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

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