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

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Lowdown on Boxing Day

Since I was a young child I have always received a calendar for Christmas.  As soon as I opened it I would write in all the birthdays of my friends and family and examine all of the fulls moons, American holidays, Canadian holidays, Australian holidays.  I knew the meaning behind most holidays on the calendar because they were the traditional holidays commonly celebrated here in the US.  One holiday, however, always stuck out to me: Boxing Day.  Every year I would notice that Boxing Day came the day after Christmas and every year I thought to myself, "What is Boxing Day and who actually celebrates it?"  With holiday celebrations still in full swing on December 26th, I wondered what kind of holiday would dare to occur so close to Christmas, the behemoth of all holidays.  After watching the Downton Abbey Christmas special a few seasons ago that showcased a traditional fox hunt on Boxing Day, I thought I would do some research to uncover the mystery behind this lesser known holiday.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Portico Project, Part I - History

Now that 2014 is nearing the end, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on one of the great changes at Staatsburgh this year.  Our east portico was completely restored and the beautiful white facade gleams as you approach the mansion.  The planning stages were in motion many years earlier, and work on the portico began in September 2012 with $4.2 million in funds that Govenor Cuomo allotted as part of NY Works projects.  The funds also helped restore the mansion's roof and the estate wall; both of which were completed in 2013.

Staatsburgh's Restored Portico, Summer 2014

This post is the first in a series about Staatsburgh's portico, which was designed by Stanford White and provides an awe-inspiring first impression to all who approach the house.  Since the portico is such a keystone of Staatsburgh, these posts will provide the architectural and historical context to better understand the significance of the project.  This series will explore the history and importance of the portico to the house and some of the work done on the recent restoration.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Gilded Age Christmas

It's that time of year again!  During December, Staatsburgh transforms into a festive wonderland of bows, boughs, holly, poinsettias and Christmas trees.  We prepare for the busiest season of the year by spending the month of November decorating the entire house so that we can welcome visitors to admire the Christmas decor, Gilded Age style.  But what was the experience of Christmas during the Gilded Age?  How did the Mills family celebrate Christmas?

Staatsburgh's library, decorated for the holidays

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Champion Hair Picker in Action!

Continuing the theme of historic mattresses (see previous blog), I recently took a field trip to see a historic piece of equipment called "The Champion Hair Picker" that was essential to the upkeep of historic mattresses.

You may be wondering what a hair picker does and why it is an important tool for mattresses.  How does it operate and what is its purpose?  Does the image below give you any clue?

Keep reading to find out...

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Gathering of Old Cars 2014 Recap

If you are a lover of antique cars and live in the Hudson Valley, it is a good bet that you were at Staatsburgh last Sunday.  The Great Lawn between the mansion and the Hudson River was filled with hundreds of cars and there were thousands of visitors who attended the event.  Inside the mansion we were happy to welcome many new visitors from the car show who stopped by the gift shop and toured the house.

I was able to walk through the lawn and see so many of the great cars on display.  The car show brings back great memories from my childhood because my father restored a 1939 Chevy Coupe and we took it to countless car shows over the years.  I have seen firsthand how owners of antique cars have poured their blood, sweat, and tears (and money) into restoring and maintaining these cars.  After all of that effort, they are especially proud to show them off and converse with other car owners.  It takes a lot of effort to make an 80+ year old car look good and even more to make sure it runs properly!  As I wandered through the rows of car, I took a moment to talk to a few folks who brought a car to the show...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Historic Mattresses at a Glance

Here at the Staatsburgh, we’ve recently developed an interest in the historic mattresses in our collection. Our investigation into the topic has led to surprising discoveries about the ways mattresses have changed over the course of the last century. The modern mattresses we all sleep on today are composed of a foundation (also known as a box spring), which underlies an innerspring unit, which is then surrounded surrounded by many layers of upholstery all contained within a padded, quilted exterior. 

However, mattresses were not always so sophisticated or comfortable. The innerspring mattress that most of us sleep on today was patented by a man named Heinrich Westphal in 1871. Unfortunately, Westphal did not live long enough to see his invention succeed. This type of mattress was very expensive and did not become widely available until the middle of the twentieth century.

This begs the question: what were mattresses like before? Mattress construction has changed greatly over the course of time from stuffing, to woven wire, and finally to the innerspring model. Mattresses may seem quite mundane. To be sure, they don’t flaunt the same glamor as other antique furniture. You would never catch someone boasting about owning a nineteenth century mattress! However, the mattress has seen a great deal of change in its construction during the last century. These changes show us incremental advancements in the technology of the era as well as changing attitudes about health.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hidden Treasures of the Collections:
Footman's Table

One of the reasons we wanted to start a blog was to be able to highlight some of Staatsburgh's collections that are not always noticeable or highlighted on the tour. The house has so many collections items that it is impossible to include everything on a one hour tour! This is the first entry in a series that will explore many of the fascinating pieces in the house.

The upstairs furniture at Staatsburgh often receives the most attention, but the pieces furnishing the servants quarters also have stories to tell. All of the bedrooms in the basement and attic were furnished with tables, chairs, beds, and dressers that were very different from the pieces used by the Mills family and their guests. Where did this furniture originate and what style did the Mills select to furnish their servants quarters?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

American Heiresses & English Lords: A Match Made in Heaven?

The staff at Staatsburgh are great fans of the television program Downton Abbey. We love the show because it illustrates the way a great estate like Staatsburgh would operate with opulent dinner parties and a strict hierarchy of servants. Watching the show can bring to life situations that would have happened here at Staatsburgh. We love it so much that we started a special Downton Abbey themed tour at the site. The tour will be offered again in September and October (check out our facebook page for dates), and in the spirit of Downton Abbey, this blog takes a moment to look at marriages between American heiresses and the European aristocracy.

There has been some interest in the practice of American heiresses marrying titled Englishmen because of the show.  On Downton Abbey, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, is married to an American woman, the former Cora Levinson, daughter of a dry goods millionaire. At Staatsburgh, Ruth Livingston Mills used her sister's position in English society after marrying an Englishman to help secure her daughter Beatrice's marriage to an Earl.  

Downton's Cora Levinson arrived in England in 1888 at age 20 chaperoned by her mother. She was presented at court and enjoyed a London Season. During a London Season, a young lady would attend countless parties and balls with hopes of meeting a potential suitor. By the end of Cora's first Season, she was engaged to the future Lord Grantham who needed to secure funds to rescue his large estate. What began as a marriage of convenience soon grew into love and on the show the marriage between the Earl and Countess of Grantham is portrayed as loving and happy. Other women who were forced into marriage like Conseulo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, were not as lucky in love and many of these marriages later dissolved. Yet like the fictional marriage between Cora Levinson and the Earl of Grantham, a great influx of American money helped to maintain and preserve the great estates of the English nobility.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Welcome to the new blog for Staatsburgh State Historic Site.  We are part of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation Taconic Region and this lovely mansion (seen below) was the Gilded Age home of Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband, financier Ogden Mills.  Commonly referred to as Mills Mansion by local residents, Staatsburgh State Historic Site is open to the public for tours and special events.  Visit our facebook page for information about hours of operation and activities at the mansion.

We hope that this blog will provide a more in-depth look at the building, the collections, the Mills family, and the Gilded Age.  There is an endless amount of fascinating subjects that are impossible to cover during a tour of the mansion and this blog is a place where we can explore these topics.  What happens on site when it is closed to the public?  What is really in those rooms that are not part of the tour?  What restoration work is ongoing or starting?  We plan to bring an in-depth look at hidden treasures in the collections and explore the lives of the Gilded Age elite and the people who served them.  If our readers want to learn more about specific people or things we welcome any comments or suggestions for future posts!