Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Visit to Chicago: The Rookery Building

Here at the Alice T. Miner Museum, we naturally tend to focus on Alice and William’s life in Chazy. But Chicago was also their home for many years, and was always the headquarters of William’s business interests. In honor of Miner Day on October 22, let’s take a look at one of the places where William spent a lot of time: The Rookery building at 209 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, where W.H. Miner Co. had its offices.

The Rookery in 1891
(Library of Congress)
The Rookery is important not only for its role in William’s life but for its place in American architectural history. Built in 1887-88 by Daniel H. Burnham and John Root, the Rookery is an example of what came to be known as the “Chicago Style.” In the years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a new style of commercial architecture emerged, which combined modern building techniques (metal framing, elevators, plate glass) with more traditional ones (brick facades, elaborate ornamentation). The twelve-story Rookery was a transitional building, which had both an interior steel frame and load-bearing exterior walls made of red marble, terra cotta, and brick.

The central staircase as it appears today
(Wikimedia Commons)
Inside, Root and Burnham designed a two-story central court to serve as the building’s focal point and to provide daylight to interior offices. In the days before electricity became common, getting enough light into large office buildings was difficult. In 1905, architect Frank Lloyd Wright was hired to renovate the court, during which time the space was opened further, and some of the dark wrought-iron decorative elements were replaced with white marble. A second renovation was carried out in 1931, but the building has since been largely restored to its ca. 1905 appearance.

William would have become familiar with the Rookery as an employee of the Hutchins Refrigerator Car Company, which had its offices in the building in the 1890s. When he decided to go into business for himself, in 1897, William rented his own space in the Rookery, Room 355. Though William himself was often on the road, selling his railroad gear, the Rookery remained the company’s headquarters for many years, with the offices under the capable management of Nettie M. Goldsmith and Maude F. Back.

Exterior detail
(Wikimedia Commons)
The Rookery was right in the heart of Chicago’s downtown business district, putting William in close proximity to other businessmen—not to mention seven different railroad stations. It was also close to a number of William and Alice’s favorite places, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Marshall Field and Co. department store, Central Church, and the Palmer House Hotel.

So why was the building called “The Rookery”? The name actually predates the current building, and was applied to the old City Hall building that was on the site prior to the Great Fire. Crows and other birds liked nesting on its exterior walls, and observers naturally drew parallels between the rooks outside and the (c)rook(ed) politicians inside. When the new building was constructed, the old name stuck.

More information about the Rookery Building can be found at the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s website. And don’t forget to wish William Miner a happy 153rd birthday today!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Recent Acquisitions: Little Brother

Little Brother, ca. 1872-74
Little Sister, ca. 1872-74
Also new to the Alice this season is “Little Brother,” who joins “Little Sister,” already in the collection. Little Brother is the gift of Walma Masters of Plattsburgh, and we are delighted to be able to reunite the siblings. Both prints are hand-colored lithographs produced by the firm of Currier and Ives in the 1870s.

Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat Lexington, 1840
Although there were many companies producing lithographs during this period, Currier and Ives of New York was the most prolific and popular, turning out probably as many prints as all other American companies combined. Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) started the business in 1834; James Ives (1824-1895) joined the firm as its bookkeeper in 1852 and entered into partnership with Currier in 1857. Neither of them were artists, so they relied upon the work of professional artists to create the original drawings.

Currier and Ives’ goal was to make art accessible to the broad public. They 
Black Eyed Susan, 1848
called themselves “Printmakers to the People,” and thanks to the development of new printing technologies, it was now possible to produce large numbers of inexpensive and colorful prints. A small print could be purchased for as little as 20 cents, while larger prints cost between $1 and $3—well within reach of most Americans. Their images depicted all aspects of American life: newsworthy events (disasters were particularly popular), politics, sports, home life, religion, views of cities and landscapes, trains and ships, and portraits of children and beautiful women.

Beautiful Dreamer, 1860s
Collecting Currier and Ives prints is still a popular pastime, but interestingly, it seems that the prints that are most sought after today are the ones that were least popular in their own time. Modern collectors are most interested in the railroad, hunting, and historical scenes, but in the 19th century, the sentimental scenes of children, women, domestic life, and devotion were most popular. Visitors to the Alice today have mixed reactions to the prints of children hanging in the Child’s Chamber; some find them cloyingly sweet while others find them creepy. But in their own time, many people considered them genuinely beautiful and moving.

Currier and Ives went out of business in 1907, after the deaths of both partners, but their prints have become iconic images of America and are still being reproduced on greeting cards, calendars, candy boxes, and even ceramics. For more information on Currier and Ives and other American lithographers of the 19th century, check out

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Recent Acquisitions: The Glass Blower by Jules Grosjean

Although the Alice T. Miner Museum is no longer actively working to collect new items, it does still occasionally receive donations with connections to the Miners and the community. One such item was recently given by Dr. and Mrs. Raymond Charles Dilzer of Plattsburgh—a bronze sculpture of a glass blower by the French artist Jules Aimé Grosjean. Dr. Dilzer inherited this sculpture from his uncle, Charles M. Harrington, who was Alice Miner’s attorney and the executor of her estate. But as it turns out, this piece has an even more direct connection to Alice.

The Glass Blower actually originally belonged to Alice and William Miner, and appears in a photograph taken of their home in Chicago around 1904. Alice presumably bequeathed it to her friend and attorney Charles Harrington, who then gave it to his nephew, who donated it to the Alice! 

Detail of photograph

Charles M. Harrington was an important figure in the North Country during the first half of the 20th century. He was born in Plattsburgh in 1890, the son of Richard L. and Eunice (Morhous) Harrington. He graduated from Plattsburgh High School in 1910, then attended Cornell Law School. Harrington served in France during World War I and was awarded the Silver Star. Returning to practice law in Clinton County, he served in the state assembly, as a county judge, and as chair of the Clinton County Republican Party. He was also a member of the Plattsburgh State Teachers College Council, and Harrington Hall is named after him.

Grosjean’s Monument aux Morts

The sculptor Jules Grosjean was born in 1872 in the small town of Vesoul, in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France, and studied with the Beaux-Arts sculptor Louis-Ernest Barrias. During his lifetime, Grosjean was probably best known for his work on a monument to the dead of the 1870-71 war with Prussia, erected in the town of Gray in 1901. For this monument, Grosjean created a bronze sculpture “represent[ing] a dying soldier pointing towards the German border with words of encouragement to a schoolboy who stands beside him. The lad has put down his books and picked up the soldier’s rifle.” Grosjean died when he was only 34, just as he had been awarded a commission to create a memorial to another artist from Vesoul, Jean-Léon Gérôme.

We’re delighted to be able to reunite the Glass Blower with the other items we have from the Miners’ Chicago home.

Photo of the Miner home in Chicago, ca. 1904, showing Grosjean sculpture above fireplace