Welcome to Staatsburgh State Historic Site's blog! Learn more about the Gilded Age home of Ruth and Ogden Mills!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gilded Age Christmas Gift Giving:
How would you like to be on D.O. Mills' Christmas List?

Victorian Christmas Card
The tradition of gift giving at Christmas time dates back to the biblical story of the three wise men from the East who brought gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh to the newborn baby Jesus.  Christmas gift giving since then has become its own phenomenon and a huge commercial enterprise, but this has not been constant since biblical times.  Waxing and waning in different periods, gift giving became more popular during the Victorian era (1837-1901) and the tradition has continued to grow ever since.

There was a fear that the materialism of gift giving tarnished the holy day celebrating the birth of Jesus, but that idea did not temper the growth of Christmas gift giving.  While merchants in the 1820s-1840s began to notice an increasing number of gifts purchased in the Christmas season, it was not until later that shopkeepers adopted an approach that actively marketed holiday gift giving.  Yet compared to today, Christmas gifts were initially simple and often homemade items like cakes, clothes, and dolls.  Soon manufactured toys began flooding the market and gift giving gradually became more extravagant.  It has developed into an economic engine that drives advertising, marketing, and the economy for much longer than the month of December.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Phipps Horse Racing Legacy: Seabiscuit

Success in horse racing and breeding is one of the legacies of the Mills family that endures to this day.  Although the Mills name ended with the death of Ruth and Ogden's son Ogden Livingston Mills(he had no children), the family has continued through the children and grandchildren of Gladys Mills Phipps and Beatrice Mills Forbes.  Ogden Mills owned racing stables in the United States and France. His horse Cri de Guerre won the 1928 Grand Prix of Paris in Longchamps.  Beatrice inherited the French stables and her heirs in Europe have been involved for many years in the horse business including Lady Georgina Forbes (Beatrice's granddaughter) who was named the world's leading owner of showjumping horses in this 2006 article.  Many branches of the family have had success in horse racing, but it was Gladys Mills Phipps who had an all-encompassing love for horses and began a legacy that remains truly prolific.  Our focus here is on that legacy which Gladys began when she co-founded Wheatley Stable with her brother in 1926.  This blog is the first in a series examining the Phipps family legacy as successful race horse owners and breeders.

This press photo from 1933 shows Gladys and her daughter Audrey attending a race at Hialeah Park Race Track in Hialeah, Florida.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ogden Livingston Mills: The Early Years

Ruth and Ogden's youngest child Ogden Livingston decided to go into public service and not merely coast along on his family's wealth and position.  What influenced his decision to enter the political sphere and pave his own path in life?  He most assuredly could have entered the family business and had a very successful career working alongside his father.  Yet he chose a different path and had an active political career until his life was cut short in 1937 when he died of heart failure at age 53.

This Chicago Daily News photo shows Ogden Livingston Mills in June 1920 when he was a delegate at the Republican National Convention.  (DN-0072066, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Adirondack Great Camps:
Gilded Age Life and Leisure in the Woods

Like most upper-class women of her generation, Ruth Livingston Mills would have abhorred any suggestion of sun exposure on her skin, a sign of outdoor labor and lower social status for centuries.  Wealthy women of her day were mostly covered head-to-toe, often including veils across the face, for the sake of modesty and fashion as well as sun protection.  Parasols were frequently used.  A surviving photograph of Ruth from 1900, shows her in just such attire.  The clothing of Gilded Age women did not lend itself well to outdoor activity or wilderness adventure.  Ruth would not be a likely candidate to spend time roughing it at a wilderness camp in the Adirondacks.  Yet plenty of the Gilded Age elite in her social set owned and visited these large camps during the summer months.  The most popular summer destination was Newport, Rhode Island and Ruth and Ogden were among the many who owned a home there, but many families also owned Adirondack camps to spend some time "roughing it" outdoors.  While Ruth and Ogden did not own a camp, Ogden's sister Elisabeth Mills Reid and her husband, Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, did.  Ruth and Ogden visited their relatives, but as we'll see, "roughing it" at an Adirondack camp was really not that different than spending time at a country house like Staatsburgh.

Ruth protects herself from the sun with both a hat and a parasol with Ogden by her side. 


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Granard Bequest Exhibition at Dublin Castle

Recently, items once owned by the Mills' daughter Beatrice were on display at Dublin Castle. Beatrice married an earl who was originally from Ireland, and they were rumored to have met at Dublin Castle.  Since no one on staff was able to make a quick jaunt over to Ireland, we were happy to be able to learn more about the exhibition from curator Joanne Bannon who was instrumental in researching, creating, and installing the exhibition.

One of the prevailing stories of the Gilded Age was the marriage of wealthy American heiresses to titled Europeans.  These transatlantic marriages brought millions of dollars of American money into Europe, primarily England, and gave newly rich American families the opportunity to boast of a connection to royalty and perhaps include a countess in the family.  The Mills family fit perfectly into this trend when Beatrice, one of Ruth and Ogden's twin daughters, married Bernard Arthur William Patrick Hastings Forbes, the 8th Earl of Granard.  Originally from Ireland, Lord Granard was Lord-in-Waiting to Edward VII from 1905-1907, Master of the Horse to both Edward VII and George V, and served as a member of Seanad Eireann for twelve years.  His eldest son, Arthur, succeeded him as Earl when he passed away in 1948.

Countess (Beatrice Mills) and Bernard Forbes, 8th Earl of Granard, married in 1909

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Changing of the Guard:
Who Will Become the Next Queen of Gilded Age Society...?

Caroline Schermerhorn Astor (1830-1908) was undeniably the grande-dame of society for decades.  She reigned over New York Society and the "Four Hundred," as the arbiter of good taste and social acceptance.  By the 1890's, however, she was beginning to slow down.  Her husband, William Backhouse Astor, died in 1892 and her daughter Helen (Roosevelt) died in 1893, which necessitated two years of mourning in a row.  In 1895, Mrs. Astor's entertaining co-conspirator, Ward McAllister, died as well really leaving her without the same gusto for entertaining.  She also was reportedly suffering from dementia, which affected the later years of her life.  Once she was advancing in age and starting to slow down, society was buzzing about who would become the next Mrs. Astor.

Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.jpg
Caroline Schermerhorn Astor (1830-1908)

There were several candidates, but who had the strength, power, and skill to succeed?  Who had the combination of wealth, elegance, beauty, and needed to take over the reigns and lead society?  Let's take a look at the contenders...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Behind the Scenes at Staatsburgh:
Reproducing Maids' Uniforms

Interpreters at Staatsburgh often dress in period clothing while giving tours in order to best represent the period.  Guests often wonder where we get the clothing and what makes it authentic.  While there are several excellent retailers who sell reproduction clothing, the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites also has wonderful seamstresses who sew period clothing.  This blog, authored by Amanda Massie, Associate Curator at the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites, examines the research that went into maids' clothing sewn for Staatsburgh.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Historical Namesake: The Other Maria Reynolds

In the study of history, a personal connection is often what draws us in to begin to explore a subject or a place or an era.  We might be interested in World War II after hearing Grandpa's stories about the war.  Or perhaps we begin to read about the Underground Railroad after discovering several stations in our hometown.  The attempt to make a personal connection with the people we read about and study is a common impulse for anyone who loves history.  It makes history come alive.  In the 21st century, finding information has become much easier with the internet.  Wikipedia has made it very simple to learn a little about a lot of subjects.  I love to explore the web, which takes me to this story of one of my personal connections to history (and don't worry it relates to Staatsburgh as well!).  My story does not deal with one of my ancestors, but instead with a woman who shares my name.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Aerial View of the Mansion

It is not very often that we are able to see the mansion from above, which is why it was exciting that we recently took some unique aerial photos.  During recent work on the mansion’s façade, we found someone on staff with no fear of heights to go up on the lift and take aerial shots of the building, with the Hudson in the background.  This view really allows you to see the work that was done on the mansion since 2013.  The white front portico glistens and the copper on the new roof shines.  You can see the new portico whenever you approach the mansion, but the new roof is a little harder to showcase!

Enjoy this series of photos!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Announcing Mr. & Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps...

Ruth Livingston Mills held countless functions at Staatsburgh during her lifetime, but one of the grandest affairs to happen at Staatsburgh was the wedding between the Millses' daughter Gladys and Henry Carnegie Phipps on December 7, 1907.  It was very important for young women to find a suitable match and Ruth Mills would have devoted considerable time to securing the best match possible for her daughters.  The engagement  between Gladys and Henry was rumored in October 1907 after they spent time together in Long Island and it was announced in the New York Times in November.  Family and friends tried to persuade the couple to have the wedding in New York, but both preferred the quiet pastoral setting at her family's Staatsburgh estate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Portico Project:
Part II - Stanford White's Influences

This post is the second in a series about Staatsburgh's portico, which was restored to its original glory in 2014.  In December 2014 we first posted a blog that explored the history of portico design and the stylistic architectural developments of McKim, Mead & White.  This post will explore some of the potential portico models that likely influenced Stanford White when he was designing Staatsburgh's remodel in 1895.  Unfortunately, no records from the commission or actual construction process survive, but White's work from the same era can give us some insight about Staatsburgh's design.

Portico Inspirations: The English Country Home

By the 1890s, the firm of McKim, Mead & White was transitioning stylistically towards plans that were classical in scope. Since a portico was a prominent feature of neo-classical architecture, it is not uncommon that Stanford White would design one for the Millses. He did, however, have familiarity with several examples of porticos in architecture that could have potentially influenced his design.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Behind the Scenes at Staatsburgh:
Saving Historic Mattresses

Last fall we posted a blog about historic mattresses and another blog about the hair picker used to fluff the horsehair used in mattresses.  We now follow up with this blog about the historic mattresses in Staatsburgh's collections.  Thank you to our summer intern, Bethany Zulick from Bard College, for researching and writing about mattresses!


Back in the 1980’s the staff at Staatsburgh encountered a problem with the collection: mattresses. With over forty bedrooms, the historic mansion was left with quite a few historic specimens in storage. But they posed quite a fire hazard, being that they were stuffed with flammable materials like horsehair. Also, the stuffing of the mattresses drew carpet beetles and other pests like nobody’s business, making them unsanitary and creating a poor environment for storing historic collections...

What could be done? After all, these mattresses were historic artifacts and couldn’t be simply tossed out. When Gladys Mills-Phipps donated Staatsburgh to the State of New York in 1938 she included the contents of the home, allowing visitors to appreciate the mansion as it would have been when her family occupied it. So, although unhygienic and hazardous, the mattresses were still precious in some respect. The solution to this conundrum was to take a sample from each mattress to preserve while discarding the remainder. Our own Marilyn Holst, who has worked dutifully at Staatsburgh for nearly thirty years, was a part of this operation. In fact, it was her very first day on the job.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Gilded Age Afternoon Tea

Since Staatsburgh has recently launched a Gilded Age Tea & Talk series, we have been looking more into the custom of having tea.  The winter pilot run of the Tea & Talk series has proven to be a successful addition to our site's programming and each tea has a waiting list.  Drinking tea is the perfect time to think about proper etiquette and each talk in the series looks at some of aspect of etiquette during the Gilded Age.  In case you have reserved a space on one of Staatsburgh's teas or just plan to have a tea party, here are some tips that will help you survive an afternoon tea without making an embarrassing faux pas.