Rachel Bulley Trump, Self-Portrait, 1929
A portrait artist who summered on Skaneateles Lake, Rachel Bulley Trump first came to my attention in a collection of letters. On August 27, 1944, Helen Stringer wrote from a cottage on West Lake Road to her husband serving as a MASH surgeon with the U.S. Army in France:
“The painting of Nancy is going to be superb. Nothing has thrilled me so much in months. Just knowing Mrs. Trump is something special–a highlight of this summer. Her personality is as warm and understanding as she is beautiful. You would love her–and that painting. The first day Nancy sat contentedly on top of a little table in a child’s chair playing with beads and earrings and old jewelry for two hours. It is already beautiful–a sunny three-year-old girl. It makes you happy just to look at her and the painting.”
Rachel Bulley Trump came to Syracuse as a young girl and summered here for many years. But I really can’t tell her story without talking about the family she came from.
:: The Bulley Family ::
Rachel’s father, Reginald Hargreaves Bulley, was born in New Brighton, Merseyside, England, in 1855, the son of Samuel Marshall Bulley and Mary Raffles Bulley. Samuel Bulley was a broker, buying cotton from American growers for English fabric mills, and he was successful enough to support a large family: Reginald had thirteen (13) brothers and sisters.
Reginald went to Marlborough College in Wiltshire from 1868 to 1871, then to Owens College in Manchester, and finally to the University of London, graduating in 1876. The following year he came to the United States to work at the new Canton (Ohio) Steel Works of the Bolton Steel Company, eventually becoming its Vice President.
In addition to being a steel manufacturer, he was known as an amateur ornithologist and for having the first high-wheeled “penny farthing” bicycle – with a 64-inch front wheel – in Canton. In 1887, Reginald married Harriet Mary Tanner; in 1888 they were blessed with a son, Charles Reginald Bulley. Rachel Bulley was born in 1890, Corolyn in 1892 and Leonora in 1903.
In January of 1904, the Bulley family moved to Syracuse where Reginald became the superintendent of the Halcomb Steel Company, supervising 800 workers in the production of high-grade steel. The Bulley family lived at 216 Ostrom Avenue, across the street from Thornden Park, just up the hill from Syracuse University. They joined the Onondaga Golf & Country Club, where Reginald played golf and the girls played tennis.
In 1908, Rachel Bulley graduated from the Goodyear-Burlingame School, a private school in Syracuse. She was the only graduate; her commencement speech was entitled “Stimulus.” She went to Syracuse University to study art, majoring in painting, studying with Jeannette Scott. She was a member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority. In 1911, she led efforts to open the S.U. swimming pool to women, and succeeded, with Tuesday evenings set aside for them.
Unknown Subject (1913) by Rachel Bulley
Rachel graduated in 1912 and continued to paint. She sold paintings to benefit the Solvay Circle at a booth of the Social Guild. In 1913, she did posters for a Hospital Ball. In May of 1916, Syracuse University hosted an exhibition of Rachel’s paintings in the reading room of Crouse College; Jeannette Scott, her teacher and mentor at S.U., helped to arrange the show. The program noted that she had been painting portraits in Philadelphia, and working in the studio at her family’s home on Ostrom Avenue. The following month, three of her paintings went on display at the Syracuse Art Museum.
:: Marriage ::
In 1917, Rachel Bulley married Charles Croasdale Trump in Syracuse. The March 10th Post-Standard noted:
“Miss Rachel Bulley, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves Bulley of Ostrom Avenue will become the bride of Charles Croasdale Trump, son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Needles Trump, at the home of her parents this evening. About one hundred relatives and intimate friends have been invited to the ceremony, which will be performed by Rev. John H. Applebee, pastor of May Memorial Church. Late in the evening the bride and bridegroom will leave for a wedding trip of a few weeks, after which they will go to Del Rio, Texas, where they will make their home for a time.”
It is no surprise that Rachel Bulley met Charles Croasdale Trump. They traveled in the same social circles; Rachel went to parties with Charles’ sisters. Two sisters, Corolyn Bulley and Marjorie Trump, were classmates at Radcliffe College.
Like his father, Charles Trump was an engineer, having attended Harvard for his A.B. (Class of 1909) and Cornell for his Masters in Engineering (1911). For the “Class of 1909, Third Report” of Harvard University, he wrote:
“The two years after graduation I spent at Cornell University in Sibley College in the regular course of mechanical engineering, specializing in the division of gas power. Then went to Europe, traveling and studying gas pumps in England and Germany. Returned home in January, 1912, and took up active duties as secretary and mechanical engineering assistant of Humphrey Gas Pump Company, Syracuse, N. Y. The years 1915-17 were spent on the Rio Grande in Texas, on an irrigating project near Eagle Pass. 1918 was spent in trying to get into the service, finally working as assistant administrative engineer for the New York State Fuel Administration from July to October. I had influenza twice.”
The Texas project was on the G. Bedell Moore estate, which extended from Del Rio to within 10 miles of Eagle Pass; the finished gas-powered pump lifted water from the Rio Grande to irrigate 6,000 acres of the 12,000 acre estate.
(What amazes me is that Charles Trump survived influenza twice. This was during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 which killed 675,000 Americans, and 50 million people worldwide, with the mortality rate highest among those aged 20 to 40.)
After their Syracuse wedding and a honeymoon trip, the couple went off to Texas, where Rachel continued to paint, doing portraits of workers and even landscapes.
“Elphanzo Montez” (1917)
“Texas from the Front Door” (1917)
Now, unless you are the very soul of patience, you might ask, “Aren’t we getting farther and farther from Skaneateles?” Well, yes. But the road turns back here, and it is the Trump family that will bring us home.
:: The Trump Family ::
Edward Needles Trump was born in Philadelphia in 1857, the son of Charles Newbold Trump and Helen Matthews Needles. At the age of 15, he apprenticed as a machinist in his father’s shop. In 1876, he was placed in charge of his father’s exhibit in Machinery Hall at the Philadelphia Centennial and there he met Professor John E. Sweet of Cornell University who would become his mentor and advocate.
With Sweet’s encouragement, Trump entered a two-year mechanical engineering program at Cornell, completing the course in 1878. The next year, Sweet moved to Syracuse to manufacture his “Straight Line” steam engine. When Sweet was asked by William Cogswell of the Solvay Process Company who he would recommend as an engineer for Cogswell’s new plant, he named Trump. In 1882, Trump became the Chief Engineer, building and operating the first plant to make soda ash in the U.S.
In 1883, Trump married Katherine M. Croasdale. Born in Philadelphia, Katherine was a daughter of Dr. Hannah T. Croasdale, M.D., for 30 years a professor at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and one of the first women admitted to the Northern (Philadelphia) Medical Association.
The Trumps had two children, Charles, born in 1886, and Marjorie, born in 1891. The family home in Syracuse, a “fine residence and carriage house,” was at 1912 W. Genesee St. It was designed by architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1848–1913), known for his landmark Syracuse Savings Bank building on Clinton Square.
Between 1890 and 1893, Trump designed one of the first rotary furnaces for making Portland cement, and designed and built the first plant in the U.S. to purify bauxite and make aluminum. He developed the processes for the products made by the Solvay Process Co., and served as General Manager of the Semet-Solvay Company, where he built coke plants that furnished gas to nearby municipalities, coke to iron furnace plants, and recovered by-products such as ammonia for other uses. If a process didn’t exist to create something, he invented it, designed the machinery to make it a reality, and ran the plant that housed the machinery. He was an amazing man.
Edward Needles Trump
In Past and Present of Onondaga County (1908), William Beauchamp wrote that Trump was quiet and unassuming, and added, “The spirit of consideration, of courtesy and of peace characteristic of his Quaker ancestry have left their impress upon his life in that his successes have been won without ostentation and his prominence gained without pretentious display.”
:: Skaneateles ::
I’m not sure exactly when the Trump family first came to Skaneateles; the newspaper accounts are sketchy. In 1900, they summered at “The Meadows” in Cazenovia; in 1902, they spent the season at “the Stephen Thornton place” in Skaneateles. They returned to Skaneateles in the summer of 1903; it isn’t clear where they stayed.
In March of 1904, the newspaper noted, “J.E. Palmer has the job of decorating and painting the interior of E.N. Trump’s fine home on the west lake road,” and in the summer the newspaper mentioned the Trump’s “new summer home” and “their cottage.”
Postcard of The Beeches, 1907
In 1905, the place was referred to as “The Beeches” for the first time, and in April of 1906, the newspaper noted that “many improvements are underway.” One of the improvements was telephone service. The following month, construction began on the boathouse.
The Beeches Boathouse, photo by Charles Edward (Ted) Trump
In June of 1907, there was something of a setback: The hen house, containing 70 chickens, was destroyed by fire. In October of 1909, after the Trumps have returned to Syracuse for the winter, William B. Smiley, the caretaker at The Beeches, stepped into the limelight:
“Four Sir Walter Raleigh potatoes dug by W.B. Smiley on ‘The Beeches,’ E.T. Trump’s premises on the West Lake Road, weighed ten and one-half pounds, the largest pulling down the scales at three pounds.”
This was the same W.B. Smiley who in 1906 caught a 22-inch trout weighing 4 1/2 pounds, and who kept the chickens and ducks at The Beeches. He had less luck with turkeys, but I won’t go there.
For the Trumps, summer life here was not without its misadventures, as the Syracuse Post-Standard reported in July of 1910 in an article entitled “Mrs. E. N. Trump Hurled Over Seat of Buckboard.” The accident took place on Genesee Street at 4 p.m., probably at the conclusion of a shopping trip.
“Mrs. Trump occupied the rear seat of the carriage, the coachman being in front. The seat was not fastened securely, and when the horses started suddenly it tipped and Mrs. Trump was thrown backwards into the street, landing upon her head. The coachman, in ignorance of what had happened, continued on and had gone some distance when witnesses of the accident called to him. Mrs. Trump was unconscious when picked up.”
Katherine Trump was carried into Charles H. Kirkland’s store, where she recovered consciousness and was treated by Dr. Wright for a slight scalp wound.
The summer of 1912 went more smoothly for Mrs. Trump. Rose bushes from Ireland arrived and were planted at The Beeches. The blooms were too late to compete in June’s Syracuse Rose Society Show, but they were “one of the main attractions of the show because of the wax-like gloss and perfection of contours. One of the plants shown yields a pink and white striped blossom and another a deep yellow.”
Also in June of 1912, 10,000 lake trout fingerlings were released into the lake at The Beeches. In 1913, William Fowler, formerly the caretaker at Roosevelt Hall, replaced Mr. Smiley, who moved on to the George Hiscock farm.
The Beeches, photo by Charles Edward (Ted) Trump
As we have seen, Katherine Croasdale Trump was the daughter of a strong and independent woman, so this news article from 1915 is no surprise:
“Suffragists Entertained at Trump Summer Home: Eighty Persons Present at Silver Tea Given at The Beeches, Skaneateles
“A new automobile was donated to the suffragists by Mr. and Mrs. Edward N. Trump yesterday afternoon at the silver tea held by members of the Fifth Suffrage Campaign District [should be Fifth District Suffrage Campaign] at The Beeches, the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Trump on the west shore of Skaneateles lake. Eighty persons patronized the social affair, which was one of the most pleasurable events of the season in that village. About $100 was realized from the sale of flowers, which were lavishly displayed on the tables arranged about the broad piazzas and in the rooms. This money is to be used for the campaign work.
“Rev. Henry M. Carey of Elbridge, Miss Grace B. Townsend of this city and Miss Mary Newcomb of New York spoke for enfranchisement of women and the encouraging outlook for victory at next November’s election, when the constitutional amendment is to be voted on. Miss Newcomb is a social worker in New York and she declared that more efficacious results could be accomplished by women along this line and in much shorter time with the ballot behind them.”
— July 31, 1915, The (Syracuse) Post-Standard
Katherine Trump was also a member of the Kanatenah Club in Syracuse, a women’s club active in the suffrage movement. According to the Rev. William Beauchamp, an authority on the languages of the Iroquois, Kanatenah translated into English as “Chief Squaw of the Wigwam.”
(In 1918, Congress passed what became, when ratified in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited gender-based restrictions on voting, giving women the vote in the U.S.A.)
In October of 1915, the Trumps were prime movers in the creation of the Skaneateles Country Club, and Edward N. Trump served as its first president. In June of 1916, Trump inspected the grounds and the progress on construction of the new nine-hole golf course.
In 1918, with America’s entry into World War I, there was a shortage of male laborers to work in farming. The Women’s Land Army sent thousands of young city women, dubbed “farmerettes,” into the fields that summer. Syracuse University sent 26 young women to the farms around Skaneateles, and Katherine Trump served as their “godmother.” In addition to watching over the young women, she hosted a tea for them at The Beeches.
Also in 1918, the news carried an account of a more informal gathering:
“The summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward N. Trump, ‘The Beeches,’ on Skaneateles lake, was the scene of a jolly picnic party Wednesday. The guests motored to Skaneateles, enjoyed an hour of swimming, cooked a shore supper and danced in the sunken garden.”
Among the guests were Charles and Rachel Trump, back from Texas. In 1920, an exhibition of paintings by Syracuse University graduates at the Museum of Fine Arts included pieces by Rachel Trump. Jeannette Scott, her college instructor and the curator of the exhibit, wrote, “Mrs. Trump’s work is spontaneous, pure in color, brilliant in handling, original in lighting and full of the joy of life.”
Katherine Trump was to enjoy just two more summers in Skaneateles. In late December of 1920, shortly after returning from a trip to England, she fell ill and was hospitalized at the Syracuse Memorial Hospital, where she had served as a trustee. She died in March of 1921, and was remembered as an active club woman and charity worker.
The Trump family continued to summer at The Beeches. In October of 1924, Ernest Spearing (son of Thomas and Hester Spearing) accepted the position of caretaker; he would hold the job for 21 years. He was assisted by Bill Wood, who took care of the horses, the vegetable gardens and the lawns. In the winter, Spearing and Wood went out onto the frozen lake and cut large blocks of ice, bringing them back to the ice house via horse and sleigh. Covered with saw dust, the blocks would supply the “ice boxes” of the house and cottages during the summer.
Charles Edward Skelton, from Sheffield, England, served as the Trump family’s chauffeur both in Syracuse and in Skaneateles, living in nearby homes with his family: wife Jessie, and three children, son Gwynn, and daughters Peggy and Marjorie. The family had two Packard automobiles, and it was said that Skelton dusted them so frequently that the lacquer slowly disappeared.
E.N. Trump (1929) by Rachel Bulley Trump
In 1930, E.N. Trump resigned from the Solvay Process Company. In 1937, true to his Quaker origins, Trump provided office space for the Syracuse Peace Council, which had been founded the year before.
Wintering in Merion, Pennsylvania, on Philadelphia’s Main Line, and summering in Skaneateles, Rachel Bulley Trump garnered praise as a portrait artist in both locales. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote of one painting, “Virginia Garrett is the subject of Rachel Bulley Trump’s aurous girl portrait, a picture which fairly leaps across the gallery at the beholder, so luminous is the quality.” She also raised a family; she and Charles had three children: Charles Edward (Ted) Trump, Peter Bulley Trump and Rachel (Rae) Trump.
Ted Trump, who found boating to be more fun than sitting for a portrait, was an unwilling subject. He recalls, “If she looked at you, then raised her hands to form a rectangular window with her fingers, then aimed the opening at your face, look out!”
In the 1930s, Rachel developed bursitis in her right shoulder, and discovered she could paint equally well with her left hand. (She also found she could shift gears with her left hand, reaching through the steering wheel to operate the shift lever on the floor.) Like her husband, Rachel was resourceful and inventive. She had an optometrist make a special pair of glasses for her especially for portrait painting; they were vertical bifocals, so she could look left to her subject, then right to her canvas, while barely moving her head.
Rachel Bulley Trump in the garden, photo courtesy of Charles Edward (Ted) Trump
At the Beeches, one of her favorite parts of the day was the early morning when she would go into the garden to pick flowers for the house and cottage. She loved color.
In the summer of 1938, Rachel hosted a “studio tea” at The Beeches, with an exhibition of portraits, including likenesses of AnnaOlmstead, Mrs. John E. Williams, Edith Blagbrough, Will Olmstead, Dorothy Walworth, and Sally and Tommy Penchoen. The newspaper noted that Rachel was a member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Art Alliance, and Plastic Club of Philadelphia. (Founded in 1897, the Plastic Club was an association of women artists who shared work with one another while it was still in the “plastic” or unfinished stage.)
One of her portrait subjects, Anna Wetherill Olmsted, wrote, “Rachel Trump has also won an enviable reputation as a painter of children. She works rapidly, capturing the spirit of her young sitters, and her child subjects are invariably full of life and charm.”
The following spring, the Auburn newspaper wrote about a collection of children’s portraits at the Cayuga Museum of History and Art, describing Rachel as “a well known Philadelphia portrait painter who spends her summers on Skaneateles Lake.”
The Beeches, photo by Charles Edward (Ted) Trump
That summer, the Garden Club hosted a tour of Skaneateles homes, and the printed program noted that the house and garden of The Beeches had been designed by Mr. Trump. Among the attractions, “An avenue of elms leads from the road to the house which is surrounded by maples and beeches. A natural sunken pool is in the garden which extends down to the lake shore. Portraits by the painter Rachel Bulley Trump will be on exhibition in the house during the tour.”
Harriet May Mills (1939) by Rachel Bulley Trump
The summer of 1939 also saw the hanging of Rachel’s portrait of Harriet Mills at the New York State Fair’s Harriet May Mills Memorial building (today’s Home and Art Center.) The portrait of the pioneering suffragette was commissioned by the Harriet May Mills Club and it was fitting that it was painted by someone from a family of active suffrage workers.
By the early 1940s, the Trump family’s connection with The Beeches was coming to an end. In 1944, when Rachel painted the portrait of Helen Stringer’s daughter, Nancy, she may have been summering in Skaneateles with friends, rather than living at The Beeches.
Rachel Bulley Trump lived and painted for many more years. Her grandson, Charles (Chuck) Owings, remembers this story that tells us about her attitude towards life:
“She lived with my parents in Vienna, Virginia, in the later part of her life. While everyone in the house was away, she ventured out to the gardens in the back yard. She was pretty frail by then and fell on a slight embankment and found she couldn’t get up. She was there for quite a while before anyone came home and found her. She said, after a short while struggling to get up, she resigned herself to lay there and enjoy the gardens and the nice summer weather. She was perfectly content.”
She painted her last portrait in 1977, and died in 1979. In her lifetime, she did more than 1,000 portraits, leaving an extraordinary legacy in color and light.
* * *
My sincere thanks to Ted Trump and Chuck Owings, son and grandson of Rachel Bulley Trump for their many stories, corrections, illuminations. The color photos of The Beeches are by Ted Trump, circa 1940; here’s Ted on Skaneateles Lake:
The Peace-News-Letter, February 1937; “Gives Studio Tea,” Skaneateles Press, July 22, 1938; “Rachel Bulley Trump, Renowned Artist” by Joyce McLaughlin Boyle in The Crescent of Gamma Phi Beta, September 1955; “Rachel B. Trump, 88, painter,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 10, 1979; Letters of Love and War: A World War II Correspondence by Helen Dann Stringer and Dr. Sydney Stringer (Syracuse University Press, 1997)