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Posts Tagged ‘The Farm’

Hickory Hill and Homeport

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, History & Heritage on October 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm
Hickory Hill in Essex, New York circa 1907 (photo by B. Benton Barker)

Hickory Hill in Essex, New York circa 1907 (photo by B. Benton Barker)

Rosslyn artifacts continue to emerge, and sometimes they’re not even even Rosslyn artifacts at all but Ross family artifacts. For example, I just discovered this antique postcard of the Ross Mansion (aka Hickory Hill) which was built in the early 1820s by the parents of W.D. Ross, the original owner of Rosslyn. Here’s the description provided by friend and Essex neighbor, Catherine DeWolff:

Mrs. Ross (detail from 1907 photograph of Hickory Hill above)

Mrs. Ross (detail from Hickory Hill photograph above)

Real photo postcard of the Ross Mansion in Essex, New York, on beautiful Lake Champlain – copyright 1907 by B. Benton Barker of Burlington, Vermont – faded card but details are still discernible such as Mrs. Ross sitting in her window (it is well known in the town history that that window was her favorite sitting spot and some say she still can be seen sitting there) – corners are lightly bumped and rubbed with a minor double crease at the bottom right corner – divided back is unused – rare barker card is comes in a rigid plastic display holder. (Catherine DeWolff)

Mrs. Ross’s lingering spirit was news to me. Looks like time for a little investigative work! It would be good indeed to collect a firsthand account from one who’s witnessed Mrs. Ross occupying her favorite window seat a century and change after this photograph was taken.

This past summer I was fortunate to meet Tilly Close for a tour of Hickory Hill which was built by her great grandfather, Henry Howard Ross. H.H. Ross (as local historians usually remember him) was William Daniel Ross’s brother. W.D. Ross (clearly historians and archivists had a vested interest in typographical efficiency) built Rosslyn in 1822, at the same time that his brother was building Hickory Hill. Although Mrs. Close shared plenty of anecdotes about Hickory Hill, there was no mention of ghosts. From what I can ascertain, both Daniel Ross and his bride Elizabeth Gilliland Ross Evertson died at Hickory Hill, but the latter passed away on August 3, 1847, well shy of B. Benton Barker’s  1907 photograph. Perhaps Mrs. Close can shed some light on the window sitting phantom. Her crisp sense of humor and encyclopedic recollection (including extensive genealogical research) have proven to be the single best guide in sorting out Ross family history. When I asked her to verify that Hickory Hill’s builder, H.H. Ross, had been her great grandfather she responded promptly as follows:

The family was lacking in imagination when naming their children. There were three Henry Howard Ross men, creating much confusion. H.H. Ross who built Hickory Hill was the son of Daniel Ross (who was married to Gilliland’s daughter Elizabeth). Henry’s brother, William D. Ross… built your home. His son, H.H. Ross was born 10/23/1827 – 6/15/1908. He married Mary Julia Nichols. Hickory Hill Henry Ross had 8 children. His son James Blanchard Ross who built the Camalier’s house, had a son named H.H. Ross, who married Anna Noble, and died early 1857-1882. (Tilly Close)

In a subsequent communication Mrs. Close explained further:

My Great Grandparents, Henry and Susannah had 8 biological children, plus one adopted girl, whose mother was Susannah’s sister, and had died. One of their sons is named William Daniel Ross II, born 10/5/1830 and died as a soldier in the Civil War, in Washington, DC 10/25/1861. I have his portrait by Horace Bundy. Rosslyn, which I think was called Hyde Gate at one point,  was built by my Gr. Grandfather’s brother, W.D. Ross… (Tilly Close)

An abundance of H.H. Rosses, a pair or W.D. Rosses and a fetching ghost by the name of Mrs. Ross. All the ingredients for a thriller!

And what of Rosslyn’s spiritual dimension? My bride claims psychic faculties and denies the presence of ghosts in our home. But it strikes me as unlikely that almost two centuries would fail to produce a ghost or two.

During Rosslyn’s renovation, several contractors mentioned signs of a ghost on the third floor. I’ll ask after any such recollections. For my part, I can not confirm any lingering spirits, but maybe the prolonged renovation process sent them scampering for more congenial circumstances. The endless whine of saws and the thwump-thwump of hammers may have driven Rosslyn’s ghosts up to Hickory Hill! But I’ll continue to poke around, and I promise to share any spooky discoveries.

A recent eBay find took me even further afield than Hickory Hill. In fact, it’s not really a Rosslyn artifact at all. I include it here because it pertains to another house which indirectly influence my compunction to purchase and renovate Rosslyn. Although my earliest childhood memories derive from The Farm, I spent far longer living in a subsequent home in Wadhams, New York.

Homeport in Wadhams, New York

Homeport in Wadhams, New York

By way of an eBay seller in Bonita Springs, Florida I was able to acquire a history of Wadhams entitled In the Beginning… Wadhams 1820-1970 which was compiled and published by Ethel L. Kozma. Nestled amid Wadhams history, genealogy and photographs, this image of the home where I lived during my elementary school years immediately triggered a flood of memories. Although I was too young to actually participate, my parents renovated this “once stately mansion” (cribbed from the original real estate listing) despite many decades of neglect and dilapidation. The left side of the porch in the image above had long since been removed, but the elegant home enchanted my parents. They undertook a renovation very nearly as ambitious as our own. And I grew up in the midst of it, obviously distorting my understanding of a “fixer upper” and my notion of a prudent investment.

Although I don’t recall any ghosts haunting our home in Wadhams, I did have an imaginary friend (two actually, if you count my imaginary friend’s imaginary friend) with whom I adventured and conspired. Those were enchanted years that might have proven even more so if I’d known the house’s history:

“Homeport” was the summer home of the late Albion V. Wadhams, a younger son of William Luman Wadhams, and a grandson of the General. Albion was graduated from U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. 1868. His cruise took him to China, an encounter with the Koreans; and later an instructor at the Naval Academy. He retired June 30, 1907 with the rank of Commodore after 43 years service. Mr. and Mrs. A.V. Wadhams had come to “Homeport” about 1896, which become the home of Mrs. Frances T. Ladd in Sept. 1926. This home was originally built by Levi H. Cross as indicated on the 1876 map. (In the Beginning… Wadhams 1820-1970)

I do vaguely recall that our home had belonged to one of the founding families of the town, but the abstraction of that was too much for my jittery mind. But the Navy?!?! Commodore Albion Wadhams… Who knew history held such invitations to daydream?

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Serene, Patinaed Fantasy

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's the story? on September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am
Apartment buildings lining the south side of E...

East 57th Street between First and Sutton (via Wikipedia)

Accustomed to living out of a suitcase, I pendulumed back and forth between Manhattan where Susan was wrapping up a degree in interior design following a decade-long career in video production, and Westport, New York, where both of our parents owned homes and where we’d met a couple of years prior.

Susan had recently refinished a one bedroom apartment in The Galleria, and she was itching to sell it and start a new project. I was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating on a project and plugging my recent Paris experience into a tired but dignified New York apartment, but the Adirondacks were pulling me. After almost half a lifetime living in cities, I yearned to return to the rhythms and pleasures of rural life.

My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.

The perfect place, I explained to Bruce, the friend and realtor who shuttled me from property to property, would be a small, simple farmhouse in the middle of fields with a sturdy barn and some acreage, maybe a stream or a pond or access to a river. Barns, in particular, pulled me. Secluded places with good light and views, forgotten places with stories still vaguely audible if you slowed down long enough to hear the voices. No loud traffic. An old overgrown orchard, perhaps. Asparagus and rhubarb gone feral near the barn. Stone walls, lots of stone walls and maybe an old stone foundation from a building long ago abandoned, the cellar hole full to bursting with day lilies. A couple of old chimneys in the farmhouse with fireplaces. A simple but spacious kitchen. A bedroom with plenty of windows. A room to read and write and collage the walls with notes, lists, photos, drawings and scraps. Someplace I could tinker at myself, gradually restoring the walls and plaster and roof. Timeworn wide plank floorboards of varying widths that I would sand by hand to avoid erasing the footpaths and dings and cupping from a burst pipe years before.

Although I’d painted the picture often enough, my budget and unwillingness to abandon the serene, patinaed fantasy resulted in a few false starts but mostly a very clear idea of what I was not interested in buying. On the upside, I came around and helped Susan select and renovate a coop in a 1926 McKim, Mead and White prewar located on 57th Street just off Sutton Place. An elegant apartment in a handsome building. Great bones, view and sunlight enhanced with a top-to-bottom environmentally responsible, non-toxic renovation. A success!

Though there were occasional fireworks when our aesthetics and convictions clashed, we enjoyed working together and decided to look for a North Country property that would suit both of our interests…

The Farm

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's the story? on May 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm
Rock Harbor Rhubarb

Rock Harbor Rhubarb

We walked down the road from the tennis court and stopped off at my parents’ house, still closed up for the winter. It would be several weeks before my parents arrived in Rock Harbor for the summer, and by then the asparagus would have gone to seed, so we picked enough for dinner and enough extra to bring back to the city for another meal.

I also picked a fistful of rhubarb to sauté with maple syrup for dessert. Susan disliked rhubarb, but I loved the lip puckering tartness. The taste transports me instantly to The Farm.

My parents, living and working in New York City, had purchased an 1840s farmhouse on 85 acres in Greenwich, New York five months after getting married. I was born less than two years later.

Although The Farm served primarily as a weekend getaway for the next five years, it dominates the geography of my earliest childhood. A stream of nostalgia gilded memories flow from this pastoral source: exploring the time-worn barns, absent livestock except for those conjured up by my energetic imagination and the swallows which darted in and out, building nests in the rafters, gliding like darts through dusty sunbeams; vegetable gardening with my mother; tending apple, pear and quince trees with my father; eating fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blackberries; discovering deer and raccoons and snakes and even a snapping turtle.

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