Founding Fathers, Local Heroes, and National Leaders

What’s In A Name  part III

In 1785 the founding fathers of the small hamlet of Plattsburgh gathered to create a government and lay out the main roads of the village. By 1798 Plattsburgh’s population was around 250 people. There were four main thoroughfares that led from the surrounding countryside to the mills along the river in the hamlet. They consisted of Cumberland Head Road, another connected to Beekman’s Patent (Beekmantown), South Street that led past the blacksmith shop to the west and southwest area of the township, and the last was the Peru Road.

As the village of Plattsburgh grew so did the number of roads. Not having GPS or Google maps to aid in giving directions, the founding fathers used the houses of prominent citizens or local landmarks to identify and name those roads. Thus we find a significant number of our city streets today are named for early settlers, local and national heroes and what was on or near the road.

So, examining the names of many of Plattsburgh’s streets has become quite a history lesson! Let’s continue…

Plattsburgh’s Illustrious Leaders

South Platt Street

While it was Zephaniah Platt who secured title to 33,000 acres along Lake Champlain, it was his brother Charles who was the first to actually build a home on that land in 1785. Even though there were 32 other individuals who invested in the land venture, it was the Platt family who organized and led the venture. Thus, the new community was called Plattsburgh. The members of the family were respected leaders and businessmen, so they were also honored with a street named after the family. Earlier I told you that Platt Street in the French Quarter was renamed in 1909 to Montcalm Avenue, but there was another road in the southern area designated as S. Platt Street. So the family didn’t lose out on having their name on a street too.

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This Platt family tree shows the descendants of Zephaniah Platt. Hand-drawn by Charles Platt in 1761. Located in the Plattsburgh Public Library.

Bailey Avenue

William Bailey was a prominent businessman, landowner, judge, and civic leader in the early 1800s. He was a partner with Henry Delord in the Red Store. Bailey owned a large tract of land in the north end of the village. His son John named a street after him as neighborhoods began to develop in that area. The Bailey home still sits on a portion of that land off Cornelia Street today.

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The original 1795 Bailey house burned down in 1822, but was rebuilt in 1825 into the current stone house.

Boynton Avenue

Captain Joseph Boynton built and sailed vessels on Lake Champlain as early as 1805. During the War of 1812 hostilities, two of his boats were seized (and then purchased) by the American government and added to Macdonough’s fleet.

Beekman Street

William Beekman of New York City held the patent (ownership) on what is now Beekmantown. The street now named for him was originally a road that ran more or less directly into the settlement of Beekmantown.

Palmer Street

This street was named for Judge John Palmer, one of the first trustees when the Village was incorporated in 1815. He was also on the first Board of Trustees of Plattsburgh Academy and served as the village District Attorney in 1818. He married Peter Sailly’s daughter, Charlotte and was the father of Peter Sailly Palmer, an historian and author of comprehensive histories of Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain (from which I got some of this information!)

Miller Street

DrMiller.jpgDr. John Miller came to Plattsburgh in 1795. He was considered a “pioneer physician,” making his calls on horseback with his saddlebags as his medical bag. He was one of the founding members of Plattsburgh’s first medical society in 1807. By then the number of doctors in Plattsburgh had risen to four!

Durkee Street

Once called Mill Alley, the road from Broad to Bridge Streets was renamed to honor Sheldon Durkee. This road was the first street formally laid out in the settlement. The Durkee family house was located at the south end of the street. Durkee was considered one of the heroes of the Battle of Plattsburgh as he, with two other Americans, were shooting at the advancing enemy when they suddenly surprised three British soldiers. As one of the Americans was wounded and the other went for help, Durkee marched the prisoners by himself into camp. Asked how he managed to bring them in, Durkee is said to have replied, “I surrounded them.”

Brinkerhoff Street

Abraham Brinkerhoff owned a large tract of land in the center of the settlement. In 1811, a committee established to build a school purchased land from Brinkerhoff for $100. It was on the corner of Oak Street and, at that time, a “contemplated” street that became Brinkerhoff Street. Abraham gave much of the land around the street to his daughter, who then donated some of it for the building of the First Presbyterian Church. Hiram Walworth, a reporter for the Plattsburgh Republican, wrote that the street was named in honor of Abraham’s wife, Mary Platt Brinkerhoff, daughter of Zephaniah Platt.

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The original First Presbyterian Church was under construction when the Battle of Plattsburgh was fought. British used the church as a cavalry barracks. American forces fired on the Church during the battle. Construction was completed in 1816. However, during the fire of 1867, the church along with 70 other buildings in the city were destroyed.

 

 

Green Street

Green street connects Bridge Street to the Saranac River. The inn on the corner, built on the foundation of the first building in a prior settlement, was owned by Isaac Green and his wife. For a long time this place was the community center of Plattsburgh. A victory celebration for Thomas Macdonough was held there and in 1817 President James Monroe was entertained there by the village’s citizenry.  Formal dance parties were held there regularly and civic group held meetings in the upstairs rooms of the tavern.

GreenSt.jpg1852 Map of Plattsburgh. Located in the Plattsburgh Public Library

First building.jpgCount Charles de Fredenburg, a Captain in the British Army received a English land grant to settle the area along Lake Champlain in 1767. A small community had started when the Revolution forced the families back to safety in Canada. De Fredenburg returned to find everything in the settlement burned to the ground. He stayed for a while, but eventually it is said that he became mentally unbalanced and was never seen again. When his heirs tried to claim the land, their title proved worthless.

 Weed Street

Smith Mead Weed, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was an influential businessman and politician. During the second half of the 19th century, Weed served multiple terms representing Clinton County in the NY Assembly and was a delegate to the 1876 and 1884 Democratic Nation Conventions. Through his political influence, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad extended their tracks all the way from New York City through Plattsburgh to Montreal.

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Weed also developed a park with a fountain and gazebo on the banks of the Saranac River across from his home on Cumberland Avenue.

 Couch Street

Named for Samuel Couch, a fervent Republican who was usually found on “Rattlesnake Corner”. (I’ll tell you about this in the next episode!)  He was the city coroner during the first part of the 1800s.   Anne Gilliland, early City Historian, related an amusing story: “A letter was once addressed to some person on Sofa Street, which of course, puzzled the post office personnel, until a quick-witted young lady solved the problem and the letter reached its destination.”

The City Fathers had seen fit through the years to also honor military heroes, Macdonough and Macomb, Civil War Generals Sheridan and Sherman with street names, as well as numerous U.S. Presidents, Grant, Lincoln, Monroe, Roosevelt, Truman, and McKinley. In fact, Hotel Champlain on Bluff Point served as the summer White House in both 1897 and 1899 for President McKinley and staff. The McKinleys believed that the hotel’s water had beneficial effects on their health. Subsequent historians question the wisdom of this decision. A document provided to the Assembly of New York later attributed a typhoid outbreak amongst hotel staff to the unsanitary properties of the water.

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President McKinley and staff at Champlain Hotel.

 I know I haven’t described all the streets named after important and not-so-important citizens and others, but I have given you the highlights…

However, there is one more episode in this series to come! Stay tuned!!

Another source:

Plattsburgh, New York – A City’s First Century, Richard Frost, 2002.

The French Connection

What’s In A Name?  Part II

In 1785 a group of men established a settlement on Lake Champlain at the mouth of the Saranac River. Led by Zephaniah Platt, Melancton Smith, Ezara l’Hommediey, Thomas Treadwell, and joined in short time by Peter Sailly, the new village of Plattsburgh was created.

Drawn by the abundance of natural resources and new opportunities, more settlers began to make this area home including many French and French Canadians. What better way to acknowledge their impact on Plattsburgh than to name streets after some of the more illustrious persons.

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Delord Street

Our own Henry (née Henri) Delord was one of the “movers & shakers” in the early growth of Plattsburgh. An immigrant from Nimes, France by way of the Caribbean, Henry embraced his adopted land becoming a landowner, businessman, judge, and community leader. During the Battle of Plattsburgh, he risked his business for the American forces, only to see that patriotism lead to his bankruptcy. (It’s a fascinating story folks! Visit the Kent-Delord House Museum to find out more!!)

Sailly Avenue

Delord’s friend and neighbor Peter Sailly was born in the Lorraine region of France. As a young man he had served in a corps of soldiers who were bodyguards for King Louis XVI. Having inherited heavy family debts in France, Sailly with his wife and children immigrated to the US for a new start in 1784. Traveling throughout New York State, he was taken with what he saw as unlimited possibilities in the Lake Champlain region. The next year the Saillys joined the Platt group settling in Plattsburgh. He began to prosper trading in potash, timber, and furs. He was active in community affairs and elected to numerous political positions including serving in the House of Representatives (1805-1807). In 1809, Sailly was appointed Collector of Customs by Pres. Jefferson and served in that capacity until his death in 1826.

(btw: According to one of Peter’s descendants, the correct pronunciation of the name is “Sul-lee”!)

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The French Quarter

In the mid-19th century a large number of Quebecois had settled in this area seeking industrial jobs. St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church was started by the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate Missionaries from Canada in 1853 to meet the spiritual needs of those French-speaking residents in Plattsburgh. The neighborhood near the Church became known as the “French Quarter” and the streets named accordingly.

St. Charles Place

Father Sallz, an early priest of St. Peter’s, named the street in honor of Charles Auguste, Bishop of Nancy, France.

Montcalm Avenue

Montcalm.jpgOriginally this street was called “Stove Pipe Street” since all its houses didn’t have chimneys, just stovepipes sticking out.  It was later named Platt St.   In 1909 as part of the City’s 300th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s entrance to the lake that bears his name, the street was re-named in honor of the French general Louis Joseph Montcalm commander of French forces during the French and Indian Wars. Montcalm died defending Quebec in the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Champlain Street

SdChamplain.jpgCome on—I think the name Samuel de Champlain is imprinted on the brains of everyone who lives in the North Country!! There had to be a street named in his honor!! Did you know we don’t really know what Champlain looked like? All the images we have are just artist representations of how they think he might have appeared. The only real image we have is a drawing by Champlain in his 1609 journal, depicting a battle between Iroquois and Algonquian tribes near Lake Champlain.


Lafayette Street

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, known simply as Lafayette, was a key figure in both the American and French Revolutions.

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For his leadership and bravery during the Revolution, Maryland made Lafayette a “natural born citizen” of that state in 1784. This made him a natural born citizen of the United States when the Constitution was adopted in 1789!

FHDW.1 copy.jpegFrances Henrietta Delord Webb met Lafayette during her honeymoon trip through Europe in 1833. Her journal describes the visit: “Tuesday, April 8, Attended a Soiree at Madame Curtis’. Met with a host of Americans. Lafayette with three granddaughters were there. I conversed for a long time with him. He expressed to me his strong attachment to America. He appears to retain the faculties of his mind most remarkably [age76]. He invited us to visit La Grange [Lafayette’s home]. Both Frances Henrietta and Lafayette died the next year.

Two other city streets with a French connection are:

Lorraine Street

No, it is not a woman’s name! Peter Sailly came from this region in France.

Durand Street

Named in honor of Marinus Durand a French immigrant (also from Nimes!) who married Peter Sailly’s daughter. He served as deputy Collector of Customs and was a Quartermaster during the War of 1812.

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!899 Bird’s Eye View map of Plattsburgh

The naming of our city streets is proving to be quite a lesson in the history of Plattsburgh!! 

Keep checking this blog—there’s more to come!!

 

Thank You!

THANK YOU to Mayor Read, Mr. Farrington, and all the other City staff responsible for the quick response to correcting the street sign honoring Lucretia Davidson!

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Why Is Lucretia Davidson important in Plattsburgh’s history?

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Lucretia Maria Davidson was born Sept. 27, 1808 to Dr. Oliver Davidson and his wife, Margaret Miller Davidson. Her father was one of the first four physicians in the young settlement of Plattsburg. The family struggled not only financially but also personally.  Of the ten children born to the couple, only four survived to adolescence and only two of those lived to adulthood.

Here’s an interesting aside: Dr. Davidson designed the weather vane that capped the newly built Plattsburg Academy in 1811. It depicted an angel blowing the trumpet of fame. Unfortunately, the Academy was completely destroyed by fire in Nov. 1871 and the weather vane lost.

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When Plattsburg Academy opened in 1811, Lucretia, then 4 years old, attended to learn to read and write Roman letters (today this is printed letters in all caps). This is when her family discovered her first poetic attempts. Lucretia, mortified that others were seeing her work, burned all of them. She had learned script by the time she was seven and then began almost a decade of prolific writing. Encouraged by her mother, also a writer, she was continually composing poetry, often stopping all other activity to steal away and write the thoughts spilling into her head.

When Lucretia was 15, she received a scholarship to attend the Willard School in Troy, NY.  However, too much attention to her studies and not enough to her health force Lucretia to return to Plattsburgh a short time later.   After her recovery, she went to Miss Gilbert’s school in Albany, but three short months later she returned home gravely ill. Lucretia died at age 16 years and 11 months from consumption, now called tuberculosis.

Although Lucretia was prone to destroying the poems she decided didn’t meet her standards (estimated to be about 1/3rd of all her writing), she left behind 278 completed works – an amazing amount of poetry for such a young person. These works were praised by a number of notable writers of that time period including Edgar Allan Poe. Samuel F. B. Morse wrote a glowing biographical sketch of her which was published in 1829.

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Other interesting asides: The youngest Davidson, Margaret, was only 2 yrs. old when Lucretia died. She also began to write poetry at a young age and by ten years old had written a drama (in two days) which she and some friends performed. Sadly, like her sister, Margaret succumbed to consumption shortly before her 16th birthday. The family had moved to Ballston Spa in 1833 in hopes that environment would be beneficial to the health of both mother and daughter. Margaret’s writing had caught the attention of Washington Irving, of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” fame, who wrote a glowing biography/eulogy of the young poet.

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The Davidson house in Plattsburgh was next door to the Delord house on Cumberland Avenue. Frances Henrietta Delord and both Davidson girls knew each other and, although not in the same grade, attended Plattsburg Academy.  When Frances Henrietta died in 1834, Margaret wrote a 13-verse tribute to her and sent it to Betsey Delord.  Margaret had just move from Plattsburgh the previous year.

The complete works of the Davidson sisters were published together in 1850

What’s In A Name?!

Quick question: What is the most common street name in the United States?

No-don’t Google it!! Just give the first answer that comes into your head!

Asking this question in my small (not very scientific) survey, I found that the majority of people gave “Main” as the #1 answer.

WRONG!

According to the top websites on this question the answer is either “Second” or “Park.”  While the City of Plattsburgh does have a Park Avenue, there is no street named Second. It is also interesting to note that in New York State “Park” leads the list of most common names, but “Second” is not even in the top ten.

Why am I talking about street names? Well, the other day I was driving on N. Catherine St., turned onto Cornelia St. and then onto Margaret St., when it popped into my mind that quite a few of the city’s streets are named for women! Mind you these are not little side streets, these are some of the main thoroughfares in the city. This led to the larger questions: 1. How did all the streets in Plattsburgh come to be named, and 2. Why are the main ones named for women?

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On June 16, 1785, Plattsburgh’s first town meeting was held at the home of Judge Charles Platt. Three men were elected commissioners of Highway and they soon laid out the principal roads of the town (city) that remain today.

Let’s start our “walk-about” with the streets named for women.

The main road through early Plattsburgh was named in honor of the “bright little Quaker” mother of Col. Melancton Smith (U.S. Army) and Capt. Sidney Smith (U.S. Navy), Margaret Mott Smith. Margaret’s husband Jude Melancton Smith was an officer during the American Revolution. He represented Duchess County in the first provincial congress as well as in the convention meeting in 1778 to consider the Constitution of the U.S.   Smith along with the Platts were the original proprietors of Plattsburgh.

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Margaret Street circa 1895

Col. Melancton Smith named a new street, then hardly more than a lane running west, for his young wife, Cornelia. He also named Elizabeth Street for his sister, Elizabeth Gilman. She was married to Henry S. Johnson, one of the up-and-coming lawyers in early Plattsburgh.

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Grave of Cornelia Smith wife of Col. Melancton Smith in Riverside Cemetery

When Gilead Sperry gave the village of Plattsburgh a portion of land for a street to run to the south, his wife was given the honor of it being named for her, Catherine Kilburn Marsh. In an1822 newspaper article it was stated that she spelled her name with a “K” and the road was originally referred to as Katherine Street.

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The Hon. J. Douglas Woodward was renowned for his efforts in laying out and improving the city’s streets as well as “living a pure life.”   The city honored him by naming a street after his daughter Helen, who was a long-time principal of Plattsburgh High School. It is interesting that the part of what is now Brinkerhoff north of Helen was named after Woodward himself, but later it was decided to extend the Brinkerhoff name the entire length of the street.  Also the northern part of Couch Street was named after Woodward’s wife, Matilda, but again the name Couch was extended for the entire street.

Charlotte Street was named for the wife of Rev. Hiram Safford who had been a Major of the 7th regiment of the Reg. N.Y. Volunteers. Charlotte was a granddaughter of Israel Green, proprietor of the renowned tavern in Plattsburgh. Charlotte St. ran from Bridge St to the Old Roman Catholic Cemetery where it then became Peru St.  Let me warn you before you go looking for this street on the city map – it’s not there any more!   At some time after the late 1970s, the entire street became  Peru St.

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Bird’sEye View Map showing location of Charlotte St. in 1899

Marion Street was named for the wife of Judge William P. Mooers who owned the land adjacent to the road.

Grace Avenue was a relatively new street addition in the 1930s. It was named after Grace Healey, wife of Samuel Healey, one of the developers of that area of the city.

One last interesting street named after a Plattsburgh female is Lucretia-Davi(d)son Dr.** This is a 20th century addition to our street names. There are no houses along it since it is a very short connector from Byrne Lane going north around the U.S. Oval.   One might think that length mirrors Lucretia’s life.   She began writing poetry at age four and died just short of her 17th birthday. Her poetry caught the attention of notable writers including Edgar Allan Poe…but that’s a story for another time.

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**You probably notice the misspelling in Lucretia’s name. After calling this to the attention of City officials, they said the sign would be corrected.

It is a testament to the early leaders of Plattsburgh that they wanted to immortalize their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters by naming the city’s streets after them.

(This is part I of a series on the names of Plattsburgh’s city streets)

Keep checking this blog—there’s more to come!!

Sources:

Three Centuries in the Champlain Valley, Mrs. Geo. F. Tuttle 1909

Press Republican,        Jan. 7, 1935 & Mar. 1-5, 1982

Old Plattsburgh, Marjorie Lansing Porter 1944

Women in History Month – part 2

Today my focus is on Jeannette Brookings Tuttle

Although Jeannette Tuttle was not a member of the Delord family, she had a major impact on it’s story, and that of the Plattsburgh community in general.  Here’s today’s Woman in History!!

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Maria Jeannette Brookings was born in Athol, Massachusetts in 1864. She counted at least 30 prominent colonial figures among her ancestors and was a member of a dozen history organizations.   Jeannette graduated from the State Normal School at Salem Massachusetts with a degree in teaching.   In 1889, Jeannette married Plattsburgh businessman George Fuller Tuttle. They made their home at 9 Cumberland Avenue, next door to Fannie and Frank Hall.

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Mrs. Tuttle was the quintessential early 19th century wife of a prominent businessman in Plattsburgh. Women were not supposed to work outside the home, but their comfortable life also precluded doing housework. That left them to seek other means to use their education, wealth, and ambitions. Civic causes, the poor, orphans, and history were among the crusades that were the recipients their beneficence. During her time in Plattsburgh, Mrs. Tuttle focused her energies to work with the Saranac Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), the Physician’s Hospital Ladies League, and the Daughters of 1812 as well as a number of other organizations.

In addition to fundraising for the local orphanage, the hospital, the Red Cross, and other local charitable causes, Mrs. Tuttle raised awareness of the importance of the history of Plattsburgh and the North Country. She was responsible for researching and writing a comprehensive history of the North Country, Three Centuries of the Champlain Valley, 1607-1907, published for the celebration of the Champlain Tercentenary. Maybe it was this love of history that drew her to the Kent-Delord House.

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Numerous articles appeared in the local newspapers that chronicled Mrs. Tuttle’s efforts to promote the value of the history of the Kent-Delord House. College classes and high school students were invited to a tour of the house guided by Mrs. Tuttle. Then the essays written about their visit by these students were published in the paper. Visiting physicians were taken on tour of the KDH, especially to get a look at a valuable copy of Wm. Beaumont’s famous medical book on digestion.   The Ladies’ League of Physician’s Hospital held its annual tea (using the historic China!) in the dining room of the KDH.   Mrs. Tuttle encouraged soldiers from Plattsburgh Barracks to tour the historic home.

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As Regent of the Saranac Chapter of the D.A.R., Mrs. Tuttle was able to work toward her goal of making the KDH a museum. Meetings were held in the house, and for a while it became the official home of the local chapter.   Raising money for the upkeep of the house became one of the Chapter’s causes. They opened the house as a museum and charged 50¢ for a tour! But even Mrs. Tuttle knew that the old house needed more care. She was able to convince local philanthropist, William H. Miner to contribute $1000 a year toward the upkeep of the house. She even solicited help from George Eastman, but he declined. She knew more was needed.

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It was her dogged insistence that finally convinced Mr. Miner to purchase the house in 1924. Then he  set out to repair, restore, and create a Board that allowed the Kent-Delord House to be chartered as a museum and educational institution. Jeannette B. Tuttle and her husband George were appointed to be charter members of the newly created Board of the Kent-Delord House Trust. Even then, Mrs. Tuttle did not stop working on behalf the new museum. She continued to organize, research, and promote the historic value of the Delord family contribution to the development of Plattsburgh.

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In 1932, Jeannette Brookings Tuttle left Plattsburgh to live with her daughter in Scarsdale, NY.   After her many years in Plattsburgh as a civic activist and local historian, Mrs. Tuttle was slowed by health. An editorial in the April 5, 1932 Plattsburgh Sentinel listed in detail her accomplishments in the community. More importantly it expressed a deep gratitude and respect for the woman who gave so much to Plattsburgh and especially the Kent-Delord House.

“In no place will Mrs. Tuttle be more greatly missed than at the historic Kent-DeLord House on Cumberland avenue. This is a veritable treasure house of historic lore, old furniture, portraits, books, relics of the Battle of Plattsburgh, together with mementoes of the Kents, the DeLords, the Swetlands, and the Halls, who at one time or another lived in this picturesque old mansion and left their impress upon much of that which is in the house today.

There is not a nook or cranny in the old house which Mrs. Tuttle does not know. Every piece of rare old china, every bit of lace and embroidery, every picture has its history and it is an open book to Mrs. Tuttle. It is here that her gracious personality alone the best, for she delighted in escorting visitors through the old house and calling their attention to some of the beautiful treasures it contains.”                                                 (Plattsburgh Sentinel, April 5, 1932)

Jeannette Brookings Tuttle was returned to Plattsburgh at her death in 1938. Her body lay in state at the Kent-Delord House (a poignant honor for the woman who dedicated a good portion of her life to the Kent-Delord House and its history) prior to the funeral service at the Presbyterian Church.   Interment was in Riverside Cemetery during a private ceremony.

“It remained for Mrs. Tuttle to collect all the historical facts concerning these treasures and to add to them in every possible way. The outstanding part of her life work was to arrange, add to, catalogue and place in a proper setting the invaluable collection she found and the manner in which she aroused the interest of others until the Kent-Delord House stands today as a treasure house unique of its kind and one that is known far and wide. Mrs. Tuttle saw all the possibilities of this old house and she never rested until these possibilities were made facts. She has left a work that will cause her to be remembered as long as the house itself exists. Plattsburgh owes her a debt of gratitude which should keep her memory warm as long as there are hearts that beat with love for the old town and its glorious past.”              (Plattsburgh Sentinel, Jan. 24, 1938)

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The Kent-Delord House Museum as well as the whole community is indebted to this extraordinary woman whose determination and drive helped to preserve our historic treasures!

Women in History Month

The month of March celebrates Women in History.   During this time we should shine a light on some of the women who have made a difference in our own community. A number of these women have a connection to the Delord family.

 

Today, I want to focus on Frances Delord Webb Hall.

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Frances Delord Webb Hall, better know as Fannie, was the last generation of Delords to live in the house on Cumberland Avenue. Her father, Henry Webb, sent her to live with her grandmother Betsey upon her mother’s death (only a month after her birth) until she was four years old. Fearing Betsey was over-indulgent in raising Fannie, Webb then sent her to live with his sister in Hartford, Connecticut where her upbringing stressed duty and compassion.

Fannie was educated at the Hartford Female Seminary, a school founded by Catharine Beecher, sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe.   The belief that young ladies should learn to be useful members of society was its underlying educational philosophy. Fannie graduated from there in 1851.

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By 1853 Fannie was being courted by Francis Bloodgood Hall, better known as Frank, recently graduated from Union College.   Since he was about to enter Princeton Theological Seminary, they postponed marriage until he graduated in 1856. Then a licensed Presbyterian Minister, Frank joined Fannie in a life dedicated to helping others.

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Fannie had visited Plattsburgh over the years and Grandmother Betsey wrote copious letters detailing life in Plattsburgh to make sure Fannie maintained a connection to the community. Finally in 1862, Fannie moved to Plattsburgh to care for her ailing grandparents.  Frank’s “detour” to service as a Chaplain for the local 16th NY Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War kept him from joining Fannie until the end of 1863.

 

Fannie’s upbringing led her to become active in the community especially after the death of her beloved grandmother, Betsey Delord Swetland. Plattsburgh is fortunate that Fannie found her niche here.

 

Among her accomplishments are:

 

  • As a self-taught doctor/pharmacist, Fannie used her knowledge and connections to administer to the community, especially the poor.
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  • As an investigator for Plattsburgh’s chapter of the Women’s Relief Corps, Fannie reported on cases of hardship among women and soldiers’ families. She provided soup from her own kitchen as she visited the poor.
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  • As a social activist, Fannie helped create and provided ongoing support for the Home for the Friendless for Orphans and Destitute Women.
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  • As an inventor and businesswoman, Fannie created and patented an ointment aptly named Fanoline. With her husband, Fannie created the Cumberland Bay Works located in the rear part of her house to manufacture and distribute this salve “which was good for fever sores, piles, sore nipples, burns, chapped hands and lips, and much more.”
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  • As a founder of Plattsburgh’s branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Fannie was President and for a longer time the secretary of the local chapter, contributing information to a regular column in the Plattsburgh Sentinel newspaper. She traveled to many state and some national conventions and was host to Frances Willard, national president. She also developed a close friendship with Louise Rounds of the Illinois WCTU and a nationally recognized speaker for the WCTU.
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  • Provided a Sabbath service for inmates at the county jail for over 20 years

 

Other than the 25¢ per tin for the Fanoline, Fannie received no payment for any of the services she provided. It was her belief that since she was fortunate to not have to work, she should give to the community. Besides her community service, Fannie continued The Delord family tradition to entertain family, friends, and guests at dinners and teas in her home. In many ways, Fannie was in the forefront of the women’s rights movement with her social activism on behalf of the poor, the insane and the intemperate.

Fannie died on Oct. 4, 1913, ten years to the day after her husband’s death. Right up to her death, Fannie had continued her social work throughout the community.   On the day of her death, Fannie went about her usual schedule; in the morning she met with her staff regarding a dinner party the next day, and attended a temperance meeting and visited a friend at the Home for Aged Women in the afternoon.   She died that evening. Fannie was 79 years old.

Of the many tributes to her life, the one from the managers of the Home for the Friendless sums Fannie’s strengths and influence:

“Mrs. Hall’s was a character made of sterling puritan qualities which never swerved from a conscientious sense of duty, strongly felt by all who came in touch with her.”

 Frances Delord Hall’s commitment to the values of love and duty certainly enriched the Plattsburgh community.

 

 

 

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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!!