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.