Mary A. Livermore at Legg Hall

Mary_Livermore

On Monday evening, January 14, 1878, Mary Livermore spoke for two hours at Legg Hall on “What Shall We Do with Our Daughters?” and the audience, whose members paid 25 cents each for admission, received “unbounded satisfaction.”

Mary Livermore was an American abolitionist and an impassioned advocate of women’s rights. Her first job was as a tutor on a Virginia plantation, where she witnessed slavery firsthand. During the Civil War, she organized aid societies for the Union troops, was responsible for military hospitals in three states, organized 3,000 local units to provide soldiers with food, medicine and surgical dressings, and in 1863, organized the Northwestern Sanitary Fair in Chicago which raised $86,000 for the care of the wounded. After the war she devoted herself to the promotion of peace, temperance and women’s suffrage.

She was a mighty presence on the lecture platform. In Our Famous Women (1884), Elizabeth Stuart Phelps noted,

“Mrs. Livermore’s manner as a speaker is noticeable for its dignity. She has a deep rich voice, of remarkable compass, capable of filling any audience-room, trained and flexible. She begins quietly, but has a grip on the house from the first. At times she rises to impassioned fervor… Mrs. Livermore’s personal appearance adds to her power on the platform. She is tall and large, with a fine figure and dignified carriage. She is eminently well-proportioned, and one gets a sense of power from every motion. Of her face, which is very fine, quite beyond any portrait which I have seen, it is not easy to say the right word. Regular features, and grave, gray eyes, and the warmest smile in the world stay by the memory… It is doubtful if there is any other public speaker who so wins his way, or hers, to the hearts of their opponents. Many of her audiences disagree with Mrs. Livermore’s views; few can be found to disagree with Mrs. Livermore.”

For two decades, Mary Livermore lectured five nights a week for five months of the year, traveled 25,000 miles a year, and spent her late nights and early mornings keeping up with her correspondence.

When she spoke at Legg Hall, her listeners got an earful. On the subject of “What Shall We Do with Our Daughters?”, she said:

“The training of fifty years ago is not sufficient for the girls of to-day. The changed conditions of life which our young women confront compel greater care and thought on the part of those charged with their education than has heretofore been deemed necessary. They are to be weighted with larger duties, and to assume heavier responsibilities; for the days of tutelage seem to be ended for civilized women, and they are to think and act for themselves. Let no one, therefore, say this question of the training of our daughters is a small question. No question can be small that relates to half the human race.”

In December of 1878, Livermore was again in Skaneateles to lecture on “The Coming Man,” the heart of message being this: “Are we looking for the ‘coming man’ who is to inaugurate a better day for the world? Remember, his mother will surely precede him and largely shape and train him.”

A year later, on Saturday evening, December 20, 1879, Livermore returned to Legg Hall to lecture on “Superfluous Women.” In the nineteenth century, there was a school of thought that women beyond those needed to provide wives were an unnecessary surplus. In reply, Livermore noted that it was war and drunkenness killing men by the millions that was creating this “surplus” of women. And at the same time, she said, men were complaining that if the number of marriageable women was diminished by women going into the professions, and therefore not in need of husbands, the shortfall of brides would be a crisis for “society.” Livermore responded:

“Women have always been toilers from a time coincident with the beginning of history, and, undoubtedly, anterior to that; but no tears have been shed for them, save what they have wept themselves, until they began to enter higher fields of labor, and to receive better compensation. Lo! then the floodgates of grief are hoisted, and there is mourning that will not be comforted.

“Superfluous women! There are plenty of them, and of superfluous men also, who might drop out by the ten thousand during a night, and the world would not know at the breakfast-hour that it had lost anything… They are superfluous women, whether married or unmarried, whose lives are days of idle pleasure… They are superfluous women who, with imbecile renunciation, hasten to wash their reputations of the taint of ‘strong-mindedness;’ whose intellects are ‘accidents of the body,’ and ‘like the candle inside Chinese lanterns, are of use only to light up, and show off to advantage, the pretty devices outside.’”

In addition to her lecturing, Mary Livermore made time to author two books about her experiences and raise two daughters, and she remained a dedicated advocate for women’s education, rights and suffrage until her death in 1905.

Helen Potter at Legg Hall

Potter 1

On Monday evening, February 9, 1885, the audience at Legg Hall was treated to an evening with Helen Potter, America’s leading elocutionist whose reading was “pure and perfect,” and whose impersonations were legendary. Her fame, however, did not prevent some discussion regarding the ticket price – 50 cents – double the usual amount for a performance at Legg Hall.

The editor of the Skaneateles Press hastened to reassure the villagers: “Fifty cents is not a high price for admission to Helen Potter’s impersonations. The character of her work requires an elegant and costly wardrobe and the attendance of a maid. Those who engage her are not allowed to reduce the price of tickets below 50 cents, and in many places reserved seats sell for much more than that.”

In large halls and small, Potter did dramatic readings, and then reenacted the performances of the era’s most popular lecturers, such as Oscar Wilde, Susan B. Anthony and Henry Ward Beecher, and actresses Charlotte Cushman, Sarah Siddons and Sarah Bernhardt. She portrayed Cleopatra, Cassius from Julius Caesar, and an elderly Chinese storyteller.

Potter 2

Audiences loved her. One critic wrote:

“Through all of the varied performance which she gave, she never failed for an instant to be entertaining. The opening piece, ‘Gabriel Grub,’ the grave digger who was frightened by the goblins in one of Dickens’ inimitable Christmas stories [“The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” ], was read in a manner which defies criticism and prevents suggestion. The chorus of diabolical voices was simply superb… ‘Aunt Melissy on Boys,’ Trowbridge’s comical production, was rendered extremely well, Miss Potter assuming the guise of the elderly female in question, and changing her naturally clear and bell-like voice to the harsh tones of age.

“The personations forming the second portion of the evening’s entertainment did not begin until 9:15, and lasted till nearly half-past 10 o’clock, but no one had any idea of being tired, or dreamed that the entertainment was getting to be too long. ‘Katharine of Aragon,’ in two scenes [from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII] representing the plea of the unhappy queen in Court and her death after the divorce had been granted, was rendered in such perfect imitation of Miss Charlotte Cushman, in make-up, voice and acting, that the resemblance was startling… The personation of Anna Dickinson, which followed, was remarkable.”

(Miss Potter’s imitation of suffragette and abolitionist Dickinson was so uncanny that Dickinson attempted to get an injunction against her when she performed in Philadelphia.)

Miss Potter immersed herself in her subjects. For those living, she watched them on the stage and absorbed every detail. She developed a system of notation for the sounds, pitch and timing of their public speech and their gestures accompanying each phrase. For her impression of Sarah Bernhardt, she wore a dress from Bernhardt’s Parisian dressmaker. When commissioning a wig for her impersonation of John Gough, she acquired a lock of his hair for matching.

Potter 3

Potter’s impression of John Gough was her masterpiece and always her finale. One reporter noted, “All idea of Helen Potter is lost in the living representation of the great temperance orator.” Another noted, “The audience often forgot it was a personation and thought they were listening to Gough himself.”

At 50 cents a seat, Potter made $20,000 in her second season alone, and retired comfortably after eight years of touring.

Happy Cal at Legg Hall

Happy Cal Better

On August 17, 1870, Happy Cal’s Minstrels performed at Legg Hall, bringing the village “the ideal American burnt cork production.” While I cannot find a local review of the evening’s entertainment, I can quote a reporter from Terre-Haute, Indiana, who said, “This popular troupe of ebony-hued artists gave a magnificent entertainment last night at the Opera House. Cal Wagner, ‘Happy Cal,’ was in high glee and ran riot in wit, fun, farce and fancy.”

Minstrel shows followed a formula, with a line of performers, an “interlocutor” in the center and the “endmen” – often called Tambo and Bones – at either end of the row. Happy Cal Wagner was a premier endman, a performer who traded jests with the interlocutor and the other endman. Early in his career, Wagner had portrayed “the Fat Boy of Africa” for the Ironclad Minstrels, but now he was the head of his own company, singing songs like “I’m A-Gwine Down South,” “Put Me in My Little Bed,” “Jimmy, Let’s Go Home” and the unforgettable “Good Sweet Ham.”

Not everyone was amused. Social reformer Frederick Douglass described blackface performers as “…the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.”

You might say of Happy Cal, “He meant no offense,” however, there was the incident five years later in Montgomery, Alabama. Shortly after the passage of the Sumner Civil Rights bill that guaranteed African Americans equal treatment in public accommodations, a group of “negroes” purchased seats in the “dress circle” for Happy Cal’s performance. And that evening they took their seats, “among Montgomery’s fairest daughters.” The April 1911 edition of Confederate Veteran described what came next:

“When the curtain went up, the company marched in and took their seats for the overture, Wagner sitting at the end with tambourine in hand. Casting his eyes over the audience, he saw the negroes in the dress circle, and knew at once this would never do; so he put down his tambourine, advanced to the footlights, and announced that there were negroes in the dress circle and would they please vacate and go to the gallery, where they would find good seats, and the performance would commence… The negroes did not move… Wagner left the stage and returned quickly with pistols in hand, saying to the whites, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, stand aside; I will clear the dress circle of these colored gents.’ Pandemonium reigned; men were on their feet instantly, and the negroes went out of that dress circle, kicked and cuffed, and made a hasty retreat to the street. The performance then commenced, and much praise was given ‘Happy Cal.’”

In America, we are not unfamiliar with images of white men pointing guns at men of color, but this is the first time I have ever read of a white man doing it while his face was painted black. I wonder if Happy Cal was ever aware, even for a moment, of the irony of that situation.

Historic Stella Maris

Stella Mail

With Stella Maris on the auction block, I heard a comment that the building has no historical significance. If I was planning to tear it down, that’s an impression I’d like to promote, but it’s hardly true. So, on the notion that my previous writing and speaking about Stella Maris haven’t reached everyone, I will repeat some of it here, with new information as well.

*  *  *

The property’s recorded history began in the summer of 1814, when the United States was at war with Great Britain and American troops had captured the British garrison of Fort Erie, across the Niagara River from what is now Buffalo. A few weeks into the prisoners’ march east to confinement, they halted in Skaneateles and bivouacked by the lake, near the home of Samuel Porter. The next morning, the captives continued their journey, little realizing how much history they were going to miss.

Samuel Porter died in 1842 and his heirs sold his house and land to Henry Latrobe Roosevelt. Henry, the son of Nicholas Roosevelt of Skaneateles, had made a bundle in hardware in Charleston, South Carolina, and returned here in 1851. He remodeled the Samuel Porter house, which is today 116 E. Genesee Street.

HLR House

Henry’s first cousin, once-removed, was Frederick Roosevelt of New York. Fred was the son of Judge James Roosevelt. He grew up in a household with ten servants. He had nine siblings, but five died before he was born; a sister died when Fred was four and a brother died when Fred was six. Only Fred, his brother Charles and sister Marcia lived past the age of 30.

As an adult, Fred was connected with a railroad, an oil company and a bank, as well as the Union Club, the Metropolitan Club, the New York Athletic Club, the Lotos Club, the Automobile Club of America, the St. Nicholas Society, the Holland Society, and the New York Yacht Club.

In 1873, Fred married Mary Loney, of Skaneateles and New York, and after a honeymoon tour of Europe, they came to the village to visit with Mary’s father, William A. Loney. In 1875, Fred’s father died after a riding accident; his mother, Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, died the next year, leaving Fred with a lifetime interest in a trust established for the three surviving siblings.

Lot 25

In 1879, Fred bought several acres of his cousin Henry’s land (shown as lot 25 1/2 on the map above, just to the right of the “E” in “LAKE”). Fred wanted a “summer cottage” and his project was brought to the firm of McKim, Mead by architect Sidney Stratton, who was subletting office space from them. William Rutherford Mead designed the house, to be built in pieces in New York and shipped to Skaneateles for assembly. In June of 1879, work began here with Thomas Dobbin of Newburg, N.Y., supervising construction.

In the autumn of 1879, Stanford White joined McKim Mead – the firm becoming McKim, Mead & White – and one of his first assignments was to sketch details for the interiors of several houses already started, including the Frederick Roosevelt house. This would be the only house in Skaneateles, or on the lake, that Stanford White ever worked on.

However, before the house came the boathouse. In May of 1879, local carpenter John Wheeler built a “commodious boathouse” for Fred’s steam launch, the Lotos, named for his club in New York. The Lotos was christened by Belle (Ruth Arabella) Loney, Fred’s sister-in-law, and “glided gracefully and beautifully into the fair waters of our lovely lake.”

In January of 1880, the Skaneateles Free Press reported: “During the past summer, Mr. Fred Roosevelt of New York has built a spacious summer home on the hill just east of the village at a cost of nearly $20,000. The lot stretches down to the lake, where a handsome boat house and substantial dock have been erected. The owner has a fine sailing boat and a staunch little steamer. During the summer a fair day seldom passes without finding Mr. Roosevelt and his many friends on the lake.”

roseleigh front

roseleigh-1907-house-back

Fred called his finished home “Roseleigh,” and its outlines can be clearly seen in Stella Maris today. For the next 36 years, Fred and Mary summered in Skaneateles, and on occasion dined at Roosevelt Hall, played bridge at the Thayer House, attended a dance at Clifford Beebe’s Lone Oak estate. When Fred died in New York in 1916, Mary Loney Roosevelt moved on to spend her summers with the Loney family in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and Roseleigh went in search of a new owner.

BLS

In the summer of 1917, Burns Lyman Smith of Syracuse leased “the Roosevelt place” and liked it. So, in October, he bought the home and its 10 acres for $25,000. Burns Lyman Smith was certainly one of the most interesting men, and perhaps the wealthiest, to own a home in Skaneateles. He was the son of Lyman Cornelius Smith, of the L.C. Smith Shotgun Company and the Smith-Premier Typewriter Company, which became Smith-Corona. Smith’s typewriter was the most popular in the U.S.A.

Burns Lyman Smith grew up on James Street in Syracuse, in a mansion called “Uarda,” the name spelled out in flowers in the front yard. The staff numbered twenty-two. In the morning, as the family breakfasted, they received their mail in the beaks of silver birds. In addition to his the typewriter company, L.C. Smith was the president of the United States Transportation Company, the L.C. Smith Transit Company, the Hudson Portland Cement Company, the Rochester-Syracuse Eastern Railway Company, and the National Bank of Syracuse, chairman of the board of Halcomb Steel Company, treasurer of the Toledo Shipbuilding Company, and a trustee of Syracuse University. In October 1910, his work load caught up with him. He was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage and died at the age of 60. His business interests fell to his son.

Burns Lyman Smith had started out as a clerk in the treasurer’s office of the Smith Premier Typewriter Company. By the age of 33, he was an officer and director of 14 corporations, including the typewriter company, several railroads, banks and a steamship line. He was ready to take over.

In 1917, when Smith bought the Roosevelt estate, the newspaper noted: “The house contains ten bedrooms, four baths, billiard parlors, dining room, den and living room, and has a fireplace in every room. There are also a boathouse and a garage on the lot. The property has a frontage of 231 feet on Genesee Street, a depth of 1,120 feet and a frontage of 310 feet on the lake. The grounds are landscaped and will be further improved.”

It was not, however, the family’s only getaway. Smith had a camp in the Adirondacks, summered often in the Thousand Islands and enjoyed steaming on the Great Lakes in one of his yachts. In 1925, the Smiths spent July in Skaneateles, but then Mr. Smith went to the Canadian woods and Mrs. Smith went to the Jersey shore. In 1926, Smith and his daughters spent the summer in Alaska.

In 1929, Smith moved to Seattle, where he had built the L.C. Smith building and had real estate interests, and Roseleigh saw the last of him. That summer, the house hosted the first of its many renters, Mr. & Mrs. Edward Franklin Southworth of Syracuse. For the summer of 1933, the place was leased to James Edward Stearns, the head of E.C. Stearns & Co., a manufacturer of tools and hardware in Syracuse.

In 1939 and ’40, Lewis P. Smith and family spent the summer and autumn at the Smith place. While not a close relation, Lewis Smith had been working with the Smith family as their attorney for decades. In later years, he was joined in Skaneateles by his daughter and son-in-law, Niver Wynkoop, the president of the First Trust and Deposit of Syracuse.

Although the owners of the “Burns Lyman Smith place” were almost never there, there was one constant: George Clarkson, the caretaker from 1903 to 1954. He lived across the street, in a house that Mary Loney Roosevelt sold to him for $100. George Clarkson loved being in the newspaper. Among the items he reported were mountain daisies in February, giant maple leaves, mystery animal tracks, and a young opossum that had been killed by a cat. And in September of 1953, Clarkson told a reporter for the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser that Teddy Roosevelt had visited Roseleigh. I had doubts about that story, until a member of the Loney family sent the photo below:

Loney Family TR NEWThere, with a crowd of Loneys and Roosevelts, Frederick Roosevelt stands on the far right in a dark jacket, and reclining in striped pants and a nice straw hat is Theodore Roosevelt. George, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

In 1940, Burns Lyman Smith died of a heart ailment, at the age of 60. The house now passed to his sister, Flora, but she already had a home on East Lake Road, with 1,000 feet of lake frontage, and so she rented the estate to others, most often to the Lewis Smith family.

Then in 1952, Flora Smith sold the estate to its third “family,” the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse. She held a $40,000 mortgage so the Sisters only had to put $10,000 down. The Sisters renamed it Stella Maris and added two wings to host retreats and visiting clergy. The additions, to the left and right of the original house, were designed by Pederson & Hueber of Syracuse, i.e., architects Thorvald Pederson and James Murray Hueber.

Better Stella

Stella Maris Retreat Home of the Third Order of Franciscans was dedicated in July of 1954 by Bishop Walter Foery. For the next half century, Stella Maris served as a place of refuge and renewal, hosting religious retreats, conferences and meetings, open to individuals, universities, businesses and non-profit organizations. But in 2014, it became clear that Stella Maris could no longer be self-sustaining and the Sisters of St. Francis, with regret, put the buildings and grounds up for sale.

“We’re happy in the fact that we really feel that over that amount of time the center has served its purpose in helping people find peace and a reconnection to their spiritually,” Rochelle Cassella said. “And hopefully it will have a lovely future of something else down the line.”

Indeed. And let us hope that the only McKim, Mead & White house in Skaneateles, with all its history, survives.

A Grebe

Sawtell

— From Another Book for Old Bird Watchers but Not Too Old, with Woodcuts from Thomas Nuttall’s Manual of Ornithology, 1832-34, and Others (1972) by Clement C. Sawtell, the nephew of E. Reuel Smith.

A Sphinx in Skaneateles

Sphinx 1890

“The face is of most gigantick proportions, and the features, like those of all Egyptian antiquities, hideously ugly.” — Journal of a Tour in the Levant (1820) by William Turner

In 1885, when the directors of the Skaneateles Library Association were looking for a permanent home for the library, a parcel of land known as the Porter lot, across Genesee Street from Legg Hall, became available and was purchased. The following year, local attorney Benoni Lee died and willed the Association his sliver of a lot, located between the Porter lot and State Street, along with the tiny brick office he had built on the land in 1856.

benoni-lee

On October 7, 1886, the Syracuse Standard reported on the planned library, saying, “Its construction will probably be in the hands of Mr. Green of Buffalo, whose work is familiar… in several unusually pretty dwellings, among them the Willetts residence in Skaneateles.” The Willetts home, known as The Boulders, was designed by Edward B. Green, one of Buffalo’s premier architects. Joseph C. Willetts was living in Green’s work and he sat on the Library Association’s board.

While choosing an architect may have been easy, the design was a challenge. The board was divided over Benoni Lee’s office building, occupied by attorney F. Eugene Stone, who had taken over Lee’s law practice after his death, and had leased the office itself for one year. Some board members, including president William Marvin, felt the law office should remain in place and intact, as a living memorial to Benoni Lee. Others, especially Edmund N. Leslie, thought the little Greek Revival building would ruin the library’s design and should be moved.

Those in favor of keeping the building won the vote, and in 1888, Green submitted a design which incorporated it. (The design did not include a doorway into the law office, since Mr. Stone did not want library patrons coming and going while he was trying to work.)

skaneateles-library-smoke

The library was dedicated on February 27, 1890. Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, spoke for one and a half hours to a rapt audience. But the debate over Benoni Lee’s office was not over. Edmund N. Leslie used his history of Skaneateles, published in 1902, to project his objections into the next century. His ten-page screed included unflattering photographs of the building, which he described as a degrading and disgraceful appendage, one he called “The Sphinx.”

In doing so, Leslie was probably not alluding to the Sphinx’s air of mystery. In fact, Leslie may not have been thinking of Egypt’s Sphinx at all. The generic sphinx – a creature with a human head on the body of lion – was a common symbol around the Mediterranean, where many city and temple gates were guarded by sphinxes. The Greeks added wings, so their sphinx was a mash-up of three creatures. When Leslie looked upon what he considered to be an ugly stone mash-up squatting at the entryway to our temple of learning – the Skaneateles Library – a sphinx came to mind.

But in spite of Leslie’s tirades, the little building endured. It was occupied by F.E. Stone until 1933. In his will, he left the Skaneateles Library Association – which he had served as President – a bequest of $10,000 ($179,245 in 2015 dollars) plus all of his books and furniture. Eugene Stone 2Today, Stone’s portrait, by Skaneateles artist Jeannette Scott, hangs on the library’s south wall, next to the entrance door.

The next tenants to occupy the building were G. Roswell Weeks and his brother Melvin – the law firm of Weeks & Weeks – until 1962, and then the Stewart Insurance Agency of Ivan Stewart and his successors.

In 1987, the Library Association reclaimed the space, knocked a hole in the wall for a doorway from the library proper, and the office became the Children’s Room, and a lovely room it is. But one wonders if, somewhere up in the Beyond, E.N. Leslie is still muttering, “It’s a sphinx.”

library

* * *

My thanks to Library Director Nickie Marquis and to Laurie Winship, Director of the Museum at the Creamery. The photo of the Egyptian Sphinx at the beginning of this piece was taken in 1890, the year the library was completed.

And below, one more photo of Benoni Lee’s law office, circa 1870 on a winter’s day, as butcher Henry Harse, whose shop is at the left, prepares to lead a herd of sheep out to his slaughterhouse on the eastern edge of the village.

sphinx 2

And for a sense of completion, Benoni Lee, engraved by Samuel Sartain of Philadelphia for Clayton’s History of Onondaga County, circa 1878:

Lee 350