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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

 

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