Wine & Cheese

Snowed In

I’m not sure what is stranger about this novel set in Skaneateles: Is it that men can get pregnant, or that Skaneateles has a great little Indian restaurant? We do learn that Austin Baines, owner of Skaneateles Vine & Rind, smells like sun-warmed grapes on a hot summer’s day, that Skaneateles school teachers duck into his wine store on their way home, and that “Greek wines weren’t a big seller in Skaneateles,” but only further reading – which I do not plan to undertake at this time – will tell if more startling revelations about life in the village remain.


The Queen of Mottville

Chair Page

Francis A. Sinclair is justly famous as the creator of the Common Sense Chair and the proprietor of the Union Chair Company. But few people are aware of his role in bringing Queen Hecuba to Mottville, N.Y.

“Wait,” you may say, “Queen Hecuba was a character from Greek mythology.” At first, yes, but the day came when she did indeed walk the streets of Mottville.

Queen Hecuba first figured in the works of Homer, Euripides and Ovid – the wife of King Priam of Troy, a woman who had everything, and then nothing, swept from the throne into slavery with the fall of Troy. On the journey into captivity, Hecuba’s daughter, Polyxena, was taken from her and slain, a blood sacrifice on the tomb of Achilles. When the distraught mother went to the shoreline to wash the blood from her daughter’s corpse, the body of her son Polydorus washed up on the beach.

Of this moment, Dante Alighieri wrote in The Divine Comedy, “Poor wretched captured Hecuba,/after she saw her Polyxena dead/and found her Polydorus on the beach,/was driven mad by sorrow/and began barking like a dog.”

“Forsennata latrò sì come cane,” indeed.

There are further tellings of, and allusions to, Hecuba’s tragic story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in Boccaccio’s Decameron, and in plays and a poem by William Shakespeare. But it is not to these books we refer. Rather, the 1888 edition of The American Kennel Club Stud-Book brings us to Mottville, where F.A. Sinclair had pointer dogs named Guy Mannering, the title character in a Sir Walter Scott novel; Nimrod, a mighty hunter in the Bible; and Queen Hecuba, named for the queen who went barking mad – in Ovid’s account even taking the form of a dog – and, in this case, returning as a beautiful purebred.

Hecuba Stud Book

 Lemon White Pointer

For reference, “Lemon and White Pointer” painted by Reuben Ward Binks, 1934

On a more prosaic note, F.A. Sinclair also had pointers named Leo and Ethel.

Glen Haven, the Odyssey & Dracula

Speed the Parting Guest

Now this is interesting. Of course, it’s the Glen Haven steamer at the Glen Haven hotel dock, but check out the banner over the dock, “Speed the Parting Guest.” You’ll immediately recognize this as being picked up from Alexander Pope’s 1726 translation of Homer’s The Odyssey: “True friendship’s laws are by this rule expressed: Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.” It’s not every day that you see an allusion to Pope and Homer on a dock. But wait, there’s more. This photo dates circa 1892 and just five years later Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published and who should quote the very same line but Count Dracula! Homer, Alexander Pope, the proprietors of the Glen Haven and Bram Stoker all on the same page — amazing.

Roland Sweet

Roland in Skaneateles

Of the authors who have lived in Skaneateles, Roland Sweet is perhaps the most prolific and eclectic. First with Chuck Shepard and then with John Kohut, Sweet co-authored News of the Weird; More News of the Weird; Beyond News of the Weird; Countdown to the Millennium; Law and Disorder; Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest; More Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest; News from the Fringe; Real Sex; and Strange Tails. A compilation, The Best of News of the Weird, has been published as an audio book, and described as “astounding, uproarious and absolutely factual.”

A lesser talent might have been content to be the nation’s foremost curator of strange (but true) news items, but Sweet also served as the editor-in-chief of Log Home Living magazine, which he helped launch in 1989. His Log Home Secrets of Success, is credited with making countless dream homes a reality and rates a solid five stars on An earlier title, 100 Best Log Home Floor Plans, was published in 2007.

Until his death in the summer of 2015, Roland lived with his wife, artist Theodora Tilton, in Virginia, where he continued to compile news of human folly for a nationally syndicated column, “News Quirks.” An experienced pilot, Roland occasionally flew north to Skaneateles to enjoy the company of friends, a hotdog at Doug’s Fish Fry, Mexican cuisine at Boom Boom Mex Mex, and, on his last trip, the legendary perch dinner at the Colonial Lodge in Bear Swamp.

He was a dear friend. He is missed.

* * *

In the photo above, Roland Sweet points out the site of his former apartment on Jordan Street.

Two Reuel Smiths

:: 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 ::

reuel-smith-cuAt 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 Discretion6 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 ::

cobweb soft sepia

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.”

architecture-of-country-houses-downing-fig-128From The Architecture of Country Houses by Andrew Jackson Downing; illustration by Alexander Jackson Davis

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.

The Jenney Family

Edwin Sherman Jenney

“I live on this lake and I say that God may be able to make something more beautiful than Skaneateles Lake, and purer water, but I don’t believe he ever did so.”

— Col. Edwin Sherman Jenney

The Jenney cottage in Spafford, near Ten Mile Point, was the summer place of one of the most remarkable families to ever grace the shores of Skaneateles Lake. The patriarch was Edwin Sherman Jenney of Syracuse, who raised and led regiments for the Union army during the Civil War, then returned to become one of the city’s leading lawyers, the husband of a remarkable woman and father of four, three of whom were successful lawyers and one of whom shaped American social history.

* * *

Of Edwin Sherman Jenney’s military history, two highlights interest me. The first is the odd way in which his military service came to a close.

In 1864, Major Jenney was serving in North Carolina when a new regiment, the 185th New York, was raised at home; the Major was promoted to Colonel and ordered to return and take command. On the homeward journey from North Carolina to Virginia, aboard a small steamer on the Dismal Swamp Canal, his party was ambushed by Confederate soldiers who closed a drawbridge across their path, shot down 10 of the 14 men on the boat, and marched the survivors 40 miles to a place where Maj. Jenney was given a parole (i.e., He gave his word not to take up arms against his captors until exchanged for an enemy captive of equal rank).

But Maj. Jenney had no faith that the parole, a slip of paper, would be honored by the next roving band of Confederate troops he encountered. Rather than march to the appointed place for exchange, he availed himself of the first opportunity to cut and run, stole a boat and rowed down the Elizabeth River and across Albemarle Sound to Union-held Roanoke Island.

A general there assured Jenney that he would be “exchanged” immediately, so he could safely re-enter the service with his new regiment. Relying on the promise, Jenney took command of the 185th New York and returned to war. Back at the front, he learned from newspapers sent through the picket lines that a reward was being offered for his capture as a paroled captive, and if taken, he would be executed.

Col. Jenney was discomforted. Seeing that he hadn’t been “exchanged” as promised, he urgently requested the War Department to formally declare his status as “escaped” rather than “paroled.” While he waited for a reply, he carried poison in his pocket to avoid being hung should he be captured again. In Washington, no agreement could be reached (imagine that) on his status. Singularly unhelpful was Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who refused to clarify Col. Jenney’s status and instead wrote that he took Jenney’s request to be a letter of resignation. Left twisting in the wind, Jenney opted for self-preservation, resigned in February of 1865 and returned to Syracuse to take up the practice of law.

The second fascinating incident in Edwin Jenney’s military career occurred earlier in the war, in 1863, when young Capt. Jenney married Marie Regula Saul, an 18-year-old Syracuse girl, and took his bride along to the war with the Army of North Carolina. Their honeymoon was shortened by incoming artillery fire, from which Mrs. Jenney withdrew in a dignified manner; in later years this would be cited as an example of her unflappable nature.

After the war, while Col. Jenney became a force in the legal community, Marie Saul Jenney became the dean of Syracuse clubwomen and the social and intellectual mentor of generations of women.

In 1922, her obituary noted, “Few New York state women of her station have exercised influence equal to that of Mrs. Jenney, or wielded power so long… She was the gentle dowager, the democratic aristocrat… Strong convictions, clear intellect and a large store of gentleness never mistaken long for weakness, made her a personage.”

At the age of 69, she marched in the first suffrage parade at New York City. Not surprisingly, she raised two daughters with courage and character to spare.

* * *

Julie Jenney Portrait

Born in 1867, Julie Regula Jenney attended schools in Syracuse and Chicago before graduating from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1892, the only woman in her class. She did postgraduate work in New York law at Cornell University, and in 1894 was the first woman admitted to the bar in Central New York; she practiced with her father’s firm, and built a large clientele among business and professional women who felt more comfortable with a woman lawyer. She organized the Legal Relief Society, the Syracuse Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Professional Women’s League. She was active in women’s suffrage, saying that until women could elect the lawmakers they could not be sure of any rights whatever.

In 1920, she was named as the first woman Deputy Attorney General of New York State. In 1924, she asked a visiting judge how he dealt with cases of non-support, i.e., the deadbeat dads of the day. The judge believed in a lenient approach.

“I disagree,” said Miss Jenney.

“But what are you going to do,” said the judge, “when the husband says ‘She’s disgraced me by bringing me down here and I’ll stay in jail forever before I pay her a cent.’”

“Let him,” she said. “ I would have such a man’s bluff called every time.”

In 1908, William Beauchamp wrote of Julie, “She possesses not only strong intellectuality but a brave and courageous spirit and is battling earnestly and effectively for the advancement of women and for a just recognition of woman’s powers in the world.”

* * *

Born in 1868, William Sherman Jenney turned out along more traditional lines. He attended Princeton (Class of 1889), studied law at Cornell and followed his father and sister into the legal profession with the family firm in Syracuse. He eventually became the general counsel for the Delaware, Lackawanna Western Railroad Company, and moved to Manhattan; he summered at his home, “Little Close,” on Egypt Lane in East Hampton, a chip shot away from the Maidstone Country Club and the ocean.

* * *


And then there was Marie Jenney.

Born in 1870, she broke the mold of male conceptions every step of the way. Feeling called to the pastorate, she attended the Unitarian Theological Seminary in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Her eventual husband later wrote, “There were other women studying at the school, but Miss Jenney was different. She was too beautiful to be a minister. People insisted that she could not be serious. They argued that there was probably a man at the seminary who had brought her there. Only a man could explain such a beautiful girl, with good clothes and evidences of wealth, at a theological seminary. Women did not go in for careers thirty years ago, and saving souls was a man’s job.”

These were the words of Frederic Clemson Howe, who was smitten from his first glimpse of Marie Jenney in Meadville, although “stricken” might be a better word. Which made the clash of their beliefs all the more painful. He wrote:

“In so far as I thought of it at all, women were conveniences of men. Mothers were, sisters were, wives would be… Miss Jenney was different from this picture. And I did not like to have my picture disturbed, especially as I was so greatly attracted to the disturber.

“I expected women to agree; she had ideas of her own; they were better than my own, more logical, more consistent too with my democratic ideas on other things. She believed women should vote for the same reasons that men voted. I snorted at the idea. Women should go to college as did men and find their work in the world. This shattered my picture of her convenience in the home. Women, to her, should be economically independent, they should not be compelled to ask for money… they did their share of the common work, and marriage was a partnership. This destroyed my sense of masculine power, of noblesse oblige, of generosity.

“To her, life was not a man’s thing, it was as human thing. It was to be enjoyed by women as it was by men; there should be equality in all things, not in the ballot along but in the mind, in work, in a career. Men and women were different in some ways, they were alike in more.”

Marie Jenney graduated in 1897, was ordained at May Memorial in Syracuse, and became an assistant to another Unitarian minister, Mary Augusta Safford, in Sioux City, Iowa, and then led her own church in Des Moines. But she grew frustrated with her church’s lack of enthusiasm for social causes, the drudgery of her work and her treatment as a woman in a male profession. And her suitor kept writing letters.

In 1904, Marie gave up the ministry to marry Frederic Howe. The couple lived in Cleveland, Ohio, where both were deeply involved in progressive politics, and then in 1910 moved to New York City. Frederic became the Commissioner of Immigration. Marie was active in the New York suffrage movement and the National Consumer’s League, a group of women seeking to improve conditions for working women. She chaired the 25th Assembly District Division of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party, soon to be known as “the fighting twenty-fifth” under her leadership.

In 1912, in Greenwich Village, she founded a women’s club, Heterodoxy, for “women who did things and did them openly.” It was a gathering place for suffragettes, feminists, radicals, labor organizers  and professional women who met twice a month to debate topics such as women’s rights, pacifism, birth control, revolutionary politics, and civil rights. The group included free-love advocates, lesbian couples, and heterosexuals both oft-married and monogamous.

Marie Jenney Howe was known to the women of Heterodoxy as the “mother;” she was present for them emotionally, intellectually, politically. One member noted that the women were “at home with ideas. All could talk; all could argue; all could listen.”

Also in 1912, Marie wrote “An Anti-Suffrage Monologue,” a satiric monologue that is still being performed today, in which an anti-suffrage woman points to female delicacy while warning that women would exert too much power, and point by point demolishes her own arguments. Some of the more oft quoted passages include:

“If the women were enfranchised they would vote exactly as their husbands do and only double the existing vote. Do you like that argument? If not, take this one. If the women were enfranchised they would vote against their own husbands, thus creating dissension, family quarrels, and divorce.”

“The great trouble with the suffragists is this: They interfere too much… Let me take a practical example. There is in the City of New York a Nurses‘ Settlement, where sixty trained nurses go forth to care for sick babies and give them pure milk. Last summer only two or three babies died in this slum district around the Nurses’ Settlement, whereas formerly hundreds of babies have died there every summer. Now what are these women doing? Interfering, interfering with the death rate! And what is their motive in so doing? They seek notoriety. They want to be noticed. They are trying to show off.”

“We antis do not believe that any conditions should be altered. We want everything to remain just as it is. All is for the best. Whatever is, is right. If misery is in the world, God has put it there; let it remain. If this misery presses harder on some women than others, it is because they need discipline.”

“What ought these women to do with their lives? Each one ought to be devoting herself to the comfort of some man. You may say, they are not married. But I answer, let them try a little harder and they might find some kind of a man to devote themselves to. What does the Bible say on this subject? It says, ‘Seek and ye shall find.’ Besides, when I look around me at the men, I feel that God never meant us women to be too particular.”

Even crusaders need to take a break, and Marie Jenney Howe sought summer refuge at a cottage in Siasconset, on the eastern end of Nantucket Island, where she would swim, sail, cycle, play golf and tennis. And each year she would take two stray dogs from a New York animal shelter and keep them at her cottage until she found homes for them on the island. In September of 1914, a newspaper article noted that she had included a kitten in that summer’s rescue, found across the street from a Suffrage association office.

“I call her the Suffragette, as she was yelling her heart out in an empty areaway with quite a crowd looking on. It was such a deep hole no one could get in to her, and I had to borrow a ladder from workmen to get her out. By this time the crowd stretched across the street. I supposed the kitten was making a suffrage speech; anyhow, she was proclaiming her wrongs.”

In 1917, two events cast a shadow over those who were calling for change in the United States. The U.S. entered World War I and a revolution in Russia overthrew the Tsarist monarchy and established a communist government. Suddenly America was at war with both Germany and Communism. The Espionage Act of 1917 forbade, among other things, any activity that interfered with military recruitment. The Sedition Act of 1918 prohibited “any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States.” The penalties included death, deportation and/or lengthy prison sentences.

The Bureau of Investigation, staffed with former Secret Service agents, began investigating draft resisters, pacifists, and immigrants suspected of radicalism, amassing files on 450,000 suspected radicals, of whom 10,000 suspected communists were arrested. Of this first Red Scare, Frederic Howe later wrote in his autobiography:

“Few people know of the state of terror that prevailed during those years…The prosecution was directed against liberals, radicals, persons who had been identified with municipal-ownership fights, labor movements, with forums, with liberal papers that were under the ban… I hated the Department of Justice, the ignorant secret-servicemen who had been entrusted  with man-hunting powers… I hated the suggestion of disloyalty of myself and my friends.”

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker, Heterodoxy member and director of the New York City Bureau of Child Hygiene wrote in her autobiography, Fighting for Life (1939):

“I had the privilege, shared with a great many other women, of being suspected of mildly radical sympathies which during the war were, of course, synonymous with giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  I was no pacifist whatever… but I did belong to a luncheon club for women active in various social and economic movements, and that was apparently enough.  Perhaps it was the name [Heterodoxy] that alarmed the spy-chasers… The fantastic result was that we really did have to shift our meeting-place every week to keep from being watched.”

According to a letter from Sen. Robert La Follette to his wife (January 12, 1919), Marie Jenney Howe was seized in front of her apartment in New York City by the “Secret Service hounds,” taken into custody and not allowed to communicate with her husband or an attorney while they questioned her about her radical associates and activities – women’s suffrage and aid to the less fortunate being linked directly to socialism and pacifism, and thus tantamount to treason.

It must have been a nightmarish time for Frederic and Marie Jenney Howe, and while they were doing great good in the world, they were not there for one another. Mabel Dodge Luhan wrote of Marie Jenney Howe:

“She was married to a man who was deeply engrossed in humanitarian problems, who while he was Commissioner of Immigration, made Ellis Island bearable for thousands where before his time it had been purgatorial. He really tried to make it a hospitable and temporary home, while in her own home he was one of those husbands who seems perpetually engrossed in thought and never on the spot. When he wrote his autobiography and his wife read it, she exclaimed, ‘Why Fred, were you never married?’ He had neglected to mention this small fact.”

Fred hurried to write Marie into the book before it was published, but a point had been made. Taking another view of it, a mutual friend, Hutchins Hapgood, wrote, “I do not believe that she recognized Howe’s love for her, because of her suffrage and feministic poison, which had gone so deep in her whole personality.”

At some point, the Howes built a home, “Shadow Edge,” in Harmon-on-Hudson (now completely absorbed by the municipality of Croton-on-Hudson), a quiet spot that was still just an hour away from New York City by train.

In 1926, surprising everyone, Marie pulled up stakes for a time and moved to Paris to do research for a book on author George Sand. She visited Sand’s granddaughter at the ancestral home, and was given access to Sand’s letters and papers. In a letter from Paris to a friend she wrote, “If I continue to feel homesick I shall go back.” But she profited by her solitude; her book, George Sand: The Search for Love, was published in 1927. She then translated Sand’s journals into English and published The Intimate Journal of George Sand in 1929.

Back at home, she still missed Fred when he was gone, which was often. In 1927, when Fred traveled to Russia, she wrote to a friend, “I hated to have him go, and was sick for three days after he left. I went to bed, could not sleep, wept, stared at the ceiling and asked of the hard plaster, ‘Will no one ever stay with me?’”

Rose Better

Consolation came in the person of Rose Emmet Young, a member of Heterodoxy and an author herself, who became Marie’s closest friend, companion, and, some say, lover. Miss Young had written two novels, Sally of Missouri (1903) and Henderson (1904), and once noted, “Living is learning, and all learning finds its place somewhere in the  making of stories.”

Marie had dedicated George Sand to Rose, and together they wrote, “Impossible George,” a three-act play based on the novelist’s life.

* * *

Alexander Jenney

Born in 1873, Alexander Davis Jenney was the youngest of the four children, and something of a prince among men. He attended Princeton (Class of 1894) where he was the tennis champion, then Cornell Law School, graduating in 1896. He returned home, joined the family firm, married Miss Caroline King (who had studied in Paris). On their wedding tour, they “spent considerable time” at the Italian villa of Major Alexander Davis, for whom Alexander was named. (Maj. Davis once owned Thornden Park in Syracuse and had a large mansion there.) Alexander and Caroline had three children. A good lawyer, family man, the best tennis player in Syracuse, and a much-loved clubman, Alexander seemed to have it all.

* * *

And now that we have a cast of characters, on to the cottage on Skaneateles Lake:

In 1886, Marie Saul Jenney, the Colonel’s wife, purchased a portion of Lot 83 in Spafford, near Ten Mile Point, for $100 from George Barrow of Skaneateles and I assume this is the spot where the Jenneys built their first cottage.

In 1889, testifying before a hearing on a water bill in Albany, Col. Jenney said, “I live on this lake and I say that God may be able to make something more beautiful than Skaneateles Lake and purer water, but I don’t believe he ever did so. The people of Skaneateles village use the water and I wish the Syracuse people could have all they want of it.”

In 1897, the newspaper noted that Julie Jenney was spending time at the cottage.

In 1900, Col. Edwin S. Jenney died in Syracuse; he was just 60 years old.

In 1901, it was reported that William Jenney and family were at the cottage. Perhaps it was getting crowded; the newspaper notes that a portion of the land was deeded to Alexander so he could build his own place.

In 1903, Marie Saul Jenney spent the entire summer at the cottage.

Jenney Lightning 1904

In May of 1904, the Jenney cottage was completely destroyed by lightning, a $4,500 loss.

In 1906, the new cottage got indoor plumbing, thanks to J.S. DeWitt. And Alexander’s family was noted as visiting.

Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Jenney and children again visited in 1907, then went on to spend some time in Cazenovia. In August, Mayor Tom Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio, visited. He was a friend of Frederic and Marie Jenney Howe, who were at the cottage visiting Marie’s mother. Mayor Johnson came by automobile, which was a real novelty at the time.

In 1908, Marie Saul Jenney and daughter Marie Jenney Howe were at the cottage. Mrs. Jenney hosted a luncheon and skat was played.

(“Skat?” you might say. Indeed, Marie Saul Jenney was the daughter of George F. Saul, editor of the German-language newspaper, The Syracuse Union, and skat is the German national card game. It combines elements of bridge, euchre and pinochle, and the fact that Mrs. Jenney could hold card parties playing anything other than bridge speaks volumes about her social clout.)

After visiting her mother, Marie Jenney Howe went on to East Hampton, L.I., to be guest of Mrs. William S. (Nina) Jenney, her sister-in-law.

In 1909, Mrs. Jenney had friends in for luncheon and more skat; the group included her daughter Julie. The newspaper referred to the cottage as “Avene on Skaneateles.”( Avène is in southern France, home of a 250-year-old spa with thermal springs and lots of sunshine, and I assume that’s the allusion.)

In 1910, Alexander Jenney’s bungalow was completed.

In 1911, Julie Jenney was at the cottage.

In 1912, Mrs. Jenney summered at the cottage and Mrs. Alexander (Caroline) Jenney and children were in the Jenney bungalow. But cottage life was not without its hazards:

“Mrs. Alexander  Jenney, who is spending the summer at her cottage at Skaneateles lake, was severely injured in a runaway accident yesterday afternoon [July 9]. Mrs. Jenney was unconscious for several hours and it was found that three ribs had been broken, but she was reported to-day to be resting comfortably.

“The Jenney cottage is situated about half way between the lake shore and the top of the high hills which border it at that point. The descent is very steep, the road leading to the cottage at one point running beside a deep ravine. Mrs. Jenney had been motoring with her little son, Alexander D. Jenney, Jr., and leaving the motor at the farmhouse at the top of the hill they got into a farm wagon to make the descent to the cottage. Soon after starting down the steep incline a part of the harness broke, and the horses plunged forward, throwing Mrs. Jenney and her son out of the wagon with great force. The child was unhurt, but Mrs. Jenney was unconscious for three hours as a result of the injuries she received.

“Dr. S. P. Stewart was sent for and later a trained nurse went from this city to care for her. Besides the three broken ribs Mrs. Jenney had a number of minor bruises.”

In 1913, Mrs. Jenney spent the summer with her son William on Long Island, and the Skaneateles cottage was occupied by Mr. & Mrs. A.H. Durston.

In December of 1914, Alexander Jenney, 42, died of heart failure, following a severe bout of influenza the previous year from which he never fully recovered. He had been staying at the Syracuse home of his mother; his wife was at his side when he died. The newspaper noted, “The end came rather suddenly, although not wholly unexpected. Mr. Jenney himself, it is said, had not realized that he could not recover.” Alexander left everything to his wife, in a will totaling 29 words. His three children were John King Jenney (10), Alexander Harding Jenney (8) and Cornelia Jenney (6).

There followed a succession of renters:  In 1915, Mrs. Howard K. Brown and children occupied the Jenney cottage. In 1916, Mr. & Mrs. Edward L. Robertson and family were in the Jenney bungalow and Mr. & Mrs. Howard K. Brown took the Jenney cottage. In 1917, ’18 and ’19, the Jenney bungalow was taken by Mr. & Mrs. Charles Francis Teller and children.

In 1922, Marie Saul Jenney died at “Little Close,” the home of her son, William S. Jenney, at East Hampton. It had been hoped that the sea air would improve her health, “but its swift failure could not be checked.” Marie Jenney Howe later wrote of her mother’s death to a friend, “I had just lost my mother, and the house at Easthampton was so full of her that I couldn’t stand it and rushed back to Harmon. I still feel that I can never bear to… see that house where she died.”

In 1924, Caroline Jenney opened the camp; Mrs. and Mrs. James G. Grant occupied the cottage. In 1928, the Teller family again took the Jenney cottage; that was the last mention of it in the newspapers.

* * *

Caroline Jenney had one more tragedy to endure. In October of 1929, Cornelia Jenney, 21, who had graduated from Smith College in June and begun graduate work at Syracuse University, was crushed to death by a New York Central coal train at a street-level crossing, while driving to class.

In 1933, Marie Jenney Howe was tired, ailing and aging. She wrote in a letter:

“Fred has been in Washington. I am glad I can stay at home. I would rather read about all those upheavals than take part in them. Read about the big events and be content with small things. That’s pleasant. The morning paper – murder, crime & war – then I go out and feed my squirrels and look at the swollen river pouring down from the dam. The trees are just the same, no matter what happens. There they have been before we were born, there they will be after we are dead.”

In 1934, Marie Jenney Howe died of heart disease at the age of 63, at home in Harmon-on-Hudson. Arrangements for the memorial service and the closing of the house were handled by Rose Young.

In 1940, Frederic Howe died at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital; he was 72.

In 1946, William S. Jenney died at his winter home in Palm Beach, Florida. He was 78.

In 1947, Julie R. Jenney died at 81; her remains were buried next to those of her parents at Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.

* * *

My thanks to the Glen Haven Historical Society for sending me on this quest last year, and especially to Elsie Gutchess for the gift of Radical Feminists of Heterodoxy (1986) by Judith Schwarz which has been invaluable in putting this piece together.

My thanks as well to Michèle LaRue, who, since 1995, has performed Marie Jenney’s “An Anti-Suffrage Monologue” more than 200 times, keeping Marie Jenney’s words and spirit alive.

Kate Field at Glen Haven

Kate Field Lovely

Kate Field is probably the most fascinating person to ever spend time at Glen Haven, although she’s not exactly a household name these days. But she was once one of America’s best known public speakers, as well as a journalist, publisher, entrepreneur, actress, singer, playwright, feminist and a crusader for many causes. And she achieved all that she did in spite of slights, mockery, discrimination and outright hostility.

Oddly enough, and I really do mean “oddly,” while being almost totally forgotten, she is still a target. Look at her Wikipedia entry. The italics are mine:

“She afterward abandoned the regular comedy for dance, song, and recitation, but achieved no striking success. In 1882-83 she headed a Cooperative Dress Association in New York, which achieved a conspicuous failure. In 1889 she established Kate Field’s Washington, a weekly journal published in the capital. After 1868 she published numerous volumes of miscellaneous contents, no longer noteworthy.”

This is written by someone intent on trivializing Field’s life and ideas, someone who feels they must take the time to do this, even at this late date. In Kate Field’s lifetime, such treatment was par for the course. A reporter for the Syracuse Standard said this in 1885: “She is by no means handsome; but she has a good face, with a certain amount of powder she might make herself much liked by those whom she took the trouble to please.”

* * *

Kate_Field fr

Kate Field (1838-1896) was born Mary Katherine Keemle Field. Her mother was an actress and her father had a touring theater company. When young, she studied in Florence, and spent time with Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Walter Savage Landor, George Eliot and Anthony Trollope. While in Sicily, she was kidnapped and held for ransom for six weeks; in that time, she learned to speak Italian. When her father died, she was left to support her mother and herself, and chose to do it with her pen. (She refused the support of a wealthy uncle because he asked for her silence in return for a guaranteed income.)

She was one of America’s premier lecturers in an era when touring lecturers were one of the nation’s main sources of information and entertainment. Her Charles Dickens lecture became a special favorite of audiences. She was famous for her letters to the New York Tribune about Charles Dickens’s American tour in 1867-68, and she edited these into a book, Pen Photographs of Charles Dickens’s Readings (1868). However, when Charles Dickens was feted by the New York Press Club, Miss Field could not attend the ‘men-only’ dinner.

She was a prolific travel writer for a number of papers during the 1860s and 1870s, and one of the first women to contribute to the Atlantic Monthly. She wrote an estimated 3,000 newspaper and magazine articles. Her “In and Out of the Woods,” an article in The Atlantic Almanac for 1870, was typical of her humor and her gumption. Field wrote about her trip into the Adirondacks in the summer of 1869, of the warnings before and her thoughts after:

“Friends wept over me as if I were going down to an early grave with malice prepense. I was warned against rattlesnakes, of which the North Woods are as innocent as New York City. I was bidden to beware of ferocious wild animals and Indians, that the civilized mind insisted were native, and to bad manners born. I made my will. I had nothing, and left it, without reservation, to my relations.”

“Who ought to go? Women; because they are in greatest need of just such a life. Yet they are the last that I would advise to go, because of their horror of the bare ground, a little dirt, and freedom from restraint. They sleep on feather-beds without a murmur, but shudder at the suggestion of a blanket in the open air. They go mad over the biting of mosquitoes, but accept an attack of diphtheria at Saratoga without complaint. They deride a bloomer dress, in which every muscle has full play, and drag unwholesome fashions through streets and parlors with infinite satisfaction. The open air means tan and freckles. Shall health be considered when complexion is in danger? Expansion of the lungs means expansion of the ribs. Can this be tolerated at the expense of an enlarged waist? But there are women who are willing to be tanned, freckled, and even made to resemble antique statuary, for the sake of renewed youth. Let such try the wilderness.”

In the late 1870s Field worked as a publicist for Alexander Graham Bell and helped to introduce the telephone to the U.S. and Great Britain. (She sang over the phone to Queen Victoria.) She helped to found the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, and was a leader in creating a memorial to abolitionist John Brown on his farm in the Adirondacks. She championed the preservation of Yosemite Valley and international copyright protection for authors. She was the primary model for the character of journalist Henrietta Stackpole in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.

Between 1890 and 1895, she published and wrote much of the copy for Kate Field’s Washington, a weekly newspaper of news, politics and culture in the nation’s capitol.

She alternately worked herself to exhaustion and then recovered at one watering place or another. From a refuge in France she wrote, “I scorn hair pins and let my hair roll in a fine frenzy down my back. I bathe in the sea and have an appetite that would do credit to a boa-constrictor. The amount of bread and milk I consume is appalling. Cows run when they see me approach and bakers gaze upon me as a special Providence.”

Kate Field 2

She had less success when she chose to embark on careers as an actress and singer, and when she threw her money and herself into a cooperative dress company in New York City, to provide good clothes to women of limited incomes, she did not succeed. But the chances of success were never considered when she began any project. “I do not hanker after posterity,” she said in 1886, “I only desire to be myself.”

She seemed happy to offer an opinion on any subject:

On lap dogs: “When I think of the pampering these little creatures get, and what a nuisance they are to travelers and how the same amount of care bestowed upon children would result in untold benefit to mankind, I become cynical.”

On overly dapper young men: “The dude is my horror — a creature who fills me with disgust. Of all the social excrescences inflicted upon that American bulb called ‘society,’ I deem him the most useless kind of fungus… He has no individuality, no manhood, no quality, even of the incipient order, and all that I can see that he is good for is to nurse his cane and flatten his nose at a club window.”

On cremation: “I believe cremation is not only the healthiest and cleanest, but the most poetical way of disposing of the dead. Whoever prefers loathsome worms to ashes, possesses a strange imagination.”

On pancakes: “What would become of the wilderness without flapjacks? They are the beginning and the end of all things; they are the game by which we live and move and have our being. He who has experienced the joys of flapjacks and maple sirup, has not lived in vain. The two combined are enough to put one in a good humor without original sin. Suppose we do eat everything off the same plate, suppose we are reduced to two-pronged forks, and our blouses for a napkin, what matters it, if we are happy? And we are happy. The recollection of those flapjacks endures until the next meal, when we renew our attentions with the ardor of a lover whose inamorata is good enough to eat!”

On the morgue in Paris: “Warranted to kill time.”

It did not trouble her that some of her views were unpopular or inconsistent. In favor of temperance but opposed to total prohibition, she was excoriated by the guardians of morality. She did not support women’s suffrage because she was opposed to universal suffrage – she felt the right to vote should come with education and good character. She praised Chinese immigrants in the west but referred to immigrants in the east as “the scum of Europe.”

One of her greatest crusades was sparked by a stop in Salt Lake City in 1883. She went for a short visit and stayed for eight months. Utah was not a state at that time, but a U.S. territory where the Church of Latter Day Saints had established a de facto theocracy. Field was angered by the plight of women in Utah’s polygamist society and by men who maintained the authority of the church over and above U.S. law. She famously stated, “Mormonism is not a religion. It is a political machine founded on treason.” When she returned east, Field decided that Mormonism would be the main subject of her lectures.

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In the summer of 1885, Kate Field stayed with friends at Glen Haven and at the new hotel; while there, she wrote three lectures: “The Mormon Monster,” “Polygamy in Utah,” and “Social and Political Crimes in Utah.” (She eventually presented these all over the country, including – no kidding – Salt Lake City where she delivered “The Mormon Monster” in 1887.)

The newspaper reports of her stay at Glen Haven were an odd mix of triviality, snide asides and unintended compliments:

“Miss Kate Field has fitted up rooms for herself in the new hotel at Glen Haven which are the wonder of the town. They abound in books, bric-a-brac, pictures, rare furniture and hangings, and she sits at a window overlooking Skaneateles Lake and muses on the Mormon question.” — Union Springs Advertiser, July 14, 1885

“Her hair is dark and her teeth remarkably beautiful. I should characterize her manner as brisk and self-poised and to strangers uncourteous; in fact, she is lacking in that fine graciousness which is most often found in those of noble nature… To see her pick her way through a crowded piazza as if she were going through a field of teasels is a study. But to see her enter the sanitary bathroom is something to be remembered. The ladies who may happen to be there might as well be the bath tubs as far as Miss Kate Field is concerned… She is also a good horsewoman and very independent in the matter, too, as she can—and sometime does—go into the stable and saddle her own horse. To sum her up on the words of one of the proprietors here, ‘She is a lady who knows her own mind, knows what she wants, intends to have it, and is willing to pay for it.’” – “A Picture of Kate Field,” Syracuse Standard, August 9, 1885

“Her moping gave the visitors no concern whatever and she was allowed to pose as a recluse in her literary cell without molestation. They said she was engaged in the deadly work of forging thunderbolts against the Mormons… But the Glen was not wholly distasteful to Miss Field, though she remained only a short time. ‘Nice place enough,’ she said, the day she loaded her trunks and traps on the steamer, ‘but the grub, I can’t stand the grub.’” – Syracuse Standard, November 22, 1885

“Miss Field was recommended to go to Glen Haven on account of its quiet life, but after a week’s sojourn she said that its fame in that regard was undeserved. The swarm of children, and the privileges they enjoyed, greatly annoyed her, and as she told those she met, interfered with her literary work.” – “Kate Field Dead,” Syracuse Daily Standard, May 31, 1896

The last quote above comes from the Syracuse Daily Standard report of Kate Field’s death on May 31, 1896. The newspaper devoted more than half of her death notice to criticizing her treatment of Glen Haven and its guests in her short story “Our Summer’s Outing,” written 10 years earlier. The reporter noted:

“It was an acrid exploiting of her own feelings, and though she disguised the names of the characters introduced, numbers of them were recognized as exaggerated pictures of well known sojourners. Among others at whom she had a shy were five or six Syracusans who had metaphorically trodden on her toes… Altogether, it was an ill-natured narrative, and at the time placed Miss Field on the books of a large number of pleasant folks.”

You can read the story here. In Field’s short story – which combined Glen Haven and Clifton Springs in a fictional resort called “Liberty Hall” – she described a stage driver, a hotel clerk, a waitress in the dining room, neighboring farmers, the staff physician, excursionists arriving on the steamboat, some country maidens and a watchman. The only guests mentioned were “No. 30,” who had been sent to Liberty Hall to dry out, but had gotten into some beer across the lake and was attempting to set fire to his bedding; a bully with a whip and a dog, and the woman who loved them both; and two guests, as follows:

“At every summer resort is one young lady who prides herself on her singing. She is generally a soprano with a special fondness for high notes, which she attacks half a tone too low. Somebody who owes the world a grudge always asks her to sing about eight o’clock in the evening. She goes to the piano reluctantly and remains until half past ten. Toward the close of the performance this shrieking soprano is joined by a more retiring barytone; then duets set in with great severity…  And when the soprano and barytone came upstairs and talked loud nothings for fifteen minutes in the hall, it seemed to me that as a choice of evils I preferred cats.”

But numbers of well-known sojourners? Five or six Syracusans? A large number of pleasant folks? I believe it was the reporter who was guilty of exaggeration, and not for the sake of humor. Which is not to say that Kate Field held everyone she met in high esteem. Two months after her upstate visit, in October of 1885, she said to a New York reporter, ” I am simply staggered by the opaque stupidity of the average villager. You see, I am just back from Clifton Springs and have had an allopathic dose of rural imbecility.”

This, too, points out the paradox that was Kate Field, for while at Clifton Springs, she gave a musical recital — singing in English, Spanish and Italian — to benefit the women employees of the sanitarium, enabling them to employ a writing teacher during the winter.

Nor was “Liberty Hall” the only object of her scorn. From a hotel in Great Malvern, England, she wrote, “A stupider set of fifty beings never was before collected. I am the sole redeeming feature (modest but true).”

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Kate Field lived her life on her own terms, for all of her life. She never married – didn’t want to. Called “peculiar,” she replied, “Peculiar because it is peculiar to be plain-spoken.”

One writer noted that she was “possessed of such bold and original powers of observation and expression that her views on subjects of public interest have never failed to command interested attention.” Another described her as “an indefatigable worker, quick and ready with her pen and her tongue.” Laurence Hutton, a drama critic, said she was “one of the cleverest, most self-contained, most self-sustaining women of her generation in any country.”

In 1896, sent to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands for a much-needed rest, she instead treated the trip as a fact-finding mission for supporters of annexation and as a writing assignment. Exhausted, she came down with pneumonia.

On her death bed, she was asked if she wanted the native Hawaiians outside her window to stop singing. “Oh, no,” she said, “music is Paradise to me.”

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Kate Field Painting

Kate Field painted in 1881 by Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912); today in the Fine Arts Department of the Boston Public Library, along with 1,500 of her personal letters.

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As per her wishes, Kate Field’s body was cremated and her ashes brought from Hawaii for burial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1897. For further reading: Kate Field: A Record (1899) by Lilian Whiting; Kate Field: Selected Letters (1996) edited by Carolyn J. Moss; Kate Field: The Many Lives of a Nineteenth-Century Journalist (2008) by Gary Scharnhorst. Hap Hazard (1873) is a collection of her writing, and Ten Days in Spain (1875) recounts her journey into Spain during a revolution.