July 4, 2016

Uncle Sam(uel): Bishop, Loyalist … Broadway Star?

by Ann Haddad

Samuel Seabury

Samuel Seabury

Early in Act I of Hamilton, as I sat entranced by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway mega-hit, a rapper in clerical garb mounted a box, and, in a song entitled “Farmer Refuted,” cried out, “Here ye, hear ye! My name is Samuel Seabury and I present…”
I was immediately taken aback. “Samuel Seabury? Seabury Tredwell’s namesake and uncle? Is this the same guy whose portrait adorns one wall in the Tredwell family room? What is he doing here, in a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton?”

Reverend Samuel Seabury (1729-1796), was the half-brother of Seabury Tredwell’s mother, Elizabeth Seabury. Born in Groton, Connecticut, Seabury completed his education at Yale in 1748, and in 1752 earned a degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

One year later, like his father before him, he was ordained into the Episcopal Church in London, and returned to America, where he served as Anglican rector in various parishes in New Jersey, in Queens County, and, during the American Revolution, in St. Peter’s Church in Westchester, New York.

Read on…

June 13, 2016

“Seabury Tredwell to Eliza Parker:” A New York City Wedding, June 13, 1820

by Ann Haddad

The entry in the wedding registry of St. George’s Episcopal Church on Chapel (now Beekman) Street, dated June 13, 1820, reads simply “Seabury Tredwell to Eliza Parker.” The tying of the knot between 40-year-old Seabury and 23-year-old Eliza, officiated by the rector, Reverend Dr. James Milnor (1773-1845), was the start of a 45-year union.

Wedding Registry, St. George's Episcopal Church

Wedding Registry, St. George’s Episcopal Church

Read on…

April 15, 2016

Julia Tredwell’s Letter from Richfield Springs, NY

by Merchant's House Museum

Julia 2002.0160Julia Eliza Tredwell, Seabury and Eliza’s sixth child, was born on May 16, 1833. She was two years old when her father purchased the house on East Fourth Street that would be Julia’s home until her death in 1909, at the age of 76. A large number of books in the Tredwell Books Collection bear her name, including several on French language and grammar, natural history, poetry, and mathematics.

Julia is pictured at right, ca. 1862.

In an undated letter in the museum’s archive, Julia wrote to her mother from Richfield Springs, in upstate New York, where she apparently went to recover from an illness. Richfield Springs became popular in the 1830s after Dr. Horace Manley purchased the site of the Great White Sulphur Springs, built a bath house, and brought 25 patients to take the water cure. It became increasingly popular as a summer resort.

“I have felt very much better the past week. They all say I have gained. I feel it, but by weight I only have gained two pounds. I took a bath and I felt stronger as soon as I came out … It is so lonesome to be separated that I feel as if I ought not to stay as long as I have, but I hope in so doing that I will quite gain my strength.”

April 11, 2016

Coming Soon! Miracle on Fourth Street

by Merchant's House Museum

Museum Historian Mary Knapp’s new book, Miracle on Fourth Street: Saving an Old Merchant’s House, is coming soon.

Here’s what Mrs. Knapp has to say:

August, 1933—The country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Gertrude Tredwell had just died at the age of 93 in the 1832 rowhouse her family had inhabited for almost 100 years. A century of urban progress meant that the house, once located in the New York City’s most desirable neighborhood, was now just steps from the Bowery, the nation’s skid row. It was a time capsule, complete with the original owners’ furnishings dating to mid 19th century, and personal belongings as well—books, decorative objects, textiles, and even 39 dresses belonging to the women of the family.

Miracle on FourthEnter George Chapman, a distant cousin who made what can only be described as a foolhardy decision to “save” the old house from the auction block and turn it into a museum. Not only had the old house been long neglected and was then well along the road to disintegration, but certainly no one at that time was inclined to donate money to preserving the home of an early New York City merchant—a rich merchant, to be sure—a good man certainly—but not a person of historical significance.

But George was a wealthy man and in spite of increasing physical infirmity he just barely managed to hold his beloved museum together at great personal cost for over 20 years. However, he was not inclined to make major repairs let alone the needed thorough restoration of the collapsing house.

Eventually, after an improbable chain of events, an impeccable authentic restoration did take place, undertaken without charge by Joseph Roberto, an accomplished restoration architect who exercised a scrupulous regard for the original fabric of the building and recruited some of the most talented craftsmen in the country as well as White House architect, Edward Vason Jones and noted 19th century authority on American decorative arts, Berry Tracy, as pro bono consultants.

The restoration was a story of creative solutions to structural calamities, heartbreaking setbacks, personality conflicts, and an unceasing struggle to find funding, but Joseph Roberto simply would not give up, and eventually the house was restored to its original beauty, structurally stronger than ever. The textiles had completely deteriorated, but instead of replacing them with period appropriate examples, The Decorators Club, who were responsible for the interior refurbishment, wisely had the original silk curtains and the carpeting reproduced at extraordinary expense.

The story doesn’t end there, however, for there was to be one last crisis, which could literally have brought the house down were it not for the wise direction of the current director and the support of government and corporate grants, and the generosity of private donors.

Since the beginning, The Merchant’s House has held an unworldly attraction for all those who have been involved in its long life. It is not an exaggeration to say that people simply fall in love with it and are willing to devote extraordinary effort to its preservation.

Maybe that’s because of what happens when you cross the threshold.A mirror reflecting the 19th century.

Which brings me to the most miraculous circumstance of all. Here we come as close as we ever will to those who came before us. As we tune in to the height of the ceilings and the nearness of the walls, as we travel a path from room to room, observing the light, seeing what the family saw in those rooms—the piano, the mirrors, the Duncan Phyfe chairs, their four poster beds—we learn with our bodies as well as our brains what it was like to live in a 19th century urban rowhouse owned by one of the early merchants who laid the commercial foundations of this great city.

Once there were hundreds of such homes lining the streets of the neighborhood north of Bleecker. Now there is only one left to tell the story.

March 30, 2016

“The Habits of Good Society” — Etiquette & Entertaining at Home

by Merchant's House Museum

Julia 2002.0160On Saturday, April 23rd 2016, from 12 to 4 p.m., the Merchant’s House brings you “The Habits of Good Society” – Etiquette and Entertaining at Home, part of our ongoing Tredwells at Home, Living History series.

It’s 1858 and 25-year-old Tredwell daughter Julia (pictured left) is receiving visitors in the front parlor. New York women in the 19th century maintained friendships and other social connections through the elaborate ritual of formal visiting — or “calling” — and in order to participate, everyone was expected to know the rules. When do you make a personal call, and when can you leave a calling card? How soon should you pay a “party call” after attending a ball or formal dinner? How do you know when a family is ready to receive visitors after mourning a death? What is a “sociable”? Come pay Julia a call and find out how she and other young women in 19th century New York navigate the ins and outs of fashionable society.

This event is included with the price or regular admission and is open to all ages. Julia will be in the parlor to meet visitors from 12 to 4 p.m. 19th century attire is encouraged.

March 24, 2016

NEW Tour! “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant.”

by Merchant's House Museum

The Merchant’s House Museum now offers a brand new signature tour, “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant.”

The only one of its kind in New York City, this unparalleled “back-stairs” tour tells the heroic story of the Irish women who worked in domestic service in 19th Century New York, overcoming homesickness, culture shock, and prejudice to cultivate a new home and a new identity on foreign soil – ultimately altering the face of New York City forever.

The Irish domestic servant in 19th century New York City

Hal Hirshorn Servant ParlorIt is widely known that Irish women made up a large proportion of the servant class in 19th century New York. And the sheer amount of physical work they performed is taken as a given… though can we really imagine what wringing out hundreds of pounds of heavy, sopping wet laundry feels like? Yet even if we give them credit for their labor, we often fail to give them credit for their resiliency and the adroitness with which they adapted to a vastly different and complex new environment. 

Beyond the endless physical toil their positions demanded, these female domestic workers were also busy adapting to a new culture, decoding the vagaries of their employers, and parsing the subtle social intricacies of work in a big house. These girls, some only in their teens, soon learned to navigate this bewildering new world, becoming indispensable to running the household. Demand was so high that a more experienced servant had a surprising amount of power in negotiating her pay and other benefits; servants saved astonishing amounts of their salaries to send back home to Ireland.

Photo by Hal Hirshorn.

Into their home, into their world

“In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy” takes guests up the narrow stars to the 4th floor servants’ quarters, where the Tredwell family’s four Irish servants – Bridget Murphy, Mary James, Mary Smith, and Ann Clark – lived and did some of their work. The entire hour-long tour takes place the original setting where these women lived and worked, bringing you into their home, their lives, and their world – in what is “arguably the oldest intact site of Irish habitation in New York City.” (Time Out New York)

“In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant” is available on select dates or as a private group tour; please visit our Group Programs Page for more information.

January 27, 2015

Commuter Sleighs?

by Merchant's House Museum

Sleighing on Broadway, 1860.

In mid-19th century New York, commuters relied on omnibuses — horse-drawn carriages that seated a dozen passengers, often many more, on wooden benches. (The driver stopped when passengers tugged on a strap attached to his ankle.) After a snow storm, carriages were replaced with sleighs.

In his diary, lawyer George Templeton Strong described commuter sleighs as “insane vehicles” that “carry each its hundred sufferers, of whom about half have to stand in the wet straw with their feet freezing and occasionally stamped on by their fellow travelers, their ears and noses tingling in the bitter wind, their hats always on the point of being blown off.”

The sleighs and sleds of snowy old New York, Ephemeral New York.

November 26, 2014

Hurrah for the Pumpkin Pie!

by Merchant's House Museum

"Thanksgiving Day - The Dinner," by Winslow Homer, Harper's Weekly, November 27, 1858

“Thanksgiving Day – The Dinner,” by Winslow Homer, Harper’s Weekly, November 27, 1858

In 1844, writer and reformer Lydia Maria Child wrote the classic Thanksgiving poem, A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day. The poem, later put to music and also revised as a Christmas song, celebrated her childhood memories of visiting her grandparents’ house in Massachusetts.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood-
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose,
as over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood
and straight through the barnyard gate.
We seem to go extremely slow-
it is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood-
when Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for every one.”

Over the river, and through the wood-
now Grandmothers cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

At the time, Child was best known as the author of America’s first cookbook, The Frugal Housewife, which went through 35 printings between 1829 and 1850.  Think Joy of Cooking, 19th century-style.

Here’s her recipe for Pumpkin Pie:

“For common family pumpkin pies, three eggs do very well to a quart of milk. Stew your pumpkin, and strain it through a sieve, or colander. Take out the seeds, and pare the pumpkin, or squash, before you stew it; but do not scrape the inside; the part nearest the seed is the sweetest part of the squash. Stir in the stewed pumpkin, till it is as thick as you can stir it round rapidly and easily. If you want to make your pie richer, make it thinner, and add another egg. One egg to a quart of milk makes very decent pies. Sweeten it to your taste, with molasses or sugar; some pumpkins require more sweetening than others. Two tea-spoonfuls of salt; two great spoonfuls of sifted cinnamon; one great spoonful of ginger. Ginger will answer very well alone for spice, if you use enough of it. The outside of a lemon grated in is nice. The more eggs, the better the pie; some put an egg to a gill of milk. They should bake from forty to fifty minutes, and even ten minutes longer, if very deep.”

 

 

September 25, 2014

“Fastidiously preserved” and “also imperiled” Merchant’s House in The NY Times

by Merchant's House Museum

Did you see the “fastidiously preserved” and “also imperiled” Merchant’s House in The New York Times last weekend?

Two Goods Reasons to Visit NoHo

From the 1830s to the 1850s, East Fourth Street was a high-society Manhattan address with neighbors named Astor and Vanderbilt. Charles Dickens and Washington Irving sojourned in the area, which then was called Bond Street. The MERCHANT’S HOUSE, at No. 29, built in 1832, stands as a testament to that period, seeming as unchanged and as fragile as Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. It is also imperiled.

Click here to read the full article.

September 5, 2014

Back to School with the Tredwells

by Merchant's House Museum

Classroom at Mrs. Okill's Academy, drawn by a boarding student in 1850, when the Tredwell sisters were students.

Classroom at Mrs. Okill’s Academy, drawn by a boarding student in 1850, when the Tredwell sisters were students.

The five older Tredwell girls were students at Mrs. Okill’s Academy, one of the most elite private female academies of the time.  Located at 8-10 Clinton Street (now 8th Street), Mrs. Okill’s offered a “fashionable education” to young ladies. The school was housed in two connecting buildings each with a floor plan similar to that of the Merchant’s House. Here boarding students from as far away as Ohio and Louisiana joined day students like the Tredwells in the study of academic subjects, including the French language, as well musical training, considered an essential accomplishment of refined young ladies.

Our current special exhibition, Lessons Learned: The Tredwell Daughters’ Schoolbooks, is on display through Monday, September 29, and features rarely exhibited schoolbooks from the Museum’s collection, some bearing the comments and signature of Mrs. Okill herself.

« Newer Posts Older Posts »