Pop Quiz Winner

Burr Burton 2

What do these have in common? Congratulations to Joanne Settel Moore who identified them as all being surviving buildings of architect Horatio Nelson White: the Burr Barton tomb in Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse…

Hall of Languages

… the Hall of Languages on the Syracuse University campus…

Oswego City Hall

… the Oswego City Hall…

Gridley Building

…the Gridley Building in Syracuse…

st james-ivy

… and St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles.

Nicholas Roosevelt

Nicholas-Roosevelt-PhotoNicholas Roosevelt was raised in New York and the Hudson River Valley, and made his way in the world as a manufacturer, metallurgist, ship builder, inventor and investor.

In 1792, Nicholas and his brother James bought 499,135 acres from New York State – a tract 40 miles wide and 60 miles long, two thirds of Oswego County and one third of Oneida County – and less than six months later (just before the second and final payment was due) sold it to George Scriba.

In September of 1798, Roosevelt wrote to Robert Livingston and described a vertical wheel for steamboats. Livingston replied to Roosevelt the following month saying, “vertical wheels are out of the question.” But in 1802, Livingston shared Roosevelt’s idea with Robert Fulton, and in January 1803, they launched a boat that was propelled by vertical wheels, “inventing” the steamboat.


In 1808, Nicholas married Lydia Latrobe, the daughter of his best friend and business partner, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, with whom Nicholas had designed and built the Philadelphia waterworks. Lydia was 13 years old when she and Nicholas were engaged; they married when she was 17 and he was 41. The Latrobe family was not happy, but Lydia was a strong-willed young woman. Together, Nicholas and Lydia had nine children, two of whom died in infancy.

In spite of Robert Fulton’s success, Nicholas had no quarrel with him, and in 1809, he joined with Fulton to introduce steamboats in the west. He first traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in a flatboat, with Lydia, mapping and gathering information on the river and its people as they went. This was the frontier, and the route was mostly wilderness. South of Natchez, they had to cope with an alligator that sought to spend the night on the boat, five nights running. After arriving in New Orleans, they booked passage on a ship sailing to Virginia; the captain, crew and Nicholas came down with yellow fever. However, they did return to New York in time for Lydia to deliver their first child, Rosetta Mark.

In 1811, Nicholas built the steamboat New Orleans in Pittsburgh, and headed south on the Ohio River. At Louisville, Kentucky, while waiting for the river to reach its height so the boat could pass over the rocky rapids, Lydia gave birth to Henry Latrobe Roosevelt.

Soon after, the New Orleans skimmed over the rapids. The boat had a seven-foot draft; the height of the water above the rocks was seven feet, six inches. The first challenge had been met, but as the boat traveled downriver, the crew was troubled by strange rumblings. When they went ashore for wood, the earth seemed to move under their feet. The Roosevelt’s Newfoundland dog, Tiger, placed his head in Lydia’s lap and moaned. Lydia later wrote “that she lived in a constant fright, unable to sleep or sew, or read.” *

On December 16th, the New Madrid earthquake, centered in Missouri, rang church bells as far away as Boston, reversed the flow of the Mississippi for several hours and changed the course of the river which was suddenly a roaring chaos filled with uprooted trees.

Earthquake 1

Wood engraving by Frederick Juengling (1846-1889)

The water seemed to boil and the air turned black and sulphurous. Explosions thundered on either shore. Landmarks were gone, channels had disappeared, the river flowed through what had been forests, the pilot was lost and could only follow the strongest current. As night fell, unable to tie up to the shore because the river banks were collapsing, the crew secured the New Orleans to a tree on an island. In the morning, they awoke to find the island was gone. They cut the rope, freeing the boat, and once underway were attacked by Chickasaw tribesmen in canoes, who thought the steamboat had caused the earthquake. The New Orleans outpaced the canoes and without further misadventure reached New Orleans safely on January 10, 1812.

In January 1815, Roosevelt thought to sue Robert Livingston but upon considering the expense, he abandoned the effort. One account says the matter was settled out of court, and the settlement enabled Nicholas to retire.

By 1826, Nicholas, Lydia and family were making their home in Central Square, N.Y. Nicholas served as a warden of Trinity Church in Constantia and in 1839 represented Trinity at the consecration of Bishop De Lancey in Auburn, N.Y. William Beauchamp notes that this visit led the family to move to Skaneateles that spring.


They bought a house from Spencer Parsons “at the foot of Kellogg’s hill,” today on the northwest corner of Leitch Avenue and Genesee Street. Nicholas served as one of the wardens of St. James’, Lydia played the organ, and their daughters sang in the choir, said to be much improved by their presence.

In the words of William Beauchamp in his Notes of Other Days in Skaneateles, Nicholas “was a perfect type of gentleman of the old school. Would that there were more of them.” Beauchamp noted that while he personally did not smoke tobacco, he did enjoy seeing Nicholas Roosevelt smoking his long Dutch pipe.

And there were no limits to his courtesy. In a letter from William White, quoted in “Notes from My Scrapbook” by F.J. Humphryes (Skaneateles Press, April 16, 1937), this story about Roosevelt is told:

“He was a gentleman of the old school, courtly and dignified. One day he met William Van Schoik, a negro, who lived in a little old house at the west end of the bridge, who saluted him with a cheery ‘Good morning, Mr. Roosevelt,’ at the same time lifting his battered old hat. ‘Good morning, William,’ said Mr. Roosevelt, tipping his hat. A young sprig of the law noticed the movement and said, ‘Good gracious! Mr. Roosevelt, do you take off your hat to a nigger?’

“ ‘Sir,’ replied the old gentleman, ‘do you presume to think that I am to be outdone in politeness by a negro?’ and walked on.”

William Beauchamp’s sister, Mary Elizabeth, wrote, “In the month of July 1854, another of the old and earnest workers of the vestry, Mr. Nicholas J. Roosevelt, was taken home to rest. He was a kind and courteous friend, upright and faithful in all relations of life… and he died… in favor with God and in perfect charity with the world.’”

After his death, Lydia and her daughters moved into the home of Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, just up the street. In 1873, when the present St. James’ was built, a stained-glass window was donated by Henry Latrobe Roosevelt in his father’s memory.

* * *

* On the Western Waters (1871) by J. H. B. Latrobe

Frederick Roosevelt

“The development and control of extensive business interests has brought him financial independence and he is one in whom nature and culture have vied in making him an interesting and entertaining gentleman.” – Past and Present of Onondaga County (1908) by William Beauchamp

Frederick Roosevelt was born in 1850, in New York City, the son of Judge James I. Roosevelt, a justice of the New York Supreme Court and later U.S. district attorney for Southern New York. (James’ brother, Cornelius Roosevelt, was the father of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., father of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. who became President of the United States in 1901. The President was Fred’s first-cousin-once-removed.)

Fred grew up in a New York City household with 10 servants. He had 10 siblings, but five had died before he was born; a sister died when Fred was four and a brother died when he was six. Only Fred, his brother Charles and sister Marcia lived past the age of 30.

In business, Fred was connected with the Evansville & Terre Haute R.R. Co., the Mecca Oil Company, the Skaneateles R.R., and the Twelfth Ward Bank in New York City. Socially, he was a member of the Union Club, the Metropolitan Club, the New York Athletic Club, the Lotos Club, the Automobile Club of America, the St. Nicholas Society and the Holland Society. He was Life Member #13 of the New York Yacht Club, and kept an ocean yacht named “Maggie.”

Mary Loney Roosevelt

Mary Loney Roosevelt

Fred married Mary Loney in 1873, and in 1874, after a tour of Europe, they came to Skaneateles to visit with her father, William Loney. In New York, they lived on Fifth Avenue in a neighborhood referred to as “Two Miles of Millionaires.” Among their neighbors were Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Astors, Russell Sage, William Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

Fred’s father, James Roosevelt, died in 1875 after a riding accident, and his mother, Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, died in 1876, leaving Fred a lifetime interest in a trust established for the three surviving siblings.

Soon after, in Skaneateles, Fred bought a portion of his cousin Henry Latrobe Roosevelt’s land, to the east of Henry’s house. Fred wanted a summer “cottage,” and his project was brought to the firm of McKim, Mead by architect Sidney V. Stratton, who was subletting office space from the firm. William Rutherford Mead designed the house, to be built in pieces in New York and shipped to Skaneateles for assembly. In June of 1879, work began here with Thomas Dobbin of Newburg, N.Y., supervising construction. That autumn in New York, Stanford White joined the firm and one of his first assignments was to sketch details for the interiors of several houses already started, including the Roosevelt house.

However, first things first. In May of 1879, local carpenter John Wheeler built a “commodious boathouse” for Fred’s steam launch, the Lotos, named for his club in New York. The speedy Lotos was “expected to make Glen Haven in one hour.” It was 50 feet long with an 8-foot beam, oak cabin, finely finished throughout, built by H. Piepgras, Greenpoint, N.Y.

SS Lotos

The Lotos was christened by Miss Belle (Ruth Arabella) Loney, Fred’s sister-in-law, and “glided gracefully and beautifully into the fair waters of our lovely lake.” The boat’s designer was M. Roosevelt Schuyler, and the newspaper noted, “From his thorough knowledge of the qualities required to make a fast craft, the people may rest assured that any boat here expecting to compete with the ‘Lotos’ in speed, will have to put on a full head of steam, set a colored gentleman on the safety valve*, and let things take their course.”

* Setting a presumably docile and expendable person of color on a steam engine’s safety valve, in order to force the maximum amount of pressure into driving the boat, risked a boiler explosion and horrific loss of life. The practice is documented, in less than elegant terms, in John Hay’s The Pike County Ballads (1871) and in Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age (1873) both of which would have been popular reading at this time.

The newspaper also noted, “The boat sits extremely light upon the surface and will ride the water like a thing of life.”

In 1880, William Cottle completed a stone dock, 72 feet long, 3 ½ feet wide, three feet in depth on the land and seven feet deep on the water side. (Cottle also did the stone work on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Lake View Cemetery.)

On January 21, 1880, the Skaneateles Free Press noted:

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


Roseleigh had 10 bedrooms, 4 baths, a billiard parlor, den, dining room, and living room. Every room had a fireplace, and in addition to the boat house, Roseleigh also had a stable.

Roosevelt Roseleigh 1907-house-back

A frequent guest was Harry Duval — also known as Horace C. Duval, Henry C. Duval and H.C. Duval – who served as the private secretary and gatekeeper for Chauncey Depew, the president of the New York Central Railroad. Duval was also involved in banking and real estate, and was the author of Bridge Rules in Rhyme (1902), which dispensed bridge wisdom in verse, e.g., “Aces three and guarded Queen/No Trump hand is plainly seen. Aces four, No Trump at once/Otherwise you’d be a dunce.”

In New York, the Duvals dined with the Roosevelts at the grand opening of the Waldorf-Astoria. Fred and Harry were both members of the Holland Society and the Lotos Club, and in October of 1899, when the Lotos Club hosted English actor Henry Irving and his personal assistant, Dracula author Bram Stoker, Fred and Harry were among the 300 members gathered for the three-hour dinner followed by “café noir,” cigars and speeches.

And in 1901, Fred was uniquely positioned to do his friend a favor. The New York Central Railroad was suing the Auburn Inter-Urban Railroad company because, with the completion of trolley tracks through Skaneateles, the trolley would ultimately connect Syracuse and Auburn, paralleling the New York Central’s line. Mr. Duval’s boss did not want the competition.

To bolster the New York Central’s suit, Fred Roosevelt sued the trolley company, saying that the proper number of consents from Village residents had not been obtained. Fred’s lawyer was George Barrow, and that’s no surprise because Barrow always leapt at a chance to make money in an unworthy cause. Unfortunately for Fred, it was shown in court that he was simply wrong, and the New York Central was shortly thereafter ruled to have no standing in the case.

During their summers in Skaneateles, Fred and Mary Roosevelt dined at Roosevelt Hall, played bridge at the Thayer House, and attended a dance at Clifford Beebe’s Lone Oak estate. They had a fairly leisurely lifestyle, the accounts of which were sprinkled across the Society pages.

In 1888, they spent the winter in St. Augustine, Florida.

In 1889, the New York papers carried this comment: “I don’t believe anyone ever really loved orchids,” said Mrs. Fred Roosevelt yesterday, although she is one of the patrons of the [Eden Musee Orchid] show. “But,” she went on, “every one who pays any attention to them is fascinated by them.”

In February of 1889, Fred’s niece Cornelia (having spent most of her life in Germany and France) married the Baron Clemens Freiher von Zedlitz in New York, with Fred giving away the bride. (Fred’s brother, Charles Roosevelt, had died in Paris in 1883.) And in October of 1890, Fred and Mary visited with Cornelia in Berlin.

(Although insulated by wealth, Cornelia had some hard times. Her Baron drowned in October 17, 1901, when his yacht collided with that of Kaiser Wilhelm II. And in 1918, after the U.S. entered the war against Germany, her $1,000,000 trust and $200,000 in personal property were seized by the U.S. Alien Property Custodian’s office. After the war, in December of 1920, Cornelia’s claim for restitution was allowed, and in 1928 she became a U.S. citizen again, but it took a Joint Resolution of Congress.)

In 1895, Mary’s love of flowers was revealed again as the paper noted, “Mrs. Frederick Roosevelt’s dinner at her residence, No. 583 Fifth avenue, Wednesday evening, was one of the handsomest of the week, the table being lavishly decorated with tall mounds of American beauty roses, interspersed with white lilacs.”

In 1899, Mary hosted a musicale with pianist Harriet Cady at her Fifth Ave home.

In 1903, Mary bought “autumn clothes” in Paris and then went on to Baden Baden where she stayed at the Stephanie Hotel with Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney.

In 1905, Fred and Mary sailed for Italy in April, returning in July and coming to Skaneateles.

Back in the village, in October of 1905, Fred was run down from the rear by a bicycle ridden by Charles Cox, 14, a grocery delivery boy who was coasting down the East Genesee street hill when he ran into Fred. “Mr. Roosevelt, who is a large, heavy man, withstood the shock, but young Cox was thrown to the sidewalk with great force and suffered a broken nose and a severe concussion of the brain.” The boy was unconscious for several hours but recovered.

Later that month, probably while visiting with Loney relatives in Pelham, N.Y., Fred and his chauffeur, David P. Brown, were apprehended for speeding on the Pelham Bay Parkway, after Fred’s touring car was chased for one and one-half miles by a bicycle patrolman (!) who said that the Roosevelt car was going 30 miles per hour in a 15 mile per hour zone. At the station, the policeman admitted that the speed limit was not posted, Roosevelt said he did not know he was going that fast, and everybody went home.

1911 CorbinIn 1909 and in the years to follow, Fred and Mary traveled from New York to Skaneateles by automobile rather than by special train, “all the way, without mishap.” Fred was listed in the Official Automobile Directory of the State of New York as driving a Corbin, which went for $2750, about $70,000 in contemporary dollars.

Frederick Roosevelt died on June 15, 1916, and Roseleigh was sold to Burns Lyman Smith of Syracuse in the summer of 1917 (eventually becoming today’s Stella Maris).

From 1920 onward, Mary Loney Roosevelt summered at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, with her half-brother, Fred Roosevelt Loney Sr., and half-sister, Alice Rebecca Loney Abbot. Today, in the living room of Mrs. Frederick Roosevelt Loney Jr., a portrait of Frederick Roosevelt hangs on the wall. It was painted in Skaneateles in 1902 by S. Montgomery Roosevelt of Roosevelt Hall, and I thank Susan Loney, Fred’s great-grandniece, for sharing this photograph and her family memories of “Uncle Ed” with me.

Fred Roosevelt Upright

Unraveling the Roosevelts

Roosevelt-Tree-for-PPMy thanks to everyone who came to the Creamery for “Unraveling the Roosevelts.” I believe we broke an attendance record with 68 attendees, not exactly Woodstock but heartening nonetheless. I will be posting a piece based on the talk soon. In the meantime, here’s the simplified family tree that shows “our” Roosevelts: Nicholas, Fred, Henry Latrobe (both of them), and S. Montgomery.


Steamers Glen Haven

The Glen Haven at the village pier

Steamers Schedule

Steamers City of Syracuse

The City of Syracuse at the pier

Steamers City of Syracuse Crew

The crew of the City of Syracuse

Steamers Ossahinta

On the right, the Ossahinta; in the background on the right, the City of Syracuse; in the background on the left, the Glen Haven.

Steamers Ben Porter

The Ben Porter

Steamers Iris

And on a smaller scale, the Iris.