashions — including clothing, accessories, and fashion magazines, can actually reveal quite a lot. What kinds of activities did our ancestors do day to day, and what social attitudes did they have? What did people in earlier eras think about their personal image, and what were their standards for beauty? How did they differentiate themselves from others, in terms of class or profession? Answers to all of these questions and others can be found through looking at historic clothing and accessories.

Child’s wool dress, ca. 1855-1865
Collection of Mary Means Huber

The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum has a number of clothes in its collection that can tell these kinds of stories. For example, there is a child’s dress from the mid-19th century currently on display in the entrance hall of the Mansion. In the 21st century, we may see a dress like this and assume it was worn by a young girl. In fact, for many centuries, both boys and girls wore dresses as toddlers. Boys would stop wearing dresses when they were “breeched,” at the age of three or four, or sometimes even later. Only at that point would they begin to wear pants or breeches. Paintings dating as far back as the 16th century show young boys in dresses. Often, the boys in these paintings are distinguished from girls only by their hairstyles (girls’ hair was typically kept longer, and by the 19thcentury, parted in the middle), or by the objects they hold, such as toy swords.

Why did this custom exist, and why did it last for so long? Historians have a number of theories. It seems logical that before modern clothing fastenings, like snaps and Velcro, it was easier to change a child’s diaper if he or she wore a loose-fitting dress, rather than a more restricting or complicated complicated garment. This might explain why little boys usually stopped wearing dresses around the age they were toilet-trained.  (Although not always — on a whim, the mother of French author François Timoléon de Choisy dressed him as a girl until he was eighteen!)

Carte de visite of young boy
ca. 1860-1865

Before the introduction of factory-made fabric in the early 19thcentury, clothing for all classes of people was more expensive, and it would have been easier to enlarge a dress to accommodate a fast-growing child than other garments.

Another theory is that the youngest children in a family would have been cared for by their mothers or female nurses, and it would have been appropriate for them to wear skirts regardless of their gender. After his son was breeched and wore more masculine clothes, a father might become more involved in his son’s care, often beginning to prepare the boy for a future profession.

For the red wool dress at Bartow-Pell, we do not have any documentation about who originally made or owned it. Therefore, it is impossible to say whether it was worn by a girl or a boy. Looking at a garment like this, it is easy to wonder, “Did boys mind that they were dressed as girls?” But for earlier generations, wearing this kind of dress wasn’t thought of as “dressing like a girl.” It was simply the appropriate way for all small children to look. A little boy may have looked forward to being breeched, as it meant he had become more grown-up, but that doesn’t mean he was necessarily bothered by wearing the same clothing as his sister.

Carte de visite of young child,
ca. 1860-1865


Our red wool dress is just one example of how clothing can reveal the social trends and customs of earlier periods. Some ideas that we take for granted today — such as separate clothing for boys and girls — were not always hard and fast. We can read about the attitudes our ancestors had and the traditions they followed, but a dress like this shows how they put them into practice.

Sarah Pickman, Museum Intern


Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes Through History, 1500­ – 1914. London: National Trust, 2011.

Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Callahan, Colleen. “Children’s Clothing.” The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.metmuseum.org/view/bazf/bazf00124.xml (accessed Aug. 10, 2012)

Steele, Valerie ed. The Berg Companion to Fashion. New York: Berg, 2010.

Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood. “Boy’s Dress.” http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk/collections/clothing/boys-dress/ (accessed Aug. 10, 2012)

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