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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Nutcracker Christmas at Staatsburgh

This year the mansion was decorated for the holidays with a nutcracker theme.  Visitors walking through the house heard the lovely strains of the famous musical score as they admired the decorations and collection of various sized nutcrackers.  Not only are nutcrackers a popular Christmas decoration, the score from The Nutcracker ballet, composed by Peter Tchaikovsky in 1892 has a lasting association with the Christmas season.  The ballet is performed every year in cities large and small around the world.  Many productions continue to be set in the late 19th century and depict a world similar to the American Gilded Age (at least during the party scene before the fantasy elements begin).

Nutcrackers grace the mantel in Staatsburgh's dining room, Christmas 2019

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Preventative Conservation Workshop 2019: Part III - Moving the Drawing Room Carpets


During June 2019, aspiring conservators from around the country attended a 2 week intensive preventative conservation workshop at Staatsburgh.  This was the fourth year that the workshop was held at Staatsburgh with sponsorship from The  Foundation for the Advancement of Conservation along with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The workshop taught in-depth methods of caring for many different types of collections. Participants gained insight into artifact conservation and the conditions that cause deterioration. After the workshop, several of the participants wrote blog entries about their experience and a specific aspect of the workshop.


Independent Conservator Cathy MacKenzie organized this workshop to occur at Staatsburgh collaborating on its organization with the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites and Parks.  Several conservators participated in the workshop's instruction including Furniture Conservator David Bayne, textile conservator Kirsten Schoonmaker from Syracuse University, objects conservator Valentine Talland formerly of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, paper conservator Lyudmyla Bua of the Center for Jewish History in New York, and furniture conservator Paige Schmidt from the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA.

Blog Author, Josephine Ren
Blog Author, Beth Reid

Beth Reid is a museum technician at the Valentine Museum in Richmond, VA where she cleans the 1812 Wickham House and the general collections. She also interns in the conservation lab at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources treating archeological objects. Beth holds a B.F.A. in Painting and Printmaking with minors in Art History, History, Anthropology, and Italian Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University and is completing an A.S. in Chemistry at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.  Josephine Ren is from the Greater Los Angeles Area and received a B.A. in Art Conservation with a minor in Art History from Scripps College. She has held pre-program internships at the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and in private practice. She also studied conservation during a semester abroad at Studio Arts College International, Florence, and has worked in collections at Pomona College Museum of Art and Scripps’ art gallery. Currently she works under private practices, and is interested in objects and painted surfaces.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Preventative Conservation Workshop 2019: Part II - Moving Collections in the Drawing Room

During June 2019, aspiring conservators from around the country attended a 2 week intensive preventative conservation workshop at Staatsburgh.  This was the fourth year that the workshop was held at Staatsburgh with sponsorship from The  Foundation for the Advancement of Conservation along with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The workshop taught in-depth methods of caring for many different types of collections. Participants gained insight into artifact conservation and the conditions that cause deterioration. After the workshop, several of the participants wrote blog entries about their experience and a specific aspect of the workshop.

Independent Conservator Cathy MacKenzie organized this workshop to occur at Staatsburgh collaborating on its organization with the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites and Parks.  Several conservators participated in the workshop's instruction including Furniture Conservator David Bayne, textile conservator Kirsten Schoonmaker from Syracuse University, objects conservator Valentine Talland formerly of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, paper conservator Lyudmyla Bua of the Center for Jewish History in New York, and furniture conservator Paige Schmidt from the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA.

Blog Authors, Patti Maxwell and Paige Hilman
This blog post was written by workshop participants Paige Hilman and Patti Maxwell. Paige is a junior at the University of Arizona, studying art history and chemistry with the goal of becoming an art conservator. She currently works for the National Park Service as a Museum Technician at the Western Archeological and Conservation Center and interns at the Center for Creative Photography.  Patti has served for the past two years in the newly-created Head of Housekeeping position at Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” in Southwestern Pennsylvania. She worked many years as a hospitality Housekeeping Manager which has equipped her with a thorough knowledge of the workings of a housekeeping department. This program has furthered her ability to teach her team the importance of proper object handling and preventive conservation and to impart a deep appreciation for the need to maintain national treasures.


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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Preventative Conservation Workshop 2019: Part I - Housekeeping in the Historic Library

During June 2019, aspiring conservators from around the country attended a 2 week intensive preventative conservation workshop at Staatsburgh.  This was the fourth year that the workshop was held at Staatsburgh with sponsorship from The Foundation for the Advancement of Conservation along with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The workshop taught in-depth methods of caring for many different types of collections. Participants gained insight into artifact conservation and the conditions that cause deterioration. After the workshop, several of the participants wrote blog entries about their experience and a specific aspect of the workshop.

Independent Conservator Cathy MacKenzie organized this workshop to occur at Staatsburgh collaborating on its organization with the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites.  Several conservators participated in the workshop's instruction including NYS Bureau of Historic Sites Furniture Conservator David Bayne, textile conservator Kirsten Schoonmaker from Syracuse University, objects conservator Valentine Talland formerly of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, paper conservator Lyudmyla Bua of the Center for Jewish History in New York, NY, and furniture conservator Paige Schmidt from the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA.

Blog Authors, Olivia Lambert and Monica Stokes
This blog post was written by Olivia Lambert and Monica Stokes who participated in the two week  workshop at Staatsburgh.  Olivia Lambert graduated from the University of California Los Angeles, with a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry. While in Los Angeles, she worked at the Fowler Museum conserving textiles. She also worked in an art gallery in Visalia, California as a docent where she handled the objects and the display of the individual art pieces. Monica Stokes is the former Exhibit and Development Manager at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, Illinois. While there, she oversaw the care of the surgical instruments and a medical-focused manuscript and rare book collection. She holds a Bachelor of Visual and Critical Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently resides in Traverse City, Michigan.
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Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Quick Trip to Newport

Recently on a family vacation, I made a quick detour to Newport, Rhode Island.  I have visited Newport and toured mansions on two separate occasions in the past, but both times were before I started working at Staatsburgh.  Previously I had just a general interest in the Gilded Age seaside colony, but after becoming more immersed in researching the Mills family, their servants, and the context of their life, my interests have become much more pointed.  I was eager to explore Newport as it related to the Mills family.

Though the trip was brief, I made a few integral stops and have some insights and photos that I would like to share.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Who was Anna Van Bloem of Staten Island?

Ruth Mills died in Paris on October 13, 1920 at age 65.  She was survived by her husband, her twin sister, three children, and several grandchildren.  When her will was read, bequests were made to her family as one would expect.*  She also included some of her servants.  She gave $2000 each to her butler, Frederick Thompson, as well as Eva Wilton, Mary Golding, and Maggie Sheridan.  Her will stated that they would receive the money on the condition that they were still in her service at the time of her death.  In one other bequest apart from her family and servants, Ruth stipulated an amount of $1,000 should go to Mrs. Anna Van Bloem of Staten Island.  She was not family and there were no conditions included like the bequest to the other servants.  So if she was was not currently in service to Ruth, who was Mrs. Anna Van Bloem?  I resolved to find out.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Hidden Treasures of the Collections: Bottle Capper

The majority of collections that remain at Staatsburgh relate to life "upstairs" in the mansion.  When the family gifted the mansion to New York State in 1938, the rooms upstairs were left largely intact, while servants' spaces were not.  By 1938 several of the rooms in the basement were used as storage areas and they were no longer furnished as they would have been earlier in the family's occupancy.  In addition, many of the tools used by servants are not part of the collections.  Items that were consistently used were often discarded when they were in poor condition and no longer useful.  In addition, as the technology improved, housewares and tools were upgraded.  Taking this into consideration, we are especially excited when we have servant related collections that we can share.  Several of these artifacts were relegated to a closet in the maids quarters and they were not uncovered or accessioned until decades after the rest of the house.

One of those items is the object that we see below, the Everedy Bottle Capper, which was used to secure a cap on a bottle almost as tight as at factory.  This object was first invented and manufactured by the Everedy Company in 1923, which is the approximate date of this item.

Everedy Bottle Capper, circa 1920s


Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Mysterious Death of the Dinsmore Parlor Maid

The untimely death of a young servant at The Locusts, the estate adjacent to Staatsburgh to the north, gives us a small glimpse of the lives and activities of Gilded Age servants in the hamlet of Staatsburg just over 100 years ago.  Recent research by Staatsburgh’s curator, Maria Reynolds, uncovered this slightly mysterious and unfortunate occurrence that resulted in the dismissal of The Locusts’ butler.  Reynolds’ research on Staatsburgh’s servants is now featured in a new exhibit (opened in April 2019) that can be enjoyed during the site’s open hours, normally Thursday through Sunday through late October.

"Girl Dies of Poison," The World headline read on July 20, 1897.  Selma Larson, a maid at the Clarence Dinsmore estate in Staatsburg died after falling suddenly ill on a train that had just departed Poughkeepsie.  There was no prior sign of illness and Miss Larson appeared in fine health to those who worked with her.  The illness was sudden and the death was unexpected.  Naturally, these circumstances raised questions about the cause of death.  It didn't take long for the newspapers to sensationalize the situation.  Was it poison?  Did the butler do it?  Read on to find out...

The World, July 20, 1897

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Restoration of the Drawing Room Sofa

We want to thank former intern and employee Andrea Monteleone for authoring this blog post.  Andrea has a BA in History from Marist College and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in history at Binghamton University.  

Have you ever strolled through a historic house and found your gaze lingering upon the textiles on display? Our eyes are easily drawn to the intricate patterns, colors, and textures offered by decorative fabrics. You might notice drapes framing windows, and how their colors often enhance the design and feeling of a room, without distracting from the view out of the window. Perhaps the walls of a room are completely covered in fabric. A glance around at these large cuts of fabric may instill a sense of comfort and warmth, or conversely, intimidation and formality. Maybe your attention is drawn to a piece of furniture, such as an upholstered chair or sofa, and you find yourself wanting to know if it is comfortable to sit on. Design historian Margaret Ponsonby has remarked, “Focusing on textiles provides a medium for understanding the meanings that interiors had for their inhabitants in the past and enriches our experience of history in the present.”[1] Indeed, textiles offer present-day staff and visitors to historic houses clues into interior design decisions and how spaces functioned. This often helps us better understand people and cultures of a different time. 

Take, for example, an upholstered sofa like this one:

Chesterfield-style sofa, 2018

Friday, March 29, 2019

Hidden Treasures of the Collections: Marriage Certificate of Francis Lewis & Elizabeth Annesely

One of the initial hopes for this blog was to create an avenue that showcased some of Staatsburgh's collections that are not always noticeable or highlighted on the tour. The house has so many collections that it is impossible to cover everything in a single visit.  In addition, some objects or paintings are positioned in such a way that is is hard to see them from the tour path. The "Hidden Treasures of the Collection" blog series provides a closer look at some of the interesting pieces throughout the house.


The newest entry in this series takes a look at a document that hangs on the wall in the library.  This document dates from 1745 and is the marriage certificate of Ruth Livingston Mills' great-great-grandparents, Francis Lewis and Elizabeth Annesely.  Several documents signed and written by Ruth Livingston Mills' ancestors grace the wall of the library as a way to emphasize Ruth's Livingston heritage and the history of her family at this site.  Francis Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence, which was a clear point of pride for Ruth.  It created a clear link from Ruth to the foundation of the country.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book Review: Tragic Mansions by Mrs. Philip Lydig

Life and relationships in wealthy Gilded Age society is a fascinating topic, but there are only a few first hand accounts from the women who ruled the upper echelons of society during this era.  Maverick in Mauve: The Diary of a Romantic Age by Florence Adele Sloane (a great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt) is a published account of diary entries in the years before and during the author's marriage.  Another great example written by Sloane's cousin, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, was entitled The Glitter and the Gold.  Both provide unique insights into love and marriage within a society with very strict rules.  A third example provides an equally fascinating and perhaps darker look into the lives of those who appeared to have it all.  Published in 1927 by Rita de Acosta Lydig, the book came at a time when Rita was in ill health and a lot of debt.  She wrote the book to earn money and in the meantime provided a unique window into her world.

Portrait of Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini, 1911

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ruth Livingston Mills: Graceful & Proficient on Ice

While researching Ruth Livingston Mills, one of the last things I expected to find, was a news article that extolled her skills as an ice skater! I have always had an impression of Ruth as very proper, a bit fragile health-wise, and rather cautious as well. Whenever she went outside in the summer she would be covered head to toe and wore a veil over her face to protect herself from the sun. So when I read that she was known as an excellent skater, I was a bit surprised. First of all, I could not picture her falling on ice in front of other people. And even if falls were rare and she was not doing anything risky, it is inevitable that a fall will happen once in a while. You might click your blades with another skater, or hit a rut…outdoor ice is nothing like the smooth ice in rinks today. And second, it takes a while to feel comfortable and confident on skates so that means she must have been doing it her whole life and she must have put in some time on the ice. Her involvement with skating also showcases how fashionable skating had become. It was an enjoyable winter hobby for the masses and the elite!


Skating in Central Park