Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lamb’s Wool and Smoking Bishop: Christmas Punch Traditions

No “Christmas Gambols” would be complete
without a bowl of punch (1783)
In my last post I talked about how Christmas traditions in Britain and North America changed from the 18th to the 19th century, as the holiday became more domestic and child-centric. One thing that remained constant, however, was the place of punch in Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Closely related to the tradition of wassail (a mulled cider or ale also known as lamb’s wool) punch obtained an almost iconic status in the 19th century through the writings of Charles Dickens.

Punch itself has its origins in India, and its first mention in European historical sources comes in a letter from one English East India merchant to another, written in 1632. From India it spread, via merchants and sailors, to the Caribbean, and on to the eastern seaboard of America and to Europe. There is some speculation that the word “punch” derives from the Hindi word panch, meaning five, for the five ingredients, but many punches have more or fewer ingredients.

Majolica punch bowl by George Jones, ca. 1875
Mr. Punch supports an orange-rind bowl
In any case, by the early 18th century, punch had settled into a consistent formula: one measure of something acid (usually citrus juice), two of something sweet (sugar), three of something strong (brandy, rum, sometimes wine), and four of something weak (water, tea, milk). In the 19th century, punch recipes began to change again. As punch historian Elizabeth Gabay notes, “The fixed proportions were no longer always followed; many different fruits, liqueurs, wines, and even beer were added and generally punches became less acidic and more sweet and rich. At the same time, the nature of Christmas and New Year celebrations changed, becoming more dramatic and ritualised. The same punch every year became an essential part of the festivity.” Special punch bowls and cups, intended to be used just for the holidays, also became common.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit
Illustration by John Leech (1843)
Charles Dickens’s descriptions of yuletide celebrations, particularly Christmas Carol (1843), helped to solidify punch’s status as central to the holiday. Scrooge sees a vision of an ideal Christmas, which includes “seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.” At the end of the story, a reformed Scrooge tells Bob Cratchit, “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!” Smoking bishop was made with port and a roasted orange; Dickens himself seemed to prefer a rum punch:

“To make three pints, take a strong, common basin (which may be broken, in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket) and in it place the finely sliced rinds of three lemons, a double-handful of sugar lumps, a pint of dark rum and a large wine glass of brandy. Set alight and allow to burn for three or four minutes (extinguish by covering with a lid). Add the juice of three lemons and a quart of boiling water. Stir, cover, leave for five minutes and stir again. Taste and sweeten if necessary, but observe that it will be a little sweeter presently. Pour into an ovenproof jug or bowl and cover with a leather cloth. Place in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove the lemon rind before serving.”

In the American colonies, punch developed in its own way, eventually producing that classic Christmas drink, eggnog. Egg punch was common in Britain, but the Americans made it richer and more custard-like. One observer in 1815 noted that in “the South it is almost indispensible at Christmas time, and at the North it is a favourite at all seasons.” George Washington’s recipe for eggnog included rye whiskey, Jamaican rum, sherry, eggs, sugar, cream, and milk. Eggs and milk were harder to come by in the winter, and more expensive, so eggnog was a true holiday treat.

Pressed glass miniature punch bowl and cups,
probably late 19th century
There are a number of large bowls in Alice’s ceramics collection that look like they could hold a fine batch of punch, but none that are specifically identified as such. There is, however, a very small punch bowl, with six matching thimble-sized cups. This miniature set would have been a salesman’s sample, carried by a traveling sales representative of the manufacturer to display to potential retailers. Perhaps it was passed on to a lucky child after the model was discontinued, to be the star of a dolls’ Christmas party!

This post is largely drawn from the site A History of the World Through a Bowl of Punch, particularly the post “Celebrating Christmas and New Year with Punch.” This blog holds a wealth of information about punch, including recipes!

Friday, December 9, 2016

A New Christmas Tradition: Toys for Good Little Girls and Boys

A mid-19th c. doll from the Alice’s collection
“‘Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” The link between Christmas and presents, made in the famous first line of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, seems like an obvious one. But when Alcott published Little Women in 1868, this idea was still relatively new. The practice of giving children presents—and specifically, toys—was, like many of our other Christmas customs, a product of the early 19th century. It came out of shifts in the way Christmas was celebrated, along with changes in how childhood was viewed, in Europe and North America.

This subject first came to my attention through a post on the blog JSTOR Daily, which references a recent article by historian Joseph Wachelder. He examined issues of the London daily newspaper The Morning Chronicle from 1800 to 1827, and found a steady increase in advertisements for presents suitable for giving to children at Christmas. Many of these were toys with educational components, such as chemistry sets, “dissected maps” (geography puzzles), and games based on history and current events.

A scene of Christmas revelry from 1791
So what had happened to cause this development? First, how Christmas was being celebrated was starting to change. As Wachelder describes, in the 18th century, “Christmas was a public feast, characterized by revelry, wassailing, and abundant eating and drinking.” When gifts were given, they went from people of higher status to those lower on the social scale—from masters to servants, for example. December was a period of relative leisure, as the harvest was completed and food was still abundant. Christmas was also a time of sanctioned social inversion, when workers, servants, and peasants could demand special privileges from their superiors.

But gradually, over the course of the 19th century, Christmas became a domestic, family-oriented holiday. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum has argued (in his book The Battle for Christmas) that this change can be traced to the spread of wage labor and capitalist modes of production. For some urban workers, Christmas was just another day of work (think Bob Cratchit). For others, winter might well be a time of unemployment, as water-powered factories shut down until the spring thaw. “December’s leisure thus meant not relatively plenty but forced unemployment and want. The Christmas season, with its carnival traditions of wassail, misrule, and callithumpian ‘street theater,’ could easily become a vehicle of social protest, an instrument to express powerful ethnic or class resentments.”

A child-centered Victorian Christmas
To forestall this possibility, elites adopted new Christmas customs that moved celebrations inside the family circle. It was during this period that many of our current Christmas traditions were introduced: decorated trees, Christmas cards, Santa Claus—and presents for children. As it happened, understandings of childhood and the role of play were also changing during this period. Of course, playthings of various kinds—dolls, tops, marbles, and the like—had existed for centuries, but the idea that playing with toys was an essential part of a child’s development was a product of the late 18th century.

Portrait of the Edgeworth family by Adam Buck, 1787.
As the second oldest of a family of 22(!), Maria
had plenty of experience with children.
Joseph Wachelder points to the book Practical Education by Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, published in 1798, as a key moment in the history of toys and childhood. Edgeworth brought together two strands of thought on the nature of childhood: John Locke’s view of children as “blank slates” who could be shaped and guided by their parents, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s belief that children should be able to develop their natural character through self-directed experiences and play. Maria Edgeworth suggested that toys were the ideal medium through which parents could steer the education of their children. She argued that children “require to have things which exercise their senses of their imagination, their imitative and inventive powers.” Toys should not be expensive or too precious to be used, but should “invite play and discovery,” and if they were broken in the process, at least children would learn something about what was inside and how they worked.

A Chinese Puzzle, one of the toys advertised
in the Morning Chronicle, 1817
Wachelder’s study of the Morning Chronicle suggests that publishers and booksellers were some of the first businesses to jump on the Christmas toy bandwagon. Books, of course, were ideal Christmas presents, being both entertaining and educational, but publishers also soon began producing a variety of games and puzzles. Some of these, like “The Battle of Waterloo,” introduced in 1816, were clearly designed to capitalize on current events, while others tapped into the popular sciences of chemistry and astronomy (“Accum’s Chemical Amusement” promised that its experiments were “easily performed and unattended by danger”). Toys that produced optical illusions, such as kaleidoscopes and thaumatropes, were also very popular.

Over time, more and more toys would be available for purchase, thanks to technological developments and the continuing sentimentalization of childhood. By the second half of the 19th century, it was difficult for many people to imagine a Christmas that didn’t include toys. So as you’re out searching for Hatchimals this holiday season, remember that you are participating in a tradition that stretches back 200 years!


Joseph Wachelder, “Toys, Christmas Gifts, and Consumption Culture in London’s Morning Chronicle, 1800-1827,” Icon Vol. 19, Special Issue Playing with Technology: Sports and Leisure (2013), pp. 13-32

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday (Vintage, 1997)

Maria Edgeworth and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Practical Education (First American edition, 1801)


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New York State History Month: Silas Arnold’s War of 1812 Musket

Silas Arnold’s musket on the right
As I was planning my blog posts for New York State History Month, I wanted to make sure that I covered a range of time periods and experiences with the three items I chose. Ending with the musket used in the War of 1812 by Silas Arnold of Keeseville seemed like the perfect conclusion. We’d have items worn overseas during World War I (Loren Bundy’s uniform) and items collected in Washington, D.C. and Virginia during the Civil War (Charles Moore’s photographs), and then finally an item used right here in Clinton County during the Battle of Plattsburgh: an 1804 Springfield Model 1795 flintlock musket with bayonet.

However, when I began to research the history of the musket, I found that things were not quite what they seemed. First, I wanted to know more about Silas Arnold himself. A quick search revealed that Arnold was born on May 4, 1801, which would have made him just thirteen years old at the time of the Battle of Plattsburgh on September 11, 1814. Of course, boys in their teens did participate in the battle—the students from Plattsburgh Academy who formed Aikin’s Rifle Company or Aikin’s Volunteers. But there’s no indication that Silas Arnold was part of this group; he was not one of the seventeen young men presented a rifle by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1826.

Engraved plate from rifle presented to Martin Ai(t)kin
The second thing I learned about Silas Arnold that made me question his participation in the Battle of Plattsburgh was his Quaker background. It isn’t entirely clear whether the Arnold family were formal members of the Society of Friends, but Silas’s parents, Elisha and Mary Arnold, were buried in the Quaker Union cemetery in Peru. Silas’s obituary notes that he had “inherit[ed] to a large degree some of the best of the principles of the Friends, among whom he was born, and his early years passed.” Pacifism is a key element of Quaker belief, and neither Elisha nor Silas Arnold are listed among the men of Peru who served in battle, as recorded in the History of Clinton and Franklin Counties

Silas Arnold House, Main Street, Keeseville
Perhaps the strongest evidence against Silas Arnold having fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh is that his obituaries do not mention it. When he died in January 1879, both the Essex County Republican and the Plattsburgh Republican published lengthy accounts of Arnold’s life, which seems to have been pleasantly uneventful. Of his early years, the Essex County Republican said only that he “passed his boyhood and youth upon the farm, and engaged in the business pursuits of his father.” Elisha Arnold had discovered a bed of iron ore on a tract of land between Peru and Schuyler Falls, the income from which gave Silas a comfortable start in life. In 1840, he moved to Keeseville with his wife, Gulielma (daughter of Richard Keese, another early Quaker settler), son Elias, and daughter Mary Anna. Here he continued in business and became president of the Essex County Bank and a trustee of the Keeseville Academy. He purchased a home that had been built around 1820 by Dr. Caleb Barton and had it remodeled in the fashionable Greek Revival style by local architects Seneca and Isaac Perry. 

According to the Plattsburgh Republican,He was a genial and kindly man, and had a vast deal of quiet humor.... He possessed a singularly even temperament, and though resolute, his voice was never raised in anger nor his pulse quickened by excitement.” In his later years, his greatest pleasure was to spend time in the Adirondacks, camping and fishing on Saranac Lake. His life was not without trouble—his beloved daughter Mary Anna died in 1862 at the age of 29, shortly after her marriage to Winslow C. Watson, Jr., and he lost his wife in 1875. The picture of Silas Arnold that emerges from these accounts that of a devoted husband and father, a respected and prosperous citizen—but not a soldier.

A. G. Fletcher’s notes regarding his donation
So where did this story originate? It seems to have started with the person who donated the musket to Alice T. Miner: A. G. Fletcher of Keeseville. A note in the museum’s files, written by Fletcher, states “Flint Lock Musket—carried in Battle of Plattsburgh by Arnold given to me by Silas Arnold Keeseville N.Y.” At the same time, he also donated a “Flint Lock Pistol same age & given by Arnold.” Was this a case of misunderstanding on Fletcher’s part? Did Silas Arnold give him a musket and pistol that had been used in the Battle of Plattsburgh, but by someone else? Did Fletcher believe that associating these items with Silas Arnold enhanced their value? Any early-19th century firearm would be of historical interest; one used in the region’s most significant military engagement would be even more so; and if it were used by a prominent local citizen, even better.

Muskets of this type were used during the War of 1812, so it’s not impossible that this one was in fact used during the Battle of Plattsburgh. Beyond that, we may never know for sure, unless additional information comes to light (and if you know anything, please contact us!). As it stands now, the musket, along with the pistol, serves as a cautionary tale about uncritically accepting the stories that come attached to so many historical relics. These stories may not necessarily be unreliable, but they do need to be verified using other sources.

This story brings us to the official end of New York State History Month for 2016, but we will continue to highlight the people and events of our region throughout the rest of the year, and into 2017!


Thursday, November 17, 2016

New York State History Month: Charles Moore’s Civil War Photographs

Carte de visite of Charles Moore,
taken at Gates’ Studio, Plattsburgh
In our last New York State History Month post, we looked at the uniform worn by Chazy native Loren S. Bundy during his World War I military service. This week, we travel back to the 19th century and a collection of photographs assembled during the Civil War by Lieutenant Charles F. Moore (1843-1877). You may be familiar with the letters Charles wrote to his family during the war, which are on display at the museum and are featured on our website. The 108 photos that were donated with the letters give us a more complete picture of his wartime experience.

These small photos, each about 2.5” x 4”, were known as cartes de visite because they were the same size as calling or visiting cards, and they were wildly popular in the 1860s among both soldiers and civilians. Originally, the photographs would have been stored in an album designed especially for the display of cartes de visite, like the one seen here from the Alice’s collection. In these albums, American collectors during the Civil War mingled photos of relatives and politicians, friends and generals. These albums were not just books of personal memories; they were documents that allowed people to construct their own narratives of the war and, in the north especially, they became vehicles for the expression of national identity.

Carte de visite album. Andrew Johnson on the left,
Tom Thumb’s wedding on the right.
The carte de visite format was patented in 1854 by Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disderi. By using a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses, eight negatives could be taken on a single 8” x 10” glass plate. That allowed eight prints to be made every time the negative was printed, making it a more economical form of photography. Mounted on card and without the bulky frames or glass of ambrotypes and daguerrotypes, cartes could easily be sent through the mail and exchanged. Cartes de visite were introduced in the United States in the summer of 1859, and their popularity was given a tremendous boost by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, as soldiers and their families posed for portraits prior to separation.

Lt. Col. Frank Palmer
Charles Moore wrote to his father less than a week after the attack on Fort Sumter that he was planning to enlist, saying “I never can stay here and see those stars and stripes dragged in the dust by a band of traitors.” A month later, in May 1861, he was sworn in as Quartermaster Sergeant in the 16th Regiment, New York Infantry. Many local men were also in the 16th New York, including Frank Palmer, Charles’s brother Pliny, and his cousin Royal Corbin. Moore was discharged from the 16th Infantry in December 1861 and there is a break in his letters. They pick up again in June of 1863, at which point he had joined the 16th New York Cavalry, where he would remain for the duration of the war. For most of his service, he was stationed in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.

Moore came from a family with strong ties to the north country and its military history. His father, Amasa Corbin Moore, was the son of Pliny Moore, one of the founders of Champlain, and his mother, Charlotte Mooers, was the daughter of General Benjamin Mooers, commander of the New York Militia at the Battle of Plattsburgh. He proudly wrote to his mother to tell her how he had been introduced to the colonel of his regiment: “Mr. Charles F. Moore of Troy, son of Col. A. C. Moore of Plattsburgh and grandson of General Benjamin Mooers who commanded the Battle of Plattsburgh. Very good, don’t you think so?”

Reverse of carte de visite
The photographs assembled by Charles Moore are typical of carte de visite collections of the Civil War era. Not surprisingly, there are many photos of Abraham Lincoln and Union generals—McClellan, Halleck, Scott, Butler, as well as lesser-known figures like Erasmus Keyes and Israel Richardson. There are politicians like Andrew Johnson and Schuyler Colfax, and celebrities like Kit Carson and Ram Singh II, the Rajah of Jaipur. Cartes de visite of this type were sold by all photography studios, and cost about twenty-five cents. A number of the photos in Moore’s collection have stamps on the back indicating that the prints were made from negatives in Matthew Brady’s National Portrait Gallery. Brady sold his catalog of portrait negatives to the E. and L. Anthony company in 1861, and by 1862, they were producing 3,200 cartes de visite per day.

W. H. Walling, 16th NY Volunteers.
Moore recorded that Walling “captured
the Rebel flag from the parapet of
Ft. Fisher,” a Confederate stronghold
in North Carolina.
The majority of the photographs, however, seem to be of men that Charles Moore knew personally, either fellow soldiers in the 16th New York or other military acquaintances. Many of them are signed and bear the messages “Respectfully” or “Yours Truly.” By exchanging photographs, soldiers strengthened the bonds of friendship and brotherhood. Photos served as reminders of absent friends, and memorials to those who had died. They reminded men of why they were fighting–for loved ones at home, and for their comrades on the field.

After the war, Charles Moore returned to Troy, where he was a clerk in an insurance office. Eventually he went into partnership as an insurance broker with A. G. Peck; later he went into the real estate brokerage business and engaged in some very successful land speculation. But in November 1877, the shocking news that Moore had committed suicide reached his hometown. The newspaper report in the Troy Whig, reprinted in the Plattsburgh Sentinel, attributed Moore’s suicide to a “miasmatic fever” which, “together with overwork, doubtless caused temporary mental derangement.” It’s impossible to say now whether Moore had any kind of long-term mental health issues as a result of his combat experience, but recent research has shown that some Civil War veterans did exhibit symptoms that we would now identify as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time, however, these problems were labeled as “melancholia” or “mania”–or not acknowledged at all.

Charles Moore’s photograph collection gives a human face to the sometimes abstract image of war. And his life reminds us that even when soldiers return home, their stories don’t always have a happy ending. 


Andrea L. Volpe, “The Cartes de Visite Craze,” New York Times (August 6, 2013).

Christa Holm Vogelius, “Family Albums of War: Carte de Visite Collections in the Civil War Era,” Common-place Vol. 16 no. 1 (Fall 2015).

“A Brief History of the Carte de Visite,” American Museum of Photography. Part of the online exhibit Small Worlds: The Art of the Carte de Visite.

Tony Horwitz, “Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD?” Smithsonian Magazine (January 2015).


Thursday, November 10, 2016

New York State History Month: Loren Bundy’s World War I Uniform

Each November, we mark New York State History Month with a series of blog posts on items from the Alice’s collection that have a connection to the state. In 2014, we looked at early-19th century transferware depicting scenes from locations in New York State, and in 2015, our theme was items made in New York. This year, we will be featuring items associated with the military service of three New York men.

The Bundys’ cottage in Chazy
Photo from Miner Institute Archives
We begin with a uniform worn by Loren S. Bundy of Chazy during World War I. The son of Leon and Kate Bundy, Loren was born in Vermont in 1896. Around 1910, the family moved to Chazy, where Leon Bundy became the head of the construction department at Heart’s Delight Farm. Loren Bundy (then working as a bookkeeper in Hudson Falls, NY) registered for the draft in 1917 and was inducted into the army at Plattsburgh in September of that year. He then went to Camp Devens in Massachusetts for training, and arrived in France in late July 1918—just a little over three months before the end of the war. He returned to the United States in June 1919. 

Coat, breeches, puttees, and overseas cap
Service coat. Red chevron indicates honorable
discharge; lower chevron is for overseas service.
The basic components of the uniform issued to Loren Bundy and other men who served in the US Army during World War I had been developed in the early 20th century in response to changing needs and conditions that had become evident during the Spanish-American War. New materials—khaki cotton for summer and olive drab wool for winter—were introduced as well as new styles of clothing. The museum holds four pieces of Bundy’s uniform: a khaki service coat or blouse, olive drab breeches, puttees (strips of cloth that were wrapped around the lower legs), and an overseas cap. The complete uniform also would have included a shirt, campaign hat (worn in the United States but replaced in France by the overseas cap), steel helmet, trench coat, and hobnailed shoes. In addition, Bundy would have carried a haversack to hold his tent, blanket, canteen, mess kit, entrenching tool (i.e., a shovel) and other equipment. He also would have been issued a gas mask in its own bag.

Bundy would have learned how to use all this equipment, as well as his weapons, during training at Camp Devens in eastern Massachusetts. Established in 1917, Camp Devens was the primary training center for the northeast region during World War I—over 100,000 men were trained there, and another 150,000 passed through when the camp became a separation center in 1918. Camp Devens was the home of the 76th Division, made up of troops drafted mainly from New England; the division consisted of two infantry brigades, one field artillery brigade, engineers regiments, signal battalions, field hospital units, and Loren Bundy’s unit, the 301st Supply Train. He was assigned to Company B, under the command of Lieutenant John L. Fox.

Souvenir postcard folder from Camp Devens
Sylvester Benjamin Butler, a captain in the 301st, kept a scrapbook of his WWI experiences, and his family has put some of his letters and other mementos online, giving us a glimpse into life at Camp Devens and in France. (Butler also did his officer’s training at Plattsburgh.) Upon their arrival in France, the 301st was stationed in the village of St. Armand-Montrond. Butler wrote of it, “All the houses are of stone or cement, & those not right in town are of one story only beside the attic. They seem located in such higglety-pigglety fashion, which the prevalence of high walls only serves to accentuate. The people are most cordial and welcome the American troops into their homes & buildings. The men are all trying hard to get the language. We fortunately have quite a few French speakers. The little French children are delightful; they are all learning the American salute and they do like to be noticed.” Censorship regulations prevented him from describing the unit’s military activities,  but as he reminded his mother, “I don’t want you to forget if I write all about people & scenery & white cows that I’m not on a Cook’s Tour or an Agricultural Experimentation Board.”

Loren Bundy’s overseas cap with MTC insignia
Butler reported that in March 1919, part of Company B had been “sent up to Vendonne [Vendôme] on special duty as a MTC detachment with the 6th Cavalry.” The MTC, or Motor Transport Corps, was established in August 1918 to procure, record, and maintain all motorized transport for the armed forces. Loren Bundy must have been part of this group, because the insignia on his collar and overseas cap is the winged helmet of the MTC, rather than the “T” of the Artillery and Supply Trains.

By the summer of 1919, Loren Bundy and many of his fellow Clinton County servicemen were back in New York. Tucked into the pocket of his uniform was the ticket for a “Mother’s Seat” at the county’s Welcome Home Celebration, issued to Kate Bundy. This extravaganza, held in Plattsburgh on August 5, deserves a post of its own. It started with a parade in which more than 1500 returned Clinton County soldiers, marines, and sailors marched, along with Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans. They were followed by some three dozen floats constructed by towns, businesses, and organizations, which depicted everything from a Red Cross tent to a model of a NC-4 airplane large enough to hold the entire Lynch-Bourdeau Orchestra.

Advertisement from the Adirondack Record
August 1, 1919
The parade ended at the Normal School campus, where everyone assembled and local lawyer Charles J. Vert gave an address. Afterwards, the “doughboys” were served a turkey dinner, and then the crowd shifted to the barracks, where spectators had the opportunity to see several boxing and wrestling matches, as well as a baseball game between the Post team and Port Henry. In the evening, there were two concerts in downtown Plattsburgh, followed by a fireworks display and finally dancing on Clinton Street until midnight. As the Daily Press concluded its coverage, “THUS ENDED A PERFECT DAY.”

For Loren Bundy, life seemed to return to normal after the excitement of the Welcome Home Celebration. He went to live in Poughkeepsie and married Violet Mandeville, a teacher originally from Lockport, NY, and they had a son, Leon Meade Bundy. In 1931 the family returned to Clinton County, eventually settling in Plattsburgh, where Loren worked as a teller for the Plattsburgh National Bank for thirty years. In 1942, he once again registered for the draft, though at the age of 46 he was unlikely to be called into service. This time, it was his son who joined the US Navy. Loren died in 1974 at the age of 77; he and Violet are buried in Riverview Cemetery in Chazy.

Although the United States’ involvement in World War I was relatively brief, it had a lasting effect on the men who served in the military. New York sent more soldiers to fight in WWI than any other state; New Yorkers represented about 10% of all US troops. Then there were the thousands of New Yorkers who worked as nurses, as members of voluntary associations, and at home on the farms and in the factories. The many new agencies created within the federal government to address the demands of wartime would change Americans’ relationship with the state; the suffrage movement received new impetus from the involvement of women in the war; and the Great Migration of African-Americans from the south to the urban centers of the north would produce new cultural and political movements. New York State—from the city to small towns like Chazy—would play an important role in all of these changes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Origins of Chazy Central Rural School, Part 3

Our series on the origins of Chazy Central Rural School concludes this week. This Saturday, October 22, CCRS will officially mark its 100th anniversary with a variety of events—visit for more information.

In Part 1, we looked at the broad social changes happening at the turn of the century and their effect on education. In Part 2we saw how proponents of the Country Life Movement tried to bring city innovations to country schools, and looked at some of the urban schools that inspired William Miner and George Mott. In Part 3, we’ll see how Chazy Central Rural School implemented the ideas of educational reformers.

Chazy Union School, ca. 1900. The building was later
incorporated into Gray Gables.
In 1915, 189 pupils were enrolled in the Chazy Union School in the village of Chazy, which employed 5 teachers. There were also seven schools in Chazy and three in Champlain that would become part of the consolidated school district. These were one-teacher schools that served between 20 and 40 students. The old one-room country school evoked nostalgic associations, but reformers insisted that it was a thing of the past which had no place in a modern, complex society. Thus, any school reform had to begin with the building itself.

Writers on rural schools painted horrifying pictures of run-down, unsanitary, and poorly ventilated school buildings. George Mott, in his proposal for consolidation, drew a stark contrast between Chazy’s “fine homes, well kept lawns, sanitary barns, flowers, and automobiles” and the “one roomed ‘building’ where ventilation is impossible, sanitary conditions a disgrace, and the whole exterior and interior not only so different from their own homes, but oft-times an offense to the eye and a disgrace to the whole environment of the community.” Children could not be expected to learn in stuffy rooms, sitting in uncomfortable seats (Moulthrop Movable School Chairs to the rescue!), under inadequate lighting.

Shakespeare Room, Chazy Central Rural School.
Decorative features in the school were meant to
inspire a love of beauty in students.
New York State Archives
Aside from these practical considerations, reformers also argued that schools should be beautiful. The building itself should be well-designed and made of good quality materials, and interiors should be painted in cheerful colors and decorated with pictures. George Mott wrote that the new Chazy school would be situated on an “ideal rural school site combining beauty with utility.” The 15 acres of land, purchased from Harvey Fisk by William Miner, provided ample space for a large building, “land for agricultural experiments,” a playground, and recreation areas. It also “offer[ed] a natural knoll, upon which the stately building may be seen above even the surrounding tree tops, a ‘thing of beauty and a joy forever.’”

The new school building was to be the setting for a new curriculum. As reformers were quick to point out, rural schools generally used the same curriculum as city schools, in spite of the fact that much of what was taught was irrelevant or foreign to the experience of country children. Mott pointed out that this system of education tended to have two effects on students. Either it pushed them toward the cities, or they became “disgusted with the hollowness and the unsatisfactoriness of such an education, and fall by the wayside with a contempt for that which they call ‘book learning.’” The solution was to make sure that the curriculum of rural schools was grounded in the everyday life of the country.

Agriculture Laboratory and Lecture Room,
Chazy Central Rural School
The goal of incorporating agriculture into the curriculum was twofold. One, it was hoped that by learning about nature at a young age, children would develop a love and appreciation for rural life that would help keep them in the country. Two, practical instruction in agriculture would be an important step towards introducing modern, scientific farming. Many in the country life movement felt that it was too late to reach adults and that it was better to focus their efforts on children. As William Miner wrote, “It appears to me that in order to improve farming methods in the State of New York, it will be necessary to start with the sons and daughters of farmers, during their school years to thoroughly drill them in habits of orderly, thorough and businesslike methods in dealing with the problems of enlightened agriculture….As you know, the minds of young people accept impressions and improved ideas far more readily than could be hoped for in dealing with the thinking apparatus of middle aged farmers, who proudly announce that the methods of their grandfathers are plenty good enough.”

Scientific Cookery, Chazy Central Rural School

Courses in agriculture were aimed at turning boys into modern farmers, while the Household Arts program approached housekeeping from a scientific perspective. The farm home also needed updating. “Far be it from any of us to criticize the bountiful and satisfying country meal of childhood,” wrote George Mott, “but the question still remains unanswered as to who is educating the growing girl to take the place of her mother in these days of canned groceries, tinned meats and tissue wrapped bread.” It was the school’s responsibility to “teach the girls not only sewing and cooking, but the application of modern scientific principles in food values, well balanced meals, the detection of impure foods, the proper organization and administration of a well organized home on an economic basis.”

Although agriculture, domestic science, and other vocational skills were an important part of rural education, the traditional academic subjects were also taught, along with drawing, music, handicrafts, and physical education. Carrying out this new curriculum required highly trained teachers who understood the special needs of rural schools. Reformers identified what they called the “teaching problem” as one of the main obstacles to improving rural schools. Many teachers had only high-school educations themselves and were barely older than their students. Short school terms and irregular attendance made it difficult for teachers to make progress. Teachers in rural schools had a harder job but were paid much less than their urban counterparts. In Chazy, they earned, on average, about $10 per week. School was in session for 36 weeks per year, and only about 65% of the students officially enrolled actually attended school regularly.

Providing faculty housing was one potential
solution to the problem of retaining good teachers.
One of the aims of the rural school reform movement was to make country schools more attractive to teachers and to find potential teachers who would not be deterred by the special challenges of rural life. The advertisement for prospective teachers laid out the situation quite clearly: “As the village of Chazy has only about 300 inhabitants, teachers who are dependent upon the city for means of study, recreation and amusement, will find few inducements. On the contrary, those who enjoy rural life and who wish to have part in a great undertaking where there is opportunity for pioneer work in a worthy field, will find that this school offers them many advantages.”

When it came time to work out how all these changes in teaching, curriculum, and infrastructure were to be brought about, the answer inevitably was centralization and consolidation. Consolidation of small school districts would increase the financial resources available, facilitating the hiring of better-trained teachers, including specialists in the new subjects proposed for the rural curriculum. Modern facilities could be created, and grading and/or platooning instituted. Children would benefit from schools with larger enrollments that would “provide social and cultural contact with companionable associates necessary to the best development of every child.” However, consolidation was a common sticking point when it came to actually carrying out rural school reform. 

Reformers attributed resistance to conservatism, ignorance, or just plain stubbornness, but rural communities articulated valid concerns about proposed reforms. They worried about the costs associated with changes, and did not want to relinquish control over their small, local school districts. They often felt that reformers were condescending and resented the implication that the rural family was failing in its educational role. They were also concerned that the reforms being instituted were meant to benefit urban areas—that the ultimate goal was to make the countryside more productive in order to support the cities. And there was often some truth to that.

Article from the New York Times,
October 16, 1921
What may be most remarkable about Chazy Central Rural School is not the form of the school itself, but the fact that William Miner and George Mott were able to carry out their ambitious plan. A year after the proposal was first brought before the public, the school was open (though not yet complete) and within a few years was attracting attention from all over the United States. Here was a community that had actually accomplished what most people only talked about.

William Miner’s financial support of the school project eliminated one of the major obstacles and potential objections to the plan. As someone with family roots in Chazy, who had himself attended a one-room district school, residents probably felt that he could be trusted to have their best interests at heart, in spite of his wealth and connections to the broader reform movement. And George Mott, whatever his flaws in other areas, was skilled at generating enthusiasm among the members of the community and making them feel that they had been offered a rare opportunity that they would be foolish to reject.

In the 100 years since Chazy Central Rural School welcomed its first students, much has changed in American society. Although agriculture still plays an important role in the economy of Chazy, we no longer assume that most boys will grow up to be farmers, and most girls to be housekeepers, and the curriculum has changed to reflect that. In 1968, a new school building was erected and the original building torn down. But Chazy Central Rural School continues to be, in many ways, the center of public life for the community. Indeed, that may be even more true now than it was in the early 20th century. In those days, the school was closely identified with William Miner, but now we can say it is an institution that truly belongs to the community of Chazy.