The Skeleton in the Odd Fellows’ Closet

Odd

I miss the Odd Fellows Hall, although I never saw it. Every time I pass by the drive-through windows of the bank at State and Genesee Streets, I know I tread upon ground sacred to hundreds of departed lodge members. And then I think about the skeleton.

The Odd Fellow’s initiation ceremony involved a blindfolded candidate, draped in chains, led to a place where the blindfold was removed and he found himself in flickering torchlight, face to face with a skeleton. This was an invitation to contemplate one’s own mortality, and a way to underscore the seriousness of staying current with dues.

Every Odd Fellows lodge had a skeleton. Some were in boxes, some in actual coffins. Some were purchased, some just sort of turned up when the need presented itself. But as national membership declined, and more and more lodges closed, more and more skeletons were forgotten and left behind, usually to scare real estate agents half to death.

Or men like Paul Wallace, an electrician in Warrenton, Virginia, who was tracing circuits in a former Odd Fellows hall when he found a recess between two walls. Inside the tiny space was a black box; Wallace crouched down, opened the lid and froze with fright, for 20 minutes.

In Oklahoma, a work crew had the opposite reaction, completely vacating a building in just a few ticks of the second hand. Similar unsettling discoveries have been reported in Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

The Skaneateles Odd Fellows counted more than 100 members in 1896. In 1906 they built themselves a stately temple at the cost of $6,500. A stone slab over the door read, “Skaneateles IOOF No. 275, 1906.” Its concrete blocks were made on the site, the roof was slate, the columns were 24 inches in diameter. Inside, the main hall had a dramatic 16-foot ceiling.

As membership dwindled, the hall was used as a meeting place for other groups, including the Grange, for American Legion dances, Miss Monica’s Dance School (tap, ballet, junior and senior ballroom) in 1938, and even for classes when the Skaneateles high school burnt down in 1952.

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With the addition of seats, stage and curtains, the hall hosted the Skaneateles Summer Theatre, starting in 1937 and continuing for many summers. The first production was “Accent on Youth” with leading man Grandon Rhodes, who in 1942 switched to films and TV, making more than 160 appearances playing judges (17 times on “Perry Mason” alone), as well as attorneys and doctors, capping his career with a 1968 appearance on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” But I digress.

In 1966, the Village ran out of imagination and the Skaneateles Savings Bank felt the need for parking, and the building was torn down. The local papers made no mention of the Odd Fellows’ skeleton. Perhaps it had moved to another closet years before, or was swept away unnoticed in the rubble of demolition.

* * *

“Skaneateles Landmark Demolished for Parking Lot,” Auburn Citizen-Advertiser, July 23, 1966

“Remnants of Secret Society Pose a Mystery Across the U.S.: Skeletons Found in Old Lodges of Odd Fellows” by Maria Glod, The Washington Post, March 30, 2001

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The Loney Family

Once opened, the book on the Loney family of Skaneateles is hard to put down. Great wealth, the first American auto racing champion, a World War I ambulance driver, a Lusitania survivor — it’s all on the page.

:: The Patriarch ::

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William Amos Loney (1822-1914)

William Amos Loney was a merchant from Baltimore who summered in Skaneateles. By his first wife, Ruth Ann Barker, he had a son, William (b.1849), and two daughters, Mary Loney (b.1851) and Ruth Arabella Loney (b. 1853). William’s first wife died young, and the children were raised by William and their grandmother, Elizabeth Barker.

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Alice Louisa Allen Loney (1844-1907)

In 1863, William Loney met Alice Louisa Allen in Skaneateles. They were married in January of 1864. William Loney bought a small farm on Genesee Street and on the land built a 25-room summer home; the grand lawn behind his house sloped all the way to the lake.

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The first Loney home, now The Athenaeum at 150 Genesee Street; the “back lawn” is today the site of Lake View Circle.

In the winters, William and Alice Loney lived in Baltimore; when William retired, the family moved to the village of Pelham in Westchester County. Every summer, they lived in Skaneateles, and worshipped at St. James’ Episcopal Church. Their marriage was blessed with four children: Alice Rebecca Loney (b.1866), Allen Donellan Loney (b.1871), Henry Edward Loney (b.1873) and Frederick Roosevelt Loney (b.1878)

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Allen Donellan Loney, Frederick Roosevelt Loney, Henry Edward Loney, about 1879

In 1880, the U.S. census-taker found the William Loney family at home in Skaneateles: William (58) and Alice (36), daughters Ruth (24) and Alice (15), sons Allen (8), Henry (6) and Frederick (2), and three servants.

:: The Roosevelts and Roseleigh ::

Around 1873, Mary Loney, William’s eldest daughter, married Frederick Roosevelt, son of James I. Roosevelt, a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Frederick and Mary lived in New York City, summered in Skaneateles, and often traveled abroad.

In January of 1879, Mary and Frederick purchased land in Skaneateles from Henry Latrobe Roosevelt. In March, they had a summer home designed by New York City architect William Rutherford Mead. The Roosevelts’ house was built in pieces in New York City, shipped to Skaneateles and assembled here in 1880 and 1881; the interiors were designed by Stanford White, who had recently joined Mead’s firm, which became McKim, Mead & White.

Mary and Frederick called their estate on the lake “Roseleigh.” It had 10 bedrooms, 4 baths, a billiard parlor, den, dining room and living room, with a fireplace in every room. It included a stable, a boat house and a generous expanse of shoreline.

Roseleigh

Roseleigh in 1907. The lines of the home, although dwarfed by additions, can still be traced today; it is the Stella Maris Retreat & Renewal Center, 130 East Genesee Street.

1907 House back

:: Marrying into Three Fortunes ::

Some time after 1880, Ruth Arabella Loney, William’s second daughter, married George Bruce-Brown (b. 1844) of New York City, a widower. He was the grandson of George Bruce and Catherine Wolfe Bruce, hence an heir to the fortune of his grandfather — a printer, type manufacturer and real estate investor — and to the fortune of the Wolfe family — which included a portion of the J.P. Lorillard tobacco fortune through Catherine Lorillard Wolfe.

Also, through George’s first marriage to Virginia Greenway McKesson, he was linked to the McKesson pharmaceutical fortune. George and Virginia had two children: a daughter, Catherine Wolfe Brown (b. 1877) and a son, George McKesson Brown (b.1878). George’s first wife, Virginia Bruce-Brown, died the year her son was born, but her name would live on in the next generation.

George and his new wife, Ruth Bruce-Brown, lived in New York City and on their estate on Long Island; they had two sons of their own, William Bruce-Brown (b.1886) and David Loney Bruce-Brown (b. 1887).

:: The Abbot Family ::

In 1890, William Loney gave his third daughter, Alice Rebecca Loney, in marriage to Mr. Harry Stephens Abbot, a Harvard man, in a ceremony at St. James’. The service was performed by the bride’s uncle, the Rev. Anthony Schuyler, and St. James’ rector, the Rev. Frank N. Westcott. Allen and Henry Loney, the bride’s brothers, were among the ushers. George and Ruth Bruce-Brown were in attendance, as was the bride’s uncle, Baltimore attorney Henry Donellan Loney. The sanctuary of St. James’ was decorated with flowers and the bridesmaids wore Gainsborough hats, the height of fashion. At the Loney home, also filled with flowers, an orchestra played for the couple’s reception.

:: The Second Loney Home ::

In 1891, with his children grown up and leaving the nest, William Loney sold his house on E. Genesee Street and moved with his wife Alice to a smaller house on the northeast corner of East Genesee and Leitch Avenue.

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The second Loney home, 103 E. Genesee Street. today

ARL-Abbot,-HS-Abbot-PORCHAlice Rebecca Loney, with her husband Harry Stephens Abbot and her brother, Frederick Roosevelt Loney on the porch at 103 E. Genesee

:: All in the Family ::

In 1892, George Bruce-Brown died at the age of 48, leaving Ruth, his 39-year-old widow, with four children, including George’s daughter Catherine, who was 15 years old. At some point, Catherine caught the eye of Ruth’s half-brother, Allen Loney, and by 1895, Allen and Catherine were married, living on Park Avenue with Catherine’s brother George, and listed in The Social Register. (And thus Allen Loney’s half-sister, Ruth Bruce-Brown, also became his stepmother-in-law.) Allen had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, traded and sold bonds, but mostly he managed his wife’s money. The interest on the principle, by itself, came to $75,000 a year.

In 1894, Harry S. Abbot and Alice Rebecca (Loney) Abbot became the parents of a daughter, Alice Louise Abbot.

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Alice Louise Abbot

:: Mary Norton Loney ::

In 1897, William Loney’s third son, Henry E. Loney, married Mary Hise Norton, the daughter of Eckstein Norton, a railroad president and Wall Street investor. Their wedding at Staten Island’s St. John’s Episcopal Church, with the Rev. Dr. Anthony Schuyler performing the service, was said to be the largest of the year; Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Carnegie were among the guests.

For two years, the newlyweds summered in Skaneateles at the home of Henry’s aunt, Mrs. T.Y. (Georgiana Allen) Avery at 91 East Genesee Street. In the fall of 1899, Henry and Mary Loney moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Perhaps Mary, who had lost a child, needed a milder climate. For whatever reason, the move did not help. Mary Norton Loney died on March 17, 1900. She was 24 years old; she and Henry had been married less than three years. Her body was brought to Lake View Cemetery in Skaneateles and interred in a tomb facing the lake.

Henry Loney went to Europe, noting on his passport application that he planned to return “within two years.” (He did return and remarried quietly in 1902, to Miss Henrietta de Rivera of New York, “noted for her vivacity and for her musical talents.” They would have a daughter, Isabelle, born in 1903.)

:: Virginia Loney ::

There was some good news in 1899: a daughter, Virginia Bruce Loney, was born to Catherine and Allen Loney. The family lived in New Rochelle, New York, with eight servants, one of whom was Elise Bouteiller, a French widow with two children of her own; she had come to the United States in 1887, and had been with the Loneys for many years; now, she was Virginia’s nurse.

Elise Bouteiller and Virginia Loney, about 1902. Photo courtesy of Paula Rosal, great-great-granddaughter of Elise Bouteiller. This has been in her family for more than 100 years, and I am very grateful to her for sharing it with me.

The Allen Loney family, with Elise as Virginia’s constant companion, crossed the Atlantic every year, and settled into a pattern: When in New York, they lived in the Gotham Hotel. In the summers, they visited Skaneateles; Virginia learned to swim in Skaneateles Lake.

For most of the year they lived in England, at Guilsborough House in Northampton, “the shire of spires and squires.” Riding cross-country from one church steeple to another — steeplechasing — was a popular pastime, as was the hunt: pursuing a fox over a less predictable course; Allen, Catherine and Virginia Loney all rode to the hounds. Allen had a stable of 25 horses, all hunters, three of which were Virginia’s.

In 1907, Alice Louise Loney died, leaving William Loney a widower for the second time.

:: The First American Formula One Champion ::

William’s grandson, David Loney Bruce-Brown, the younger son of Ruth, attended the Allen-Stephenson School in New York City, and then the Harstrom School in Norwalk, Connecticut, a prep school for Yale. But he was not cut out for academic pursuits. He instead showed an interest in auto racing, wrecking his mother’s Oldsmobile in 1906. It is possible that he caught the bug from his half-brother, George McKesson Brown, who that year purchased a Benz racing car and engaged a German driver, Karl Klaus Luttgen, to drive it in the Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island.

By 1907, David Bruce-Brown had his very own Oldsmobile and won a race in it, catching the eye of Emanuele Cedrino, the manager of Fiat’s New York operations, who invited the young man to Daytona the following year for the speed trials on the beach.

In 1908, Matilda Wolfe Bruce died; she was the last of George Bruce’s children and left all to her grand-nieces and nephews: Catherine Wolfe Loney (Allen’s wife), George McKesson Brown, William Bruce Brown and David Loney Bruce Brown. (In 1910, the real property in the estate was auctioned off for $2,000,000.

David Loney Bruce Brown in his Benz, outside his home in New York City

David Loney Bruce-Brown in his Benz, outside his home in New York City

Now certain that college was irrelevant, David Bruce-Brown left prep school and made his way to New York and Emanuele Cedrino, who took him to Florida. When Ruth Bruce-Brown traced her son to Daytona Beach, she threatened the organizers with legal action. Those in charge agreed that David could stay and work as Cedrino’s mechanic but would not be allowed to drive. Which he did anyway, and promptly set a new world’s record for the flying mile. Cedrino had been right; the boy was born to go fast. His mother eventually relented, and David Bruce-Brown’s racing career began in earnest. He was a square jawed, muscular, handsome young man, and the public loved him.

In 1909, he returned to Florida and set new records for the 1-mile and 10-mile runs. Also that year, he beat the legendary Ralph DePalma, who would later say that David was “one of the greatest drivers who ever-gripped a steering wheel.” In November of 1910, driving a Benz, David won his first American Grand Prize (Gran Prix), covering 415 miles in less than six hours on an open road course at Savannah, Georgia, defeating France’s Victor Hemery. The victory, in the words of the New York Times reporter, “only needed some sentimental happening like Brown’s mother rushing onto the track to kiss her victorious son’s grimy face to set the crowd perfectly wild.” And so it happened.

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David Loney Bruce-Brown and his riding mechanic, Anthony Scudaleri, on their trading card

DLBB Card Back

At the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, Bruce-Brown drove for Fiat and finished third. Again in a Fiat, he won the 1911 American Grand Prize at Savannah, his second consecutive victory. With a Grand Prize win in 1912, he could retire the trophy.

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David Bruce-Brown with his riding mechanic

In October of 1912, he prepared for his third American Grand Prize. Arriving at the Wauwatosa race course near Milwaukee, eager to practice, David ignored those who urged him to put on fresh tires, and roared out in pursuit of his teammate, “Terrible Teddy” Tetzlaff. On the open course, at 90 m.p.h., David’s left rear tire burst; the car swerved into a ditch and cartwheeled; the young driver and his riding mechanic, Antonio Scudelari, were hurled into the air and landed in a field. They were rushed to the hospital, but died. David Bruce-Brown’s fellow drivers stood in the corridor outside his room and wept.

Ruth Bruce-Brown had already boarded a train in New York to travel to Wisconsin; she would arrive to learn that her son was dead. Allen and Catherine Loney got the news by telegram as they were arriving at the Carlton Hotel in London.

In the New York Times, the race’s official starter, Fred Wagner, wrote:

“Every one connected with racing and many of the public at large were inexpressibly shocked over the lamentable death of David Bruce-Brown. This young driver was liked by all connected with automobiling… Mrs. Bruce-Brown will have at least one balm in her deep grief in the knowledge that her son was always a favorite and always was honest in his driving.”

An American sports writer said:

“As a racing driver, Bruce-Brown was looked upon as the best, not only in America but in the entire world. Built around a rugged framework were as stout a set of muscles as any athlete of his age and height could boast of, a fact which made the racing car more or less a plaything in his hands so far as guiding it on the highway.”

And a writer in England’s The Motor added:

“Bruce-Brown was typically American in his style of driving… a driver determined to get the most of it from beginning to end. But coupled with this wild dash was a consummate skill in the handling of his car, which is given to few men to possess… the extraordinary combination of wild fury and calm reasoning shown in every movement of the American driver.”

The family was plunged into mourning. Alice Louise Abbot, daughter of Harry S. and Alice Rebecca (Loney) Abbot, was to make her social debut that October in New York, introduced by her aunts, Mary Roosevelt and Ruth Bruce-Brown, but this was postponed until December.

In January of 1913, Alice’s engagement was announced at a luncheon at Sherry’s. The lucky lad was Clive Burlingame Meredith, a Harvard student from Cazenovia, New York. The engagement was expected to be a long one, but in October they eloped, motoring from the Abbot summer home in Skaneateles to Syracuse where they were married at the home of the Rev. Karl Schwartz, an Episcopal priest.

In 1914, William A. Loney, the family patriarch, died in Skaneateles at the age of 93. He was remembered as one of the Village’s most esteemed citizens. Funeral services were held at St. James’, and he was buried in the family plot in Lake View Cemetery.

:: The Lusitania ::

All of the Loneys had been accustomed to sailing to and from Europe, but the war in Europe brought that pleasure to a halt. Allen Loney, being an American, could have lived the life of an English country squire, uninterrupted, but he instead volunteered with the American Ambulance Corps, outfitting two of his cars as ambulances to evacuate the wounded from the front. In 1915, his wife Catherine chose to return to England from New York, so that she could work in a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.

Allen was nervous about Catherine and Virginia returning to England, so he sailed to New York where he joined them, and they all sailed together for England, aboard the Lusitania. It was known as the greyhound of the seas, a fast, beautiful boat that members of the family had sailed on before. Although a Cunard liner, it was under the control of the Admiralty and being used to ferry supplies and ammunition as well as passengers. The British felt it was nonetheless a civilian vessel; the Germans felt otherwise, and ran an ad in the New York newspapers warning American (neutral) passengers not to sail on British vessels. Most people ignored the warnings as propaganda.

On the voyage, Virginia was accompanied by Elise Bouteiller. Virginia was only 14, but she was a well educated, well traveled, confident and composed young woman, probably comfortable speaking French as well as English.

On May 7th, Virginia was resting in her cabin after lunch when the Lusitania was torpedoed by German submarine U-20. She rushed to the deck and found her parents. Her father, Allen, passed around life-belts, but did not keep one for himself. As the family stood on the deck, Allen saw a lifeboat about to be lowered with just one place left. He ordered Virginia to get in; she protested, but obeyed. As the lifeboat hit the water, it capsized, throwing everyone into the water.

Few women of the day knew how to swim, but Virginia had learned how in Skaneateles Lake. The Lusitania was sinking fast; the decks, usually six stories above the water, were swiftly drawing level. Virginia looked up and saw her parents, waving. She swam farther from the boat, but the suction of the sinking vessel drew her under. When she rose to the surface again, the Lusitania was gone; her parents were gone; Elise Bouteiller was gone. In the open ocean all around her, more than a thousand men, women and children were drowning. Virginia finally spotted a lifeboat that had stayed afloat, swam to it and was pulled aboard. When a sailor in the boat collapsed from exhaustion, Virginia took his oar and rowed with the other men.

When the survivors were picked up, Virginia was taken to London, and then went to Guilsborough House. The author Henry James, who was serving as the Chairman of the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps at the time, wrote this of Allen Loney:

“He had been from the first one of the most ardent and active of our volunteers, friendly and devoted in every way, and sparing least of all his own splendid personal energy… He put at our disposal the passion of the born sportsman, but still beyond that an active human sympathy which rejoiced in helpful service and fellowship.”

Virginia passed a joyless 15th birthday in England, and then returned to the United States.

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Virginia on the S.S. St. Paul, June 13, 1915, coming back to the United States from England; she has stitches in her chin, lip, cheeks and on the bridge of her nose, probably from cuts caused by debris in the water when the Lusitania sank

Virginia went first to the estate of her mother’s brother, George McKesson Brown. On his passport applications and customs forms, Uncle George listed himself as a “gentleman farmer.” His estate, West Neck Farms, was in Huntington, on the north shore of Long Island. The main house, designed by Clarence Luce, was in the style of a French chateau with towers and 40 rooms. There was a gatehouse, servants’ quarters, a stable, a garage and a boathouse where George docked his yacht and an 18-foot high speed runabout. George collected art and fine books, was a member of two yacht clubs and the New York Horticultural Society. He awoke every day to a lovely view.

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The vista from George McKesson Brown’s main house (as seen today), with the boathouse in the foreground.

George assumed financial responsibility for his sister’s child, but her care soon shifted to Mary Bose Chamberlaine, a daughter of William Loney’s sister, Maria Loney Chamberlaine. Miss Chamberlaine had definite ideas about how a woman of Virginia’s position should be protected and prepared for her role in society, apparently not the job for Uncle George; Miss Chamberlaine was dismissive of Virginia’s four uncles and two aunts, “with none of whom she could live satisfactorily.”

:: The Heiress ::

Before the voyage, Virginia’s mother had drawn up a new will; Virginia received property worth $45,000, her mother’s jewelry, a $12,000 trust from a great-aunt, and an automobile. At 21, she would inherit her mother’s entire fortune, about $1,500,000, outright.

Mary Chamberlaine set up an apartment on Park Avenue, and went to court to see that Virginia’s needs were met. In her petition, in which she repeatedly referred to Virginia as “the infant,” Miss Chamberlaine asked for $25,500 yearly from the principal of her fortune to cover such items as rent ($5000), clothing ($3500), three servants and a personal maid ($1800), school, music and languages ($2500), summer vacation and travel ($2500), automobile and chauffeur ($2000), amusements, including horseback riding ($1500), and incidentals ($1000).

Miss Chamberlaine also requested her own income from the estate, explaining that she had been forced to leave her own home in Skaneateles, where she lived with her sister, and needed to outfit herself in the manner appropriate to the guardian of a young woman in society. Mary and Virginia were joined by Mary’s sister, Rebecca Chamberlaine Fabens, the widow of a Boston shipping magnate. One can only imagine what a change this was for Virginia: from riding to the hounds in England to becoming the ward of two spinsters in a Park Avenue apartment.

But not for long. In December of 1917, Virginia was engaged to Robert Howard Gamble, of Jacksonville, Florida, a naval aviator and Yale graduate. She was 16; he was 26. The two had met in Europe; they were married on April 27, 1918, at Virginia’s apartment at 840 Park Avenue, and left for Washington, D.C., and a home in Chevy Chase.

In 1921, at the age of 21, Virginia inherited $1,452,000 from her late mother’s estate. She and Gamble had two children, Robert Gamble Jr. and Catharine Gamble, but the marriage did not last.

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The printed note on the back of this photo of Virginia, from the Bain News Service of New York reads, “Mrs. R.H. Gamble, N.Y. society, getting divorced, April 11, 1923”

In the spring of 1923, Virginia divorced her husband in Paris, and then returned with her children on the Aquitania. A few months later, Robert Gamble went to Huntington, New York, and spirited his children away to Jacksonville, Florida. Virginia reported them kidnapped. A custody agreement was eventually reached, and when Virginia married Paul Abbott, her ex-husband sent the children to the wedding. Virginia and her new husband honeymooned in Aiken, South Carolina, before returning home to Long Island. Virginia gave birth to a second son, Paul Abbott Jr., and settled into the life of a wealthy Long Island matron.

:: Epilogue ::

In 1916, Frederick Roosevelt, husband of Mary Loney Roosevelt, died at home in New York City. Ruth’s son, William Bruce-Brown, whose health had been troubled for years, died in 1918 at the age of 32.

In 1921, the George Bruce-Brown estate on Long Island was divided into 967 lots and auctioned off for $554,850. Ruth spent her time either in New York or in Europe; in 1921, she noted on her passport application that she was to visit France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and Spain.

Also in 1921, Alice Abbot Meredith, who had divorced her husband Clive “years ago,” married Alpheus Montague Geer Jr. in the orangery of the Garden Club, Pelham Bay Park. The bride was attended by her daughter, Mary Ruth Meredith (named for her aunts, Mary and Ruth), with Frederick and Henry Loney as ushers, and Virginia (Loney) Gamble holding ribbons with other guests to form an archway.

In 1927, Ruth Bruce-Brown died in New York at the age of 73.

In 1930, Henry Edward Loney died in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.

Frederick Loney, William’s youngest son, had made his way in the world as an architect and then as a mortgage broker. Frederick married late in life, to a young woman from Australia named Margery Cummings, 21 years his junior. In 1934, he died, leaving his widow and a 5-year-old son, Frederick Loney Jr.

Virginia Loney Abbott, the little girl who learned to swim at her grandfather’s summer home in Skaneateles, died on April 4, 1975, in Southampton, New York, bringing to an end a remarkable family saga.

:: Memorials ::

At St. James’ Episcopal Church, Mary Norton Loney is remembered by a chalice and paten, donated in 1900. Alice Louisa Loney is remembered by a litany desk, donated in 1908. Maria Elizabeth Chamberlaine, William Loney’s sister, is remembered by a brass processional cross, donated in 1911. William Loney, who died in 1914, is remembered by a plaque on an endowed pew (#38), which also bears the name of its donor, his daughter, Ruth A. Bruce-Brown.

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Skaneateles Savings Bank

The Skaneateles Savings Bank wasn’t built all at once…

The first part, shown above, was built in 1888. The tower, shown below, was added in 1895 to house the clock, a gift from Willis Platte.

Half a Bank 2

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The eastern wing, shown below, was added in 1929…

… and the addition on the back/north side was built in 1978. Hence the bank we know today, for the moment, as the M&T.

Queen of Diamonds

ranger girls

At the age of 14, Margaret Gisolo could hit, steal and throw the curve, and her Blanford Cubs, for whom she played second base, won the 1928 Indiana state finals of the American Legion junior baseball tournament. In the seven-game playoff series, she batted .429 and fielded 38 chances without an error.

The commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, responded by barring all women from the junior league. Hence Margaret Gisolo never made it to the Big Show, but she did barnstorm for a time with women’s exhibition teams, including the All-Star Ranger Girls.

In August of 1934, in that team’s final season, Margaret and her teammates took on the Skaneateles Lake Shores, gracing our Village with talent that would not be denied.

Roosevelt Hall

Roosevelt Hall

:: A Chronology ::

This Skaneateles residence has seen much history:

1795 — Revolutionary War soldier Jacobus Annis, a.k.a. James Ennis, comes to Skaneateles from Orange County, N.Y., and settles on 220 acres of land. He keeps a tavern on the property.

1810 — Daniel Ludlow purchases the estate from Jacobus Annis. Born in New York City in 1750, Ludlow was a merchant, and with his brothers was a Loyalist during the American Revolution. His brothers fled to England, and were eventually rewarded with land in Canada. Daniel remained and prospered with an importing business on Wall Street. He traveled extensively; he was in Paris during the French Revolution; in 1793, he was an eyewitness to the executions of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In New York, he was president of the Bank of the Manhattan Company.

When his importing house is forced to declare bankruptcy in 1808, he retires to Skaneateles. He holds his $5,800 mortgage for a time with his cousin, Richard Harrison. The land is re-mortgaged by Robert C. Ludlow Jr. and Ferdinand Ludlow  in 1812, and by Robert C. Ludlow Jr. and Edward G. Ludlow that same year.

1814-1822 — Daniel Ludlow dies in 1814.  The property is sold to Ben Miller in 1815 for $7,500, then to George Thorpe of Charlotte, Vermont, in 1819 for $7,500.

1823 — Richard Talcott (1791-1876) buys the property for $6,000, tears down a small two-story frame house already built there, and builds his own two-story Greek Revival house from the wood of the surrounding forest.

1838 — Richard Lawrence De Zeng, a real estate investor, engineer and canal builder from Oswego, buys the 220-acre property for $12,000 and trades the Talcott house to H.W. Allen for a matched team of horses, on the condition that the house be removed immediately.

1839 — H.W. Allen sells the Talcott house to James Gurdon Porter who disassembles it and moves it across the lake ice in the winter, and reassembles the main house and one wing at 19 Leitch Avenue (where it stands today); the second wing becomes another house, at 27 Leitch.

1839 — De Zeng completes his mansion on the lake (the present day Roosevelt Hall); the house costs $18,000 to build, with another $11,000 spent on its interior furnishings. (The furniture is made at Auburn Prison in a workshop run by Spencer Parsons of Skaneateles and two business associates from Auburn; Parsons pays each prisoner/carpenter 30 cents a day.) For a longer piece on the architects and architecture, visit here.

1840 – On July 3rd, the Skaneateles Columbian reports:

“Mr. Wood has just finished, at his room, a fine picture of the residence of Mr. DeZeng in this place, together with the surrounding scenery. The view was taken from an elevated position in the Phoenix building. The edifice, the grounds, the blooming trees and shrubbery, the quiet lake, with here and there a boat upon its surface, all seem true to nature, while the effect of the scene is heightened by the softening radiance of the declining sun. The picture is well worth seeing. Mr. Wood will remain in our village but a short time longer, and those who wish to avail themselves of his instruction should apply without delay.”

On August 18th, Col. De Zeng’s daughter, Emeline, married Capt. James Hugh Stokes at St. James’ Episcopal Church, followed by “a brilliant ball at the De Zeng house.”

1841 – De Zeng sells off 108 acres for $9,000.

“J.H.W.” visits De Zeng, and in August writes this for the Hoboken Tribune:

 “… from my window, at an early hour, I was introduced to as picturesque and beautiful a view as ever the eye rested upon. A self-introduction briefly preceded a strong attachment; and I envy not the man who can resist such charms, or turn a deaf ear to the winning voice of Nature, when, with more than queenly majesty and grace, arrayed in her most beautiful robes, she thus presents herself for admiration.

“You should go to Skaneateles if you would see the glory of a Country life. As you stand upon the Eastern piazza, there is a fine view of Skaneateles Lake… As you look down this superb sheet of water to its apparent termination, (but only apparent, for it is sixteen miles in length,) it requires no stretch of the imagination to believe you are looking upon the noble Hudson and its scenery between Newburg and West Point.

“Upon the opposite shore, and near the foot of the Lake, you discover almost a hidden Paradise, among the profusion of shade-trees with luxuriant foliage, the snow-white dwellings of the Village and its modest spires, distant from ‘Lake Lawn,’ as the residence of my friend is properly termed, about half a mile. Standing upon this most bewitching spot, and casting your eye in whatever direction you will, the sense are gratified by the lovely face of Nature; and gazing upon the lake, its richly variegated borders reflected in its transparent waters, the imagination is excited by the most noble of prospects.”

Note: This is the only instance I have seen where the home is called “Lake Lawn.”

1843 – On March 30th, Richard De Zeng’s son is ordained as an Episcopalian priest, becoming The Rev. Edward De Zeng, at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles.

1845 — In December, William Henry Seward stops at the De Zeng mansion on his way to Washington and after leaving finds he has come away with the wrong coat. From the capitol, he writes:

“I discovered that in leaving Mr. De Zeng’s, at Skaneateles, the night before, I had brought away a cloak similar to but not my own. This is somewhat inconvenient, for I think the exchange an unequal one.”

1848 — Richard L. De Zeng dies on June 17th, in Oswego.

1849 — John Legg buys the house and its remaining 112 acres as an investment from the De Zeng estate for $10,000.

1850 — Legg sells the house and its 112 acres to farmer Peter Whittlesey for $10,500, and sells the furnishings separately for added profit.

1856 – On September 19th, the Skaneateles Democrat reports:

 “We learned on Saturday, Mr. Whittlesey disposed of his family residence to Mr. S.W. Hale, of New York, at a bargain; possession given next spring. Mr. W. retains the residue of the De Zeng property, and will, we hope, make Skaneateles his permanent residence.”

 Peter Whittelsey did not stay in Skaneateles; he sold his farming equipment and household belongings at auction soon after.

1857 – Seth W. Hale, a manufacturing jeweler from New York City, moves in; he purchases the house for $9,000.

1858 — August 17th, Seth Hale sells the house to Anson Lapham of New York City for $8,000. Lapham names the estate “Lake Home.”

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1861 — Anson Lapham retires to Skaneateles. His cousin, Susan B. Anthony, is a frequent visitor.

1868 — Elizabeth Cady Stanton accompanies Susan B. Anthony on a visit. She writes:

“Mr. Lapham’s place is one of the most beautiful in this country. The house, with its pure white columns on either side, looks like a Grecian temple, and the close cut lawn running down to the lake is as smooth as velvet. Everything is kept with Quaker neatness and perfection, both inside and out.”

During the visit, Anthony takes some young men sailing, with amusing results.

1876 — Anson Lapham dies, leaving the house to his second wife (and widow) Amie Ann Willetts Lapham. His total estate is valued at $700,000.

1878 — William R. Willetts buys “Lake Home” from his mother for $20,000.

1879 – On February 28th, the Syracuse Sunday Courier reports:

“The marriage of Miss Prentice, daughter of Mr. John H. Prentice, of Grace Court, Brooklyn Heights, to Mr. William Willetts, of Skaneateles, which was solemnized Tuesday evening, February 18th, was a ceremony of much brilliancy and elegance. The bride is a lady of culture and wealth, and Mr. Willetts’ many friends in Syracuse extend their congratulations. The future home of the happy couple is the elegant mansion of the late Anson Lapham, at Skaneateles.”

Willetts was married twice: first to Mary Prentice of Brooklyn, N.Y. (the sister of Emma Prentice Willetts, wife of William’s brother, Joseph C. Willetts, who in 1883 builds The Boulders on Genesee Street), and after Mary’s untimely death, to his cousin, Louisa Frost. William and Louisa have two daughters: Louise and Katherine.

1888 – Katherine Willetts is photographed on a sofa, by a window in the mansion.

1892 — Willetts sells the house to Edward Macomber Padelford — of New York, Washington, Baltimore, Newport and Paris — for $20,000.

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1899 — Padelford sells the house to his friend Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt (shown above); the two men share common interests in coaching, yachting, and membership in New York’s Knickerbocker Club. Montgomery Roosevelt is the grandson of Nicholas Roosevelt of Skaneateles, and the first Roosevelt to live in Roosevelt Hall.

1903 – Roosevelt Hall’s gardener, George Stuart, who had tended to the greenhouse, gardens and grounds since 1859, dies. He is replaced by Mr. H. Treen, who for eight years had been a gardener for A.H. Benson, of Ankerwycke House, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire.

In August, Roosevelt Hall almost loses its namesake when the yacht of Montgomery Roosevelt is run down by a fishing boat in Long Island Sound.

1904 — Montgomery Roosevelt is away, spending several months in Italy and the south of France, then taking a suite at the Savoy in London.

1905 – On June 14th, Miss Augusta “Gussie” Boylston is wed at St. James’ Episcopal Church followed by a reception at Roosevelt Hall. The bride is the daughter of Augusta Shoemaker Boylston Roosevelt and the step-daughter of Montgomery Roosevelt. Miss Boylston was a fixture in the Social Register and on the New York Times’ society pages, all the more so because her step-father’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, is the President of the United States.

The groom is Donald Campbell, son of Major General John Campbell. On the way to St. James’, and on the way back to Roosevelt Hall for the wedding breakfast, Augusta is delighted to see flags flying from the porches of every home, a tribute, she is sure, to her new husband’s military connections. The following day she writes a letter of thanks to the Skaneateles Press for this lovely gesture, not realizing June 14th was Flag Day.

1906 – In March, an article in the Syracuse Post-Standard announces that Roosevelt had hired architects Gaggin & Gaggin of Syracuse to renovate Roosevelt Hall and have it ready for the couple’s arrival in June. The article noted:

 “…up to this time practically the only change made upon the interior is the installation of modern plumbing, heating and lighting. Now it is proposed to take out the painted woodwork on the first floor and finish all the rooms and halls with choice white quartered oak. The plans call for some elaborate wainscoting and panel work and a new staircase.”

The article also described the outdoor addition of twin stone steps of Onondaga limestone leading from the back of the house to the lawn, and a pool with a lily pond and fountain to be placed between them.

Roosevelt has his coach horses shipped up from New York City for the summer, and in June gives his portrait of John Barrow to the Skaneateles Library. (The portrait, which today hangs over the entrance to the Barrow Gallery, is the only painting in the collection by an artist other than John Barrow.)

1907 — Montgomery and Augusta, with their niece Virginia Roosevelt, are in residence for the Christmas holidays.

1908 — In June, a rumor in Paris prompts a letter to the newspapers from Mrs. Roosevelt at Roosevelt Hall.

Baby-Contest-WEBIn July, prompted by Theodore Roosevelt’s comments on “race suicide,” Mrs. Roosevelt and her daughter host a baby contest. Shown, three contestants on the gala day.

1911 – In January, actress Marie Dressler comes to Roosevelt Hall for tea with Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. W.J. Shotwell and Miss Mabel Avery. Her current play, “Tillie’s Nightmare,” is set partly in Skaneateles and this is her first visit to the village, which she at first had assumed was fictional. Dressler rides to Roosevelt Hall in Mrs. Roosevelt’s sleigh; upon her return to the Packwood House, she says, “Talk about Versailles and all your European piles, Roosevelt Hall with its exquisite furnishings beats them all.”

1912 – In July,  Augusta Roosevelt drives her Packard across America, from New York to San Francisco. She was just the 32nd person to motor across the country and receives a Tiffany Silver Medal for her accomplishment.

In August, she drives from Skaneateles to Philadelphia in one day.

Later in the month, she hosts a musicale at Roosevelt Hall with Miss Harriette Cady playing the piano.

1913 – Edward Padelford revisits Roosevelt Hall as Montgomery Roosevelt’s guest.

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1914 –Roosevelt Hall is occupied by Mrs. Roosevelt, while Mr. Roosevelt goes salmon fishing in Canada, sails at Newport, and leases a house in London “for the season.”

The Girls’ Friendly Society of St. James’ Episcopal Church meets at Roosevelt Hall.

In August, trouble at Roosevelt Hall is reported by the Skaneateles Free Press:

1915 — In early May, Theodore Roosevelt, the former U.S. President, visits while his cousin is away. Teddy is in Syracuse on a legal matter (the Barnes libel trial), and comes to Roosevelt Hall as a favor, to inspect damage done by a lightning strike on April 29th.

In July, Montgomery Roosevelt hosts James St. George Dillon, of Montreal and New York, at Roosevelt Hall. Dillon was a wealthy importer of chemicals and drugs who had offices in New York, and who summered in Newport. For a time his firm was the only licensed importer of morphine, which must have been a swell monopoly.

1918-1919 – The Skaneateles Press reports on a New Year’s celebration at Roosevelt Hall in this piece written by “One Present”:

 “Roosevelt Hall Gloriously Celebrates the Passing of the Old Year and the Coming of the New.

“If joys could continue in the same plentiful degree throughout the year as the New Year brought in to all at Roosevelt Hall Tuesday evening, life would be a rosy path to tread. Alas! it was one brief evening of mirth, cheer and entertaining mysteries to unfold. The evening was opened by a funny darky dialogue given by a Mr. Harper of New York, and the hostess’ daughter, Mrs. Gussie Boyleston Campbell, who was the much bedecked Mrs. Johnson, in “garret” finery, like a Christmas tree with myriads of  white curling papers crowning her and waving her fan most majestically. They were colored gentry of high degree, bantering back and forth in high-flown English in quick repartee of wit.

“When the chimes at midnight tolled out the old victorious year, all rose in respectful silence and with a ‘toast to our hostess, Mrs. Roosevelt,’ who so quietly was dispensing pleasure all around her. The colonial type of the house suggests house parties and brilliant social scenes, beautiful and stately in holiday decorations of evergreen and red candles flickering everywhere. A huge Christmas tree, ablaze with electric lights, nestled in the corner of the English drawing room. Following the entertaining program came the delicious refreshments that are beyond describing, all a beautiful dream to remember.

“May as much happiness come to the hostess at Roosevelt Hall as she gave her guests the close of the old year. “

* * *

1920 — Montgomery Roosevelt dies in New York City at the Knickerbocker Club. Legend has it that his portrait in Roosevelt Hall fell to the floor at the moment of his death. (This is based on the testimony of the servants; at the time, Mrs. Roosevelt was up West Lake Street having tea with Mrs. J. Thorne Mollard.)

Mr. Roosevelt’s funeral is held in Skaneateles and he is buried at Lake View Cemetery. In addition to family members, his friend and frequent guest Leslie Cotton comes to the village for the service.

Later in New York City, scandal ensues when the will is read. The mansion passes to his nephew, Col. Henry (Harry) Latrobe Roosevelt. Recently retired from the Marine Corps, Harry is married to Eleanor Morrow of San Francisco, daughter of Federal Circuit Judge William W. Morrow. Eleanor Morrow and Lt. Roosevelt were married in 1902; their children were William Morrow, Henry Latrobe, and Eleanor Katherine.

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1922 – In December, “Henry Evans and a gang of men have this week been rebuilding the ice house on the Roosevelt Hall property that was partially wrecked by the high water in the lake last June. A retaining wall has been built to guard against future damage.”

1923 – In August, Mrs. H.L. Roosevelt hosts Spanish Ambassador Don Juan Riano y Gayangos – Knight Grand Cross of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III, Grand Cross of Isabel the Catholic, Grand Cross of the Military Merit, Grand Cross of the Naval Merit, Grand Star of Honor of the Spanish Red Cross, Gold Medal of the San Payo Bridge, Grand Cross of the Order of Cambodge, Daneborg of Denmark and Saint Olaf of Norway, Commander of the Legion of Honor of France, Knight of Leopold of Belgium, of the Conception of Villaviciosa of Portugal, His Gentleman of the Chamber, Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington of His Most Catholic Majesty Alfonso XIII of Spain – perhaps our most titled visitor ever, for a quiet weekend.

1923 -1930 – The Roosevelt family lives mainly in Paris, where H.L. Roosevelt is heading the European operations of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). He oversees the building of large radio stations in Ankara, Turkey, and Warsaw, Poland.

1926 – The Roosevelt family summers in Skaneateles. Before returning to Paris in the fall, they travel to California to visit with Mrs. Roosevelt’s father.

1927 – Cold Spring Farm, owned by Montgomery Roosevelt, is sold to John Pease by Henry Latrobe Roosevelt for the trust fund of William Morrow Roosevelt.

1930 — The Roosevelt family returns to the U.S., and Mrs. Roosevelt reopens the mansion. On July 18th, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Governor of New York, visits Auburn Prison, and then motors to Skaneateles with his wife Eleanor and youngest son John to lunch with his cousin Harry at Roosevelt Hall. Others in the Governor’s party have lunch at The Krebs.

1931 – In August, Admiral Mark Bristol visits Harry and Eleanor Roosevelt.

1932 – In September, Harry and Eleanor again host their third-cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was now running for President. Roosevelt wins, and in 1933 approves the appointment of Harry as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

1933 – In October, Herbert Parker, the caretaker, shares raspberries with the editor of the Skaneateles Press, and says that he and a friend drove to Washington the previous week and presented Col. Harry Roosevelt with two quarts of the berries.

On November 4th, the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser reports:

Roosevelt Hall Robbed

“Trophies and guns, some them valuable antiques, are missing from the armor and trophy room of Roosevelt Hall, summer residence of Col. Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, assistant secretary of the navy and kin of President Roosevelt, on the west shore of Skaneateles Lake, it was learned yesterday. The burglary was discovered a week ago, but state police kept the news to themselves in order that they might follow up on a clue to the identity of the thieves, who are believed residents of the vicinity.”

* * *

1934 – In response to a request from the Skaneateles American Legion post, Col. Harry Roosevelt procures two large guns for the village’s World War I memorial in Shotwell Park. The guns are originally from the deck of Admiral George Dewey’s flagship U.S.S. Olympia.

In May, Harry changes the name of his official craft, a former Coast Guard “rum chaser,” from “Onondaga” to “Skaneateles.”

1936 — Col. Harry Roosevelt dies, and the house passes to his son, Major William Morrow Roosevelt.

* * *

1937Eleanor Katherine Roosevelt, Roosevelt Hall and a sailboat on the lake appear in an ad for Pond’s skin cream.

1940 – Maj. William Roosevelt and 14 members of the City Troop of Philadelphia camp on the grounds of Roosevelt Hall, guests of Mrs. H.L. Roosevelt, on their way to war games.

1942 – In May and December, the Skaneateles Press carried one story and one classified ad from Roosevelt Hall:

Mrs. H. L. Roosevelt Asks $66 from County In Death of 9 Sheep

“Onondaga County probably will pay a $66 claim to Mrs. Henry L. Roosevelt of Roosevelt Hall here and Washington, D.C., for a sheep and eight lambs owned by her and destroyed by predatory dogs. The claim was filed with County Treasurer Nicholas Pirro after a visit to Roosevelt Hall by Sanford J. Henion and Webb H. Greenfield, Skaneateles town assessors. One sheep worth $10, and eight lambs worth $7 each were killed on or about May 8. They were in a flock of 29 sheep and 13 lambs, on the Roosevelt estate. If the claim is granted, the money win come from the county’s dog license fees.”

 “LOST – Wednesday, December 26th, one earring set with pearls, believed to have been dropped when stepping off Auburn and Syracuse car at trolley station, Skaneateles. Finder please notify Mrs. H.L. Roosevelt, Roosevelt Hall, Skaneateles, and receive reward.”

* * *

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Roosevelt Hall circa 1944; photo by Spencer L. Adams

1944 — Maj. William Roosevelt, while serving in the U.S. military in Guam, sells the mansion to William H. Delavan.

1950 – A November windstorm blows off part of the roof, fells 20 trees and damages the greenhouse.

1961 — Delavan sells the house to Kenneth M. Dunning, the developer of Lake View Circle.

1963 – Dunning sells a portion of the estate’s land to Thomas Rich, who tears down the greenhouse, converts the carriage house into a residence, and further subdivides the land for another residence.

1967 — Dunning sells Roosevelt Hall to Dennis Owen.

1974 — Owen builds a smaller home for himself on the property and deeds Roosevelt Hall to the Christian Brothers.

2001 – The Christian Brothers pass the home to the Franciscan Friars.

2007 – At the Friars’ request, the house reverts to Dennis Owen who sells it to the current residents; it is once again a private home.

Judge, Governor, Gardener

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William Marvin was a hanging judge. So learned Alejandro Carcer and Guillot Eloy of the American schooner Enterprise when they snapped and swung for the murder of Captain B.A. Morantes in 1859. Known as a legal lion and the only moral force in southern Florida, Federal Judge William Marvin played by the book. And when there was no book, he wrote it, authoring Law of Wreck and Salvage as he imposed order on those who lived off shipwrecks in the Florida Keys.

William Marvin also dished it out to the slave trade, condemning the slave ships Wildfire, William and Bogota after their capture by the U.S. Navy in 1860. When Florida seceded from the Union, Judge Marvin held his ground, saying the move was illegal. Because Key West never fell into Confederate hands, and was a port for Union blockaders, Marvin remained the only Federal judge south of Washington. After the war, President Andrew Johnson appointed him provisional Governor of Florida. He was Florida’s seventh governor, serving from July 13 to December 20, 1865.

Not bad for a farm boy from upstate New York.

:: Walking to Washington ::

Born in Fairfield, Herkimer County, and raised in Dryden, Tompkins County, William Marvin began teaching in Phelps, New York, at the age of 15, giving his wages to his father and working on the family farm in the summer. At 18, he went out on his own, heading south. “I walked the greater part of the way through the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland to Bladensburg near Washington city,” he wrote. When down to his last 25 cents, he stopped and started a school, speaking to parents that evening and beginning to rebuild his bankroll the next morning. On Saturdays and holidays, he walked the five miles into Washington, and at the White House reception on the 4th of July, 1827, shook hands with President John Quincy Adams. He was more impressed, however, by Colonel Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812, a tall and handsome man with a plumed hat.

Marvin would live to be 95, but he almost died three times while young. His first brush came when he called on a young lady from Phelps who was visiting in Alexandria, Virginia. In a borrowed sailboat, he and a friend set out on the Potomac River, ran into high winds and waves, and were cast into the water. The boat was lost, but the men swam to the shore, fully dressed. Dripping wet, Marvin called upon the young lady, whose aunt and uncle, “nice Quaker people,” allowed him to dry his clothes in the kitchen and suggested that he learn how to sail before setting sail again.

After school hours, Marvin studied law and was admitted to the Maryland bar. But he chose to return to New York, traveling by stage coach, steamboat and railroad, with $350 in “good bank bills” in his pocket. Back in Phelps, he found a position clerking for another attorney and prospered. But in 1832, his father, step-mother and eldest brother all died “of the fever.” Marvin found himself responsible for his father’s second family. “What to do with seven little orphan children… was a very perplexing question,” he wrote. In the end, he loaded them all in a wagon, parceled them out to seven different families, and life went on. In 1834, he was admitted to the New York State Bar, and began practicing as a lawyer in Phelps. But his life took another turn.

Marvin notes, “In December 1834, professional business took me to St. Augustine in Florida.” Surely the tale of how a lawyer from Phelps found himself in Florida is worth two sentences. But not from William Marvin.

The young lawyer went south, but his luck as a sailor was unchanged. The five-day ocean voyage to Florida from New York City, aboard a Hudson River sloop, turned into 25 days of head winds, bad navigation and sea sickness. “When I landed in St. Augustine I was so weak that I could scarcely walk,” he wrote. Not yet a state, Florida had been in U.S. hands since 1819 when Spain ceded it to the young nation, an event perhaps not unrelated to the 1818 invasion led by Andrew Jackson. Marvin concluded his business, made some new friends, and returned to New York. But in the summer of 1835, as a result of a contact Marvin had made on his first visit, President Andrew Jackson called upon him to serve as U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

:: Key West ::

Marvin wrote, “The acceptance of this office and removal to Key West changed the whole course and current of my life. I resided no longer in a northern climate, where the winds, ice and snow compelled me to live within doors nine months of the year, but had become the inhabitant of an island located half way between the Peninsula of Florida and Cuba, where the bright sun and delightful sea breezes invited one to live in the open air as much as possible, all the year round.”

Key West was home to about 350 people whose main occupation was salvaging shipwrecks and cargos strewn across 200 miles of reefs in the Florida Keys. In such cases, who owned what, and who owed how much money to who, led to much litigation. A hurricane had preceded William Marvin, and in his first week in Key West he found himself trying several cases. In less than a month, moonlighting at the going rate, he earned $1,500, more than he would have earned in a year of lawyering in Phelps, New York. And so it went: His work as District Attorney was light, but William Marvin made $14,000 in just four years, all of which he invested. (These are 1835 dollars by the way; today, they would be the equivalent of $268,000.)

Four months after his arrival, William Marvin had his second glimpse of mortality. Upon returning from a visit to Havana, he came down with yellow fever. “Indeed, it is a wonder I did not die,” he said. The mortality rate for yellow fever was 50%. Marvin won the coin toss.

With some other young men, he started a church. His social life revolved around four or five families he came to know. He sought to hire domestic servants to cook and clean, but was told there was no one to hire; he would have to buy his domestics, so he did. The local food consisted of fish and green turtle; other staples came from New York or Charleston, South Carolina. Mail came once a month on a schooner from Charleston. The only drawback was the mosquitoes, “always hungry and venomous.”

And there were other pests. In 1837, during a legislative council in Tallahassee, Marvin opposed a bill presented by one Ned Wood, whose response was, “Damn him, I’ll cut his damned ears off.” Marvin wrote, “If it should be understood throughout the country that I could be insulted without properly resenting the insult, my public life would be at once ended.”

He stood up to Wood and the etiquette of the era called for a duel with pistols. Marvin asked another gentleman to be his second and, providentially, that man was a friend of Wood who knew him to be adept with a pistol, able to hit a silver dollar at ten paces. Marvin, on the other hand, had as much knowledge of pistols as he had of sailing. Marvin’s second said, “Please stay in your room until I come back.” Within an hour, he returned with a written apology from Wood, and thus saved Marvin’s life.

:: Married, Blessed, Widowed ::

In the summers, when court was not in session and the Keys were at their most tropical, Marvin would return to New York to vacation. During an 1846 summer stay in Cooperstown, Marvin was pleased to meet Harriette Foote, a young woman who he described as being of medium size, with fair skin, gray eyes, dark hair. Their courtship must have been of an extremely rational nature. Marvin noted, “She had not a great difficulty in learning all she desired to know about me, as I was well known to her friend Judge Nelson of the Supreme Court of the United States.” They married and sailed south to Key West, where she gave birth to a daughter, Hattie. But Harriette had taken ill during her pregnancy and was unable to nurse her child. Nor was there a goat or cow on Key West to provide milk. But Marvin found a slave, Nancy Wall, who was able to nurse both Hattie and her own daughter. Before Harriette Marvin died, as she soon did, she was able to see “a rosy-cheeked, laughing, happy, and joyous baby.”

Marvin now felt compelled to send his daughter back to Cooperstown. He found a Mrs. Williams who would nurse the baby on the voyage north. In Boston, the infant was passed on to Mary Flood, “a young, strong, healthy Irish woman.” Thus, in the age before Similac, Hattie Marvin was passed from breast to breast, and thrived. And when she grew older, she was able to return to Florida to be with her father, eventually a United States District Judge.

:: Dinner with Emerson and Longfellow ::

In the summer of 1858, Marvin went to Boston to supervise the printing of Law of Wreck and Salvage. On the street, he encountered Louis Agassiz, famed zoologist and geologist, then teaching at Harvard. The previous winter, they had met while Agassiz was in Key West, studying the coral reefs. The chance meeting resulted in an invitation, and Marvin found himself dining with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and “several other literary persons.” Marvin was underwhelmed: “I conversed mostly with Emerson who had been in Florida… He did not specially interest me in his conversation. Holmes was not handsome; he looked too much like Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, lean and angular… Longfellow talked but little…”

“Holmes was not handsome” is one of several similar comments in Marvin’s autobiography. Stephens was to be the Vice President of the Confederacy and later the Governor of Georgia. Apparently, Marvin found him to be a benchmark of ugliness, and to Marvin, that mattered. He thought himself bashful and awkward, and apparently this perceived shortcoming and his admiration of other’s good looks colored his relationships all his life.

In 1860, after a trip to Europe, Marvin returned to Florida in time for the debate over secession. Although he owned his domestic servants, and made no apology for it, he was opposed to secession on Constitutional grounds. A State convention was called to consider the matter, and Marvin put himself forward as a candidate to represent his county on the Union side; he was defeated. His colleagues were mostly secessionists, and Marvin spoke of “great mental anxiety and suffering” at this time, relieved only by the presence of his sister, his niece and his daughter.

The beginning of the Civil War was, paradoxically, a relief for Marvin. The future became clear; Martial Law was declared in Key West and the secessionists left, returning to mainland Florida and the Confederacy. “The Unionists were now in the ascendancy and quiet and good order prevailed,” Marvin wrote. His work now concerned prize cases, the disposition of vessels caught trying to run the Union blockade. But in 1863, Marvin felt that his health could no longer bear the anxiety, the overwork, and the hot climate. He removed his family from Key West and sailed to New York City.

:: Judge to Governor ::

There he rested and then began practicing law again. But when the war ended, he was asked by President Andrew Johnson to return to Florida as its Governor, and he accepted, helping to reestablish state government and lead the effort to draft a new state constitution, which would abolish slavery and assure “the rights of person and property without distinction of color.”

As part of his duties, Marvin spoke to many groups of former slaves, and was discouraged by their failure to grasp the concept of “freedom.” (One might observe that he shouldn’t have been surprised. Civics classes were not a regular part of the slave experience in Florida, and it may be that those who “got it” had already left with it.)

Marvin’s duties as provisional governor soon ended, but he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and it appeared that his career in public life would be crowned with another achievement. But instead, his career was about to end. The Senate refused to seat him because he had been sent to Washington by a state which had not yet extended the vote to people of color. A new state election was held, this time with recently freed slaves voting. Guided by the benevolent powers, the new electorate selected two new senators, Colonel Thomas Ward Osborn of Jefferson County, N.Y., and Mr. Abijah Gilbert from Otsego County, N.Y. Each had lived in Florida for less than two years, and would now represent the citizens of Florida while living in Washington, D.C.

Marvin noted, “I took no part in these proceedings.” In fact, he bailed out. He left Florida. He left politics. He left the practice of law. He married a woman he had met in Saratoga Springs a few summers earlier — he was “much pleased with her personal appearance” — and moved to her home in Skaneateles, New York.

:: Skaneateles ::

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Marvin’s bride, Eliza Riddle Jewett, was the widowed daughter-in-law of Freeborn Jewett. And so Governor William Marvin found himself in possession of the Jewett mansion just a few steps from the lake. (It is today the home of the Masonic Temple, and, fittingly, law offices.) Here, William Marvin settled into a long retirement that stretched from 1867 to 1902.

Given his past, the Village was impressed by his presence. Judge Marvin served as president of the Skaneateles Library Association from its founding until his death. He was president of the Village Board of Trustees in 1876. He served as Senior Warden of St. James Episcopal Church and as chairman of the Lake View Cemetery Association. He stood in opposition to a railroad that would have run down the east shore of the lake, which should endear him to everyone who either lives or looks at the east shore.

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But what endears him to me is his garden. “I have employed my time in working in my garden,” he wrote in 1893. And what a garden he had to work in. His backyard filled the center of the block bounded by Genesee and Academy, Jordon and State, pretty much where the municipal parking lot is today. Imagine that paved lot as well-tended green space, and you have William Marvin’s garden.

When William Marvin’s wife died in 1901, he wrote, “Our married life was peaceful and happy. I shall soon rejoin her.” And so he did, in 1902. He is buried in Lake View Cemetery. His home still stands on Genesee Street.

On occasion, his photograph and an 1861 silk flag, given by friends in Florida who admired his stand for the Union, adorn a mantel in the Skaneateles Library. And at St. James’ Episcopal Church, a brass plaque marks the pew where he sat every Sunday, and a larger bronze marker on the east wall commemorates his service to the church.

MarvinFlag

* * *

Much of my information came from the Web, particularly histories of Florida, and from Marvin’s own autobiography courtesy of the Skaneateles Historical Society. In 1893, Marvin had his memories set down on paper, noting, “At the request of my daughter I have thus dictated to an amanuensis an account of the principal events of my life. There has been nothing extraordinary in it.” He added a few more notes before his death in 1902. Frances Milford copied the autobiography from Marvin’s notes and Reba Pierce did the typing. My thanks to them and to Village Historian Pat Blackler.

marvin

This painting of William Marvin is oil over a photograph, done circa 1955 by Tallahassee artist Claribel Jett; it hangs in Florida.

Freeborn Jewett (1791-1858), whose house Marvin moved into in Skaneateles, served as first Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals and was remembered for “the clearness of his intellect, the justness of his judgment, the purity and benevolence of his heart.” Born in Connecticut, he came to Skaneateles in 1815 to practice law with James Porter. He was appointed to many state and local offices, and elected to the New York State Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the New York State Court of Appeals. He retired from the court in 1853 to return to Skaneateles.