The Thayer House

Thayer 1

Three views of the house that Joel Thayer built, from A Souvenir of Skaneateles Lake and its Shores, published by photographer Henry D. Rumsey (1824-1903) in Homer, N.Y., circa 1892. My thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society and the gentleman who found and donated this treasure.

Thayer 2

Love the Indian Brave lamps.

Thayer 3

“The Summer House,” and look at those bird houses.

Welch-Allyn

George GibbonsWith Welch-Allyn in the news, I am reminded of the company’s humble beginnings. Few people today know that the company was started in 1915 with a loan from a feed store – $5,000 loaned to William Noah Allyn by George Gibbons, the man at the left in the photo above, shown at his Clark & Gibbons Flour & Feed Store in Skaneateles.

Five years later, Allyn had just enough money left to cover two weeks of payroll, with $25 to spare. He took the $25 to Chicago to the convention of the American Medical Association, and persuaded the convention manager to allow him to set up a card table for display of his otoscope and ophthalmoscope. The only space for the table was outside the men’s toilet, but, as it turned out, it was a spot every delegate visited.

The new instruments enabled even general practitioners to inspect patients’ ears and eyes, and Allyn’s demonstrations were convincing. He sold every instrument he’d taken to Chicago and returned with $350 in cash and $1,000 in orders for more. And the rest, as they say, is history.

For these stories, I am indebted to William G. Allyn who wrote and published Welch Allyn: An American Success Story in 1996. Here are a few more of his observations about his remarkable father.

“Most of his friends called him ‘Cap.’ He liked it, and it seemed to suit him even before he started Welch Allyn. The name originated when Noah was a young child, and stuck with him throughout his early adulthood, when he worked on the steamboats in Skaneateles during the summers.”

“Although he was generous and outgoing to everyone, he was unforgiving if someone double-crossed him or lied to him. Noah considered trust the basis of all relationships and could never relate to people who were dishonest.”

“He considered the secret to good health a big bowl of oatmeal in the morning, a long walk, and in later years, a drink of 20-year-old scotch in the evening.”

“Noah was an avid walker who faithfully trekked a minimum of five to six miles every day, rain or shine, whether he was in Skaneateles or at the family’s vacation home in Naples, Florida. People set their clocks by the time Noah walked past their houses.”

Noah Allyn

Glen Haven, the Odyssey & Dracula

Speed the Parting Guest

Now this is interesting. Of course, it’s the Glen Haven steamer at the Glen Haven hotel dock, but check out the banner over the dock, “Speed the Parting Guest.” You’ll immediately recognize this as being picked up from Alexander Pope’s 1726 translation of Homer’s The Odyssey: “True friendship’s laws are by this rule expressed: Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.” It’s not every day that you see an allusion to Pope and Homer on a dock. But wait, there’s more. This photo dates circa 1892 and just five years later Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published and who should quote the very same line but Count Dracula! Homer, Alexander Pope, the proprietors of the Glen Haven and Bram Stoker all on the same page — amazing.

Hey’s Cottage

In my piece about Fall Brook Point, I noted that patent attorney George W. Hey (1849-1906) of Hey & Parsons in Syracuse was the man who had the main cottage built, and the architect was Asa Lanfear Merrick (1848-1922), of Kirby & Merrick in Syracuse. But I wasn’t able to find a picture of the cottage during Hey’s brief time there, 1890-1894. Until today.

George Hey CottageThanks to a generous donation to the Skaneateles Historical Society of A Souvenir of Skaneateles Lake and its Shores, published by photographer Henry D. Rumsey (1824-1903) in Homer, N.Y., circa 1892, here is “Hey’s Cottage.”

First Guests at Stella Maris

The first visitors to Stella Maris arrived 136 years before the Sisters could have their beds ready. And many of them had come all the way from England.

It was the summer of 1814. The United States was at war with Great Britain, again, and American troops were marching on Fort Erie, on the Canadian side of the Niagara River where it meets Lake Erie, across the water from what is today Buffalo.

Major Thomas Buck of the 8th King’s Regiment was in command of Fort Erie, with a sparse contingent of 120 foot soldiers of the 8th Regiment, a dozen men from the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and a few mounted troops from the 19th Light Dragoons. Major Buck sent the horsemen north to warn his commanding officer of the approaching Americans and then took stock of his chances.

OldFortErie_23

Fort Erie had no wall on the landward side. It had only three (3) cannons. And approaching the fort were more than 2,000 American soldiers, wheeling siege guns into place.

Some of Buck’s officers wanted to fight to the death; Major Buck was pretty sure the Americans could oblige them in short order. So he fired his cannons once, for pride’s sake, and then sent out an envoy with a white flag. Terms were agreed upon within two hours, and at 5 p.m., on July 3, 1814, the British garrison of Fort Erie marched out of the main gate and into captivity.

Transportation and facilities for prisoners of war were somewhat informal during the War of 1812. The closest camps were in Greenbush, N.Y., across the Hudson River from Albany, and in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, about 40 miles east of Albany. And so the 137 British prisoners marched east.

A few weeks into their walk, the group arrived in Skaneateles and bivouacked by the lake, on the land that would eventually belong to Frederick Roosevelt (1879), then Burns Lyman Smith (1917) and finally, the Sisters of Saint Francis (1952).

The next morning, the men of the 8th Regiment continued their journey to Albany and thence to Pittsfield, to the “cantonment,” which was 18 acres surrounded by a board fence and seven sentry boxes. Eight months later, in March of 1815, the men were marched from Pittsfield to Canada to be exchanged for American prisoners.

Several accounts say that Major Thomas Buck was court-martialed after the war for his hasty surrender at Fort Erie. This, however, is not accurate. He was indeed court-martialed, but it was because of an incident in the officers’ mess on Malta, May 31, 1819, when he said that he would be damned if he ever sat at the mess table again, “or words to a similar insulting effect,” refused to apologize, and finally offered to duel anyone who felt “aggrieved.”

The Court found him guilty, dropped him to the bottom of the promotion list, ordered a public reprimand, and reduced him to half-pay. All in all, his chosen career seems to have treated him badly. But at least he got to visit Skaneateles.

* * *

My thanks to:

History of Skaneateles and Vicinity, 1781-1881 (1882) by Edmund Norman Leslie

War of 1812: British Prisoners in the United States (http://www.1812privateers.org/Great%20Britain/prisoners.htm)

A Collection of the Charges, Opinions, and Sentences of General Courts Martial as Published by the Authority; from the Year 1795 to the Present Time; Intended to Serve as an Appendix to Tytler’s Treatise on Military Law, and Forming a Book of Cases and References; with a Copious Index (1820) by Charles James

Quiet

“Great things are claimed for that quiet hamlet in the way of natural attractions, consisting of the lake itself, and its Main street, which, night and day, is the quietest and most death-like avenue of commerce to be found outside of East Syracuse.”

– A Baldwinsville editor comments on Skaneateles in the Gazette & Farmer’s Journal, June 20, 1895

Flotsam

Alabama Flag CU

Some day, I must get around to writing, at length, about De Cost Smith. Born in Skaneateles in 1864, the son of E. Reuel Smith and Elizabeth De Cost Burnett Smith, he excelled as an artist, a writer, an outdoorsman, a scholar and an important collector of Native American artifacts. He lived enough to fill a goodly sized biography. But today, just one story.

In his early twenties, De Cost Smith studied art at the Académie Julian in Paris, probably in the years 1886 and 1887. And one day he was browsing in an upholstery shop, and saw a flag. The shop owner explained that it was salvaged from the flotsam of the C.S.S. Alabama following its sinking off Cherbourg, in June of 1864, when the legendary Confederate raider was sent to the bottom by the U.S.S. Kearsarge.

css_alabama_sinking

Ever the collector, Smith bought the flag for 15 francs.

When De Cost Smith died in 1939, the flag passed to his nephew – his sister Celestia’s son, Clement Sawtell. If that name rings a bell for you, perhaps it’s because Sawtell wrote and published Captain Nash De Cost and The Liverpool Packets, without which I could not have written my piece on Nash De Cost, De Cost Smith’s great-grandfather, for whom he was named.

The author of a number of monographs, Clement Sawtell had an appreciation for history, especially nautical history, and so the flag was in good hands. And in 1975, at the suggestion of retired Rear Admiral Beverly Coleman (a grandson of Col. John Singleton Mosby, “The Gray Ghost,” of Civil War fame), Sawtell donated the flag to the state of Alabama.

And so a flag made its way from the waters of the Atlantic to Paris to Montgomery with the help of an artist from Skaneateles.