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Commemorating Veterans Day 2016

In commemorating this year’s Veterans Day, I’d like to reprint an article from the Summer 1986 Quarterly Newsletter of the Kent-Delord House Museum .

Reverend Hall and the Medal of Honor

By James J. Reh

The Reverend Francis Bloodgood Hall (1827-1903), husband of Fannie Delord Hall, was the second chaplain in the history of the United States to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The medal is on display in the Kent-Delord House Museum.

 

“He who possesses the Medal of Honor is the holder of the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.” (From the official publication of the Department of the Army, The Medal of Honor.)

 

The Medal of Honor was first authorized by Congress and approved by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861 for enlisted men of the United States Navy. The authorization was later amended to include officers as well as enlisted men of the army and navy, with eligibility for award retroactive to the beginning of the Civil War. The medal was to be awarded only to those who most distinguished themselves by their gallantry in action. This first official badge of honor authorized in the United States eventually became fixed at the apex of a “Pyramid of Honor,” after additional medals were authorized to be awarded in ascending degrees of service or valor. Because the medal is presented in the name of the Congress of the United States, it is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“Voluntarily exposed himself to a heavy fire during the thickest of the fight and carried wounded men to the rear for treatment and attendance.

Salem Heights, Virginia, 3 May 1863.”

 

So reads the formal citation for Reverend Hall’s Medal of Honor. He was 36 years of age when he performed his heroic feat in the Civil War during the Chancellorsville Campaign, and was serving the last few weeks of his brief service as Chaplain of the 16th New York volunteer Regiment. In fact, the Battle of Salem Heights was the Regiment’s last battle. Organized soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the 16th New York, composed of men from Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, was officially activated in May, 1861 for a two year tour of duty. It became part of General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The Regiment saw a great deal of action during the war, including the battles of 1st Bull Run, West Point, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale, Crampton’s Pass, Antietam and Salem Heights.

Reverend Hall was actually the Regiment’s third chaplain. He was preceded by Royal B. Stratton and Andrew M. Millar, both of whom resigned due to ill health. Nominated as a replacement in October, 1862 by his friend, Lt. Colonel Franklin Palmer of C Company, Hall reported for duty at White Oak Church, Virginia in early December,1862. At the time of his nomination, he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Luzerne, New York. The Battle of Salem Heights represented his only engagement under fire; he was mustered out of service along with the regiment on May 22, 1863. His brief but distinguished service made a lasting impression on many of his comrades for in addition to his gallantry inaction, he was an outdoorsman who did not mind sharing the privations of military camp live with them. He also won their respect by his sincere and tireless efforts in the administration of his duties, and he refused all pay for his services. Reverend Hall especially impressed the man who recommended him for the Medal of Honor 33 years after the battle.

John C. Gilmore was a major in F Company, 16th New York volunteers. Later promoted to Lt. Colonel of the 93rd New York, he was mustered out of service in 1866. Gilmore re-entered the regular army as a 2nd Lieutenant and after a long and distinguished career, he retired as a Brigadier General. During the late fall of 1896, he was a lt. Colonel, serving in Washington, D.C., as Assistant Adjutant General. In his letter of recommendation to Colonel Frederick Grayton Ainsworth, Record and Pension Division, War Department, Washington, D.C., dated December 15, 1896, Gilmore chronicled Reverend Hall’s actions during the Battle of Salem Heights and explained the reason for his belated recommendation:

Sir:

I have the honor to recommend that Reverend Hall, late Chaplain, 16th New York Volunteers Infantry, be granted a Medal of Honor for his brave conduct at the Battle of Salem Heights, Virginia, May 3, 1863. Chaplain Hall did voluntarily come, during the hardest fighting with his horse, to the left of the regiment and carried wounded men upon his horse to the rear for proper care and attendance. I saw him do this several times during the engagement, and it is possible that he did more than I noticed for I was busy with other matters.

Major Gilmore was indeed “busy with other matters.” The citation for his Medal of Honor, awarded for his actions during the same battle reads, “seized the colors of his regiment and gallantly rallied his men under a very severe fire.”

After documenting the severity of the battle that cost the 16th New York 154 casualties, Gilmore concluded his letter by stating:

I therefore earnestly recommend him for a Medal of Honor and trust that it will meet with approval. This only occurred to me a few days since as I read in a newspaper that a chaplain had been awarded a Medal [of Honor] for service in battle. I have never mentioned this matter to chaplain Hall in any way whatsoever, and knowing him as I do, he is the last man in the world who would ever think of being rewarded for his act.

 

                                                                     Very respectfully,

                                                                      J.C. Gilmore

                                                                       Late Major, 16th New York

                                                                       Volunteers Infantry

                                                                        Now Lt. Colonel, A.A.G.

 

Before he read the newspaper article, it apparently had not occurred to Gilmore that persons designated as non-combatants might be eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. The chaplain Lt. Colonel Gilmore read about was the Reverend Milton L. Haney of the 55th Illinois Infantry, who “voluntarily carried a musket in the ranks of his regiment and rendered heroic service in retaking the Federal works…”at Atlanta, Georgia on July 22, 1864. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on November 3, 1896.

A third army chaplain was also awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. The Reverend John M. Whitehead of the 15th Indiana Infantry rescued wounded comrades under fire at Stone River, Tennessee on December 31, 1862. His medal was awarded on April 4, 1898.

On February 16, 1897, Reverend Hall received the following letter from the Record and Pension Office, War Department, Washington, D.C.:

Sir:

I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of the President and in accordance with the Act of Congress approved March 3, 1863 providing for the presentation of Medals of Honor…the Assistant Secretary of War has awarded you a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in action at the Battle of Salem Heights, Virginia, May 3, 1863…The Medal has been forwarded to you today by registered mail. Upon the receipt of it, please advise this office thereof.

                                                                 Very respectfully,

                                                                  F.G.Ainsworth,                                                                                                

                                                                   Colonel U.S. Army

                                                                    Chief, Record and Pension

After his military service, Reverend Hall and his wife Fannie made their home in Plattsburgh in the Delord house. He founded the Peristrome Presbyterian Church in 1864 and served as its only pastor until his death in 1903. He was also unofficial chaplain of the local army barracks for a time, and, along with Fannie, performed various social services for the community. As a minister and civic leader, he served his community well in peace time, but amid the carnage of battle one spring day in 1863, Reverend Francis Bloodgood Hall also served his country well and richly deserved “the highest award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.”

Plattsburgh’s First Kindergarten Teacher

In a June 29, 1879 Plattsburgh Sentinel article, Mary Butler called for the establishment of a kindergarten in the city of Plattsburgh.   Developed in the 1830s by German educator Friedrich Froebel, the idea was for a pre-school experience to teach young children about art, design, math, and natural history by stressing the socialization of the child through play. The program was finally introduced to the United States at the 1876 Centennial Exposition where advocates presented an exhibition of the kindergarten methods.

Shortly after Mrs. Butler’s call, an advertisement appeared in the Sentinel stating that Miss Helena Augustin would be opening a Kindergarten School starting that September in a building on the corner of Oak Street and Protection Avenue. This was made possible by Frances (Fannie) Delord Hall who had met the teacher at a Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) convention and invited her to be the Halls’ guest at their home. Helena Augustin lived at the Delord residence for more than 20 years while conducting her Kindergarten School.

Born in Bingen, Germany in 1850, Helena and a brother immigrated to New York City when she was 11 years old. No more information is available until she arrives in Plattsburgh in 1879. For the next 22 years, Helena taught the first Kindergarten in Plattsburgh. By the late 1880s, instruction had expanded up to the 4th grade.   Many of the early prominent men and women in this city were her pupils.

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A receipt for tuition for a term in the Kindergarten School.  It is interesting to note that the student, Master Albert Cananagh, in the son of James Cavanagh, who will become Helena’s husband in 15 years!

The Plattsburgh Sentinel is filled with articles about the activities of the school. There were regular reports throughout the year on the various programs and recitals put on for the parents and community. All the articles are lavish with their praise of Helena and the school.

“The entertainment by the little people of the Kindergarten school at the Plattsburgh Theater, Wednesday evening was a charming affair that delighted the large audience    present. So much loveliness, grace, and sweetness embodied and all the little bodies acquitting themselves so remarkably well, could not fail to captivate. Miss Augustin, her assistant, Miss Maud Madden, and their aids and abettors, have occasion for pride and genuine satisfaction over their real fairies’ entertainment.”                                                                                     -Plattsburgh Sentinel, June 29, 1894.

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The school bell used by Helena during the time she ran the Kindergarten School.  The bell was donated along with the tuition receipts and the photograph of Helena by her Great-grandson, James Cavanagh.

Another Sentinel article was more on the side of gossip:

Miss Augustin, of the Kindergarten School, and Mrs. Baker, attended the excursion of  the Peristrome Sabbath School, to Willsboro Point last week.   While out rowing upon the lake they had a narrow escape from drowning by their boat filling with water. Parties upon the shore rescued them, but not until they had received a thorough wetting.                                                                                                                                                                                            –Plattsburgh Sentinel, July 21, 1882

Helena married prominent Plattsburgh businessman James Cavanagh in the east parlor of the Delord House in 1902. The ceremony was described as “a quiet one, only Mr. Cavanagh’s family and the most intimate friends of the bride” attended.

The wedding announcement in the Plattsburgh Sentinel describes the scene:

“The parlor was tastefully decorated with vines, ferns and palms. A beautiful bower of the green plants, brightened by hydrangeas, was constructed in the corner of the room, and it was before this bower that the ceremony was performed. An orchestra hidden in the conservatory behind the bower rendered appropriate music.”

Rev. Hall performed the ceremony. Helena was a member of his Peristrome Presbyterian Church, where she was active in leading the youth membership

The announcement also describes Helena’s wedding attire:

“…she was dressed in light pearl gray crepe de chine, trimmed with Dutchess lace, the collar of the gown being fastened by a diamond sunburst, a present of the groom.”

Among the wedding gifts mentioned was “a picture from the kindergarten children with a collection of cards in which each child sent congratulations and greeting.”   We know that the Halls presented the couple with a China cabinet, thanks to information and a picture provide by a great-grandson, James Cavanagh.

The late day ceremony was followed by an informal reception at the Hall’s residence. Then the newlyweds “took the north-bound train on their wedding journey.” Following the honeymoon, Helena moved into the Cavanagh home at 8 Macomb Street. After more than 20 years living as a “guest” of Fannie and Frank Hall, Helena now had a home of her own.

Social propriety required that married women not work, so Helena’s teaching career ended, but not her community involvement. Another result of her marriage was that now Helena identity was as Mrs. James Cavanagh throughout the Plattsburgh social scene.

For a couple years after their marriage, the Cavanaghs were cited in the social columns for the trips they took to Florida and Malone. However, those notices stopped. Now the articles only mentioned Helena’s work with the WCTU, the Presbyterian Church Youth group, and the Children‘s Home of Northern New York. In the obituary for James Cavanagh, we find the reason for this. James had a stroke two years after his marriage to his third wife, Helena. His health deteriorated for the next five years until his death in 1908.   Thus, we can infer that Helena spent much of that five years looking after the health of her husband. His obituary described him “as a husband he was kind and loyal.”

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This is the only picture the Museum has of Helena.  This was taken on a trip to St. Augustine, FL with friends.  Helena is circled and her husband is on the far left.

Helena appeared to be highly regarded in the Plattsburgh community.   Even after her marriage and “retirement” the press reported on several events in her life. One reported an accident in her home:

            “Mrs. James Cavanagh met with a painful accident on Tuesday evening, which      resulted in her spraining her right ankle severely. Mrs. Cavanagh was ascending the stairs when her foot caught in her dress and she fell. The injured ankle necessitates Mrs. Cavanagh’s keeping very quiet, but it is hoped that she will soon be up and about again.”           -Plattsburgh Sentinel June 28, 1907                                                                               

 It was very common for the newspaper of that time to report what was titled “Nearby News” which told all the social and personal happenings (gossip) of the day.

Another accident report was more serious:

“A badly wrecked automobile and a worse wrecked carriage was the result of a                 peculiar collision on the Bridge street bridge at about a quarter past nine last evening.

            There seems to be a difference of opinion as to how it happened but there is no doubt          that the big Mitchell taxi cab driven by a youth who gave his name a Jess DeFousor, went a long way toward demolishing the carriage driven by John Wilson, a cabman,  who was taking Mrs. James Cavanagh to her home on Macomb street.

            Wilson says that he was driving east on Bridge street and had no warning until the             automobile crashed     into the rear of his rig, which appears to have been lifted bodily and turned half way round. The horse was forced violently against the iron work of the bridge and thrown down. The driver was thrown out and was badly cut about the head and face. Several stitches were taken in his forehead by Dr. Robinson. The entire front to the rig was a mass of wreckage broken shafts, wheels and axles were strewn around the bridge. 

            Fortunately the body of the carriage was left intact and Mrs. Cavanagh escaped without injury except for a severe shaking up and shock…”                        –Plattsburgh Sentinel April 18, 1919

It is interesting to note that this article was front page news along with articles about the Peace Conference at Versailles and Bolshevik insurgency in Germany.

Helena Augustin Cavanagh died August 8, 1921.   Her obituary praised her determination and accomplishments.

“From the very beginning of her life here Mrs. Cavanagh was most active in every good work. She was always a member, and for many years President and recently   County Superintendent of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was also Leader of the Loyal Temperance Legion, a childrens temperance organization.  Among her many interest was the Children’s Home of Northern New York and at the time of her death she was one of its managers…

            Mrs. Cavanagh was an untiring and enthusiastic worker in any activity with which she was connected and will be greatly missed in this community.”

                                                                                                                –Plattsburgh Sentinel, August 9, 1921

If the Walls Could Talk

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 The past couple years have produced a flurry of renovations (restoration of the signature fence and a fresh coat of paint covering the house– so far) as the Kent-Delord House Museum gets ready to commemorate a momentous occasion—the Bicentennial of the Battle of Plattsburgh (1814-2014). The house and its residents had played significant roles in the history of Plattsburgh throughout the 19th century.   In his book, Henry Delord and His Family, Allan S. Everest describes the house as “one of the most imposing dwellings in town.” In many of the newspaper articles of the time, the house is referred to as the Delord Mansion.

It was in this house that Henry and Betsey Delord hosted many dinner parties for family, friends, and prominent people of the day. Just after moving into the newly expanded house in 1811, the Delords hosted the wedding of Betsey’s niece, Maria Averill, to Reuben Walworth who would later be elected to the House of Representatives and then become a prominent judge in northern New York. From this time on the Delord Mansion became the “social center” of Plattsburgh. During the War of 1812, with the strong military presence in the region, the military leaders (and their wives) were frequently entertained at the house.  

            “…their hospitality became proverbial. Among the acquaintances, and sometimes lasting friendships, that they made were the military engineers, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Totten and Colonel Josiah Snelling, naval commander Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough, military commanders Colonel Zebulon Pike and Generals George Izard and Alexander Macomb, and the President, James Monroe, whom they entertained for tea in 1817.”*                                                                                         *(Everest p.26)

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 Dining table set as it might have been for Pres. Monroe’s visit 

The hospitality in the Delord house continued even after Henry Delord’s death in 1825. Betsey’s marriage to William Swetland in 1829 brought in the financial resources to repair the long neglected structure. The merging of the two families also introduced a new flurry of social activity, as Swetland was a prominent lawyer and civic leader. Betsey not only made the house the center of family gatherings, but also assumed the role of community hostess for many visiting politicians and dignitaries.   One of Betsey’s letters to her granddaughter Fannie in 1851 describes her efforts to entertain the visiting N.Y. Governor and wife who had arrived in Plattsburgh on short notice.

                                                                                             Plattsburgh Saturday August 30 [1851]

My dear Frances,

“I have only a few moments to inform you what has transpired since you left. Just as I was about getting into bed Mr. Swetland came home and said Gov. [Washington] Hunt & lady arrived in the evening boat, that some gentlemen called, and they were to accompany them to next day to the state prison [at Dannemora]. Quite a party of ladies were to go and we must invite them to tea. I felt as if I could not undertake it on so short a notice. It lay between Mr. Myers and us, the only prominent Whigs. I found I must do it. So Lucy Ann turned in to help me. Mrs. Kirkland came over and Mrs. Myers offered to make ice cream. We wished you was here to help us. We sent out invitations and we had quite a large number and every one seemed to enjoy themselves very much. Gov. Hunt and lady were very pleasant. I introduced all the ladies to Mrs. Hunt. Capt Wallen sang for us. Hetty and Cousin Caleb Averill gave us music with flute and piano. I was glad I had consented. Both the gov. and lady seemed pleased…”

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The pianoforte in the Gold Parlor

Throughout the letters Betsey wrote to her beloved granddaughter, Fannie, are the descriptions of many family gatherings at the Delord house. Betsey’s details of the people, food, and entertainment were to ensure that Fannie would feel that she was also a part of the festivities.  

                                                                                                                      Plattsburgh Dec. 11, 1855

My beloved child,

“Thanksgiving Day I had all Mr. Coit’s (the minister of Trinity Episcopal Church) family but Henry Coit and Lucy Ann’s family to dinner, ten besides your grand father and myself. We had a large roast turkey, a boiled turkey with oyster sauce, fricassee chicken with toast and white gravy, a variety of vegetables, apple and pumpkin pie. Snow Ball apples & grapes; to finish off, a strong cup of coffee. I wish you had been here. They seemed to enjoy it…”

 Fannie and husband, Frank had moved to Plattsburgh for good in 1863 and settled in the house to care for her ailing grandparents. With Betsey’s death in 1870, the Delord house now belonged solely to Fannie.   While there still were the social activities for family and friends that her grandmother cultivated, the focus of the house changed. Fannie became more involved in temperance activities and medical causes as well as other social activism. The addition on the back of the house became the Cumberland Bay Works where Fannie’s patented ointment Fanoline was produced. Fannie conducted her medical practice for the poor from the house and periodically soups and stews were prepared for the poor from the kitchen.

In 1969 Mrs. John B. Kelley wrote an account of pleasant evenings spent in Fannie’s home during the early part of the century:

“Catherine helped serve and Mrs. Hall told her to set the tea tray and silver service which had been buried in the garden before the British arrived. After the main course was served, the table was crumbed and two kinds of pie brought in. We were urged to take a piece of each! Then those plates were removed, and the table crumbed again and a mound of ice cream brought in! It was flavored by vanilla beans, not extract. Needless to say we suffered and warned our guest of the desserts each time we were invited for dinner.”

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The Delord silver tea set

 After Fannie’s death in 1913, the house was bequeathed to Physician’s Hospital. However the hospital didn’t have the means to maintain the property nor a buyer to take it off their hands. Luckily for Plattsburgh, several women carefully cared for the property until they could convince someone to recognize it’s historic value.

 First there was Fannie’s faithful housekeeper, Catherine Dowling, who would continue to take care of the house for the next decade. Some say she would charge curious visitors 25¢ to show them the historic artifacts!

 Then there was Ada Beers, the executrix of Fannie’s will. Aware of the historical significance of the contents of Fannie’s estate, she went to court and succeeded in getting many of the provisions of the will overturned. Fannie had stated she wanted all the portraits, except that of her grandfather, and all the documents to be burned. Also all the “relics and curios” in the house were to be placed in the museum in Albany if Plattsburgh had not established a local museum within three years of her death.

 Finally there was Jeannette Brookings Tuttle. The Regent of the Saranac Chapter of the D.A.R. and historian, Jeannette worked tirelessly to alert the community of the value of the Delord house. She brought visiting doctors from the local hospitals to see Fannie’s medical books (especially a valuable copy of Dr. William Beaumont’s Medical Journal) and evidence of her medical practice. Local college and high school students were brought to the house to “see” the history of the area, including the officer’s mess chest from the Battle of Plattsburgh. Jeannette was dogged in her quest to get philanthropist, William Miner, to purchase the house and invest money in its restoration. Miner set up a Board of Trustees who then received a charter from the New York State Board of Regents. The Delord Mansion became the Kent-Delord House Museum in 1928.

 Thanks to these far-sighted individuals, the Delord house continues to be a centerpiece in Plattsburgh today. The hospitality and social awareness continues with the Museum’s mission to preserve and promote the historic and cultural contributions of the structure and the three generations of Delords, as well as the myriad of friends and visitors who passed through the front (and back) door. The stories are fascinating, funny, and sometimes tragic. I’m sure there are still more that we haven’t uncovered yet.

 Ahh, if only the walls could talk!!

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The Kent-Delord House Museum – 2014

 

Brrr!

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“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”               Mark Twain

 Well, Mr. Twain, I’ve been waiting but we seem to be stuck in a rut!  But then I guess I could say that going from cold to colder is a change.  You would think that people living in the North Country would come to expect, even embrace the cold winters.  Most do!  The others either head south for the next few months or hunker down and gripe about it.  After all it is a great topic for conversation!

We all have heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about having to walk to school/work in a blinding snowstorm through four (six, eight…) feet of snow uphill both ways.  We walk away laughing at their expanding exaggeration of the past.  But how exaggerated is it?

After her granddaughter, Fannie, went to live with her father’s family in Hartford, CT, Betsey wrote often to keep her updated on what was happening in Plattsburgh.  These letters give us a detailed description of the lives of family, friends and neighbors, and the community.  Also, we see how the weather impacted those events.

Betsey loved her plants.  Her house and garden was always full of them.  You can feel her desolation when she writes to Fannie about losing many of them in the winter of 1851:

Feb. 11, 1851

My beloved Child,

This being your birthday, your mother and you, my Frances, have been much on my mind, all the trying scenes of 17 years ago.  Both of us have been spared while many that are near and dear have been taken and only God knows why.  Last Saturday was by far the coldest this winter.  In the night the wind blew from the south a freezing gale and for the first time in twenty years has Frost touched my flowers.  It entered the hall upstairs and the adjoining room and cut down all plants I had been saving with so much care for years.  I had some which I kept in the front room [downstairs] that did not get hurt.  How sad it made me to see my pets so cut down.  I shall no longer try plants that take so long to arrive at perfection.  I hope you will write me all the particulars of Mr. Matson’s very suddend death.  How sad one so young cut off so soon. Goodnight, my dear child.  May God bless and keep you.

                                            Your affectionate g.mother, E.S.

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 A letter in 1857 finds Betsey griping that the winter in too mild!  It almost seems like nothing satisfied her.

Plattsburgh Dec. 8, 1857

My beloved child,

We have an open winter.  So far the weather has been like September, only an occasional cold day. Our little bay was only frozen over Thanksgiving Day.  It was black with boys and girls skating, a fine sport. Next day all open and still continues open and raining today. I had rather have cold weather and snow…

We are all fixed for winter, but killing our pigs and making sausage. With the poor help I had and not being well enough, I gave up asking Rev. Coit’s family for dinner Thanksgiving, as we always had them. I told Mr. Coit so, but as the time approached, I felt so bad about it I finally concluded to have them and do the best I could.  We had a room full and made out a very nice dinner and all seemed to enjoy it.  Since you left many friends calling and enquiring after you.

Your own loveing g.mother, E. Swetland

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 In 1862, Betsey writes to tell Fannie about a major snow storm in the North Country.  It makes me start to think that those stories I heard as a child may not have been so exaggerated!

Plattsburgh Feb. 27 [1862] Thursday eve

My beloved child

Oh! What a storm of wind and snow since I wrote you on Monday. It was snowing hard while writing. About 4 o’clock it Commenced blowing a perfect gale. It continued all night. I never in my long life experienced such an awful storm. I mentioned the rehearsal [for an upcoming concert] was to meet here that night. I did not think it possible any could come, but many did.  We had work to keep comfortable. Had a great fire in the Hall stove and my bedroom with the door open in the parlor. Dared not keep much fire in the Front room. It seemed as if the Chimney must blow down and the fire board forced out. It smoked grandfather out of his room into mine.  The Company left about ten and g.father returned to bed. Wrapt him up in hot blankets. But poor I was going from one place to another to try and keep comfortable. We found the plants must freeze in the green room, the wind north west and cold.  Hatty Coit was obliged to stay all night, and she with Ellen [a servant] helped me bring all the flowers out of the green house in this room. Those trained we covered up with sheets.  And thankful was I in the morning to find them saved. I sat up very late and just took off my outer dress and lay down, but I could not sleep—such a rattling and shakeing. I was fearful we should be blown down and hearing such noises I was up and down until nearly day light. It never ceased until morning.  It was a curiosity to look out, such banks and piles of snow in every direction. Perfectly Blockaded, no Comeing in nor getting out of the village.  No southern mail yet, but Burlington paper by stage. No cars [train] since Saturday.  Our cars are perfectly dammed up.  They have drifts 15 feet high to cut through.  We had hoped they might get in tonight but I fear not.  It is getting late and I must go in and see to Grandpa.  With love to all.

Your devoted G.mother, E.S.

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Well, no matter what time period, we can see that Mother Nature will do what she pleases. All we can do is deal with it.  So either put on those skis/skates or snuggle up with a good book/video and in a few months it will be Spring!!

A 179 Year-Old Secret Revealed!

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Impressions of Visits to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.

by Sally Booth

My first trip to the elegant Stone Hill Center, new home of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, Mass. last May, was courtesy of the Alice T. Miner Museum and my good friend Amanda Palmer.  In Amanda’s van, we were delivering artifacts in need of conservation: KDHM’s paintings of Betsey Delord and Henry Webb and a 19th century settee from the Miner Museum.

On that clear, blue-sky spring day, we chatted happily all the way down the Northway and across the Mohawk Trail to Massachusetts and back.  I was excited and curious about our destination having seen the older conservation center nearly 20 years earlier. 

I remembered a short walk behind the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute to a house with rooms filled with paintings, sculpture and furniture.  I still see, in my minds eye, a technician gently brushing clear liquid on a painting with a very tiny brush and wonder, “will that really do anything?”  We were given a brief introduction to this meticulous, painstaking work and left with more questions than there was time to ask.

The new facility is also near the Clark, set into a steep slope; a massive grey building with large expanses of glass.

To deliver the settee, we entered the loading dock entrance.  Inside we were warmly greeted by several members of the staff and given a brief tour of the spacious painting, furniture and object studios with the floor to ceiling windows and carefully patterned duct work throughout where no toxic fumes could linger.  The Painting Studio is large enough to accomodate several conservators and every type and size of artwork.

We were taken to a smaller room where KDHM’s paintings were laid out on a table and the bubble wrap carefully cut away.  Conservators noted the age of both paintings and frames, but it was the over-painting on Betsey Delord’s portrait that held their attention.  “Did we want it taken back to the original?”  I wasn’t sure, but would ask my colleagues.

The answer was to keep the overpainting because it is so much a part of Betsey Delord’s story.

At the KDHM, the void of the missing paintings had everyone; staff, volunteers and visitors, asking if the work had started and when the paintings would return.  There was no answer until a November call to the Center revealed removal of grime and varnish had just begun and that this would be a perfect time to visit.

I was even more excited on this journey down the Northway, this time with my husband Kit.

Painting Conservator MC Betz welcomed us and ushered us into the large painting studio. There, on two of the easels, were our beloved Betsey and her son-in law Henry Webb.Image 

In front of Betsey’s portrait, I was speechless for a few moments at the freshness of it and then began to notice other things:  a very delicate lace at the edge of the dress, the skin tones were richer, more detailed and the ugly yellow blotch on her left breast was gone! 

MC pointed out other campaigns of previous retouching, some higher up near the neckline.  The lace around the top of the dress was barely visible before.  Do we want to keep it?  Again I say I will ask my colleagues.Image

And then we looked at Henry!  Could this be the one I remembered? Now, comparing the before photograph, we could see that over the years, the accumulation of grime had blurred the artist’s fine brushwork and the details of Henry’s handsome face.Image

And finally, we are shown the x-radiograph revealing the original painting and design of Betsey’s dress!  Here at last was the answer to all our wonderings about what was underneath that red shawl.Image

 

When the money has been raised and we can bring the paintings home, we’ll be able to show everyone what has been a secret for 179 years!

Mommy I’m Bored! Try Some 19th Century Parlor Games to Cure these Rainy Day Blues!

Rain, rain go away.

How sick are you of this rain?! It feels like the rain is never going to stop! Summer has officially started for kids and there is nothing to do outside because it constantly pours! Many parents and childcare providers struggle with things to do during the rain, especially when it never stops. Toys can be repetitive, TV can get old and release the kid’s energy. And what if the power goes out? What do you do with your kids then?

Well, besides bringing your kids for an educational visit to a local museum like the Kent-Delord House Museum, there are 19th century games that kids used to play that will not only teach your child a new game, but teach them about how kids used to live back in the time before TV, internet and even electricity!

Here are a few old parlor games to try with your kids:

Pinch, no smiling!

The object of this game is not to smile! Everyone sits in a circle, and each player pinches their neighbor’s nose (gently of course!). The first one who smiles or laughs, has to pay a forfeit. A forfeit is often just a marker or toy, nothing fancy. When a player loses a round, the player has to put a forfeit in the circle.

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absolutely no smiling allowed in this game🙂

When the game is done, usually when there are only a few players left who never had to forfeit anything, the players who had to give up their forfeit have to earn it back from the winners, and the winners decide the terms! The winners would dream up of ways to buy back the forfeit, from having them answer a question while getting tickled under your chin, or even imitating animal sounds named by other players, or even a five minute silence! Nothing actually painful or costly, but something that makes everyone laugh! Say the alphabet backwards while jumping on one foot and rubbing your stomach…now that would be a pain! Often kids had just as much paying for the forfeits as they did trying not laugh as their noses were pinched!

Um

Similar to musical chairs, all but one player sits on chairs set up in a semicircle. One player is blindfolded and then has to sit on someone’s knee on the chair and says um. The person in the chair then says um three times in a disguised voice. If the person who is blindfolded guesses whose knee they are sitting on, they give that player the blindfold and he or she is the next one to plop down and say um. If the blindfolded person guesses incorrectly, then they must move on to the next person and sit on their knee and say um. Keep playing until you are tired of saying um.

Shadow Buff

Hang a white sheet or tablecloth in a room. One side of the sheet has a light source (candle, lamp, etc.) to show shadows. One player who is it stands on the side of the sheet without the light source, while the rest of the players must stand on the other side of the sheet so the it person can see the shadows. The it person has to guess who is on the other side of the sheet based on the shadow. Players may think of many ways to disguise their identity by making themselves different shapes and sizes. Be creative! Maybe even use props!

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play this game with a candle when the power is out!

Grandmother’s Basket

Sit in a circle. Each kid has a piece of paper or some sort of token to put into a basket. Pass the basket around the circle and have the kids answer the following question beginning with a letter in the alphabet, starting with A and continuing through the whole alphabet, A,B,C, etc: What are you bringing to Grandma’s House?  For example, it could sound like apple, ball, cake, dog, etc. For each answer, the kid puts in a token or paper. If you go through the whole alphabet once, go through it again until someone cannot think of something to bring! Time players based on age and ability. I bet some objects Grandma does not necessarily ever want in her house will be mentioned in this game!

Tell us how these games go and share some of your favorite games to play indoors when the weather is so gloomy!

The Case of the MISSING Portraits!

Dun Dun Dun!

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the scene of the crime!

Two of our portraits are not at the Kent-Delord House Museum! Some docents were concerned what happened when they came to the Museum following the incident. I could assure them though that they were not missing, but instead are getting evaluated for conservation! Phew!

Often when you walk into an old historic house museum like the Kent-Delord House, you are told immediately not to touch anything. The words of caution tend to be off putting at times, but people who work at old museums worry about the age and delicacy of the artifacts. We have artifacts that are over 200 years old, and we would like to keep them around for 200 more years! So if you ever feel offended by the requests not to touch anything- it is not about you but about the artifacts. Oils on hands will speed up the aging of any artifact, and the smaller number of hands to touch them, the better.

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Where in the world is Henry Livingston Webb?

Occasionally we have to repair some of our artifacts. Right now we have sent two of our portraits to be evaluated for conservation. We are not restoring these portraits, but merely conserving them to prevent future damage. A couple of weeks ago, one of our board members, Sally Booth, accompanied Amanda Palmer, curator of the Alice T. Miner Museum, to Williamstown, Massachusetts to bring our two portraits to be evaluated along with an artifact from Amanda’s Museum.

The two portraits that were sent for conservation are of Betsey Delord and Henry Livingston Webb. We used reports from the 1980s to decide which portraits needed it the most (just to show you how long it’s been since this issue was investigated). Betsey’s frame is damaged and is in the worst shape of all the paintings, with Henry Livingston Webb not far behind.

Betsey Delord's Portrait, by Tuthill, 1818

Betsey Delord’s Portrait, by Tuthill, 1818

Betsey Delord’s portrait was painted in 1818 in Plattsburgh by Abraham G. B. Tuthill. It was painted along with two other portraits, one of her husband Henry and one of her daughter Frances Henrietta. These portraits were sent to Nismes, France in the fall of 1820 as a way to show Henry’s sister, then his only living relative, what his family looked like. These portraits were truly a precursor to  photographs! Before sending the portraits to his sister, Henry wrote on October 24th, “My portrait and those of my family are already in boxes and ready to ship…These portraits have been painted two years ago- people say they are not perfect as possible- the ones of my wife and of Francoise, which I can vouch, are of exact likeness and strikingly natural. My wife since that time gained weight- she is very beautiful and elegant woman well bred and educated and I may say quite truthfully and without flattery that her virtues even surpass her beauty.”

The artist who painted the portraits, Abraham G.B. Tuthill, was born in 1776 on the northeastern tip of Long Island and later moved with his family to a farm in Vermont in 1799. During the 19th century, Tuthill traveled around the United States looking for painting commissions, and in 1818 he found himself in Plattsburgh painting the portrait of the Delord family.

So how did we get the paintings back from France? Well, in 1832 Frances Henrietta married Henry Livingston Webb and spent the next eight months in Europe on their honeymoon. Frances and Henry made it to Nismes, France on October 11, 1832 and retrieved Henry and Betsey’s portrait and sent it to the states in January of 1833, leaving behind the portrait of Frances Henrietta because Henry’s sister’s servant so adored the painting. Frances Henrietta’s portrait was retrieved by Frances’ daughter Fannie during her honeymoon in Europe in 1857.

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Henry Livingston Webb’s portrait by Inman, 1832

After Betsey’s portrait was returned to the states, the leading portrait painter in New York City, Henry Inman, “improved” the portrait by adding a shawl to her outfit. Adding the shawl was probably an effort to make Betsey’s appearance more modest, especially because she became more religious later in life. Henry Inman was born in Utica, New York on October 28, 1801, and in 1814 started his apprenticeship to John Wesley Jarvis, who painted two other portraits that are on display in the Blue Parlor at the Kent-Delord House Museum. Inman also painted other portraits on display including the one of John Hayes Webb, Frances Henrietta Delord Webb’s posthumous portrait, and the two of Henry Livingston Webb, one of which is in Williamstown to be analyzed for conservation.

The portrait of Henry Livingston Webb that is in Williamstown was painted as his wedding portrait before marrying Frances Henrietta in 1832 when he was 37 years old.

Considering that Betsey Delord’s portrait made it to France and back in the 19th century (before planes and barely after the development of steam power) and also the normal wear and tear on these artifacts because of their age, it is amazing that these portraits are still around today!

The Kent-Delord House Museum is applying for grants to preserve these portraits, but nothing is set in stone yet. The portraits are in Williamstown to get an estimate on what it would cost to conserve them, and from there we will apply for funding.

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We need your help!

We are conserving these portraits for the people who come to the Kent-Delord House Museum and enjoy these wonderful pieces! It is thanks to our members and continued supporters that we are able to send these portraits to be examined, however, we still need help! Please consider making a donation to preserve these paintings and their stories for future generations to come!

Sustainable Late Spring Cleaning!

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Spring cleaning usually happens earlier in the spring, but it is not too late to get started or to get started again! With these rainy days, and the fresh new muddy footprints coming into our homes, it is a perfect opportunity to clean the house!

I am a very meticulous cleaner. I am very particular about what brands and cleaners I use because some just don’t make the cut! I have found in the last couple of years, that brands that are returning to old formulas from the 19th and early 20th centuries, like using vinegar as the main disinfectant, are not only the best cleaners, but the gentlest on my system. Anyone who has spent the majority of the day cleaning with chemicals knows how dry your hands get, and how much the smells can upset your stomach. While your house is left smelling “clean,” your body is left burning with toxic chemicals that are inhaled into your lungs.

Cleaning was not always dealing with harsh chemicals. Back when the Delords lived in the Kent-Delord House Museum in the 19th century, cleaning was what today is called sustainable. Cleaners were natural, and used materials commonly found around the house. Many cleaners today are using what the Delords once used to clean their houses because of a national movement to use more natural, sustainable, and green materials in our day to day lives.

Instead of spending the extra bucks on the green and sustainable cleaners at the grocery stores, use these common household items to make your own cleaners!

ImageFresh Lemons: Have some pesky stains on brass and copper around your house? Lemons are the answer! Cut a lemon in half, sprinkle salt on the halves, and rub the lemon halves on the metal. Then rinse thoroughly.

Are some of your dishwasher safe dishes still have acidic food stains on them? Do your wooden spoons still smell like the food you cooked with it? Again, lemons are the answer! Rub lemon juice on the spots and let items dry in the sun. After that, wash as normal and your stains and food smells should be gone!

Essential Oils: Mix some lavender oil or lemongrass oil for this next trick. 10 drops of either essential oil to 2 ounces of water will create a wonderful window cleaner that not only leaves your house smelling fresh, but removes bothersome grime on the windows. It might even repel unwanted flies!

Cornstarch: Grease is a problem in our day to day lives. If you spill grease on the carpet, on a rug, or on some upholstery, just sprinkle some cornstarch on top to soak up the grease. Let it sit for 15-30 minutes and then vacuum it up. Voila! Stains are gone!

ImageVinegar: Vinegar is truly the go to for cleaning. Vinegar stops the growth of mold, mildew and some bacteria so it is great to use as a cleaning agent in the bathroom, and kitchen. It is also great to use to clean old wooden cutting boards and to clean the shower door. Just mix equal parts vinegar and water to use as a spray cleaner.

Using vinegar in laundry is also smart! Some use it as a laundry detergent, and others let it soak in problem areas like the armpits to deodorize. Just add vinegar to your washing machine like you would add laundry detergent. It is not the same fresh scent as Gain, but it is fresh without the harsh chemicals.!

Mixing vinegar with equal parts hot water also makes a great window cleaner. Mix vinegar with equal parts melted beeswax and you can remove the rings left on furniture from wet glasses.

If all else fails, try some vinegar!

Hydrogen Peroxide: A simple way to clean your fresh produce and to disinfect cutting boards. Mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide with ¼ cup of water to make a fresh cleaner. If you mix hydrogen peroxide with some dish soap it will help deodorize litter boxes and nasty garbage cans.

ImageBorax: Borax is just as useful as vinegar. If you mix it with some dish soap, it is great to clean the refrigerator shelves. Take boiling water and mix it with some borax, and it will unclog the drain. Sprinkle it around the outside of the house to get rid of insects (anyone else have a house centipede problem?). Have a mildew problem? Forget about it! Dilute and spray borax to tackle the mildew!

Have hard water rust stains in your toilet? Pour some borax into the toilet and let it sit over night. The next morning you can swish a brush around to get rid of the rust stains.

You can clean the walls and countertops with borax after you mix a ½ cup of it in a gallon of hot water. With borax, you are invincible so start cleaning!

ImageBaking Soda: You might just keep baking soda in your refrigerator or cabinets to keep them smelling fresh. However, it has more uses! Mix it with an equal amount of water to make a paste unstoppable in defeating the stains on washable wall paper. Have grout on your floors? No problem! Take 3 cups baking soda and mix it with 1 cup of warm water and apply. Let it sit and rinse well. Baking soda is also great on a damp cloth to remove heel marks from linoleum floors.

You can also purchase some of the same products as back in the day such as Castile soap, Bissell carpet sweeper, the cotton dust mop, and Fels-Naptha soap. Using old cloth diapers is also recommended as the best washing cloth, and it won’t leave lint on windows or mirrors!

Don’t go to the grocery store the next time you need new cleaning supplies…go straight to your pantries! Clean your house the old fashioned way and leave those chemical filled cleaners behind!

Source: April 2013 Real Simple Magazine, “The Best Cleaning Ideas: Past, Present, and Future;” by Marjorie Ingall; pp. 180-189.

Spring is Here! The Coming of Spring through Betsey’s Eyes and the Opening of Lake Champlain

Spring is starting.

You might not feel it, but it’s there. The ice is clearing from Lake Champlain, and little buds are starting to appear on the trees. Geese are returning home. And it is almost time for the Kent-Delord House Museum to open its doors for the season! Time to dust off the artifacts, heat up the house, and let the sunshine in! Oh and the garden…it’s almost time to prepare a garden in the memory of the women of the house!

Back in the times of Betsey Delord, the coming of Spring did not just mean warm weather. It meant a pathway down south was opening again for the season. Lake Champlain was a major avenue of travel in the 19th century. Once it was frozen during the Winter, it prevented many travelers from as close as Albany to reconsider the journey. To come to Plattsburgh meant exposure to high winds, ice, snow, and bitter cold of the Adirondacks. It also meant a very long journey compared to sailing the Lake Champlain waters.  Once Lake Champlain was clear of ice, a new world of visitors and commerce opened up throughout the North Country community because traveling was so much easier on a boat than trying to navigate the treacherous roads leading north to Plattsburgh.

To see the ice clearing meant that Betsey would see her beloved granddaughter Fannie again. Fannie was living in Hartford with her Aunts and could not travel up to Plattsburgh during the winters because of the cold, harsh conditions. Betsey wrote to her son-in-law Henry Livingston Webb on March 26, 1844 from Plattsburgh about the coming of Spring,

 I’m glad to learn navigation is open between Albany and New York. We shall rejoice to see our lake once more clear of ice. We shall better accommodate the comeing [sic] season as to steam boats. They are to leave Whitehall in the morning and arrive here about five in the afternoon. The boats meet here. The one from the north will leave here as usual and arrive at Whitehall in the morning. So much less time will be taken in the northern jaunt and objections of stopping so long at Whitehall will be obviated. If there is a rail road from Schenectady to Whitehall, I hope I shall see you oftener. I have recently read all of Bishop Hopkins letters in one volume. Once more may I trouble you to send me one paper of Double whit stock and one of Cauliflower. Your kindness in sending me bulbs last fall has afforded me beautiful sweet flowers during the winter. The Polyanthus narcissus is now in bloom. I hope to hear soon that you have been to Hartford and seen our child.

The coming of Spring is exciting to us because it means warm weather, sunshine, flowers, and it means we are closer to Summer. But for Betsey, it meant a time of visitors and traveling. It meant it was time to prepare the house for visitors, to start on her gardens, and come out of hibernating in Plattsburgh during the cold.

So in celebration of Betsey, come out of hibernation and start preparing for Spring and warm weather and the gathering of friends and family!

What do we do in the Wintery Months?

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It’s cold. It felt like it was -16 out this morning, and let’s just say that is more than unpleasant especially in this old house. We are currently not open for tours at the moment because of the poor weather and we are rearranging some of the artifacts after the house was beautifully decorated for the Holidays. So what exactly do we do during the off season?

Besides planning for future events when the weather is tolerable, I have been busy looking through the old files at the Museum. Old files is not exactly a very descriptive term, however, that is really the best term I could muster. The old files have research on the families and local history from decades ago, and documents of some of the earlier celebrations of the Battle of Plattsburgh. The files also contain old education programs from the 80s, 90s and 2000s that tell of a time where schools had budgets to actually go on field trips. There are also files that cover old programs and events held at the Museum and old grants that helped out the Museum in the past. There is even a very detailed folder on the restoration done at the house in the early 1980s.

From these folders I have come up with quite a few ideas for future programming. I have also found some real interesting pieces of information about life in the 19th century. Here are some of the gems I found:

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Frank Hall’s last Valentine to Fannie

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Not dated but from the early days of the Museum

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Waving a fan was more than for keeping yourself cool…

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women were so weak…

I plan on writing blogs on what I have found also along with using all this information for future programming. But for now- back to the grind! I can almost see the end of the tunnel of files and I must continue on!