Category Archives: Historic Sites

21st century technology Recreates 18th century Luxury

When Alexander Hamilton was married at Schuyler family mansion in Albany, the residence was a pinnacle of style in Colonial America.

Home to one of the region’s richest families, the Georgian-styled mansion was decorated with luxurious wallpaper, rich fabrics, and even an ornamental papier maché ceiling that had been custom made and imported from England around 1760.

This ornate ceiling graced the mansion’s Best Parlor, where Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in December 1780, as the Revolutionary War raged into its fifth year.

Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. The couple have new-found popularity from the successful Broadway musical play Hamilton. Source: Friends of Schuyler Mansion

To get his decorative ceiling, Philip Schuyler had simply selected designs from a catalog, provided room dimensions with his order and a complete ceiling was shipped ready to install.  Schuyler could have chosen from birds, flowers, shells, moldings, festoons, musical instruments — images that represented his interests and image.

This was not made with the papier maché that people might recall making in school — no newspaper and white glue. This was cotton rag pulp and papier maché that was mixed with water into a oatmeal-like slurry, and then pressed into a variety of hand-carved wooden molds to dry and set. 

The resulting super-light and slightly flexible ornaments were inexpensive to ship and easy to install. After a little glue and few tacks to set the ornaments in place, a ceiling was ready for painting.   Once done, it gave a stylish look similar to more expensive plaster ornamentation.

During the years, the parlor ceiling at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site was removed and lost for reasons unknown. But Historic Site Manager Heidi Hill wanted it back after part of efforts to restore mansion for its 100th anniversary as a State Historic Site. 

The challenge to the Peebles Island-based Bureau of Historic Site and Park Services, part of the NY State Parks Division for Historic Preservation, was how to recreate something that has not been commercially produced in 150 years.

Making new hand-carved molds was out of the question; it would take too much time and cost too much money.

However, the team at State Parks had an amazing resource — an existing, rare and wonderful example of a mid-18th century papier maché ceiling at the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, Westchester County. This mansion has the only complete surviving example of this type of ceiling in the United States.  

However, this ceiling was too significant and too fragile to risk being damaged by the pressure and stress of taking contact from a traditional mold. This is where laser-based, 3D imaging technology came to the rescue.

In a pioneering project, State Parks partnered with Ithaca College’s Physics and Astronomy Department and the Friends of Schuyler Mansion to have the Philipse Manor Hall ceiling 3D scanned by portable laser units that fire pulses of light up to one million times a second. Light is then reflected back to a receiver, which measures how long the light took to return, using the data to create high-resolution scans that captured details down to 100 microns or 4/1,000th of an inch.

Headed by Professor Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers, the Ithaca College team 3D scanned nearly the entire interior and exterior of the historic Philipse Manor Hall, said Charles Casimiro, an historic site assistant there.

Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers, right, with Ithaca College students Evan van de Wall and Ryan Fedora, using laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

“This effort for Schuyler Mansion was a very exciting project to work on … we were using this technology to do something that had never been done before,” said Rogers, who recently became the new chairman of the Physics Department at the University of Colorado at Denver.

It took three visits to Philipse Manor Hall between 2015 and 2017 to get all the scans, he said. With the newest scanner, students could use a hand-held device, wave it around the room and watch the image on the computer as it filled in, “kind of like painting with your hand,” said Rogers.

Ithaca College student Demitri Hector sets up a laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers.
Lasers scan a ceiling bust of Sir Issac Newton. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers
The scans are rendered into an image on the computer. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.
Ithaca College student Kevin Pomer uses a hand-held scanner on the ceiling at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

In 2015, Rogers’ team also 3D scanned the Grant Cottage State Historic Site in Wilton.

The scanning of Grant’s Cottage, where Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life writing his memoirs, is now being used to help protect the 1870s structure from fire, said Ben Kemp, site manager for the Friends of Grant Cottage. He said the data is being used to help design a modern fire detection and suppression system.

Rogers said this kind of scanning technology also will help in the rebuilding of fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was scanned in 2015.

When the laser scans at Philipse Manor Hall were completed, State Parks had computer images that revealed every paint brush stroke, age crack and tiny detail on the manor’s 250-year-old ceiling, which features images of lute players, bagpipers and singers, as well as busts of Sir Isaac Newton and poet Alexander Pope .

A drawing based on the 3D laser scan of the ornate ceiling design at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site

To reproduce this ceiling in Schuyler Mansion, the original idea was to use the scans for a 3D printer to create each unique ornament in plastic. The Bureau of Historic Sites would then use traditional molding and casting methods to make new molds, which would then be used to produce the papier maché ornaments.

But Rogers’ team then figured out how to use the 3D imagery to create computer commands for the State Parks printer to instead make the concave molds used to receive the papier maché .  A total of 55 unique molds were needed to recreate the Philipse Manor ceiling.  

These molds were printed in Peebles Island’s Architectural Conservation lab at the Bureau of Historic Sites & Park Services. A printer works using a spool of bioplastic filament, which is heated into a liquid and then fed through a printer head that created the molds layer by layer.

State Parks Architectural Conservator Erin Moroney making molds on a 3D printer at her Peebles Island offices.

Many molds were too large to fit the printer bed, and so were digitally rendered into smaller pieces and then physically welded together later with a high-temperature 3D pen.  

With molds ready, we started making papier maché. Traditional cotton rag papier pulp was pressed  into the molds and the water squeezed out  with large sponges. 

A section of papier maché ornament with its mold.

More than 300 pieces were cast to make the ceiling, using over 500 pounds of paper pulp. The edges of each casting were hand trimmed. Each piece of ornament was then primed and boxed up for installation.

More than 98 percent of the ceiling was installed by three State Parks staffers in under a week. Hot glue was used to adhere the ornament to the ceiling. The ornament edges were then caulked where necessary and the entire ceiling painted. Once finished, the ornamental ceiling now looks like it has always been there.

Now installed at Philip Schuyler Mansion, this is only the second complete papier maché ceiling in the Unite States.

Erin Moroney and Bill VonAtzingen install the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Erin Moroney paints the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Bill VonAtzingen, a State Parks restoration carpenter, paints papier maché ornaments for installation.
See the complete process, from 3D printing of molds, to installation of the ceiling.
A detail from the ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
A 360-degree view of the restored ceiling.

Over the next few weeks the Parlor also received a crystal chandelier, an imported English loomed carpet and new custom-made drapes. The result is amazing.  For the first time in over a century—the grandeur of the Best Parlor is restored to the time of the Hamilton wedding, from the floor to the ceiling.

Philip Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.

Post by Erin E. Moroney, architectural conservator, Bureau of Historic Site & Park Services.

Seneca Lake surrenders its watery secrets

The cold, dark depths of Seneca Lake are revealing a rare glimpse of the state’s early maritime history to a high-tech research vessel as it finds long-lost shipwrecks in the deepest of the Finger Lakes.

Armed with a multibeam sonar array, researchers from Middlebury College and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum are producing accurate three-dimensional images of the bottom that also pinpoint wrecks from Seneca’s heyday of commercial canal shipping nearly two centuries ago.

Starting in late June, the Research Vessel David Folger was based in the newly-rebuilt marina at Sampson State Park for a two-week survey, headed by Thomas Manley, an assistant geology professor at Middlebury College, and Art Cohn, co-founder and director emeritus of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

The crew of the David Folger at Sampson State Park at the start of the two-week survey.

Called bathymetric mapping, the team’s work is providing valuable insights into an era when canals drove the state’s economy. The mission is being supported through a $15,000 grant from NYS Parks Historic Preservation Office and also by the NYS Canal Corp.

“On our first day on Seneca Lake, we found several shipwrecks,” said Cohn, pointing at a color-coded computer display that showed the crisp outline of one such vessel on the bottom. After a sighting, researchers sent down an unmanned, remote-operated vessel (ROV) to video, identify and document the scene.

“The vessels being found are intact ships, many with cargo, that have not been seen for more than 150 years,” he said.

Art Cohn speaks at the dedication of the new Sampson State Park marina.

Multibeam sonar works by sending sound waves in a fan shape into the water beneath a ship’s hull. The amount of time it takes sound waves to bounce off the bottom and return to a shipboard receiver is used to determine depth, with that data then used to produce detailed, color-coded maps.

These findings add to the eight shipwrecks located during a preliminary survey by the team in summer of 2018. So far, that brings the total number of confirmed shipwrecks to 14, with more potential finds still being analyzed, said Cohn.

A 3D multibeam sonar scan of the Seneca Lake bottom clearly shows the outline of a shipwreck. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
The clear outline of a shipwreck. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
Once a potential shipwreck is located, a remote-operated vessel (ROV) with a video camera is sent down to investigate. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

The David Folger mapping project also will update lake navigation maps that date to the 1870s, when depth measurements were taken from ships by crews who dropped a lead weight from a metal chain into the lake until it hit bottom.

The newly-discovered Seneca Lake wrecks are canal boats that date from the mid-1820s to the 1850s, after the opening of the Erie Canal and construction the 20-mile Cayuga-Seneca Canal in helped make the lake part of the “superhighway” of the era.

The Erie (1825), Chemung (1833) and Crooked Lake (1833) canals helped make the lake commercially accessible from north, south and west, with hundreds of canal boats each year plying the 38-mile lake carrying cargoes of corn, coal, lumber, whiskey and other goods. But winds and storms on Seneca Lake posed a threat to such lake traffic, sometimes sending canal vessels to the bottom.

Canal traffic was a common sight on Seneca Lake from the 1820s to the 1850s. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
The 38-mile lake is the longest and deepest of the Finger Lakes. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

Seneca Lake is up to 625 feet deep, and water temperature at such depths is in the mid- to low-30s, said Cohn, making it the perfect low-oxygen environment for preserving wooden shipwrecks. In the ocean, salt water and aquatic organisms quickly corrode such wrecks

“The shipwrecks in Seneca Lake are in many way time capsules of the 19th century,” said Mark Peckham, a former maritime history expert with State Parks and now a trustee with the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston.  “I dove on some wrecks in the 1990s and was struck by their state of preservation.  Some still had glass in their cabin windows and household items remaining inside.”

Underwater images taken by the David Folger of a sunken canal vessel. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
The bow of a sunken canal vessel. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

“These discoveries are especially significant as we are in the midst of the 200th anniversary of the construction of the NYS canal system.  2025 will mark the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal,” said Peckham. “More than anything else, the canals of the 1820s spurred economic development, settled broad swaths of the state, made New York State first in population and made the port of New York one of the greatest shipping ports in the world.  

The David Folger reached the lake from its home port on Lake Champlain by taking the Champlain, Erie and Cayuga-Seneca canals in the New York State Canal System.

The multibeam sonar array aboard the David Folger also allows researchers to understand the composition of the ground beneath the bottom of Seneca Lake, said Manley. Those sub-bottom images look almost like a slice through a layer cake.

Some images might offer clues into a long-running lake mystery _ the source of mysterious booming noises that seemingly come from the water itself. The sounds have been known locally as Seneca Guns, Lake Drums or Lake Guns.

One modern theory is that such sounds might be caused by the sudden collapse and depressurization of caverns or tunnels underneath the lake, which has a history of salt mining being done around and beneath it.

Middlebury College researcher Thomas Manley explains underwater mapping imagery to NYS Parks Police Capt. Michael Daddona

Manley pointed to a lake bottom image that shows such potential collapses _ a nearly-circular depression that is some 40 feet deep, and another such depression nearby that is shaped like a horseshoe.

As Seneca Lake shipwrecks are located, they will be protected as public resources under the Federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987. All shipwrecks located under this survey’s permit issued by the New York State Museum will be reported to the Museum and integrated into the state’s archaeological inventory.

Said Peckham, “These sites are subject to environmental degradation, such as silt deposit, erosion, organic deterioration, and the effects of mussel encrustation, and human intrusions like anchoring, diver handling, theft of artifacts, and construction of bulkheads, marinas, pipelines, and cable crossings. The latter threats can be addressed through improved public education and interpretation, law enforcement and by providing appropriate submerged heritage diving sites that foster and support responsible recreation and tourism.”

In Lake Erie, recreational diving on such historic wrecks has proved to be a popular tourist attraction. That could make Sampson State Park’ s rebuilt $7.5 million marina the perfect jumping-off point for such trips.

But not all mysteries have been uncovered yet _ researchers aboard the David Folger spotted no trace of potential relatives of a mythical Seneca Lake sea monster that was supposedly deliberately run over by the captain of a steamboat in 1899, according to a Rochester newspaper account at the time… But stay tuned.

A newspaper headline on the alleged monster encounter. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
An artist imagines the legendary beast. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

Posted by Brian Nearing, NYS Parks deputy public information officer

Hats Off to Lorenzo Driving Competition, a Summer Signature in Cazenovia

For lovers of horses and history, the annual Lorenzo Driving Competition is the jewel of Cazenovia’s summer traditions.

The click of hooves, the hum of carriage wheels, the shimmer of sunlight on canvas tents: It’s a singular weekend, a chance to be transported to a time when road trip meant four legs and a whip.


A driver puts her horse and carriage through the course. Photo courtesy of Janis Barth.

The competition, held July 19-21, is once again set on the central great lawn of the Lorenzo State Historic Site, once the home of John Lincklaen, a Holland Land Company agent who founded the town in 1793 and named it for his boss, Theophilus Cazenove.

Lincklaen’s neoclassical mansion is a signature surrounding, the gentle slope of the ring designed to recreate a traditional driving experience and show off the unique combination of skill, attire and showmanship that define the sport of pleasure driving.

Interior hallway of the mansion.

For spectators, who are invited to bring chairs and blankets and find a comfortable vantage point, the restored historic buildings provide the perfect backdrop.

Plan for a full day, because the Lorenzo grounds and restored mansion beckon between classes. Wander the Dark Aisle Arboretum and the spectacular formal garden. Absolutely leave time to explore the carriage house and collection of antique vehicles that provide a link between the driving competition and Cazenovia’s rich equestrian history.  

Visitors mingle with some of the horses and their drivers. Photo courtesy of Janis Barth.

The heart of the weekend, however, belongs to the polished pleasure-driving teams. Competition will take place in two rings: one featuring such crowd favorites as the Carriage Dog and Antique Vehicle classes, and one dedicated to a Christmas in July-themed obstacle class.

Yes, that is right! Carriage dogs… A carriage dog or coach dog refers to a type of dog rather than a specific breed. Originally, dogs of this type were bred and trained to trot alongside carriages to protect the occupants from banditry or other interference. They were usually owned and used by the wealthy or traders and merchants. Dalmations were once one of the most popular breed of carriage dog in England, starting in the 18th Century. The more carriage dogs that attended a carriage, the greater the indicator of the occupants’ wealth and prestige.

An elegantly-attired driver and his team in front of the neoclassical Lincklaen Mansion. Photo courtesy of Janis Barth.

Friday at Lorenzo starts with driven dressage classes, testing the skill of horse and driver as they perform prescribed patterns with circles, diagonals and changes of gait. Then it’s off through fields and woods to neighboring Empire Brewery. Pull up a chair and watch from the front lawn as teams weave between traffic cones topped with tennis balls – points lost for every ball knocked to the ground.

The day ends with something new: a Picnic Class, where competitors are judged on their ability to drive a horse and then set up a posh meal on tables around the main show ring. It’s an elegant nod to a bygone era and, as you might imagine, more fine china and silver and less plastic forks and paper plates. On Sunday morning look for Lorenzo’s signature 5-mile, Pleasure Drive-Pace through the lush countryside south of the mansion. During the lunch break, JK Percherons will dazzle in the main ring with their four-horse hitch.

A driver and passenger show their joy on the course. Photo courtesy of Janis Barth.

Bring the littles and check out the Kids Korral, the many vendors along Market Lane and a silent auction featuring unique items – equestrian cocktail shaker, anyone?

As always, there is no charge for parking or to attend any day of the competition.

There’s something special about Lorenzo weekend– the mansion, the polished trophies, the gentle snort of horses and well-mannered woof of carriage dogs. This summer, plan to be part of the tradition.

For more information and updates go to lorenzodriving.org or follow the show on Facebook. Also, there are many other events at the Lorenzo site this season, and further information can be found here.


Hope to see you there! Photo courtesy of Janis Barth.

Post by Janis Barth, editor and publisher of New York Horse magazine and a member of the Lorenzo Driving Competition board.


After Yorktown: The Path to Newburgh And VICTORY

Many visitors to The Hasbrouck House overlooking the Hudson River are surprised to learn that George Washington spent 16 and a half months headquartered and living in this fieldstone farmhouse in Newburgh, New York after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28-October 19, 1781).

To many the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, was the end of the Revolutionary War. Although this decisive American/Franco victory did ultimately bring about the end of the war, it was not the end. In hindsight, the Siege of Yorktown created the path to Newburgh and victory! After all, the peace treaty was not signed until September 3, 1783—almost two years after the Yorktown victory. General Washington knew he and the military could not remain idle and expect to win.

1931 Postage Stamp
U.S. postage stamp commemorates 150th anniversary of Yorktown victory.

After Yorktown, the British regained the strategic upper hand on land and sea. Naval superiority had been compromised by the French with de Grasse’s victory in the Battle of the Capes in September 1781, but the British would reassert themselves with the defeat of de Grasse’s fleet in April 1782.

On land, three major American cities remained in the possession of the British after the siege. New York City had been taken in 1776 in a series of terrible losses. Savannah, Georgia had been captured in late 1778. Charleston, South Carolina, the gem of the South, had been lost on May 12, 1780.

In early 1782, the conflict awaited George Washington’s next move. His first inclination had been to liberate Charleston. After a conference with French Commander-in-Chief Rochambeau, Washington changed his mind. In a letter to Congress five days after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Washington outlined his reasons to Congress and informed them of his next move:

“…having no means of water conveyance, the transportation by land, of the army, with all their baggage, artillery, ordnance, stores and other apparatus necessary for the siege of Charleston, would be impracticable and attended with such immense trouble, expense and delay, exclusive of the necessity of naval co-operation [with the French] to be sufficient to deter me from the undertaking, especially as the enemy, after regaining Naval superiority on this coast, could reinforce or withdraw the garrison at pleasure…Our Operations against the enemy in this state being concluded it becomes my duty to inform Congress…[that] I shall myself, with the troops of the States to the Northward of Pennsylvania, return to my former position on the North River.”

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Reenactor portrays George Washington during event at Hasbrouck House.

The to which Washington refers is the Hudson River, and his “former position” was the Newburgh area—the best place for Washington to go for both his army and the defense of our country. The New York City contingent of British troops was the largest in North America. Newburgh was in a sense out of reach of the British Navy because of the Great Chain at West Point, but the “North River” still held strategic importance as the British had tried earlier in the war to divide the states by conquering the North River.

Parts of the Great Chain

Loyalties and money played a role, too in Washington’s decision. The area around Newburgh was almost 100% patriotic. At earlier points in the war, Washington had headquartered where local loyalties were not so plain. In those areas, supplies were harder to come by and Congress could provide little to no financial support, so friendly country was a necessity. Around Newburgh, patriot supply lines and depots, communication lines, contractors, etc. had already been established earlier in the war.

Reenactors_with Cannon_PRK1039
Reenactors pose with Revolutionary War cannon.

Looking back on Yorktown, one can be forgiven for thinking the war was over, but that is only in hindsight. Had Washington thought that, we might be swearing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth today. After Yorktown, Washington worked hard to keep the army well positioned, battle ready, and under control. Newburgh gave him a relatively safe place from which to watch the British, strategically defend the country, and present a unified front at a time when internal turmoil threatened to undo all the hard work already done in defeating the British.

Come to Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh to find out the rest of the story. For more information contact Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh NY at 845-562-1195 or find us on Facebook.

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Schoolchildren learn about Washington at Hasbrouck House.

Post by Lynette Scherer, State Parks Recreation Aide at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site

A Book for Tales and Verses

100 years ago this summer, a little girl received a lovely present from her grandmother.

A leather-bound notebook, perfectly sized for small hands. The paper was heavy, to thwart ink from pooling and bleeding through. The pages were lined, to keep unsteady handwriting neat. The gilded edges indicate the importance and timeless elegance of its owner, a daughter of one of New York’s first families. Her name was emblazoned on the cover— Honoria Alice Livingston.

BookCover

 

Honoria was the eldest daughter of John Henry Livingston and Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston. Her great-great grandfather was Chancellor Robert R Livingston, one of the 5 drafters of the Declaration of Independence, the Minster to France under Jefferson, and the co-inventor of the first practical steamboat, just to name a few accomplishments. The Livingston mansion, Clermont, was decorated in 7 generations of familiar excellence. Honoria grew up at Clermont surrounded by her family’s achievements and with the love her parents, her younger sister Janet, their beloved nurse Ollie, a dozen or so servants, and a menagerie of pets.

Honoria and Family
Honoria and her family

Her maternal grandparents, Howard and Alice Clarkson, lived just up the road and visited often. Grannie Alice and Mom Alice were both prolific poets and journal writers in their own right, so it’s no surprise that young Honoria was showing an interest and a talent for creative writing herself. Grannie christened the notebook with a special poem for her young granddaughter.

To Honoria.
When Grannie was a little girl
She made a little book,
And many times with joy and pride,
Did in its pages look.

And here she wrote her little tales,
And sometimes verses too;
For airy fondness came to her
Just as they come to you.

And now you write such pretty tales,
And little verses too;
So Grannie thought perhaps this book
To hold them all, would do.

The very day she received the book, Honoria took to work. On the next page, in her very best 10-year-old handwriting, she titled the contents “The Poetry I Made My-Self.” She wrote three poems that day and several more throughout the week.

Comb and brush
I hear a thrush.
Comb and brush
I want to wash.
Brush and comb
Gobi is home
Brush and comb
Away I rome.

Honoria A. Livingston. Aug 3rd 1919

Early poems reference her family, her beloved dog Gobi, and strict rhyming schemes, even if she had to bend the rules a bit to make it work. The following year, the little notebook traveled with the Livingston family as they moved abroad to continue their daughters’ education. Honoria’s repertoire of subject matter grew beyond family life at Clermont and started to include the French countryside, German soldiers, English fairies, and Italian friends.

O Holy Angelica
A sample of Honoria’s poetry including O Holy Angelica.

The Livingstons lived in Europe for the next 6 years. Honoria became a teenager and her subjects became more mature and dramatic:

There’s a road that leads to nowhere good,
There’s a road that leads to Hell;
But there’s also a road to Paradise,
and on that road I dwell.

-Honoria A. Livingston Oct. 5th 1924
Guicciardini, Florence.

Her structures became more experimental and modern:

Of the Universe!
Tell us, I pray thee
Where do the sunsets go when dead?

-Honoria A. Livingston December 2nd 1924
Guicciardini, Florence.

But even so, more than half of her poems are about her beloved pets and many about the comings and goings of her family and friends. Some of her poems are even in French and Italian! She loved to write about the moon and sunsets over Florence, where the family called home for her teenage years.

A week before her 17th birthday in 1926, she wrote a poem to herself, remarking on the occasion and how much she had grown since starting the notebook:

Almost Seventeen!
From a very little child
Into a stately maiden dark,
she has grown.
Guicciardini, Florence. January 25th 1926

The rest of her poems in 1926 play out as her previous years in Italy had— pets, family, and beautiful evenings at the family’s Villa. But in November, something happens. The family suddenly rushes back to the States, leaving precious friends and belongings behind. Honoria’s handwriting becomes rushed, the ink is half washed away in big drips, and pages are torn out. The end of 1926 and the beginning of 1927 do not exist.

Ripped pages
Ripped pages from Honoria’s book.

This is when Honoria’s father, John Henry, passed away.

After JH’s passing, the family settled back in at Clermont. Honoria writes in the notebook for another year and then sets it aside— a memento of her childhood and teenage years. She grew up, had her debut in New York City, and married a charming Irishman named Rex McVitty.

Honoria and Rex
Honoria and Rex

They spent their lives at Clermont in Sylvan cottage, even after the mansion and grounds were deeded to The People of the State of New York. They enjoyed meeting park visitors and actively took part in site events. Honoria lived in the cottage until her passing in 2000— her tin mailbox and Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper box were only recently removed from the driveway.

Honoria on the porch
Honoria on Sylvan Cottage’s porch

But even as Honoria grew up, from a 10-year-old girl with her first important grown-up possession, to a beautiful debutant, to an accomplished writer, golfer, gardener, and the Lady of the Estate, she never forgot about her notebook. She came back to it “many times with joy and pride,” just as her Grandmother had before her. As an adult, she even edited and typed some of her early work.

FairiesTyped
The typed version of Fairies

From a historian’s perspective, Honoria’s poetry journal is a fascinating artifact. Not just a chronical of a young girl growing up, but a chronical of life for an American family and a window into post WWI Europe. Not just flights of fancy, but a collection of popular culture influences of the time. Not just cute pets, but little family moments that tell us so much about the last generation of Livingstons of Clermont. It’s a lovely little book, a scrapbook of experiences, and we are lucky to have it.

Post by Emily Robinson, State Parks