On Exhibition, 1906

Rhubarb-

“On Saturday afternoon last, Rev. C.B. Thorne brought to the Free Press office a mammoth pie plant leaf, grown in his garden on State st., which measured three feet across and a like distance in length, being one of the largest leaves we have ever seen. The stalk was thirty-one inches in length and 1 ½ inches in diameter. The leaf was perfect in every way and the stalk was a superb specimen of pie plant. The stalk and leaf was placed on exhibition at the store of the Bench Hardware Company.”

— “A Mammoth Leaf,” Skaneateles Free Press, June 26, 1906

CB Thorne

Note: “Pie plant” is a nickname for rhubarb, given because rhubarb was often an ingredient in pies. The Rev. Chauncey Bell Thorne (1833-1909), who cultivated the giant leaf, was a minister in the Society of Friends but had spent much of his childhood and adult life farming, and brought a wealth of experience to his village garden.

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St. James’, Before & After

St James from Roof Legg Hall

Two views of St. James’ Episcopal Church, photographed from the roof of Legg Hall by O.M. Wildey. Above, the original wooden church building, shortly before it was torn down in 1873 and below, the new stone church building shortly after it was completed that year. In both photos, note the two trees to the west which survived the construction.

St James Wildey NYPL

Photo above from the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The End of the World

end-of-the-world

For years William Miller had been proclaiming the Second Coming of Christ would occur in 1843, with the rapture of the faithful and the destruction of those left behind. His believers, dubbed Millerites, numbered in the thousands. Another William, by the last name of Beauchamp, did not take it seriously. He was not impressionable, and very much a 12-year-old boy enjoying his boyhood in Skaneateles. But years later he would write about events that prompted him to momentarily reconsider the prophesy.

“One morning a man came down the street from the east, uttering an occasional loud cry. He stopped in front of [John] Snook’s store, and commenced a discourse. People soon made up their minds that he was drunk or crazy, and a pail of water was emptied over him; but as this made no difference, he was marched off to Judge Jewett, who charged him to create no disturbance. There was no special interference with him afterwards, except as the boys used to snowball him. He walked around at intervals of weeks and months, smoking and preaching, and when a well directed snowball from Clinton Brainerd took the pipe out of his fingers he took no notice of it. But he stopped just after, and pointing to the stores opposite, said, ‘Boys, if the world should come to an end, what a smashing of glass there would be.’ This was the ridiculous side.”

And then came the Great Comet of 1843, in February and March.

“One cold winter’s night it did not seem so ridiculous. We were sliding down hill. The tail of the comet, the head of which we never saw, was streaming halfway across the sky. The moon was shining, and the northern lights were up. They were much as usual at first, but soon began to float all over the sky in fantastic forms, and with changing colors. They drew up abreast of the moon, and deployed in line, and turned blood red. And in the midst of all, in the still evening hours, the voice of the preacher would burst out here and there in the streets, announcing a swift destruction to the earth and the inhabitants thereof. It was a scene to make a deep and thrilling impression.”

*  *  *

Quotes from Notes of Other Days in Skaneateles (1867) by the Rev. William T. Beauchamp

Fiercely Exultant

In the first week of April, 1865, as the Civil War drew to a close, Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, fell to the Union. Upon hearing the news, Skaneateles attorney George Barrow attempted to enter St. James’ Episcopal to ring the church bell in celebration. After finding the front door locked, he was informed by a young boy that a back window was broken; Barrow and the boy crawled through the window, and began ringing the bell. But when Barrow heard someone else rattling the front door, he retraced his steps to the window and, in his own words, “left the boy to ring the bell.”

Leaving someone else to face the music was vintage George Barrow. In his twenties when the Civil War began, Barrow heard the call for troops and loudly called for others to respond. In August of 1863, a draft lottery was held at the Onondaga County Court House in Syracuse. Barrow was one of the officials present to run the lottery, and during the drawing his name was chosen. However, draftees had the option of paying $300 “commutation money” or hiring another to go in their place. Barrow exercised his option; he had other priorities.

Moments after leaving St. James’ by the back window, Barrow was stopped and chided for breaking into the church and using its bell for a secular celebration. Barrow got into his carriage, rode off in a huff and, once safely home, penned an anonymous letter to the Skaneateles Democrat in which he said the ruling spirit of St. James’ was “in sympathy with Southern chivalry.”

This was a thinly veiled reference to the fact that some St. James’ members had family and friends in the Confederate states, as indeed they did.

Reuel Smith Sr. of St. James’ had been a partner with Drake Mills, his wife Celestia’s brother, in a New York City grocery business importing grain from Otis Mills (another brother) and Erastus Mills Beach (a nephew) in Charleston, South Carolina.

Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, also of St. James’ parish, had lived in Charleston, where his close friend and occasional business partner was the same Erastus Mills Beach. In 1853, Beach came to Skaneateles to visit his friend Henry and his uncle Reuel, and in 1855, he bought a summer home atop the hill on Leitch Avenue.

E.N. Leslie, also of St. James’, later wrote, “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.”

Erastus Mills Beach attended St. James’, and in 1857 joined H.L. Roosevelt as a delegate from St. James’ to the Episcopalian convention.

It is no surprise then, that when the Civil War came, some members of St. James’ found their enthusiasm for a Union victory tempered by a concern for friends and family in the South. But George Barrow, whose patriotism was confined to words and unhindered by other concerns, felt free to condemn anyone less enthusiastic than himself.

In reply to Barrow’s original, anonymous letter, E. Reuel Smith, then the Senior Warden of St. James’, wrote, “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.” The church’s rector, the Rev. Edward Moyses, also wrote a letter to the newspaper, in which he noted the division of church and state.

Barrow then wrote a second letter, under his own name, charging the Rev. Moyses with “ignorance or the attempt to deceive,” and adding, “Those whose hearts have ached with anxiety for the overthrow of treason in this land, turn to the congregation of St. James and say with truth… this is evidence that not only you are disloyal, but your whole Church.”

The last “your whole church” line was perhaps a reference to the General Episcopal Convention of 1862 which declined to adopt resolutions denouncing the Southern Churchmen as seditious.

Building up steam, Barrow continued:

“I have never been one of those turbulent individuals, Mr. Editor, who are in favor of carrying political questions into the Pulpit or even into the Church, but I have ever been in favor of carrying love of country there. Now of late, Mr. Editor, this love of country has been excluded from St. James Church… 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.”

Certainly the Rev. Moyses knew he had parishioners with friends and family in the South. Indeed, the North-South conflict existed not just in the church, but even within its families. Lt. Ben Porter was serving in the Union Navy and Army Pvt. Stanley Porter had already died in the Union cause, while their older brother, Capt. Seth Grosvenor Porter, was a blockade runner for the Confederacy.

But George Barrow had no such conflicts, and could exercise his patriotism at no expense to himself, safe and sound in Skaneateles.

* * *

George Barrow’s tirade in the Skaneateles Democrat was not the first local salvo aimed at Erastus Mills Beach. In early 1864, with Beach living in South Carolina, village patriots took aim at his house.

19-leitch

E.N. Leslie described what happened:

“Some mischievous person or persons circulated and sent to the Government at Washington a report (originating here) that Erastus M. Beach was a rebel, whereupon the Government immediately seized and held his property here in the village, and placed it in the charge of a Deputy United States Marshall (a resident). During the time that this marshal had it in charge, Mr. Beach’s dwelling was allowed by this officer to be shamefully looted of all its furniture of every description, especially during the night. The general prejudice existing among many of the villagers against a rebel was such that the deputy marshal seemingly enjoyed the looting.

“Every closet throughout the house was looted of its contents. Every bureau, its drawers being locked, was broken open at the back and thence the contents were taken. A large manhole was cut through the floor in the front hall to reach the wine cellar, through which the looters reached and drank all the wines.”

Erastus Mills Beach never returned to Skaneateles.

The Porter brothers’ histories played out in an even sadder fashion. In April of 1863, Capt. Seth Grosvenor Porter took the Merrimac, a fast sidewheel steamship, from St. George, Bermuda, and ran the Union blockade into Wilmington, North Carolina. His cargo included 1,100 barrels of gunpowder and three 8-inch Blakely rifled cannon; one cannon was sent to Vicksburg and the other two were kept for the defense of Wilmington, one being placed at Fort Fisher. In January of 1865, Lt. Benjamin H. Porter died in the Union assault on Fort Fisher.

Stella Maris at the Creamery

Chinese Room New

My thanks to everyone who attended my talk on the Stella Maris estate — and the three “families” that have owned it. I did indeed go off on several tangents, including the truth about the Chinese Room, which was not in Stella Maris but rather atop the L.C. Smith Building in Seattle, but I did explain the connection. It was a pleasure to spend time with so many people who care about history.

Leave This Man Alone

In January of 1923, Mary Weeks, a resident of Skaneateles and a member of the parish of St. James’, wrote to her Aunt Jennie:

“This is the first Sunday for our new Rector. His name is Donald Stuart. He is quite young, has an attractive wife and two small children. He made a fine record in the war. His family is settled in the little rectory and we are hoping everything will go smoothly. Our trouble in a small town is that we have too much time to find out what our neighbors are doing and talk about it. Also we seem to think when we hire a minister that we must tell him when and what to do. I hope we will have sense enough to leave this man alone, and give him credit for knowing enough to make his own plans without the help of the brothers & sisters in the church.”

The Rev. Stuart served at St. James’ until 1926; I have written about him before, but am grateful to Rena R. Corey of Mrs. Hudson’s/Fine Books and Paper in Cold Spring, N.Y., for sharing this personal glimpse with me. She has more than 100 letters from Mary Weeks, and should you be interested in purchasing them you can email her at mrshudsons@optimum.net, or write to: Mrs Hudson’s, P.O. Box 6, Cold Spring, NY 10516.