Monday, October 15, 2012

The Chester F. Wickwire House, Cortland, New York

The city of Cortland, located in Cortland County on a plain formed by the intersection of seven valleys, was first settled in 1791.  Chartered as a village in 1853 and ultimately incorporated as a city in 1900, Cortland has served as the county seat since 1808.  By the mid-nineteenth century, the village boasted tree-lined streets, attractive houses surrounded by neatly planted grounds, five churches, three banks, four hotels and the State Normal School, which occupied an elegant Second Empire-style building erected 1867-1868.  Its economy was supported by a number of manufacturing establishments, including an iron foundry, a machine cooperage, a woolen factory, two carriage shops, a sash, door and blind factory, and oil, grist, planing and saw mills.

By the late nineteenth century, the largest and most successful manufacturer in Cortland was Wickwire Brothers Manufacturing Company, founded in 1873 by Chester F. Wickwire (fig. 1) and his younger brother, Theodore. The factory specialized in the manufacture of wire cloth, a mesh of drawn metal wire woven on looms. Initially used to produce corn poppers, flour sieves and dish covers, the wire cloth was later employed in the fabrication of door and window screens.

Fig. 1  Chester F. Wickwire.  Photograph, c.1900.
The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian
Art, Cortland, New York.
The second of five children, Chester Franklin Wickwire (1843-1910) was born in 1843 to Raymond and Elmira Wickwire.  At twenty-two years of age, Chester left his family's farm in Cortlandville and settled in Cortland village where he opened a grocery.  One year later, he sold the grocery stock and began a hardware store.  After experimenting with a wire weaving loom he acquired in 1873 as part settlement of a customer's debt, Chester, in partnership with his brother Theodore, began producing wire cloth in a small building located behind the store. The new venture proved so successful that in 1876, Chester sold the hardware business and focused solely on the manufacture of wire cloth.  The wire drawing and wire weaving operations were moved respectively in 1881 and 1884 to a new factory on South Main Street in order to accommodate the increasing demands of production.  By 1883, Wickwire Brothers was the second largest manufacturer of wire cloth in the United States.


Fig. 2  Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. 
Photograph, c.1890. The 1890 House Museum and
Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.
In 1888, Chester began construction of a new residence that reflected his financial success and social stature in Cortland (fig. 2).  The large and impressive limestone house, built on a lot at 37 Tompkins Street, was designed by New York architect Samuel B. Reed (1834-1905). Reed's design, which combines elements of the Chateauesque and Richardsonian Romanesque styles, features towers and turrets, shaped gables, and windows in a variety of sizes and shapes, all combining to create the impression of a castle.  Chester, his wife Ardell, and their two sons, Charles and Frederic, moved into the completed house in June 1890.

The Wickwires' house is a virtual mirror image of a residence that Reed built 1886-1888 in the Hamilton Heights section of New York City for another client, James A. Bailey, partner in the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  According to Wickwire family tradition, Chester noticed Bailey's residence while on a business trip in New York City and commissioned Reed to build a similar house for himself and his family.

The interior architectural decoration of Chester's new residence was designed by Joseph Burr Tiffany (1856-1917), the decorator responsible for the interiors of Bailey's house.  Joseph B. Tiffany, a cousin of the more famous Louis Comfort Tiffany, established a decorating firm in New York City in the late 1880s and had recently designed the decorative schemes for the first-floor rooms of Wilderstein, the Suckley family home on the Hudson River in Rhinebeck. An article published in the October 28, 1888, issue of the New-York Daily Tribune indicates that Tiffany had also planned the interior decoration of the Mexican Legation house in Washington, D.C., as well as of Ellerslie, the Rhinebeck estate of successful banker and Vice President Levi P. Morton, built 1887-1888 by New York architect Richard Morris Hunt.

The Syracuse firm of Henry C. Allewelt & Sons, fresco and decorative painters, executed stenciled and freehand painted decoration on the walls and ceilings of a number of rooms throughout the Wickwires' house.  The firm's painted wall borders, friezes, and ceiling decoration complemented the architectural woodwork designed by J. B. Tiffany.

The interiors of the Wickwires' residence were photographed in the 1890s.  These images provide detailed views of rooms including the entrance hall, parlor, reception room, dining room and several bedrooms.  

The entrance hall (fig. 3), located at the center of the house and comprised of two areas that intersect to form a "T," is decorated with oak woodwork in the Renaissance style.  The decorative scheme, a creative rendering of elements derived from sixteenth-century architectural sources, includes dado paneling with three tiers of square and oblong panels, door frames composed of pilasters surmounted by an entablature with console brackets, and coffered ceilings with intersecting molded beams enclosing sets of four square panels.  A stenciled frieze of Celtic design, possibly inspired by plates of Celtic ornament illustrated in Owen Jones' The Grammar of Ornament (1856), wraps around the walls.  Highly polished hardwood parquet floors, arranged with Oriental rugs, are enclosed by inlaid geometric borders.

Fig. 3  Entrance hall. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.

Located under the staircase in the back part of the hall is a paneled alcove with built-in benches flanking a fireplace, known as an "inglenook."  The inglenook first appeared in American homes in the 1870s and became a common feature of entrance halls in fashionable houses built over the next few decades.  This cozy, intimate space softened the formality of the hall, which for many years served strictly as a waiting area for visitors, and made it conducive to use by the family as a living room.

The front of the entrance hall is furnished with a Colonial Revival carved oak tall-case clock retailed by Tiffany & Co. of New York City, a Renaissance-style carved oak hall stand with a pair of winged griffins flanking the seat, and a brass-mounted ceramic stand to hold umbrellas and walking sticks.  Suspended from the center of the ceiling is a large brass and colored glass hall lantern illuminated by gas. In the center of the back part of the hall is a Renaissance-style carved oak table arranged with a kerosene lamp.  Japanese bronze figures of cranes, purchased by the Wickwires in 1895, stand to either side of the arched opening of the inglenook.

The reception room (fig. 4), located at the front of the house on the eastern side, is decorated with Renaissance-style woodwork similar to that found in the entrance hall, but executed in cherry.  Doors are framed by pilasters surmounted by an entablature with a paneled frieze and paired console brackets while windows have surrounds of superimposed pilasters rising to a cornice with dentils.  Dominating the room is a large mantelpiece embellished with panels, arched niches with galleried shelves, and console brackets under a gadrooned frieze, the tall overmantel above centering an inset beveled mirror flanked by tiers of small shelves rising to a segmental pediment.

Fig. 4  Reception room. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.

Above a low paneled dado, the walls are stenciled with a repeating pattern imitating fabric.  A picture molding separates the patterned walls from a wide frieze decorated with stenciled and free-hand painted scrolling vines and leaves.  A number of gilt-framed oil paintings are hung from cords suspended from hooks attached to the picture molding.

The stenciled and freehand painted decoration on the walls continues onto the ceiling, where it forms a border consisting of a colored band with corner ornaments of scrolling tendrils, sprays of leaves, and pendant flowers.  Suspended from the center of the ceiling is a brass gas chandelier with scrolled branches, each terminating in a gas jet concealed under a porcelain sleeve in the form of a candle.

The windows are hung with lace curtains suspended from rings on an exposed pole.  Above each is a stained glass transom window made by the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company, a New York firm that patented a process for making stained glass by sandwiching small pieces of colored glass in between two sheets of heavy plate glass and then pouring in a liquid metal alloy to bind the pieces.  Instead of a hardwood floor arranged with Oriental rugs, as seen in other rooms in the house, the reception room has a wall-to-wall carpet.

The furniture in the reception room is a combination of old and new pieces.  Older furniture, undoubtedly brought from the Wickwires' former residence, includes two Rococo Revival balloon-back side chairs, c.1870, and a Cottage-style side table of approximately the same date, all standing in the alcove formed by the tower at the northeast corner of the house.  More up-to-date, modish furniture is represented by the "Turkish" settee with silk upholstery fabric, deep-buttoned back and bullion and tassel fringe, positioned to the right of the fireplace, a fully upholstered armchair in the alcove, and the small Eastern-inspired hassock standing in the foreground.

Decorative objects, books and potted plants are scattered throughout the room.  Some are arranged on small side tables draped with machine-made wool table covers patterned with designs borrowed from Oriental rugs.  The mantelpiece is arranged with a mantel clock and a pair of Art pottery vases of Eastern inspiration, possibly made by the Zsolnay factory in Hungary, while other Art porcelain and pottery vases are displayed on the overmantel shelves.

A number of gas fixtures are used to light the reception room, including a brass chandelier with scrolled branches, each terminating in a gas jet concealed under a porcelain sleeve in the form of a candle; matching sconces in the alcove; and a table lamp supplied with gas by means of an India rubber hose connected to the wall sconce above.

On the west side of the house, opposite the reception room, is the parlor (figs. 5 & 6), which features a light and airy decorative scheme of woodwork and plasterwork in the Colonial Revival style.  Achieving popularity after the United States celebrated its centennial in 1876, this style borrowed elements from eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century American Georgian and Federal architecture, such as paneling, classical moldings, pilasters, columns, pediments, console brackets, fluted fans, and oval paterae.  

Fig. 5  Parlor. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.

The woodwork is painted white and gold and the plasterwork on the ceiling is gilded.  Like the reception room across the hall, the parlor is fitted with a wall-to-wall Wilton carpet, patterned with colorful swirling leaves.  The walls above the low paneled dado are covered with gold silk damask.  Crowning the walls is a molding from which rises a deep cove with plaster relief decoration of ribbon-tied festoons, pendants, and wreaths of husks. A large medallion composed of chains and festoons of husks decorates the center of the ceiling.

The mantelpiece with pairs of console brackets and decoration of scrolling acanthus leaves and rosettes is surmounted by an overmantel with pairs of rope-turned columns rising to an entablature and segmental pediment.  Set into the chimney breast is a stained glass window made by the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company. The mirrored sides of the recess reflect the colorful pattern as light passes through the window. 

Fig. 6  Parlor. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.

While the woodwork and plasterwork of the parlor are in the Colonial Revival style, the white-and-gold color scheme and the silk damask on the walls lend to the room a decidedly French character, which is enhanced by the giltwood furniture that borrows from the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods.  Supplementing the "Louis-style" furniture, which includes a center table, two side chairs, an armchair and a settee, are a fully upholstered "Turkish" sofa and similar armchair, so named because of the exotic quality conveyed by the extensive use of rich upholstery fabrics and elaborate trims.

Lighting fixtures in the parlor include a six-branch gas chandelier suspended from the center of the ceiling and a large brass and onyx kerosene lamp with fabric shade, standing on the center table.

Beyond the doorway framed by an architrave, frieze, and denticulated cornice is the adjoining music room, which is carpeted en suite with the parlor and furnished with Turkish-style seating furniture, including a tête-à-tête standing in the center of the room.  First appearing in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, this French seating form consists of two side-by-side seats that face each other to facilitate conversation.

The dining room (figs. 7 & 8), in the southeast corner of the house, is octagonal in shape and features a three-sided bay window.  The room is decorated with oak woodwork in the Renaissance style, including dado paneling with three tiers of square and oblong panels, door and window frames of fluted and paneled pilasters rising to a cornice resting on console brackets,  and a coffered ceiling with intersecting beams framing compartments, each with eight rectangular panels.  In front of the mantelpiece with a paneled frieze are robust superimposed columns that support the deep spindle frieze and pediment of the overmantel with a beveled mirror flanked by small shelves on brackets.  Opposite the mantelpiece is a door leading to the pantry and the kitchen beyond.

Fig. 7  Dining room. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.

Above the paneled dado, the painted walls are surmounted by a frieze of an embossed material, probably Anaglypta, a heavy paper wall covering that could be stamped with a design in relief.  Introduced in 1887, Anaglypta became popular for friezes and ceilings.  The frieze of the dining room is embossed with pendants of leaves and berries and clusters of fruit, motifs suggestive of bounty and the harvest.

The dining room is furnished with heavily carved oak Renaissance-style furniture, including an extension dining table, leather-upholstered dining chairs, a sideboard with mirror, and a serving table.  The two views of the dining room appear to have been photographed at separate times, as each shows a different arrangement of furniture.  In one view, the sideboard stands before the window in the south wall while the serving table is placed at the western end of the room, to the left of the mantelpiece.  The other view shows the sideboard positioned at the western end of the dining room and the serving table standing to the right of the window in the south wall.  Perhaps the Wickwires had recently acquired the Colonial Revival oak china cabinet that stands to the left of the south-facing window, visible in the photograph in fig. 8, and found it necessary to re-position the sideboard in order to accommodate the new piece of furniture.

Fig. 8  Dining room. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.

In both views, the serving table is used to display a silverplate tilting ice water pitcher and two goblets while the sideboard is arranged with a silverplate tea and coffee service, various silverplate serving pieces, and cut glass water pitchers.

Fig. 9  Bedroom. Chester Wickwire House,
Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The
1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art,
Cortland, New York.
Bedrooms (figs. 9 & 10) feature wall-to-wall carpeting, mantelpieces with tiled surrounds, mirrored overmantels, and stenciled and freehand painted decoration. The bedroom illustrated in fig. 9 has walls embellished with a frieze of trelliswork and leafy vines and is furnished with a bedstead with carved foot board, a Louis XV-style lady's writing desk, a  spindle-back side chair, and a footstool with spiral-turned legs, each probably made of oak.  

On the walls of the tower bedroom (fig.10) is a frieze of scrolling leaves and vines similar to the frieze decoration of the reception room below.  Furnishings visible in the view of this room are a couch, or daybed, with deep-buttoned upholstery trimmed with tassels and bullion fringe, a Renaissance Revival side table, c.1870, arranged with a kerosene lamp and decorative objects, and a Rococo Revival side chair standing in the alcove formed by the tower.  The kerosene lamp provides light for reading and other activities in addition to supplementing illumination from the gas chandelier hanging above.


Fig. 10  Bedroom. Chester Wickwire House, Cortland, New York. Photograph, 1890-1900. The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art, Cortland, New York.
After the death of Ardell Wickwire in 1915, the house remained vacant for seven years  In 1923, Frederic Wickwire, Chester's younger son, decided to move into the residence.  He commissioned a local architect to renovate the exterior of the house and to redecorate a number of rooms.  In 1925, the house was ready to receive Frederic, his wife, and their four children, one of whom lived in the house until her death in 1973.

The Wickwire family's residence still stands and is currently a historic house museum that has been fully restored.  Many of the original furnishings, dispersed at auction in the 1970s, have been returned to the house. Now known as The 1890 House Museum, the site is open to the public for tours.  For more information, please visit The 1890 House Museum and Center for Victorian Art website.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Colonel Robert J. Milligan House, Saratoga Springs, New York


Fig. 1  View of Saratoga Springs, New York, engraving by Laurent
Deroy after Jacques-Gérard Milbert. Lithograph, c.1828-1829.
New York Public Library, New York, NY
Long before Saratoga Springs became in the nineteenth century a thriving and fashionable resort frequented by the wealthy who took advantage of the mineral waters produced by the many natural springs, the area was an unexplored and inaccessible wilderness familiar to only the Mohawk Indians.  Sir William Johnson, the British superintendent of Indians in North America, was one of the first white men to venture into the densely wooded landscape to partake of the salubrious waters described by the Indians as “medicine spring.”  Regularly bothered by an old war wound and plagued by chronic gout, Sir William in 1767 braved the wilderness with a party of Indians in the hope that the seemingly magical waters would relieve him of his ailments.

Fig. 2  Congress Spring and three hotels, Saratoga
Springs, New York. Stereoview, c.1875. New York
Public Library, New York, NY
A small number of adventurous pioneers who were attracted by the mineral springs settled in the area in the 1770s and constructed crude dwellings that provided accommodation for travelers brave enough to venture into the undeveloped territory.  Others arrived after the Revolutionary War, including Gideon Putnam, the founder of the village of Saratoga Springs.  Putnam settled in the area in 1789 and established a successful lumber business.  After recognizing the potential of the mineral springs as a popular draw for tourists, he excavated and tubed several springs and then erected in 1802 a three-story frame tavern and boarding house, regarded as the earliest "hotel" in Saratoga Springs (fig. 1).  In the first half of the nineteenth century, other hotels appeared and many evolved into the grand and luxurious establishments for which Saratoga Springs  was renowned during the Victorian  years (fig. 2).
Fig  3. View of the Colonel Robert James Milligan House, Saratoga
Springs, New York. Oil on canvas, after 1856. Brooklyn Museum
of Art, Brooklyn, NY

In the mid-nineteenth century, when Saratoga Springs became one of the most fashionable resort towns in the United States, lumber entrepreneur Colonel Robert James Milligan (1799-1867) built his elegant new house at 102 Circular Street (fig. 3), just a few blocks away from Congress Spring Park.  A son of Captain James Milligan (1767-1826), Robert was born and raised at Milligan Hill, a tract of land located along the highway between Saratoga Springs and Schuylerville. His family settled in the area in the late eighteenth century. At a young age, Robert left the Milligan homestead and embarked on a career in the lumber industry.  His successful business extended into the wooded areas of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois.

Fig. 4  John G. Taggart (American, 1820-1871),
Colonel Robert James Milligan, 1851-1852. Oil on
canvas. Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY

Fig. 5  John G. Taggart (American, 1820-1871), Mrs.
Robert James Milligan, 1851-1852. Oil on canvas.
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
On November 24, 1846, Robert J. Milligan (fig. 4) married Hannah S. Fletcher (1809-1881) of Kingsbury, New York (fig. 5).  They had five children, four of whom died in infancy.  Robert Fletcher Milligan (1855-1937) was the only child to survive into adulthood.

A number of impressive houses owned by prominent Saratoga families already lined Circular Street when Colonel Milligan began construction of his brick residence in 1854.  An early historian of Saratoga County described the houses along the main thoroughfares of Broadway, Phila Street, Washington Street and Circular Street as "models of architectural beauty, affording in their construction rare specimens of modern decorative art." Completed in 1856, Milligan's two-and-one-half-story Italianate house featured pedimented windows on the main facade, a frieze with brackets under the eaves, an entrance portico surmounted by a cresting of anthemia and palmettes and a cupola rising from the roof (fig. 3).  The house was designed and constructed by Hiram Owen, a carpenter and master builder who settled in Saratoga Springs in 1838. The Milligan residence was Owen's first important project.  He later superintended the construction of other significant buildings in Saratoga Springs, including Congress Hall.

The design reflected a certain degree of conservatism in its strictly symmetrical plan and facade, which harked back to the balance and symmetry characteristic of Greek Revival houses built in the 1830s and 1840s.  In the mid-nineteenth century, many builders followed the lead of architects who subscribed to the design principles associated with the recently introduced aesthetic of the picturesque, which emphasized asymmetry and irregular outlines. Also somewhat anachronistic from an architectural standpoint are the projecting center pavilion with pediment and Palladian-type window on the entrance front, elements typically associated with Georgian houses built a century earlier.

The plan of the first floor of the Milligan house consisted of a center entrance hall flanked on either side by two rooms.  The parlor and library stood on one side of the hall, the dining room and another room on the opposite side.  Extending from the back of the main part of the house was a small wing, or "ell," that contained the kitchen and other service areas.

In the Victorian era, the parlor was a formal room used for receiving visitors and entertaining guests while the library served as the family sitting room.  The parlor was typically larger and more elaborately decorated than the library.

In the late nineteenth century, the Milligans' parlor was photographed from the library, through the open pocket doors that separated the two rooms (fig. 6).  The view shows an interior that was furnished and decorated several decades earlier. It appears that the family did not update the room as the years passed and new decorating styles came into fashion.  Consequently, the image depicts the parlor much as it appeared in 1856 after completion of the decoration and furnishing.

Fig. 6  Parlor. Colonel Robert James Milligan House, Saratoga Springs, New York. Photograph, c.1880-1900. Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
The objects visible in the photograph indicate that the Milligans observed the dictates of fashion in the mid-nineteenth century, when the Rococo Revival style was prescribed for the decoration and furnishings of the parlor, the most important room in the home.  With its emphasis on voluptuous curves and delicate decoration of flowers and scrolling leaves, the Rococo Revival style had a lighthearted, feminine quality that perfectly suited the room where the lady of the house presided over visitors and guests.

Fig. 7  Parlor. Congress Hall, Saratoga Springs, New York.
Stereoview, c.1870. New York Public Library, New York, NY
In the middle of the nineteenth century, many upper- and middle-class American families took their cue for decorating the parlor from the well-appointed saloons in steamboats and parlors in hotels.  These public parlors featured wall-to-wall carpeting, elaborate window treatments consisting of lace undercurtains and main curtains of patterned silk or wool, and matched sets of furniture comprising sofas, armchairs and side chairs with attractive upholstery fabrics and trims.  The village of Saratoga Springs, which was rife with grand hotels containing modish public parlors, provided many models to guide the homeowner in the selection of tasteful parlor decorations and furnishings (fig. 7).

Hannah Milligan fortuitously saved the bills of sale for the furniture and decorations that she and her husband purchased for the parlor.  Consequently, the Milligan parlor is an extremely well-documented interior from the middle of the nineteenth century. The dates of the receipts indicate that the parlor was decorated and furnished 1855-1856.

In the view of the Milligan parlor can be seen the elegant suite of Rococo Revival carved rosewood furniture purchased by the family in 1856 from the cabinetmaking firm of Elijah Galusha, a prominent furniture maker active in Troy, New York, from 1828 to 1870.  The suite consists of a sofa, armchair, bergere, four side chairs and a center table.  The seating furniture appears to be upholstered in a silk damask, reportedly cherry red in color.

The matched set is supplemented by other chairs in different styles, including an Elizabethan Revival reception chair with needlework upholstery, seen on the left side of the room near the sofa, and a pair of delicate rosewood side chairs with turned spindles in the backs, one standing in front of the left pocket door and the other before a window on the right side of the parlor.  The two rosewood chairs were manufactured by the Troy cabinetmaking firm of Daniels and Hitchins.  The same firm also supplied to the Milligans a set of mahogany nesting tables most likely placed in the parlor and a rosewood child's chair that would have been used by Robert F. Milligan when he was a young boy.

While the carved marble Rococo Revival mantelpiece was obtained from the New York City firm of Murphy and Dimond, the elaborate wall-to-wall tapestry Wilton carpet was purchased in Albany from the "City Carpet Store" of John Van Gaasbeek. The carpet's bold Rococo Revival design, consisting of a dense mass of swirling leaves, flowers and scrolls, contrasted with the plain plaster walls painted a light color.  Not visible in the photograph is an elaborate Rococo Revival gilt overmantel mirror with molded gesso decoration of scrolls, leaves, and clusters of grapes made by the Albany firm of James Burton and Company, manufacturers and retailers of looking glasses.

The marble top of the center table is arranged with a stack of books as well as with a gas table lamp connected by means of an India rubber hose to the six-branch gas chandelier hanging above.  In the mid-nineteenth century, the center table served as the focal point of the parlor, drawing all other furniture within its sphere. As the Milligan parlor illustrates, sofas and other large pieces of furniture were placed along the perimeter of the room while chairs stood in the middle, encircling the center table.

The room does not appear to contain many decorative objects, although most likely the mantelpiece, which is out of view, was arranged with a combination of items including girandoles, vases and perhaps a mantel clock.

Close inspection of the photograph reveals that the windows are hung not only with lace curtains but also with window shades, described as "roller blinds" in the nineteenth century.  Most likely made of linen, the shades are either stenciled or printed with a decorative border.  The most costly window shades in the nineteenth century featured a combination of stenciled and free-hand painted decoration. A much less expensive alternative was "curtain papers," which were paper window shades with patterns printed by machine.  The absence of heavy window curtains implies that the photograph was taken during the summer months.  In the Victorian period, curtains made of silk or wool fabrics, with linings and interlinings, were removed for the summer to allow air to flow through open windows.  The lightweight lace curtains and roller blinds, which hung under the heavy main curtains for most of the year, were left in place during the warm season to provide privacy and to control the amount of sunlight that entered the room.  Each window frame is mounted at the top with a Rococo Revival gilt and silvered stamped sheet-brass window cornice purchased from  Kelly Brothers.

Paintings in gilt frames with molded gesso decoration are suspended from silk cords hung on exposed picture nails with decorative porcelain heads.  The framed pictures provide some visual relief from the monotony of the plain walls.

Fig. 8  Portrait of Robert Fletcher Milligan.
Photograph, c.1915. Brooklyn Museum of
Art, Brooklyn, NY
When Hannah Milligan died in 1881, fourteen years after the passing of her husband, her son Robert F. Milligan (fig. 8) became owner of the house. Three years earlier Robert married Georgianna Stewart (fig. 9). The couple had three children: Robert F. Milligan, Jr., who died in early childhood, Kate S. Milligan and Sarah F. Milligan. Robert was a leading citizen of Saratoga Springs, becoming mayor of the village in 1882 when he was only twenty-seven years of age. In 1901, he was appointed cashier of the First National Bank of Saratoga.  Both he and his wife Georgianna resided at 102 Circular Street until their deaths in the 1930s.

Fig. 9  Portrait of Georgianna Stewart
Milligan. Photograph, c.1895. Brooklyn
Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY

The last Milligan to occupy the house was Robert and Georgianna's daughter Sarah Milligan, who sold to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1940 the architectural elements and furnishings in the parlor and library.  The museum installed the Milligans' mid-nineteenth-century rooms in the American galleries, where they became part of a sequence of American historic interiors, or period rooms, from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The parlor and library are still on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  Sarah Milligan continued to live in the house until 1944, when she sold the property to a local doctor.  In the 1990s, the former Robert J. Milligan residence was fully restored and continues to stand proudly at the corner of Circular and Phila Streets. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York

The McKinstry family of Hudson has a long and prominent history in Columbia County.  Many of its members contributed to the economic and political development of the city while several generously supported its charitable and educational institutions. The first McKinstry to arrive in Hudson was Colonel John McKinstry (1745-1822), who distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War during the Battle of the Cedars.  He opened on Warren Street the city's earliest tavern, identified by a sign painted with a portrait of the King of Prussia.

Fig. 1  Advertisement for Rossman & McKinstry,
329 Warren Street, Hudson, New York. Hudson
City Directory, 1862. Hudson Area Library, Hudson, NY
Augustus McKinstry (1820-1901), a grandson of Colonel John McKinstry, was a successful druggist who maintained a shop at 329 (now 609) Warren Street throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Initially he worked in partnership with Allen Rossman under the name Rossman & McKinstry.  After Rossman's death in 1889, Augustus's son George McKinstry joined the business, which was renamed A. McKinstry & Son. Augustus served as a city alderman and sat on the boards of the Hudson Street Railway Company and the National Hudson River Bank.

The youngest of nine children, Augustus was born in 1820 to George McKinstry (1772-1866) and his wife Susan Hamilton McKinstry (1777-1862).  In 1851, he married Ellen H. Avery (1819-1905), the widow of his elder brother Charles.  Augustus and Ellen had four children: Jeannie McKinstry (1851-1934), George A. McKinstry (1855-1919), Nellie McKinstry (b. 1858) and Susie V. McKinstry (b. 1862).

Fig. 2 Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph,
c.1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, 

Kinderhook, NY 

Augustus and Ellen McKinstry resided at 886 Columbia Street, on property purchased in 1829 by Augustus's father, George McKinstry.  The parcel of land, on the northeastern part of Prospect Hill, once belonged to Captain William Ashley.  As the first to build a dwelling on the hill, Ashley had been granted the privilege of naming it and chose an appellation inspired by the beautiful prospects of the surrounding valley.

In the southeast corner of the seven-acre property stood the McKinstrys' elegant two-and-one-half-story Second Empire-style house built c.1870 (fig. 2).   A large porch, the center of which projected and was surmounted by a balustrade, fronted the five-bay facade with segmental-arch windows capped by hoods.  Dormers punctuating the concave-sided mansard roof echoed the segmental outline of the windows.

A number of rooms in the McKinstry house were photographed between 1895 and 1905.  The photographs include views of the parlor, library, dining room and four bedrooms.  These images as well as the exterior view provide evidence that the first-floor plan consisted of a center entrance hall flanked on either side by two rooms.  The parlor and library were located on the east side of the house while the dining room, which had a projecting five-sided bay, and probably a bedroom, were on the west side.

The photographs reveal the interiors of a home belonging to a prosperous upper-middle-class Hudson family at the end of the nineteenth century.  The rooms are tastefully furnished but not at the height of fashion. There are no coordinated schemes created by an interior decorator. The rooms contain a combination of old and new furnishings, reflecting the material goods acquired by Augustus and Ellen McKinstry over approximately five decades.

Two views of the parlor (figs. 3 & 4) provide extensive information about how the room was decorated and furnished.  The architectural decoration is in the Italianate style, including the plaster molded cornice surmounting the walls, the applied cast plaster moldings forming a rectangular panel on the ceiling, the marble mantelpiece with its round-arch opening, carved cartouche and spandrel panels and the molded surrounds of the doors and windows.  All these interior details date from the building of the house in the 1870s.

Fig. 3  Parlor. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

The floor is covered with a wall-to-wall carpet, either a Brussels or a Wilton.  Each type of carpet, made with a wool pile, was woven in strips twenty-seven inches in width.  The strips were seamed together to form a carpet that covered the entire floor.  On top of the floral patterned carpeting rests a large Oriental rug.  In the 1870s and 1880s, tastemakers encouraged homeowners to abandon the wall-to-wall carpeting that had been fashionable in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and advocated instead Oriental rugs arranged on varnished hardwood floors with inlaid borders.  If a house already contained Brussels or Wilton carpeting, which was typically laid over floors of unfinished pine boards, and the fashion-conscious owner was unwilling or unable to install hardwood floors, the alternative was to simply arrange Oriental rugs on top of the wall-to-wall carpet.

Applied directly under the cornice is a relief-decorated picture molding from which hang a number of gilt-framed landscape paintings, most likely views of the Hudson River Valley.  The picture hanging wires are exposed and suspended from hooks attached to the picture molding.  All the paintings tilt forward in typical nineteenth-century fashion.

Two French windows, which face Columbia Street, are hung with lace curtains suspended from brass rings on exposed brass curtain poles that terminate at either end in a finial.  Through the lace curtains, on the lower part of each window, can be seen closed exterior shutters.  By closing the lower shutters, the family reduced the amount of sunlight entering the room, but prevented it from becoming too dark by leaving open the upper shutters.

The furniture in the room includes a number of chairs, a desk, a pier table and a piano.  Standing before the windows are two eighteenth-century American side chairs that most likely descended from Augustus McKinstry's paternal great-grandfather, who arrived in this country from Ireland in 1740 and lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire before settling in New York in the 1770s.  Both chairs exhibit regional characteristics associated with seating furniture made in New England in the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century.  Following the centennial of the United States in 1876, colonial furniture was once again fashionable and families whose ancestry in America extended back before the Revolutionary War proudly displayed these "relics" of our nation's colonial past in the public rooms of their homes.

Between the two windows is a drop-leaf table, perhaps a gate-leg table, which is serving as a pier table--a table made to stand against the wall or "pier" between two windows.  The top of the table is arranged with a set of girandoles, or candle fixtures hung with cut-glass lusters.  Sets of girandoles, usually consisting of a three-branch candelabrum and two candlesticks, typically served as a garniture for a mantelpiece, but in this instance the girandoles decorate the make-shift pier table.  Among the girandoles are framed photographs, which lend a personal touch to the room.

Other seating furniture includes two caned rocking chairs, one in front of the drop-leaf table and the other adjacent to the desk.  The fireplace is flanked on the right by a Windsor sack-back armchair and on the left by a Chippendale chair with arms added at a later date, probably in the late nineteenth century.  Between the fireplace and the window wall parallel to Columbia Street is what appears to be an overstuffed, heavily upholstered "Turkish" chair.  When the front parlor was photographed, several of these chairs were moved around the room for the sake of creating pleasing compositions.  For this reason, the same chair can be seen in different places in the two photographs of the parlor.

Fig. 4  Parlor. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

A Renaissance Revival partner's desk is placed diagonally against the wall opposite the fireplace.  An animal hide, acquired perhaps by George McKinstry while traveling in Minnesota, is draped across the top and arranged with framed photographs, an Aesthetic Movement porcelain vase, a large Japanese bronze censer, or incense burner, and a cut-glass vase filled with flowers.

The largest and most prominent furnishing in the parlor is a Renaissance Revival upright piano, c.1875, standing diagonally in the back west corner of the room, to the left of the doorway between the front and back parlors.  Music held an important place in Victorian culture and appreciation of it was a mark of sophistication.  Families at every social level owned, or strove to acquire, a piano.  The piano was frequently placed in the parlor, where it served as a symbol of the family's refinement.  The top of the McKinstrys' piano is decorated with a pair of Paris porcelain vases, c.1850-1870, and a pair of silver candlesticks.  In front of the piano, to the left of the piano stool, is a kerosene-fueled floor or "piano" lamp with wrought-iron base and a shade decorated inside with Japanese figures.  This lampshade and the bronze censer on the desk reflect the late-nineteenth-century fascination with Japanese art and decorative objects, spurred by the opening of Japan to trade with the West in 1854.

The house was equipped with gas lighting, as evidenced by a four-branch gas chandelier suspended from the center of the ceiling.  Most likely the chandelier hangs from a decorative cast plaster ceiling medallion, which is out of view.

Central hot-air heating systems were available when the McKinstrys built their home, but the photographs indicate that the family relied on wood- or coal-burning fireplaces and cast-iron stoves.  In the photograph of the front part of the parlor, a heating stove, just barely visible, can be seen standing in front of the fireplace.

The library (fig. 5) is smaller than the parlor at the front of the house. The dimensions of the two rooms are appropriate to their function, for the library served as an informal sitting room for the family while the larger parlor was a formal space for entertaining guests. Two sliding pocket doors framed by a molded surround divide the library and parlor.  The photograph of the back part of the parlor (fig. 4) shows that a pair of machine-made cotton chenille portieres, decorated with floral bands, hangs in the doorway.  The portieres have a valance created by folding over the top part of the curtain.  Popular from 1890 to 1910, this type of portiere could be obtained through mail order companies such as Sears Roebuck & Co.

Fig. 5  Library. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

The floor of the library is covered with the same pattern of wall-to-wall carpet found in the parlor, reflecting the Victorian practice of carpeting adjoining rooms en suite.  The walls are hung with an Aesthetic Movement wallpaper, c.1875-1885, bearing a pattern of stylized flowers and leaves.  Like the parlor windows, those of the library are hung with lace curtains.

The marble mantelpiece, which is no doubt identical to the one in the parlor, is arranged with a number of decorative objects, including a German porcelain candelabrum on the left, an iridescent glass vase  on the right and three small porcelain vases in the center.  Between the candelabrum and vases is a shell, reflecting the Victorian interest in nature and collecting.  To the left of the mantelpiece is a bookcase that appears to be built into the recess.  The shelves are arranged with sets of leather-bound volumes, signifying that the McKinstrys placed a high premium on reading and learning.

Over the mantelpiece hangs a large gilt-framed painting of a landscape with ducks by a stream.  Smaller paintings are hung throughout the room.  Mounted onto the wall to the left of the doorway between the library and parlor is an Aesthetic Movement ebonized hanging "art" cabinet with small shelves displaying glass and ceramic vases and other decorative objects. Hanging wall cabinets and wall shelves were popular during the 1870s and 1880s when exponents of the household art movement advocated such furnishings for displaying tasteful and aesthetically pleasing objects that beautified the home and created an artistic domestic environment.

Arranged before the fireplace are a Chippendale side chair, c.1770, of New England origin--most likely another McKinstry family heirloom--and an elaborately upholstered Turkish style chair with velvet covering, deep buttoning and trim of netted tassel fringe.  A highly polished Rococo Revival piano forte, c.1850, standing on robust cabriole legs, dominates the room in its position beneath the two windows. The photograph in fig. 5 shows part of the library.  Through the doorway can be seen the same piano, but closed and draped with a piano cover.

The dining room (fig. 6), in the northwest corner of the house, is enlarged by a five-sided bay that projects beyond an archway with Italianate brackets.  Molded surrounds frame each window, under which is a rectangular panel.  The walls and woodwork appear to be treated in a similar manner to those in the parlor, with a light color painted onto the walls and a contrasting dark hue on the window frames, panels and baseboards.  The windows are hung with "roller blinds," as window shades were described in the nineteenth century.  Covering the floor is a wall-to-wall carpet, most likely a Brussels, with a pattern of trelliswork enclosing medallions.

Fig. 6  Dining room. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

On one side of the polygonal bay stands a large Renaissance Revival marble-top sideboard, c.1875, the upper section surmounted by a pediment centering a cartouche, the cupboard doors in the lower section embellished with carved clusters of fruits. In the Victorian era, the sideboard was used not to serve food, as commonly believed, but to display silver and glass tableware. Less affluent families typically arranged the sideboard with silverplate, but even wealthy householders tended to mingle some silverplate with the more expensive silver.  In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, tastemakers encouraged diversifying the sideboard arrangement by incorporating ceramic objects made of stoneware, earthenware and porcelain.  Among the objects displayed on the marble top of the Mckinstrys' sideboard are a silver or silverplate hot-water urn, a Staffordshire meat platter, which stands upright against the back panel, a silver or silverplate encased cutlery basket and a Turkish coffee pot. The shelf above holds a pottery or porcelain three-piece tea service flanked by a pair of overlay glass cruets.

The dining chairs, most of which are arranged along the perimeter of the room, are in the Renaissance Revival style and were no doubt purchased along with the sideboard in the 1870s.  The seats of the chairs have caning, which was much more practical than an upholstery covering that could be easily soiled or stained by food droppings or spillage.

The dining table is covered with a linen tablecloth and arranged with place settings that include silver or silverplate napkin rings and individual salts decorated with birds.  In the center of the table is a vase of flowers.

A large cast-iron stove provided heat for the dining room.  Its decorative embellishments rivaled those on the sideboard standing on the opposite side of the bay.

The photograph in fig. 7 captures a cheerful and light-filled bedroom furnished with an Eastlake marble-top bureau, a small slant-front desk, a folding table and a rattan rocking chair.  The delicate scale of the desk and feminine quality of many of the decorative objects and personal items suggest that this bedroom was occupied by a female member of the family, a conclusion confirmed by what appears to be a copy of The Ladies' Home Journal resting on the stretchers of the folding table.

Fig. 7  Bedroom. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

Flanking the mirror of the bureau are two gas brackets, or sconces, with adjustable arms, each suspending a small decorative handled basket.  The marble top of the bureau is arranged with boxes, baskets, a pair of cut-glass scent bottles and framed photographs.  Framed photographs also hang on the walls while unframed photographs are tucked under the top of the mirror frame.

Covering the floor of the bedroom is grass matting, imported from the East.  The matting was made in strips that were seamed together to create a wall-to-wall floor covering.  In the Victorian period grass matting was commonly used as a seasonal floor covering to replace heavy wool carpets pulled up for the summer, but in bedrooms it frequently served as a year-round floor covering.

The simple window treatments consist of roller blinds and lightweight cotton curtains, which are tied back with narrow cords decorated with small tassels.

Another bedroom (fig. 8) in the McKinstry house has the same informal and cozy quality.  Personal items help to create a pleasant retreat for the occupant.  The marble mantelpiece is draped with an animal hide on top of which are arranged a mantel clock, framed photographs, a Japanese fan and an Arts and Crafts Movement glazed pottery vase.  In front of the fireplace is a Colonial Revival armchair with legs terminating in small claw feet grasping glass balls.

Fig. 8  Bedroom. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

The mirror of the marble-top bureau is flanked by two gas brackets, one of which is visible in the photograph.  Also visible are several framed photographs, both placed on top of the bureau and suspended from the gas bracket.

Occupying one corner of the room are two rattan chairs and a small side table arranged with a potted plant and a small wicker box.  One chair has been made comfortable with a seat cushion and pillow.

Fig. 9  Bedroom. Augustus McKinstry House, Hudson, New York. Photograph, 1895-1905. Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY

The bedroom illustrated in fig. 9 was located in the northwest corner of the house. In the background of the photograph can be seen an alcove formed by the roof with dormer window over the five-sided bay of the dining room below (see fig. 2).  The main part of the bedroom is arranged with two beds, suggesting that this chamber was occupied by several of Jeannie McKinstry Gifford's children.  To one side of the bed in the left foreground is a side table covered with a scarf and arranged with two porcelain or pottery bowls and a covered box.  The pillows on the bed are arranged vertically against the headboard and are no doubt propped up on a bolster, a typical nineteenth-century arrangement.  A chamber pot is visible under the bed.  The alcove contains a Rococo Revival bureau with mirror, a simple Rococo Revival balloon-back side chair, and a deep-buttoned armchair, all dating from c.1855-1865, as well as a rocking chair with turned spindles  in the back.  A similar rocking chair stands in the left foreground of the photograph.

Augustus and Ellen lived in the house until their deaths in 1901 and 1905, respectively.  In the 1890s, the elderly couple shared the residence with their daughter, Jeannie McKinstry Gifford, and her four children. Jeannie's husband, Abram Jordan Gifford (1849-1922), a grandson of the wealthy and influential Hudson iron founder Elihu Gifford, had been appointed agent to the Indians of the Fort Berthold Agency in the Dakota Territory in 1884.  At the time of his appointment, the territory--incorporated in 1861--was still sparsely populated, undeveloped, and dangerous due to ongoing Indian hostility toward the white settlers.  These uninviting  conditions persisted for a number of years after 1889, when the territory was admitted into the Union as the states of North and South Dakota. Abram no doubt decided it was prudent for his wife and children to remain in Hudson while he served as a government agent in the Dakotas.

In 1910, George and Jeannie, acting as co-executors of their father's estate, sold the property at 886 Columbia Street to Delbert Dinehart.  Dinehart tore down the McKinstrys' residence and built the large yellow-brick Colonial Revival mansion that still stands, known erroneously as the Henry Astor house.