Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Symbol of Community: The Chazy M.E. Parsonage Signature Quilt

Hallie Bond examining the signature quilt
Last month I wrote about the quilt that Anna Moore Hubbell of Chazy made in the early 1800s. Now it’s time to take a look at another quilt in the Alice’s collection, also made in Chazy, but in the last years of the 19th century. This one was made by the members of the Chazy Methodist Episcopal Church in 1895, probably to raise money to support the parsonage. It is made up of 81 squares of linen fabric, each one hand-embroidered in red with four names, and with more names around the border—342 names in total. This striking quilt is a wonderful example of the signature or autograph quilts that were popular among church groups in the late 19th and early 20th century. This quilt was donated to the Alice T. Miner Museum in 2012 by Christine Lozner, who inherited it from her aunt, Sybil Mead Brown (1912-1988). Sybil was the granddaughter of John Lewis Brown (1857-1928) and Ella Case Brown (1857-1939), whose names are among those embroidered on the quilt.


Friendship quilt made in Delaware County, New York,
1846-49. Each central white cross contains a signature.
The signature quilt’s predecessor was the friendship quilt, which became common in the 1840s. Groups of women would come together to make these quilts—sometimes each woman would contribute a square that she pieced herself, and sometimes one woman would collect fabric from the group and then piece the entire quilt. In either case, each square was signed with the name of the woman who made it or donated the fabric. Friendship quilts were often made as gifts to women who were leaving their community. In the 1840s and 1850s, more and more families were setting out for new homes in the west. Most of them would never return to the places they had left, and friendship quilts were mementos that helped women feel connected to the friends they left behind. This type of quilt was also made during the Civil War to raise money to support Union soldiers.


Signature quilt made by the Maple Grove Ladies Aid Society,
York Co., Pennsylvania, 1920
Over the years, the pieced friendship quilt was joined by the embroidered signature quilt. This type of quilt was often made as a charity or church fundraiser, to raise money to build a new church, to support a minister, or perhaps to assist missionary efforts. Supporters would pay to have their name included (it cost extra to have one’s name put in the middle of a square or some other prominent position), and then the finished quilt itself might be raffled off to raise even more money. On some quilts, the names, arranged in decorative patterns, were the only embellishment. Others also included Bible verses, poetry, or embroidered depictions of the church building.


The first Methodist service in Chazy was held in 1801 at the home of Amasa Ladd. In the early days of Methodism (which had only been formally organized in the United States since 1784), communities were served by circuit riders, who traveled long distances to preach. Initially, Chazy was part of the Plattsburgh circuit, which encompassed both sides of Lake Champlain as well as part of Canada. By 1818, the number of Methodists had grown enough for Chazy to become its own circuit. The minister resided at Chazy and also served Beekmantown, West Chazy, Mooers, Champlain, and Rouses Point.


Preaching took place in members’ homes until a church was built in 1816-17. Alexander Scott, a local merchant who owned a quarry, built the stone church at his own expense. This building burned in 1855 and was replaced by a brick church, which in turn burned down in 1881. The third M.E. church (which is now the Chazy town offices) was dedicated in October 1881. The first parsonage was the old home of Solomon Fisk, a log cabin that had been plastered over; in the early 1850s a brick parsonage was built on the other side of Fisk Road.
The second M.E. parsonage


Methodist ministers were paid according to the size of their families—$80 each per year for the preacher and his wife, plus $24 for children over sixteen and $15 for each child under sixteen. This was not very much money, even in the 19th century, so the congregation would come together to provide additional support. For example, in 1829, the Rev. Mr. Brayton hosted a “donation party” at the parsonage, to which church members were encouraged to bring contributions of butter, flour, firewood, and money. Since this quilt specifically references the parsonage, it’s possible that it was made to raise funds to repair or make improvements to the building.



Signature quilts are of interest to historians because of the wealth of information about when, where, and by whom they were made. They provide a snapshot of a specific community at a particular moment. The Chazy M.E. quilt includes the names of three members of William Miner’s family: his grandparents Clement S. and Lydia Miner, and his uncle John D. Miner. All three were deceased at the time the quilt was made, which suggests that signature quilts also were sometimes used as a way for people to memorialize family members who had died.

The Chazy M.E. Parsonage quilt will be on display during Museum Weekend, June 6 and 7. Perhaps you will find the names of your ancestors on it!

Information about the Chazy M.E. Church comes from Nell Jane Barnett Sullivan and David Kendall Martin, A History of the Town of Chazy (Burlington, 1970), and from Bob Cheeseman, Chazy Town Historian.

If you would like to learn more about friendship quilts, “Piecing Together a Community: A Late Nineteenth-Century Friendship Quilt from Peterboro, New York,” by Shirley Morgan, is a good place to start.

Quilt images are from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, another great resource for quilt research.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Dear, Old-Fashioned Garden

When Arthur A. Shurcliff and other landscape architects of the 1920s and 1930s sought information about historic gardening, they frequently turned to the books of Alice Morse Earle and Grace Tabor. Both women were important influences on the development of Colonial Revival gardens. 

I wrote about Earle here, and though I focused on her writing on early American material culture, she was also quite well known as a writer on old gardens. Earle’s two books on gardens, Old-Time Gardens, Newly Set Forth (1901) and Sun-Dials and Roses of Yesterday (1902), were scholarly works, but they also were tinged with her own sentimental feelings about gardens—the garden of her childhood home in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as the garden of her home in Brooklyn Heights, where her own children grew up.


The Earle children in their Brooklyn garden, 1880s
For Earle, gardens provided a direct connection with her Puritan ancestors and especially with Puritan women. She imagined that the women who first arrived in Massachusetts brought with them “across seas some little package of seeds and bulbs from her English home garden, and perhaps a tiny slip or plant of some endeared flower; watered each day, I fear, with many tears.” These flowers helped turn the houses they built in the new land into true homes. Now, said Earle, “when I see one of the old English flowers, grown of those days, blooming in my garden, from the unbroken chain of blossom to seed of nearly three centuries, I thank the flower for all that its forebears did to comfort my forebears, and I cherish it with added tenderness.”

Earle was especially fond of those plants she felt were most strongly associated with the colonial era. Like Arthur Shurcliff, she was a great lover of boxwood. While some people thought the aroma of boxwood was unpleasant, Earle found it “redolent of the eternal past; it is almost hypnotic in its effect.” Indeed, she believed the love of boxwood was a genetic trait: “This strange power is not felt by all, nor is it a present sensitory influence; it is an hereditary memory, half-known by many, but fixed in its intensity in those of New England birth and descent, true children of the Puritans.”


Other favorite plants included peonies, lilacs, and hollyhocks. “There is no more emblematic flower to me than the Lilac; it has an association of old homes, of home-making and home interests.” The hollyhock was “the most popular, and most widely known, of all old-fashioned flowers. It is loved for its beauty, its associations, its adaptiveness. It is such a decorative flower, and looks of so much distinction in so many places.” No surprise, then, that Earle chose a design of hollyhocks as the motif for the front cover of Old-Time Gardens. 

Gardeners who wished to create their own old-fashioned gardens could turn to the work of Grace Tabor, one of the first women to work as a professional landscape architect in the United States. Tabor was born in 1873 in Cuba, New York and studied at the Art Students League in Buffalo and New York City, as well as the New York School of Applied Design for Women. Tabor’s articles and garden plans appeared in popular magazines such as The Garden Magazine and Country Life in America. In 1920 she began writing a regular garden column for Woman’s Home Companion which would run until 1941. Tabor reached a wide audience through this magazine, which was one of the most influential women’s publications in the country.


Advertisement for Tabor’s column, 1922
Tabor began her book Old-Fashioned Gardening (1913) by cautioning readers that they would find no romanticism, no “lovely ladies nor courtly cavaliers” here. “Here all is sober reality and no dream; here is the truth about old gardens, not select glimpses of a path.” One of her goals was to pin down just what exactly was meant by “old-fashioned gardens”—a term that she felt most people used far too loosely and casually to refer to anything quaint or charming.

For Tabor, an old-fashioned American garden was one created between around 1635 (when the first gardens appeared in the English colonies) and ca. 1815 (so as to include the gardens of Mount Vernon and Monticello). Of course, there was a good deal of variation over time and in different regions. Tabor traced the history of five different gardening traditions in North America: the Spanish in Florida, English cavaliers in Virginia, the Dutch in New Amsterdam, Puritans in New England, and Quakers in Pennsylvania.
Tabor’s plan for a Spanish-style garden based on
those found in St. Augustine, Florida




Modern-day Americans who wanted “old-fashioned” gardens were advised to choose from among these five styles, according to their personal taste and circumstances. The compact Dutch garden, for example, was well suited to small, urban lots, while those with more space could use the plantations of Virginia as their model. Gardeners could simply draw on these garden traditions for inspiration, or if they were truly committed, they could attempt to reproduce an old-fashioned garden. “There is no reason against reproducing an old design,” Tabor wrote, “providing every phase of it receives proper attention and no anachronism is permitted.” However, she argued strongly that an old-fashioned garden built around a modern style house was “unpleasant.” Those living in colonial, Georgian, or mission-style houses, on the other hand, were advised that only gardens of old design were really suitable. Tabor provided simple plans and a list of plants known to have been used prior to 1815. She also reminded readers that old gardens were above all useful, providing food, beverages, medicines, and dyes, and that all plans should be made with that goal in mind. Otherwise, one risked producing something that was merely “a blank form and lifeless shell.”

There are very few images of 18th-c.
women working in gardens. This one
actually shows a French noblewoman
pretending to be rustic at Versailles.
While Tabor’s book was meant to provide practical advice to gardeners, it is clear that she was not immune to the romance of old gardens and that she, like Earle, was very much in sympathy with the Colonial Revival. Both she and Earle quoted the same passage in which Mrs. Anne Grant reminisced about the Dutch gardens of mid-18th century Albany: “I think I see yet what I have often beheld in both town and country, a respectable mistress of a family going out to her garden in an April morning, with her great calash, her little painted basket of seeds, and her robe over her shoulders, to her garden labours...A woman, in very easy circumstances and abundantly gentle in form and manners, would sow and plant and rake incessantly.”

Gardening had traditionally been the domain of women and was essential to the maintenance of the household. While that was no longer true for middle-class households in the early 20th century, Tabor and Earle hoped that women could recapture some of the virtues of their foremothers by creating gardens that were both beautiful and useful, and passing garden lore on to their children.



Sources:

Alice Morse Earle, Old-Time Gardens (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1901)

Alice Morse Earle, Sun-Dials and Roses of Yesterday (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1902)

Grace Tabor, The Landscape Gardening Book (New York: McBride, Winston & Company, 1911)

Grace Tabor, Old-Fashioned Gardening: A History and a Reconstruction (New York: McBride, Nast & Company, 1913)




Friday, May 8, 2015

There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day that likely would have been tinged with sadness for Alice and William Miner, who both lost their mothers when they were very young. Will was only four when his mother, Martha Clapp Miner, died; Alice was seven when Louisa Saunders Trainer died. They were both fortunate, however, in that they both had older sisters who did their best to step into the places left vacant by the loss of their mothers. We have put together a new exhibit in the Weaving Room to honor Will’s sister, Jottie Mitchell (1854-1910), and Alice’s sisters, Matilda (1851-1916), Bertha (1856-1927), and Louisa Trainer (1861-1932).


Jottie in the early 1860s
Emma Josephine Miner, known as “Jottie,” was Will’s only sibling. She was born on April 23, 1854, in Salem, New York. In 1861, the family moved to Juneau, Wisconsin. Will was born here on October 22, 1862. Martha Miner’s health had always been fragile, and it grew worse after Will’s birth; increasingly, it was Jottie who took responsibility for taking care of her little brother. A visitor to the Miner home during this time recalled, “How brave dear Mrs. Miner was and how solemn it all seemed to me. A few more months and the dear wife and mother was gone and the little boy motherless. The daughter, some eight or ten years older, was the little mother of the family.”

Martha Miner died in March 1867, and William Miner soon married Janet Mitchell, a widow with a son of her own. The family relocated to Maumee, Ohio. In 1872, Jottie married Janet’s son, John B. Mitchell, and moved to Lafayette, Indiana, where he worked for the Wabash Railroad. William Miner, Sr., died in 1873, and Jottie—still only nineteen herself and with a newborn baby to care for—felt that the best course of action was to send young Will to live with his Uncle John and Aunt Huldah in Chazy.


Photo of Jottie taken in Ann Arbor
while studying medicine
Jottie and John maintained a regular correspondence with Will, and it was John who ultimately suggested that Will come out to Lafayette to learn the railroad construction business. Letters from the 1880s show that Will and Jottie sometimes had a difficult relationship, but they were fundamentally devoted to each other. As time passed, their roles seemed to reverse, as Jottie (who was widowed in 1892) drew more and more upon Will for financial and emotional support. 

With two teenage children to care for, Jottie was determined to find a way to support herself. She began taking science courses at Purdue University, with the idea that she might become a nurse or pharmacist. But Jottie found that she had a real aptitude for medicine, and determined to become a physician—a rather unconventional decision for any woman to make in the 1890s. Jottie persisted, and in 1901 she received her medical degree from the University of Michigan. After working for a time in Detroit, London, and Vienna, she returned to practice in Lafayette. Sadly, her medical career was a brief one, as she died of complications of tonsillitis in 1910.


Matilda Trainer, 1880s
Alice was the youngest of the four Trainer sisters. Matilda was the oldest girl and began helping to support the family when she was only fourteen, becoming a teacher at Goderich Central School. When Mrs. Trainer died after giving birth to twins (who also died a few months later), it was Tillie who stepped in as surrogate mother to the younger children. Around 1887, the sisters and their youngest brother, William, moved to Chicago so they could be close to their older brothers.


Bertha Trainer, ca. 1905
Though we don’t know much about the Trainer sisters’ life in Chicago, they seem to have enjoyed the many opportunities for music, art, theater, and shopping that the great city afforded. They all learned to ride bicycles and went “wheeling” at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Leisurely summers were spent at Paw Paw Lake in Michigan, and they were all adventurous travelers, even venturing out on camels to see the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Louisa and Alice, who were only two years apart, were especially close, and they took at least one long trip to Europe together in 1904.

As Alice and William began spending more time at Heart’s Delight Farm, the sisters decided that they too would live in Chazy. Eventually they moved into Hillbrook, a building William constructed in the village of Chazy in 1910. The bottom floor of Hillbrook held the power plant connected to the hydroelectric dam on the Little Chazy River, and the sisters had an apartment on the top floor. Alice frequently walked from Heart’s Delight to Hillbrook to visit her sisters, play cards, and do needlework, and when William was away on business she liked to stay there overnight. 


Our only individual portrait
of Louisa Trainer
Though they were newcomers to the town, the Trainer sisters became beloved figures in Chazy. Matilda died in 1916, but Bertha and Louisa had many years to become part of the community. Louisa was known for her dedication to Physicans Hospital, and received a medal for her Red Cross service during World War I. It must have been very difficult for Alice, losing both her husband and her last surviving sister within such a short period of time. While Alice had many friends in Chazy, Chicago, and Goderich, nobody could ever replace her beloved sisters.