The Rev. Donald Cameron Stuart served as rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles from January of 1923 to 1926. Born 1893 in Syracuse, he graduated from Hobart College with the class of 1915, and completed his studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. The United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, and Stuart enlisted in the Army in June, serving as a Private, a Sergeant and then as a Second Lieutenant in the 108th Infantry, 27th Division, in France.
“The Glorious 27th” by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963)
Stuart saw action at Yypres-Lys, and was wounded during the final Somme Offensive, at the battle around the Le Selle River, on October 17, 1918 — three days before his regiment was relieved, and less than a month before the Armistice. He received the Purple Heart, and was discharged in July of 1919. He took “a refresher course” in theology at Cambridge University in England, and was ordained as an Episcopal priest. Shortly after Donald began his service as rector at St. James’ in Skaneateles, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant and became the chaplain of the 108th Infantry, now a reserve unit. He left St. James’ in 1926 to serve at St. George’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Utica, N.Y., but continued as an Army chaplain. In spite of his war experiences, or perhaps because of them, he had a unique perspective. In a sermon he preached at St. George’s in 1933, he said, “Many of His followers act as though they must get rid of all fun and pleasure if they are to be good. But how can we expect to bring others into the church if we picture Christianity as a religion of gloom and sadness? It is the devil who tries to make us see only the sorrow and the suffering of life… Of course Christians will not find joy and happiness by avoiding labor and suffering on this earth. The Christian must always be ready to endure suffering for God and for men. But through our toil and suffering, we Christians know there is still a joy in living.” In 1940, on the eve of World War II, the Rev. Stuart’s unit was called to active duty; he was promoted to Lt. Col. and became the chaplain of the 27th Division. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he sailed to Hawaii to serve in his second World War. He returned to the U.S. in July of 1943 as post chaplain at the Ashford General Hospital in White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, before being assigned to Washington, D.C., as chaplain at Walter Reed General Hospital, where he ended his military career. After retirement, he moved to Florida, where he died in 1977.
:: Reuel Smith Senior ::
Born in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, Reuel Smith Sr. (1789-1873) was the son of Joshua Smith and Freelove Kibbee Smith. From about 1812 to 1820, he led the Sandisfield firm of Smith & Stevens, and he next moved to New York City where he established the firm of Smith & Mills with Edward R. Mills, and later Drake Mills, Jr., also from Sandisfield. Together, they ran a “general Southern trade” in cotton, sugar and rice.
In 1822, Reuel married Celestia A. Mills, a daughter of Drake Mills Sr., and his business partner became his brother-in-law. Their ties of business and family extended to Charleston, South Carolina, where Otis Mills (brother of Drake Mills Sr.) and Erastus Beach (husband of Sarah Mills), also of Sandisfield, were doing business as Mills, Beach & Co., shipping cotton, sugar and rice north to Smith & Mills, among others, in New York City. One of Beach’s best friends was Henry Latrobe Roosevelt (the son of Nicholas and Lydia Roosevelt), a young man from Skaneateles also doing business in Charleston.
In New York City, Celestia Mills Smith died at the age of 31 in 1829, four days after the birth of her son, Edmond Reuel Smith. Celestia’s daughter, Sarah Celestia Smith, died just two months after her mother, and was not yet two years old. This left Reuel Smith Sr. with two young sons, James Mills Smith and Edmond Reuel Smith.
The Old Merchants of New York City, First Series (1862) by Walter Barrett noted that Reuel Smith was “a short, thick-set, active man,” and when in New York could always be found at the St. Nicholas, where he was called ‘Little Smith.’ (The St. Nicholas Hotel on Broadway was in its day (1853-1884) the most luxurious hotel in New York City.)
In 1845, Drake Smith withdrew from business and the firm was briefly named Smith & Lord, the other partner being Silas Lord, but Reuel Smith Sr. retired shortly thereafter as well.
Reuel Smith Sr. had begun to buy land in Skaneateles in 1845, and decided to build a summer home here and become a gentleman farmer. In 1849, he purchased, from Perry Cornell, Lydia Fuller and others, 20 acres of pasture land that stretched from “The Cove” on West Lake Street to the far boundary of what is today Lake View Cemetery. (A previous owner of the land was David Seymour, a farmer and brick-maker.) There were three small houses on the land, two of which were moved to Hannum Street, and the other kept as a studio on the Smith property. After the removal of the small houses, Reuel Smith began to improve the grounds, and to build a new house on West Lake Street. (And more about the house in just a bit.)
:: Edmond Reuel Smith ::
At the end of 1853, Reuel Smith was joined in Skaneateles by his son, Edmond Reuel Smith, who was a different person altogether. E. Reuel Smith was raised in New York City, but had studied in Geneva, Switzerland, worked briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, graduated from Georgetown (Class of 1848) and gone on to Yale, where he studied botany, zoology, mineralogy and Spanish to prepare for a role as an artist with a U.S. Naval Astronomical Expedition to Chile. (Scientists sought to calculate the distance from the earth to the sun by comparing measurements taken in the northern and southern hemispheres; Chile was chosen because it was close in longitude to Washington, D.C.)
Although he preferred reading, writing poetry and painting to commerce, there was nothing effete about E. Reuel Smith; after the Navy’s work in Chile was done, he set off into the interior. He later wrote, “It was on the 4th of January, 1853, that, impelled by the love of adventure, I started from Concepcion to visit that classic field of Chilean history—the land of Araucanía.”
And he truly was “roughing it.”
“When all was in readiness for a start, we were delayed by bad weather, which continued for several days, and for a great part of that time we were confined to the house. As the cooking had to be done within doors, what with the smoke, crowd, and damp, we were far from comfortable. During the day this could be endured, but at night it became insufferable.
“The house, if such it might be called, was a mere basket, letting in rain in every direction, and measuring scarcely twelve feet by ten. It contained three rude bedsteads, for the accommodation of two married couples and a pair of grown up girls, while upon the ground were huddled some sixteen young men and children, packed away on bull hides like herrings in a box. In the midst of this motley throng I lay in state, with a whole hide to myself.
“As along as we were awake the dogs were not allowed to enter the door; but the moment we closed our eyes the whole dripping pack came sneaking in. Soon I was roused by a weight upon my feet, and found a lean and hungry animal lying across my legs, while another was snugly stowed away at my side. A few kicks drove them away, but they soon returned. A little pommeling brought a temporary relief, but only to be followed by more determined encroachments, until I was obliged to rise and grope round for a stick, which, once found, I laid about me lustily.
“There was tremendous yelping and howling of the fugitives, and many muttered imprecations of sleepers, disturbed by the operation; and laying the stick under my pillow, i.e., saddle, I went to sleep. But in the morning I found that the dirty curs had monopolized my blanket entirely, while the vivid sense of something crawling round me was satisfactory proof that fleas prefer a dry man to a wet dog: a preference which certainly does no discredit to their taste.”
— The Araucanians; or, Notes of a Tour Among the Indian Tribes of Southern Chili (1855)
And this was before he set out into the real wilderness.
After his adventure, in late 1853, he returned to the U.S. and Skaneateles where he soon got into a spot of trouble. He found village life to be amusing, which inspired him to write some light-hearted prose, entitled “Letters from Cobweb Cottage,” sent to The Home Journal of N.P. Willis. The editor was to print them without an address, under the pseudonym of “Walter Wildrake”(an allusion to Capt. Roger Wildrake, a character in Sir Walter Scott’s Woodstock or The Cavalier (1826) who was endowed with “reckless humour”). Young Smith’s intent was that his work be taken for a humorous commentary on small villages everywhere. However, Willis printed them leaving in “Skaneateles” and it took villagers a heartbeat to guess who the heck ‘Walter Wildrake’ was. It was that new guy.
Letters defending the honor of Skaneateles were fired off to The Home Journal and reprinted in the Skaneateles Democrat. Here is a partial example from January 30, 1854:
“The author of the ‘Cobweb Letters’ which have recently appeared in the Home Journal, has given quite a sombre picture of country life in our town, and indulges in much facetiousness, at the rude and uncouth ways of our people. Our scenery, which is almost universally admired, has no charms for him, and he laments dolorously over a high wind, a cloudy day, a storm of snow or rain, or a little mud. He can find nothing to alleviate his discontent, and would rather
‘Dwell in the midst of alarm,/Than reign in this horrible place.’ 1
“The feelings with which he contemplated retiring into the country he would have us think were those of a philosopher and poet: and the tenderness with which he responded to dear Fanny’s wishes, and the magnanimity with which he abandoned the ambitious calling of ‘selling sugars and teas, with the prospect of becoming one of the merchant princes,’ to waste his time and substance amid the humble scenes and ignoble pursuits of country life, he deemed sufficient to extort from us unwilling admiration.
“And the unrealization of his anticipations of rural felicity, after all his heroic efforts with the aid of the best city Architect to plan, design, and superintend the erection of his cottage, (the astonishment of us ‘natives’) bristling all around with its ornaments of finials, iron-flowers, and chimney-tops brought ‘beyond city reach,’ is a disappointment too great to be endured, and (in the language of high authority) ‘his suffering is intolerable.’
“His ‘Agricultural and Architectural works from Johnston to Downing,’ which lured him from the city can afford him no more solace; and all the boasted bliss of country life is to him like the pearls which it is better not to cast before certain quadrupeds.2 His philosophy, which had supported him heretofore in his mental conflicts, can comfort him none now; and his poetic fire is so nearly ‘crushed out,’ as to leave him only enough to inspire his muse ‘on a stormy day.’
“His reflections upon our society are as stupid as his appreciation of our scenery, and not a little insinuative of our ignorance and vulgarity.”
Fanning the flames, N.P. Willis in The Home Journal reprinted other letters, with his own commentary, as with this one from February 10, 1854 entitled “Skaneateles and Walter Wildrake”:
“It is quite unfortunate that your correspondent lives under the delusion, that ‘Everybody thought him rich,’ for wealth with us has no significance! … If we have any aristocracy, it is an aristocracy of the soul. We respect and honor people for what they are, and for what they do, rather than for what they possess. We do not worship at the shrine of Mammon. We believe that:
‘Worth makes the man, the want of it the fellow,/And all the rest is leather and prunello.’ 3
“We are (excuse the egotism) an earnest, independent and intelligent people… a sensible people, too – at least, we have sense enough of the common sort, to enable us to discriminate between the real and the sham in persons as well as in things. I forgot to mention before, that we are a good looking people; and in questions of taste, are quite connoisseurs. In matters of dress we acknowledge considerable fastidiousness, yet we are very tolerant of any peculiarities or idiosyncrasies in others, and leave every one to his own free choice in respect to the cut of his coat, the fashion of his hat, or the length of his moustache.”
E. Reuel Smith thought it best to apologize, and swiftly, with a letter in the pages of The Home Journal and the Skaneateles Democrat:
“If you can imagine the feelings of the ambitious builders upon the plains of Shinar, when amid the confusion of discordant tongues, the lofty towers of Babel came toppling about their ears, you may be able to sympathise with me in my present situation! (“O spes fallaces! O frustra mei suscepti labores!”) 4
“I had been rearing a cottage upon what I thought was “no man’s land,” – piling it up with porch and veranda, oriel and gable, hanging its quaint chambers with the cobwebs of fancy – peopling it with the creatures of my own imagination, — fondly hoping that the good-natured world wo’d laugh at my dreamy castles in the air, — when crash! down comes the ill balanced edifice! – and like a rat in an earthquake, I find myself groping about in the dark, stifled with dust, covered with cobwebs, and overwhelmed by lintel and sash, chimney, rafter and gable, — all rattling about my bruised and bleeding pate! – “Oh what a fall was this, my countrymen!” 5 – “There is a ray of light! a hope of escape!” – I rush to the aperture, but there stand “Prudence and Discretion” 6 blazing away with the heavy artillery of indignation.
“I run trembling back, and catch a glimpse of another hole opening to the outer world: through it I crawl, and am just chuckling over my escape, when up springs the fierce Crusty – “I beg pardon” – Rusty Cuss, who, with one fell swoop of his terrible broad-axe, carries away my hat and razes my moustache, while a second well-aimed blow slashes my ill-cut coat-tails, seriously damaging my “idiosyncrasies.” As I fly from this cruel assailant, what should I see but that “good-looking” young man “Kit” (invigorating himself for fresh exertions, with a bottle of ammoniacal salts) battering away with his sentimental pop gun at the golden strings of my poor shattered harp, which I had hung upon a weeping willow 7 – a host of petty annoyers hurled bricks and stones at me as I fled – while upon the wintry breeze came the sullen war-cry – “Fiat justitia! ruat cobweb cottage!” 8
“As Orpheus of old wandered by the lake of Avernus, wailing for his lost Eurydice 9 – so did I through the long night linger by the ice-bound shores of Skaneateles, crying ‘Fanny! Fanny!’ but no Fanny came to lay her silken curls upon my longing breast 10, – the sympathizing echoes alone gave back the mournful accents of that loved name. – ‘Oh! ye cruel ones, what have you done with my love? – with my wife? – with my child? Have ye borne them away to dark dungeons, or do their inanimate forms lie stiff and cold under the deep blue waters of the lake?’ I asked in vain, — only the mocking winds answered me, as like gibbering ghosts 11 they swept by in their winding sheets of drifted snow.
“When morning came, I woke from the dreamy state in which I had so long been lost, to a consciousness of the sad reality. Where were my cottage, — my wife, — my child? Nowhere! All had been a dream, except my enemies; they alas, are but too real! All the accusations that have been brought against me are but too true. I do wear a ‘shocking bad hat,’ as your correspondent intimates, and a worse coat; not being a native, I am not one of ‘the good-looking people,’ and, contrary to all precedent, I have allowed dame nature to cover my face as she deemed fit.
“I am a bachelor – a poor, miserable bachelor – without a wife, child, comfort, solace, or even hope, (– unless, perhaps, dear Ellen Eyrie 12 has pity on me – bless her good-natured heart, I wonder if her face is as pretty as her verses.) These, and all other accusations which have been or may be brought against me, I do most freely and fully confess and acknowledge truly and sincerely repenting of all past sins and offenses; and furthermore, that the whole world may know how great is the wrong I have unintentionally committed against the town and people of Skaneateles, I hereby make the following recantation:
“To all whomsoever it may concern. – Be it known, that I, Walter Wildrake, having written certain letters, which, by some unaccountable blunder, were dated Skaneateles, do declare that all the assertions, incidents and descriptions contained in said letters, were drawn purely and entirely from my own disordered imagination. And, moreover, that in said letters I did not intend to make any allusions derogatory or offensive to the town, lake, people, boats, ducks, bridges or scenery of the Skaneateles aforesaid.
“And furthermore, as a proof of sincerity, I do offer, as a true and loyal knight, at all times and in all places, with sword, lance, pen or pencil, to defend the beauties, glories, and advantages of Skaneateles, over all towns and lakes whatsoever against each and every offender who shall dare to gainsay the same.
“Given under my hand and seal February 20th, A.D., 1854. WALTER WILDRAKE.”
All in all, an extraordinary apology. In defense of Smith, the Rev. William Beauchamp later wrote about the Skaneateles of 1854:
“Of course there were very few really odd people there. I can distinctly remember no more than fifty or sixty. They were common enough, however, for a foundation, and I suppose some ways and some people might strike a stranger as something uncommon. Greatly to my regret, my friend bowed to the storm, and the delightful papers came to a sudden end. Skaneateles had lost its opportunity, but lovers of real humor lost a great deal more.”
:: Cobweb Cottage ::
It wasn’t just Smith’s writing that set him apart: It was also his house, “the astonishment of us ‘natives,’ bristling all around with its ornaments of finials, iron-flowers, and chimney-tops.” It was unlike anything the village had seen before.
While Reuel Smith Sr. had the house built, I am fairly sure that E. Reuel Smith was responsible for choosing the architect. The “Downing” whose book that E. Reuel Smith brought to Skaneateles was Andrew Jackson Downing, and the book was doubtlessly Cottage Residences (1842), an influential pattern book of houses that contributed to the success of the Gothic Revival style in America. It was mostly a rural style, not urban, since its houses didn’t fit typical city lots, but it was very much a product of sophisticated urban architects. Downing’s book was illustrated by Alexander Jackson Davis, the author of the equally influential Rural Residences (1837) and he was the architect of Smith’s cottage.
Downing wrote of such homes in his The Architecture of Country Houses (1859):
“If we observe that it has various marked features, indicating intelligent and cultivated life in its inhabitants; if it plainly shows, by its various apartments, that it is intended not only for the physical wants of man, but for his moral, social, and intellectual existence; if hospitality smiles in ample parlors; if home virtues dwell in cozy, fireside family-rooms; if the love of the beautiful is seen in picture or statue galleries; intellectuality in well-stocked libraries; and even a dignified love of leisure and repose in cool and spacious verandas, we feel, at a glance, that here we have reached the highest beauty of which domestic architecture is capable — that of individual expression.”
This was the house of which E. Reuel Smith wrote, “I had been rearing a cottage upon what I thought was ‘no man’s land,’ – piling it up with porch and veranda, oriel and gable.”
The name “Cobweb Cottage” dates from at least the eighteenth century. In 1742, the Rev. Dr. Edward Young published a poem entitled “The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality” which contained the line, “The cobwebb’d cottage, with its ragged wall/Of mouldering mud, is royalty to me.” The poem was republished many times afterwards.
In 1798, English poet Robert Southey bought a home outside of Bristol, England, and listed some of the possible choices for its name in a letter to his brother, Thomas Southey:
“We hesitated between the appropriate names of Rat Hall, Mouse Mansion, Vermin Villa, Cockroach Castle, Cobweb Cottage, and Spider Lodge; but as we routed out the spiders, brushed away the cobwebs, stopped the rat holes, and found no cockroaches, we bethought us of the animals without, and dubbed it Martin Hall.”
And so when the Smith house was being built, the name “Cobweb Cottage” would easily have come to mind. (Today, the world holds many Cobweb Cottages; a Google search nets 13,800 results, most in England. And one near to my heart: Chapter IX of The Mystery of the Tolling Bell (1946), a Nancy Drew novel by Mildred Wirt Benson writing as Carolyn Keene, is entitled “Cobweb Cottage.”)
:: A Timely Departure, A Happy Return ::
In 1855, the account his South American exploration, which he wrote and illustrated, was published by Harper & Brothers as The Araucanians; or, Notes of a Tour Among the Indian Tribes of Southern Chili.
An E. Reuel Smith illustration from The Araucanians
And if Skaneateles was not ready for E. Reuel Smith, he would give them some breathing room. He spent the next three or four years abroad, studying painting in Dusseldorf and Rome, and traveling to northern Africa, visiting Algiers and Biskra on the edge of the Sahara, stopping to paint the ravines of El Cantara and walk in the Garden of Allah.
When he returned, he was perhaps a tad more prudent. The village, too, was warming to him. In February of 1860, the Skaneateles Democrat noted:
“Last Tuesday evening we had the pleasure of hearing E. R. Smith, Esq., deliver his lecture on ‘Pompeii’ before the Lyceum. The Hall was well filled with an intelligent audience, who listened to the lecturer with marked attention. Mr. Smith, a short time since, spent several months in and around this ancient city, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79, and which remained buried till 1748 when it was accidentally discovered in sinking a well. Since that time about one third of it has been laid open and many valuable treasures brought to light—delineating the character, habits, and morals of this ancient people; all of which was vividly portrayed by Mr. Smith.”
In 1860, he married Elizabeth De Cost Burnett, who was village royalty, a granddaughter of Col. William Vredenburgh and Capt. Nash De Cost, and the only daughter of Charles J. and Eliza De Cost Burnett. A further sign of the village’s growing respect was E. Reuel Smith’s service on the Vestry of St. James’ Episcopal Church, an honor to be sure, but one that prompted another exchange of letters, between Smith and George Barrow.
:: The Traitors of St. James’ ::
On April 12, 1861, when the forces of the newly declared Confederacy opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor, not everyone in Skaneateles rushed to wave the flag.
As I noted early on, Reuel Smith and E. Reuel Smith were linked to people in the South by ties of family, friendship and commerce. The Smith, Mills and Beach families had complementary business interests in New York and Charleston, and Erastus Mills Beach of Charleston had been a summer resident of Skaneateles since 1855. His closest friend was Henry Latrobe Roosevelt.
The Beach family attended St. James’ Episcopal Church, as did the Roosevelt and Smith families, and in 1857, Erastus Beach was a delegate to the Episcopalian convention from St. James’, along with Henry Latrobe Roosevelt and William H. Jewett.
E.N. Leslie, in his History of Skaneateles, noted, “The Beach family were very prominent here while they were residents during the summer season, and became famous for entertaining a great deal of company, composed principally of their friends in the village, of which they had many.” Leslie also tells us that Beach hosted many of his southern friends, including his uncle and partner, Otis Mills.
Now, with the onset of war, the Smith, Mills and Beach families had opposing armies and a naval blockade interfering with their letters, their travel and their business interests. And someone informed the federal authorities that Erastus Beach was “a rebel in arms,” leading to the confiscation of his house in Skaneateles and its eventual looting by local patriots, who drank the contents of the wine cellar lest it fall into enemy hands.
George Barrow of Skaneateles, however, had no such ties with the South. A young attorney in the prime of life, he did all that he could to send others to fight. He wrapped himself in Old Glory and held fast to his desk. When the draft was instituted, he went to Syracuse to represent the village, and drew his own name. At the time, you could pay a bounty of $300 to be excused, or pay less to someone else to serve on your behalf. One way or the other, George did not go. He had other priorities, including questioning the patriotism of others.
When Richmond fell on April 3, 1865, George Barrow rushed to St. James’ to ring the church bell in celebration. The front doors were locked, but a young boy told Barrow that a rear window was broken and they could go in that way. And so George Barrow crawled through the window and rang the bell, until he heard others trying to open the front doors. At that point he fled, and left the boy to ring the bell. This was vintage George Barrow. Outside he was stopped by a member of the vestry who suggested that a church bell should be rung for religious reasons only.
Stung to the quick, Barrow returned home and wrote a long, anonymous letter to the Skaneateles Democrat, signing himself as “A Layman.” E. Reuel Smith wrote a letter in reply, referring to the letter as “a malignant attack upon the congregation, Rector and Vestry of St. James.” And he continued, “Let me add, that whenever it may please kind Providence to give a final victory to our Aims and restore Peace and Union to our distracted country, though some may be more noisy and fiercely exultant, there will be found none more thankful than the Congregation, Rector and Vestry at St. James.”
Barrow then summoned up his courage and signed a second letter even more fiery than the first, charging the rector, the Rev. Edward Moyses with “ignorance or the attempt to deceive” and saying to St. James’, “This is evidence that not only you are disloyal but your whole Church.”
(The “whole church” comment was in reference to the fact that war did not produce a formal division of the Episcopal Church, only a substitution of prayers for those in authority. In the North, the General Convention of 1862 declined to adopt resolutions that would have denounced the Southern Churchmen as seditious.)
Barrow further charged:
“Love of country has been excluded from St. James Church because its ruling spirits were not clear whether the administration of Abraham Lincoln was entitled to their support in preference to the administration of J. Davis. The Rector, I think, has felt that if he uttered any word of condemnation for Southern traitors, or any word of commendation for the lawful Government of the land, he would incur the displeasure of many attendants of St. James, because among the Vestry of that Church the question had been seriously raised as to which body of men were the most treasonably inclined.”
E. Reuel Smith, having said all that was necessary in his first letter, left Barrow to fulminate.
:: Quieter Days ::
In 1873, Reuel Smith Sr. deeded a portion of his land to the cemetery association, making the creation of Lake View Cemetery possible. He died that year, leaving his fortune to E. Reuel Smith, who now had the money and leisure to devote himself to his favorite pursuits. He was a director of the Skaneateles Library. He wrote verse, painted, lectured, and taught languages; he was fluent in six: English, French, Spanish for sure, and probably in German, Italian and Latin.
When St. James’ new church was built in 1873, E. Reuel Smith contributed the Rose Window over the front doors. The initials R.S., C.A.S., S.C.S. on the window are a memorial to his father, mother and sister: Reuel Smith Sr. (d. 1873), Celestia A. Smith (d. 1829) and Sarah Celestia Smith (d. 1829).
When in their seventies, E. Reuel Smith, William Beauchamp and John Barrow, the artist, went boating on the lake and had a “real boyish time, climbing hills and exploring ravines.”
Beauchamp told this story of Smith:
“We used to laugh over one of his mishaps. He prepared to paint a majestic elm, eight or nine miles up the lake, and during the week carefully painted in the background, with all the foreground detail. A fortnight later he went for the tree itself. The landing was made, the tent pitched, the tree sought. Alas! The woodman had not spared that tree. It lay prone on the ground.”
Edmond Reuel Smith died in Skaneateles in June of 1911 at the age of 82. He was survived by his five children: Leslie Smith; De Cost Smith, a well known painter whose western adventures mirrored those of his father’s South American sojourn; Burnett Smith, a professor of geology at Syracuse university; Mrs. Thomas (Celestia Smith) Sawtelle of New York, and Sedgwick Smith, a student at Harvard university.
E. Reuel Smith’s book on Chile is still a valued reference. His paintings, many of them tropical landscapes, continue to be sought by collectors.
The Smith family’s Gothic Revival home on West Lake Street, today known as “The Cove” and a source of local pride rather than astonishment, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The furor over the Cobweb Letters has died down.
* * *
1 From the poem, “The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk” (1782) by William Cowper, based on the real life ordeal of Selkirk who was stranded on a desert island, inspiring Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Here is a fuller quote, which contains other familiar lines:
“I am monarch of all I survey
Of my rights there is none to dispute,
From the centre all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O solitude, where is thy charm
That sages have seen in thy face
Better dwell in the midst of alarm,
Than reign in this horrible place.”
2 The words of Jesus Christ from Matthew 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
3 Alexander Pope in An Essay on Man (1734); a prunello is a type of dried plum.
4 “Oh guileful hopes! In vain are the labors I have undertaken.” A paraphrase from an oration of Cicero.
5 “Oh what a fall was there, my countrymen!” from Julius Caesar (1599) by William Shakespeare.
6 Prudence and Discretion were the cardinal virtues, the mothers of all moral qualities and practical wisdom.
7 “We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.” Psalms 137:2
8 Latin for “Let justice be done, even though Cobweb Cottage falls.”
9 The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is retold most famously in Virgil’s Georgics and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
10 Possibly an allusion to Thomas Moore (1779-1852) who in several poems addressed “Dear Fanny”
11 “Therewith he led them: the ghosts gibbering fast/Flocked with low whirr behind him, as adown he passed.” – Homer, The Odyssey
12 Ellen Eyrie was the pen name of Mrs. H.E.G. Arey, a poet who contributed verse to The Home Journal.
Warren Wallace’s drug store opened in 1870 on Genesee Street, and John Waller’s law office was upstairs. (We can date this image closely, as Waller began to practice law circa 1875 and became President of the Skaneateles Savings Bank in 1886, probably moving across the street.)
Now and then eBay offers up a Skaneateles treasure such as the medicine bottle below, from the pharmacy of Warren Wallace (1830-1914), filled with an herbal essence distilled by Henry W. Hollon (1850-1928).
Hollon was a seller of patent medicines such as the gently laxative Narenta Water (“Never Gripes. Pleasant After-Effects.”), from a mineral spring in East Aurora, N.Y., and Hyomei, a cough & cold remedy from New York City by way of Australia (“The Land of the Kangaroo”) that was based on inhaled vapors rather than a liquid or pill. Readers were assured by Mr. Hollon that “the best people in Skaneateles always keep Hyomei in the house during the winter months.”
In 1876 Hollon patented his own remedy “for the alleviation or cure of headache, whether it be caused by gastric disarrangement, the use of intoxicating drinks, any nervous affection, mental or physical excitement, or other cause.” The ingredients were tincture of gentian, aromatic spirits of ammonia, bromide of sodium and tincture of lupulin (from hops). Two tablespoons were said to do the job.
This bottle, however, contained “A delicate and lasting perfume for the Handkerchief.” In an era when every house and building in Skaneateles had an outhouse, when chickens roamed freely and horses pooped in the street, when men spat streams of tobacco juice and smoked a dozen cigars a day, and trash was burned rather than collected, a scented handkerchief was a must-have for a lady who ventured outdoors.
A panoramic photo of the village of Skaneateles, dated between 1851 and 1865, taken from Lake View Cemetery, when the cemetery indeed had a lake view. (Click on the photo for a larger image.) On the right, by the prominent tree, you can see the backs of houses on West Lake Street, including the Reuel Smith house, built between 1851 and 1853. My thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society.
Bridget Dwyer was odd for a long time, but went fully over the edge in 1886.
Her late husband, John Dwyer, had done odd jobs around the village of Skaneateles, and was employed about half the time. When he died in 1878, his widow felt an even greater need to be thrifty. She walked eight miles to Auburn to shop, because the prices there were a few pennies lower.
In the autumn of 1885, she assaulted a Mrs. Langdon, and was sent to the penitentiary for 60 days. The Skaneateles newspaper noted, “It is thought by many that Mrs. Dwyer is somewhat demented.”
The following year, she was certified as deranged and committed to the state asylum at Utica. On the way, she created a sensation in Syracuse by leaping out of a carriage, running from her guards and seeking refuge in a saloon.
After Mrs. Dwyer was settled in, the State asked her son and daughter to pay for their mother’s “maintenance,” saying that they understood she had a bank account. This was news to the children, but they went to her home to see if they could find a bank book. Inside a mattress, they found not one but several bank books, showing an overall balance of $11,750.
The newspaper said, “It is generally believed that her money made her mad.”
Bridget Dwyer died in 1908, and her remains were buried next to those of her husband in St. Mary’s Cemetery, where they rest today.
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“A Lunatic of Means,” The Syracuse Standard, June 29, 1886