Today I’m trying out a new topic for an ongoing series much like my, “What is the Jargon!?!” series. It is no surprise that I enjoy exploring cemeteries wherever I go. The closest cemetery near me is Bayside Cemetery, here in Potsdam and when the weather is nice, I like to walk to it. There’s a lovely path that runs along the Raquette River that goes all the way to the rural cemetery.
Now, almost every time I adventure around Bayside or another burial ground, I take tons of pictures of gravestones that interest me for one reason or another. I figured I could share some of those gravestones with you all, along with information about the person who the stone represents.
The first story and stones I wanted to share with you are the gravestones of William and Thankfull Davis, located in Section E, Lot 168.
The timing for this post was completely unplanned until I looked at a calendar on Tuesday and realized that May 25, which is today, is the death anniversary of William. He was a Patriot during the American Revolutionary War and possibly the War of 1812, though I couldn’t confirm that.
William Davis was born September 30, 1762 in the town of Rutland of Worcester County in Massachusetts. His parents were Nathaniel and Ellen (Hubbard) Davis. William was the youngest of 15 children! When he was 17, William enlisted in the 7th Worcester County Regiment.
On July 5, 1787, William married Thankfull Nye in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Thankful (Nye) Davis was born February 10 1764 and was the daughter of Joseph Nye Jr. of Sandwich and Thankful (Goodspeed) Nye of Barnstable (they were married in Hardwick on October 20, 1757). Thankful (Goodspeed) Nye was the eldest child of Ebenezer Goodspeed and Elizabeth (Bodfish) Goodspeed; AKA Thankful Davis’ grandparents. On a side note, Thankfull’s gravestone is the only place where her name is spelled with two of the letter, “L.”
Both William and Thankfull passed away in 1833 in Potsdam, NY.
So how did William and Thankfull get all the way from Hardwick, Massachusetts to Potsdam, NY. Well, it’s unclear when exactly they arrived in Northern New York. A source I used for initial information, indicates that they were in Potsdam by 1820 – they would have been in their 50’s.
The other curious thing about the couple, looking at the detailed family trees for both William and Thankful, none of them indicate that they had kids, which seems really weird. Especially when you envision two middle age people in the early 19th century moving all the way to Northern New York from Massachusetts. That’s normally a 6 hour car drive – imagine doing that on horses and wagons. Plus, during this time, it was usual to have large families because of infant mortality rates and having more kids meant having more helping hands on a farm. So that’s why I thought something must be missing in the record.
I went back to the New York State DAR blog that explained William’s service during the American Revolution and checked to see what records were used, so I could check them out for myself. Census records from 1820 and 1830 were used, so I found those online. Looking at the 1820 Census records, I kind of found the answer I was looking for. William Davis is listed and in the row associated with his name, marks were made to indicate that in his household there was one “Free While Male over 45,” and one “Free White Female over 45” and that one person worked in agriculture. A few lines under William, another Davis is listed, Joseph!
The markings in Joseph’s row indicate one male aged 16-25, one male aged 26-44, and one female aged 16-25. From this I assume, Joseph Davis is either a son or other close relation of William and Thankful. Joseph doesn’t show up on the family tree from William Davis’ family but they’re actually buried next to each other at Bayside.
Looking through online records for Bayside Cemetery and searching for the last name, “Davis” I was able to make some more connections. Mary Harwood Davis (1797-185?) was married to a Joseph N., the “N.” is probably for Nye, Thankful Davis’ maiden name. Mary Harwood Davis was the mother of Ebenezer H. Davis, who was born 1832 and passed away 1911. By the way, they’re all buried in a row next to each other at Bayside. So they all have to be related! Ebenezer is an interesting name to choose…it would have been same name as Thankful (Nye) Davis’ grandfather.
So based on the new information and comparing that to the 1820 Census information for Joseph’s household we can conclude that: Joseph is the, “male aged 26-44” and Mary would be the “female aged 16-25.” Her birth year is 1797, in 1820 she would have been 23. The other male in the household, I have no idea because their son, Ebenezer, wasn’t born until 1832, so it can’t be him. I assume it must be a relative of either Joseph or Mary. If the other male was a brother of Joseph, that would mean William and Thankful Davis had another son but why isn’t he living with them? I think it might be a relative of Mary Harwood, maybe a brother. That would make a little more sense…
I went back to the 1810 Census and William Davis shows up there too; I couldn’t find Joseph Davis listed on his own.
Looking through the Bayside Cemetery records further, I found some other Davis family connections and another Joseph Davis. I found the Joseph Davis that I have been talking, about via the census records from 1820 and 1830. In the cemetery records for Bayside, the Joseph Davis that is listed is occasionally listed as the husband of Mary Harwood. Sounds correct right? Well it’s not the same Joseph. This new Joseph that keeps getting confused with our correct, old Joseph, was born 1860 and died in 1872…..Mary Harwood Davis died in the 1850’s. The other glaring issue- this new Joseph would have been 12 when he passed away.
I assume the mix-up has happened because of a few possibilities:
There are two different Joseph Davis- our adult Joseph Davis, the son of William and Thankful and the child Joseph Davis, maybe a relative in someway;
The old Joseph Davis’ gravestone in actually broken and embedded into the ground next to Mary’s stone- it was never seen during the original inventory of the cemetery;
There’s only one Joseph Davis and his birth year has been recorded incorrectly but he still died in 1872.
If the last one scenario is the correct mix-up- Joseph when he passed away would have been at least 75 years old, assuming he was born the same year as Mary Harwood, his wife.
The other Davis family members that are immediately related to Joseph, Mary, and ultimately William and Thankful include:
Thankful Davis (died 1836) Apparently this Thankful doesn’t have a stone but is buried in Section E, Lot 168).
Catherine Davis Averill (died 1882). Her father is listed as Joseph Davis. Her spouse’s initials are E.W. buried in Section E, Lot 106.
Thankful Davis Chapman (1838-1882). Her father is listed as Joseph Davis. She is buried in Section E, Lot 105.
? Elmina S. Davis Barnes (1838-1859). No parents are listed for her entry in the cemetery records. Her husband was Charles. She is buried in Section D, Lot 019. I included Elmina because her maiden name is Davis and her birth year is very close to the other “confirmed” Davis daughters. Maybe she is a cousin.
A few final points about the family to make. William Davis was a supposed veteran from the War of 1812. I researched and I couldn’t find any records officially indicating this. Joseph Davis though, served during the War of 1812 in Darius Hawkins Company of the NY militia. The record for his pension also lists that he married Mary Harwood on September 16, 1816.
Joseph’s son Ebenezer H. Davis was a veteran from the Civil War. Ebenezer was a private during the Civil War. He served in Company B of the 50th NY Volunteer Engineer Regiment. Ebenezer’s enlistment lasted from September 1, 1864 to June 1865, when the regiment was mustered out.
So that makes three generations of the same family, veterans in a number of wars fought in the early years of American history.
Researching this family showed a couple of interesting issues in that can happen when researching history of a family. The first issue was the lack of information in William and Thankful’s family trees especially in regards to their own family and whether or not they had kids. Based off of their family trees it would appear they didn’t have kids but the census records and location of gravestones at Bayside would indicate they moved to Potsdam with some children. The lack of clear information can indicate a couple of things: records along the frontier area of the United States weren’t well maintained AND it can be assumed that once William and Thankful moved to Northern New York, their communication with their family back in Massachusetts was very limited.
The other unplanned aspect of this post is that it’s right in time for Memorial Day, which is May 29th here in the United States. So maybe if you have time this weekend, head to your local cemetery and see what graves you can find of veterans of the United States Army and Navy, and pay respects to our pass veterans.
If you have questions or comments, leave them below.
This month’s jargon term is, “board and batten” or “board-and-batten,” depending on whether you’re using the term as an adjective or noun; for the record, hyphenate when using the term as an adjective. Every now and then, this type of exterior siding many be called, “barn siding,” because many barns across North America are constructed with this.
The actual definition of “board and batten” from my handy-dandy Guide to Vermont Architecture is this, “Exterior siding of flush wide, vertical planks with narrow wooden strips (battens) covering the joints.”
Historically, board and batten would refer to siding built of wood but given today’s building material options, this siding can be made of plastic, metal, or even fiberglass. Board-and-batten siding can be seen on informal styled architecture, think country homes, churches, and/or barns. During the Victorian era it would have been seen as an architectural feature on Carpenter Gothic homes.
So, board-and-batten siding has an interesting back story. Basically, people built in this style because of a lack of materials plus it helps create a stronger and more energy efficient wall. You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about…
Imagine yourself, a recent arrival to the New World. There’s extensive, old growth forests that you’re not familiar with; England really doesn’t have forests like this anymore. You are also in desperate need of a shelter for yourself and family. Cutting down trees and building a log house would be the easiest and quick; you only have axes and saws and there are no saw mills yet built. The log house is easy to build, for the most part, the issue is that the felled tress do no exactly fit together, so there are gaps that you and your family fill in with moss, leaves, sticks, and mud. It mostly does the job…but there’s still a cold draft during the winter. By the way, you’re not the only family that needs to build a quick home plus there’s also an extreme logging occurring in the New World with lumber being shipped back to Europe. The forests are slowly depleted but houses still need to be built because of the increasing numbers of colonists. Eventually a town is built up around where you and your family settled and a saw mill in constructed. Because of the lack of trees and a new sawmill, newer settlers are building there houses out of planks and strips of wood. Out of one felled log, a lot of planks can be planed, meaning it is most cost effective. The seams between vertical standing planks can easily be covered with narrow wood strips (batten), keeping the cold out during the winter.
For an actual visual of a log home located in Northern New York, check out this link: http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20110108/DCO01/301089932. The article is about an actual log cabin that was reconstructed to represent the home of the first settler in Parishville, Luke Brown and his family. In the photos accompanying the article, you can see the space in between the stacked logs.
Check out the following images to see buildings constructed with board-and-batten siding. There are no spaces in between planks!
Buildings from Upper Canada Village:
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or have any board-and-batten sided buildings in your neighborhood!
4) Like always, my handy dandy resource for architectural jargon is:
“The Historical Architecture of Vermont: Guide to Vermont Architecture,” Curtis B. Johnson, editor and Elsa Gilbertson, Principal Author, published by: the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1996.
I’m super excited to tell you all that the George T. Robinson House has been officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I wrote the nomination for the property this past summer! Working with a representative from the State Historic Preservation office, we edited the nomination during the fall. It was submitted to the State for review in December and officially listed to the State Register in February. From there it was forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register to be reviewed and finally it was listed April 17, 2017!
Today’s post is going to look at sections of the nomination that I wrote and submitted during the late summer. At the end of this post, there is a link to the final copy of the nomination.
Building Description Summary The George T. Robinson House, located in the town of Clayton, Jefferson County, New York is a highly intact 2 ½ story, rear-facing “T” plan, Shingle Style home. The home occupies a center location on the southern side of Bluff Island overlooking the St. Lawrence River and mainland New York State. The home was constructed in 1901 and designed by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania architect, Thorsten E. Billquist, for George T. Robinson and his family, also from Pittsburgh. The south-facing front facade is dominated by an open porch that almost wraps around the entire length of the first floor; the porch is supported by evenly spaced stone pillars. The walls and roof are finished with shingles, and the foundation and porch supports are built of red granite that originated from quarry located on Picton Island located to the north of Bluff Island. The interior of the home is finished with wood paneling and wainscoting from floor to ceiling. There is an 11 foot granite fireplace located within the wall that separates the living room and dining room, so that there is a fireplace in both rooms. The upstairs historically consisted of seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a living space in the attic for employed help. To the east of house once stood a 2-story boat house that collapsed sometime after 1966. Other important resources of the property include surface remains of walled garden located directly north of the house on a slight slope. While to the west of house there is a path that leads to the powerhouse that was once used for water pumping. The Robinson Family Estate is in good condition with the only alterations to the home being general maintenance throughout the years, and the current renovations to update the utilities of the property and replace shingles that have been severely weathered because of the elements. The maintenance changes and loss of the boat house do not detract from the overall integrity of the Robinson Family Estate in terms of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
Setting and Location:
The George T. Robinson House is located on the southerly side of Bluff Island, one of the islands situated in the St. Lawrence River; the Island is located within the township of Clayton located in Jefferson County, New York. Bluff Island is a 61 acre island, with the property of the Robinson Family Estate occupying 26 acres of the Island. The property is accessible by boat and is roughly two miles north-east of Clayton, while the closest islands are Picton Island to the north and Grindstone Island to the west. The home is located on rocky south point of Bluff Island, with the front facade facing south towards Round Island and the mainland of New York. To the east of the home is another summer cottage, once owned by Colonel Harry C. Kessler, once called “The Bluffs.” Today the property has a shop on it called “Boateak” and the shop features American arts, crafts, and antiques and is only opened during the summer months. To the west of the Robinson Family Estate is a modern style home situated on a rocky outcrop.
Before you check out the statement of significance, which is basically the WHY is this building important enough to be listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places…let me explain a little bit more about the statement. What you see below is literally only half of the statement. The section that is missing is related to the historical “context” that the house falls under. In this case the historical contexts for the George T. Robinson Houses includes the Gilded Age in the Thousand Islands Region and the commonly seen use of the shingle style in summer residences.
The other exciting part of this is that one of the main secondary sources I used in researching the Thousand Islands was the book, The First Summer People: The Thousand Islands 1650 – 1910, written by Susan Weston Smith and published in 1993. It is a great book and I suggest checking it out if you’re interested in learning more about the region and the history of the Thousand Islands, like all of the islands. So last weekend, I went to a writing fair located at TAUNY (a non-profit that focuses on folklore in Upstate NY). Susan Smith was there!!! I was able to thank her! And tell her how much her book helped me! I also told her about this nomination and how it was approved! I also told her about some of the other projects I might be working on in the area! It was wonderful to actually meet the person who had written a book that I used for research! I fan-girled out! I got a hug from her! It was beautiful!
Soooo anyways, here’s part of the statement of significance for the George T. Robinson House:
Statement of Significance Summary
The Robinson Summer Estate is locally significant under Criterion A, “property that is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.” The Robinson Summer Estate was designed by Thorsten E. Billquist in 1901 as the shingle-style summer home of George T. Robinson’s family. The Robinson family originated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Robinson worked in the steel and manufacturing industries. The property remained the summer residence of the Robinson family until 1948, when Anne H. Robinson passed away. It changed hands during the 1950’s, and ownership passed to Harry and Ruby Butcher. The couple ran the property as the “Bluff Island Lodge,” where tourists could stay while visiting the surrounding area. The Robinson Summer Estate relates to the summer resort era of the Thousand Islands during the turn of the 20th century and then again in the tourism boom of the 1950’s. The property is also locally significant under Criterion C, “property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.” The summer home was designed by Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist, in the shingle-style, a style commonly used in summer resort areas. The Robinson Summer Estate is significant under these two criteria in regards to its connections to architecture (a Shingle style summer cottage), entertainment, recreational, and tourism values, as well as its connections to the social history of the Thousand Islands region as a tourist resort during the early 20th century and again in the 1950’s tourist boom in New York State.
George T. Robinson House: Social History
The Robinson Family Estate fits into the overarching social history of the Thousand Islands in regards to entertainment, recreational, and tourism in the sense that the home served as a private residence and was used as a fishing lodge briefly during the 1950’s. The home was constructed at the turn of the century in 1901, near the end of the Gilded Age, to be used as the summer residence of a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania family, the Robinson family. The home is also built in the Shingle Style, an architectural style that has been considered the leading cottage design during the Gilded Age; the home was designed by Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist.
George T. Robinson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1838 to son of William C. Robinson and Ann Holdship. Ann was the daughter of Henry Holdship, who owned the largest paper making establishment in the area. William C. was a member of the firm, Robinson and Minis, which was a foundry that constructed engines. Specifically, William built steam boats and their engines; he himself owned a small fleet of steam boats.1 It was mostly likely because of his father’s work, that George became involved in the steel and engine building industry in Pennsylvania.
George married Althea Rebecca Dilworth on November 3, 1863. Together they had five children: Mary Mason, William Christopher, Anne Holdship, Stuart Holdship, and Henry Holdship. According to the United States census of 1880, George’s occupation was listed as, “iron founder and engine builder.”2 By the 1910 census, George’s occupation had changed to, “capitalist.”3 Up until 1897, George had been the president of Robinson-Rea Manufacturing Company, which was one of the first steel foundries in Pittsburgh, building engines and rolling mill machinery.4 In that same year his Robinson-Rea Manufacturing Company was consolidated with another Pittsburgh company, Leechburg Foundry and Machine Company, into a new larger organization, Mesta Machine Company. George still had a role to play in the new, larger company; he was a member of the board of directors for Mesta Machine Company. The plant that had been used by Robinson-Rae Manufacturing Company in the South Side, was still to be used by Mesta Machine Company.5
From his work in the steel industry, George was able to provide his family with a comfortable life, given the fact that he was able to purchase land in 1900 and then build a summer home on Bluff Island in the Thousand Islands in 1901. George bought land on Bluff Island from General Harry C. Kessler, who happened to be his brother-in-law. General Kessler was born in Philadelphia in 1844 and during the Civil War enlisted in the Union Army.6 Kessler had married Josephine Alden Dilworth on November 8, 1876; Josephine was a younger sister of George’s wife, Althea.7
From the deed records at the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, Harry and Josephine Kessler, who at the time were living in Montana, sold the northerly and western portion of Bluff Island to George T. Robinson. The transaction was recorded at the County Clerk’s office August 30, 1900. The Kessler’s had previously purchased the island from Fannie and Eugene Washburn and that transaction was recorded in the county records on August 20, 1900.8 The transaction was noted in the local paper, where Bluff Island was described as, “…one of the most desirable unimproved islands in this section of the river.”9 By the next summer, the Kessler and Robinson families had begun to build their summer homes. In May of 1901, the Watertown Re-Union, briefly reported that the construction work of the buildings on Bluff Island was “progressing rapidly.”10 George Robinson employed Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist to design his summer home; during the construction, the Robinson family vacationed on Grenell Island.11 Documents regarding the construction process of the Robinson Family Estate are lacking and consist solely of blue prints created by Billquist for the house and a boat house. The materials for the buildings are not mentioned in the blue prints but most likely were locally sourced. During the turn of the century, red granite quarries were located on both Grindstone and Picton Islands and Clayton and the surrounding area had a number of lumber businesses.12
View of the East Facade
View of the North Facade
View of the West Facade
The connection between the Kesslers, the Robinsons, and their ability to purchase a 60 acre island and build homes on the island, show the growth of wealth among those involved in industrial capitalism, which was common among America’s elite during the Gilded Age in summer resort areas. The summer people of the Gilded Age, looked for places where they could escape from the health and social problems of the inner cities by vacationing somewhere fresh and full of natural beauty much like the region of Thousand Islands and the St. Lawrence River. The Robinson family vacationed every summer at their cottage on Bluff Island. Snippets in the local newspapers of the Thousand Islands and even from Pittsburgh, give insight into how the upper class family lived during the summer. The Shingle home was officially finished by 1904, based on news reporting that members of the Robinson family were visiting Bluff Island. George’s son, William, his wife, and their young son visited the elder Robinson and his daughter, Anne Holdship for the summer.13
In 1909, the Robinson family prepared for two weddings at the Bluff Island cottage. The Hoffman- Kessler wedding was planned at George T. Robinson’s home on Bluff Island. The local paper documented activities of the members of the Robinson and Hoffman families such as when they dined at the Frontenac Hotel the week prior to the wedding.14 The bride was Althea Dilworth Hoffman, the daughter of Mary Mason Hoffman and granddaughter of George T. Robinson. The groom was her cousin, Harry C. Kessler Jr., the only son of Harry C. and Josephine Alden Kessler; their wedding was set for August 09, 1909. The second Robinson wedding of that year occurred on October 14, when Mary Mason Hoffman married her second husband, Frank J. Lynch at her father’s summer home.15
Interesting tidbits of the family’s summer activities are found in the most unusual places such as the annual report for the Carnegie Museum. The Museum’s annual report lists Anne H. Robinson under their donations for the year of April 1, 1911 to April 30, 1912. Anne donated land and fresh water shells from Bluff Island and the St. Lawrence River, collected in July of 1911. She also donated, “insects, particularly Odonata and their nymphs, from Bluff Island.”16 These snippets of information into the Robinson family’s summer vacations paint a picture of how Robinson Family Estate on Bluff Island emulates the summer activities common to the summer peoples of the Thousand Islands during the turn of the century. It was a place to relax, socialize, and enjoy the natural splendor of the St. Lawrence River and as The House Beautiful put it to escape the “city turmoil.”17
George T. Robinson died December 24, 1917, at his home in Pittsburgh. In his will, George left his home in Pittsburgh at 4926 Wallingford Street and all of its possessions to his daughter, Anne Holdship. Anne along with his other children also received shares of the stock in the Mesta Machine Company and money.18 Anne Holdship continued to reside there during the summers and was involved in the local summer community by hosting occasional garden meetings at her home on Bluff Island.19 From local newspapers of the time, it is clear that Anne was involved with the local garden clubs. In 1935, the Cape Vincent Eagle that four ladies of the “Ann Robinson Garden Club,” attended an improvement league meeting in Clayton.20 Anne was not present at the meeting. Another garden club was formed in 1938 as part of Clayton’s Improvement League, that club formed in June of that same year. Their first meeting was held on July 5th, at the home of Mrs. Joseph Davis. The second meeting was held in Clayton, at the summer home of, “Miss Ann Robinson “Bluff Island,” ” that meeting included members of both the Clayton and Cape Vincent garden clubs.21 Anne’s own garden club was still around and made the news again in 1941, when the “Anne Robinson Garden Club,” held their meeting and picnic at her home on Bluff Island.22 Though there is no photographic evidence of Anne’s gardens, the historic newspaper record points to Anne having some kind of garden. Summer cottages of the Gilded Age, much like the Robinson Family Estate, typically had formal landscaping such as terraces or flower beds.23 The granite wall surface remains that are located north of the house on a slope are most likely the remains of her gardens. There is no other location of the property that appears to contain stone walls that would have been associated with a garden. Anne Holdship Robinson continued to summer at Bluff Island until her death in 1948; she passed away at her home in Pittsburgh.24
The records for the history of the Robinson Family Estate after Anne’s death are scarce. The majority of the history comes from the Thousand Island Museum’s archives and the Jefferson County Clerk deed records. In Anne’s will, the Robinson Family Estate was left to her brother, William, in December of 1948. William and his immediate family had no need for the property and donated it to Clayton’s Christ Episcopal Church, which Anne had been a member of during her life. In 1951, Christ Episcopal Church sold the property because they too had no use for the home. At that time Harry and Ruby Butcher of Clayton purchased the property.25 Prior to purchasing the property on Bluff Island, the Butcher’s had run a popular snack shop, “Harry’s Snack Shop,” in Clayton. The Butcher’s has plans on turning the former single family residence of the Robinson Family Estate into a fishing lodge and for three summer’s from 1951 to 1954, the Butcher’s ran the “Bluff Island Lodge.”26
In 1954, the Butcher’s began to look into selling the “Bluff Island Lodge.” The Thousand Island Museum’s archives had a number of news clippings related to the sale and eventual purchase of the Lodge. The sale ad listed the lodge as having 7 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, a 38′ living room, an 11′ stone fireplace, quarters on the third floor for help, a dining room large enough to accommodate 24 people, a pantry, and a large kitchen. At that time the property also had a boat house and even came with seven boats. By October of 1954, the Butcher’s had either sold or begun to lease the Bluff Island Lodge to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Cutler, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and they continued to use the property as a lodge.27 The Jefferson County Clerk’s Office deed records show something a little different. In 1956, Ruby sold the property to Willard Cutler. The Cutler family eventually sold to Timothy Hubbard in 1963, after the death of Willard Cutler.28
Since 1966, the Hubbard family continued to own the home and live there during the summers. Timothy Hubbard was a professor of Syracuse University and in 1986 wrote the Dolphin Book Club best seller, The Race. His daughter, Stephanie Hubbard, also is a writer and wrote Bluff Island Rescue Service, which is a memoir of growing up on Bluff Island; it was published in 2010.29 The Hubbard family used the property as a single-family residence up until 2016, when the home was sold to the current owner, David and Robin Lucas.
Robinson Family Estate: Architectural Significance
The Thousand Islands has been a summer resort area since the 1870’s, when George Pullman invited President Ulysses S. Grant to his summer home on “Pullman Island,” located close to Alexandria Bay, bringing national attention to the St. Lawrence River.30 Shingle Style homes are a common sight in many of the northeastern seaside resorts like Martha’s Vineyard and Bar Harbor, the same can be said about the Thousand Islands. Between the townships of Clayton and Alexandria Bay, which make up a majority of the Thousand Island Region, there are only three other Shingle Style properties listed on the State and National Registers. Those properties include: the Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island built in 1903 for George C. Boldt’s estate, listed 1978; the Densmore Church, constructed in 1900, also located on Wellesley Island, listed in 1988; and Ingelside, a private estate on Cherry Island that combines Queen Anne and Shingle Style architectural features, it was constructed sometime between 1899 and 1906, listed 1980.
George Robinson employed Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist to design his summer home on Bluff Island. Thorsten E. Billquist was educated at the University of Gothenburgh. He immigrated to the United States in 1892, first living in New York and working with the firm McKim, Mead, and White. He was involved to some extent with the designing of the Boston Public Library. Shortly after that, Billquist moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked for a brief time for the firm, Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow and then with architect William Ross Proctor. By 1896, Billquist had launched his own practice by having the winning entry for the Allegheny Observatory (added to the National Register June 22, 1979) in that year. By 1905, Billquist had partnered with Edward B. Lee, to create the firm Billquist and Lee that was active from 1905-1909.31
The Robinson Family Estate is located in a summer vacation area where Shingle Style homes were a common sight. There is also the previous work experience that Billquist had during his career at the firms of McKim, Mead and White and Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow. Both firms had key partners who had worked for Henry Hobson Richardson, the architect who designed the high style homes that emulated the key features of every popular architectural style of the late 19th and early 20th century. Both firms designed buildings that were key in creating the Shingle Style in America. Working with them most likely inspired Billquist in his own designs during his career.32
Billquist designed a summer home for the Robinson family that emulates many of the key architectural features commonly seen in Shingle Style summer homes. The home is a frame home that is clad in cedar shingles and has a raised basement constructed of rough cut red granite blocks. The front facade, which faces south towards mainland New York, is dominated by an open porch that is covered by the floor of the second story; the porch is supported by columns of rough cut red granite blocks. The interior of the home is finished exclusively in wood. The first floor of the home has a large, open layout, with spaces flowing into each via a hall running the length of the home. The first floor’s largest room is the living room, which is where all the main entrances open into. The room’s key features include a built in bench and an 11-foot granite fireplace. The fireplace is double sides, in that it is built within the wall that separates the living room from the dining room; both rooms could have a separate fire going simultaneous, if needed. Both of these rooms would have been used for family and social activities by the Robinson family and subsequent owners. The upstairs of the home had historically seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, and numerous closets. The historic layout of second floor is almost completely intact, the other differences are a bathroom and closet have been removed, most likely during the ownership of the Hubbard Family. The upstairs also a main hallway allowing easy movement throughout the different rooms; some rooms are connected to each other and even share bathrooms. The attic space was used to house the help during the summer months.
The Robinson Family Estate is locally significant under both Criteria A and Criteria C. The Robinson Summer Estate was designed by Thorsten E. Billquist in 1901 as the shingle-style summer home of George T. Robinson’s family. The Robinson family originated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Robinson worked in the steel and manufacturing industries. It changed hands during the 1950’s, and ownership passed to Harry and Ruby Butcher, who ran the property as the “Bluff Island Lodge,” where tourists could stay while visiting the surrounding area. The Robinson Summer Estate relates to the summer resort era of the Thousand Islands during the turn of the 20th century and then again in the tourism boom of the 1950’s. The property is also a great local architectural example of the Shingle Style. The summer home was designed by Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist, in the Shingle Style, a style commonly used in summer resort areas. Billquist also had ties and work experience in a number of important northeast architectural firms of McKim, Mead and White, and Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow. Both firms designed buildings that were key to creating the Shingle style in America. Both firms also had key partners who had worked with H. H. Richardson, the architect who can be credited with designing the prototype of the Shingle Style home in America, with the William Watts Sherman House. The Robinson Summer Estate is significant under these two criteria in regards to its connections to architecture (a Shingle style summer cottage), entertainment, recreational, and tourism values, as well as its connections to the social history of the Thousand Islands region as a tourist resort during the early 20th century and again in the 1950’s tourist boom in New York State.
If you have any questions of comments about the George T. Robinson House or about writing a national register nomination, let me know in the comment section below!
2United States Census Bureau, “United States Census, 1880, George T. Robinson, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States,” citing enumeration district ED1 166, sheet 357D, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington DC.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d, roll 1095, FHL microfilm 1,255,095, 1880), https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG7T-YRN (accessed July 17, 2016).
3United States Census Bureau, “United States Census, 1910, George T. Robinson, Pittsburgh Ward 7, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States,” citing enumeration district ED 360, sheet 5, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington DC.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d, FHL microfilm 1,375,314, 1910), https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG7T-YRN (accessed July 17, 2016).
7 United States Census Bureau, “United States Census, 1850, Joesphine Dilworth in household of William Dilworth, Allegheny City, Ward 1, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States,” citing family 82, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington DC.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d,), https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M44H-2LH (accessed July 17, 2016).
8“Deed of Sale from Fannie L. Washburn and Eugene R. Washburn to Harry C. Keesler August 20, 1900,” (filed August 30, 1900), Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 296 of Deeds, page 331-332.
9“Brevities,” The Watertown Herald, August 18, 1900.
10“Clayton,” The Watertown Re-Union, May 22, 1901.
11 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “American Islands Binder A-M,” Clayton, New York.
12“Clayton News,” The Watertown Re-Union, March 31, 1906. “Clayton News,” The Watertown Re-Union, July 21, 1900. Smith, First Summer Peoples, 79, 81.
18 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “Family Binder: Robinson,” Clayton, New York.
19“Last Will and Testament of George T. Robinson May 15, 1909, Sealed February 20,1917,” (filed October 20, 1920), Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 2361 of Deeds, page 571-572.
20“Improvement League Holds Meeting,” Cape Vincent Eagle, May 9, 1935.
21“Garden Club is Formed in Village,” Cape Vincent Eagle, June 23, 1938.
22“Garden Club to Meet,” Clayton News, August 12, 1941.
24 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “Family Binder: Robinson,” Clayton, New York.
25“Deed of Sale from Christ Church of the Town of Clayton to Harry W. and Ruby K. Butcher October 9, 1951,” (filed October 9, 1951), Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 559 of Deeds, page 180-181. Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “Family Binder: Robinson,” Clayton, New York.
26 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “American Islands Binder A-M,” Clayton, New York.
28“Deed of Sale from Willard Cutler to Timothy William Hubbard August 16, 1963” (filed September 16, 1963, Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 741 of Deeds, page 380.
29John Golden, “Island Author Navigates From Ocean to Banks,” Watertown Daily Times, July 9, 1995. Stephanie Hubbard, “Great Reviews Are Coming In! Get Your Own Copy! Tell Your Friends!,” Bluff Island Rescue Service: A Memoir Website, August 25, 2010, http://www.bluffislandrescueservice.com/ (accessed August 23, 2016).
So this blog is about my history and preservation adventures but have I told you about how much I love eating when I adventure around!?!
I enjoy finding unique eateries and stuffing my face fully of messy food. I also have a soft spot for anything made locally…so when I traveled to Rochester a couple of weekends ago, there were some really awesome places my friend, Amanda, took me to.
The first cool place we went to was a burger joint called, “The Playhouse and Swillburger,” which along with serving up classic American food, has a bar, and a number of old school arcade games. When we arrived at the restaurant, I was starving. I’m not good at planning for food stops when I’m traveling. I typically wait until I get to my destination…starving and questioning when we’re going to eat.
Sooo, I’m not just telling you about the Swillburger because of how awesome the vibe was or how great the food tasted. The building happens to be old and have a cool backstory!
This brings me to another topic I’ve been wanting to write more about- building rehabilitation and reuse stories. So the idea that an old, historic, unused property gets a Cinderella-type makeover into something cool and the building remains in use!
Check out the images of the exterior and interior of The Playhouse and Swillburger to see what the building once was. The captions for the photos will give a brief history of the building and how it got into its current state.
The church was constructed in 1890 for the congregation of the 2nd German Baptist Church. The congregation had formed two years prior when 50 people of the 1st German Baptist Church wanted to establish their own branch.
The brick building cost more than planned by the congregation. So they were in debt. As a way to raise money to pay off the costs of the church’s construction, the congregation began to host concerts open to the public. By 1902, the debt was paid off! In 1918, the 2nd German Baptist congregation rejoined the previous 1st German Baptist congregation. The building was left vacant.
For a brief time the former church was owned by the Standard Automatic Machine Company. In 1926, the Rochester Community Players ( a theater group) purchased the property and made it their home. They hired architects Arnold and Stern to renovate the interior – stages and balconies were built. The theater group called this place their home until 1984.
In 1985, the former church and theater, started a new chapter in it’s long history as the home for the Cornerstone Christian Fellowship. It was used as a church again until 2013!
In 2013, the current owners purchased the property at the corner of South Clinton and Meigs Street. Brian Van Etten and Jeff Ching eventualy started a Kickstarter campaign to fund their plans on renovating the old church and theater space into a arcade/bar/burger joint combo. The fundraising campaign began in the summer of 2015 and before the end of that year, they were open for business!
So back to the burning question you have…was the food any good!?!
For the love of all foods good, cheap, and served quickly. Yes. Much good.
The crispy chicken sammie (sandwich) with Swillsauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and dad’s pickles? That was amazing and everything was so fresh tasting.
The “Smoke and Fire” french fries? Spicy and crunchy just the way I like my french fries.
The vegan chocolate milkshake? Creamy, thick, and chocolaty with a hint of coconut.
On a super nerdy yet slightly related note… For those familiar with the television show, Supernatural, there is a scene of a recurring character who is eating a hamburger, and he says something along the lines, “These make me very happy.” Here’s a link to the clip on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0bpejn__bQ
That’s exactly how I felt eating the food I ordered at Swillburger. The added facts that it was in a historic building and I was with my bff. Priceless.
There was one other food place Amanda and I went to while I was visiting and that was the Rochester Public Market. The market is open weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; it’s a year round market place.
Amanda and I went to the Union Street Bakery for breakfast because Amanda said they have the best breakfast sandwiches around. The bakery is part of a row of buildings at the Public Market.
They did not disappoint!
This place was packed. It was hard to get a seat. Amanda and I initially went outside to eat but it was too cold so we came back inside. Luckily we found a seat.
These were the two guys in charge of making breakfast sandwiches to order! They were quick. I would say the wait was less than 10 minutes.
This is a section of the row buildings located at the market.
The Rochester Public Market has been in operation since 1827 when it was located at the west end of the Main Street Bridge. In 1905, the market was relocated to its current location on Union Street. Originally, the vendors who sold at the market could only sell products wholesale. That changed in 1913, when the city began to allow retailers to sell directly to the shoppers. When we visited the market it was chilly out and overcast but that didn’t seem to stop people from being out and shopping at the market!
Researching the Rochester Public Market I came across some interesting articles about plans for upgrades to the market. Apparently, the Public Market has received quite a bit of money to build a few buildings and to do general upgrades to the location. The weird thing was that this collection of news articles were from 2012-2013….in one of the articles, some peoples opinions on the future upgrades were reported on. The main concerns were that the upgrades would “yuppify” the market- more hipster coffee places and prices would rise pushing out certain groups of people from shopping at the market.
I’m not sure how much work has been done on the market. My friend, Amanda, made it sounds like the biggest upgrades still haven’t happened. I’m not sure. What I do know though is when I was there, there were lots of people from all walks of life. The vendors varied from handcrafts to produce to livestock. It was great to see so many people from different cultures- I don’t get to see that often in Northern New York. I like it.
The prices also were very inexpensive. Breakfast cost me $5 and that sandwich was glorious. Between Amanda and I, we probably spent barely $30.00 on produce. I think the most expensive thing purchased were frozen pierogies that we had for lunch. Not to be too weird but I still have apples in my crisper from the market and they’re still good!
Click through the images below to get a sense of what the Rochester Public Market is like!
This is the main market space where almost all of the vendors are set up. It is a horseshoe shaped space, so it curves around. There were lots of people there as can be seen in this image.
I haven’t had cider donuts since November. So these were wonderful to buy!
This was very interesting to say the least. I saw this in the as one building at the market-all of the refrigerated foods are in this building. You can buy fresh fish in there too!
There are these type of gateways all around the public market.
Both of these places were really awesome for food adventures! If you find yourself in Rochester, check them both out!
Here in Northern New York, there are a number of good building reuse stories for me to share in the future. For example, there’s an Italian restaurant in an old train depot around the corner from me!
Is there a place in your hometown, with a cool and unique building reuse story that you frequent often? Or is there an eatery that’s really awesome and serves great food? Or does your town have a public market that is open year round?
Let me know in the comment section! I love hearing about good food.
Check out some of the links in the “Further Information” section- there news articles about the Rochester Farmer’s Market and the Playhouse and Swillburger there, along with a link to historic photographs of the market!
Recently, I traveled to Rochester, New York for my annual adventure to see my b.f.f., Amanda. While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Hope Cemetery, a rural cemetery located in Rochester. I have a fascination with cemeteries, so being able to visit Mount Hope was great. Rural cemeteries are quiet and peaceful, and I enjoy that greatly while photographing tombstones and paying my respects to those who have passed away.
Mount Hope was a wonderful place to visit. We visited the cemetery in the late afternoon and were there for a couple of hours; the weather was great! There are about 14 miles of winding roads and paths to walk along and there are many beautiful monuments and tombstones dedicated to the deceased. Amanda and I didn’t walk all throughout the cemetery but we did see a lot. To add to reasons to visit Mount Hope, the cemetery has a number of burials of historically significant people such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland and escaped in 1838 through Delaware and Philadelphia to New York City. Throughout his life he worked for the equality of all peoples as a social reformer, abolitionist , orator, writer, suffragist, and statesman. He also was friends with Susan B. Anthony, who is also buried at Mount Hope.
Prior to Mount Hope there had been a number of small burial grounds throughout Rochester including grounds at King’s Landing, the intersection of today’s East Ave. and Gibbs Street, Charlotte, and the intersection of Monroe Ave. and Alexander Street.
In the 1830’s, there was a growing need in Rochester for more burial space. The city had been steadily increasing in population making Rochester one of the first boom towns in the country. Apparently, Rochester had a lot of firsts for the young United States of America. The growth of population and a lack of good sanitary practices within the city caused outbreaks of cholera and typhus in Rochester during this time resulting in a number of deaths. This was just one of the many reasons the city of Rochester was looking for a larger burial ground. Other reasons included the fear of possible water contamination from the overcrowded cemeteries, plus those older sites were in prime locations for industrial and commercial development.
Rochester wasn’t the only place having these of concerns with burial grounds; Europe was having them too. As early as 1711, Sir Christopher Wren of England, was advocating for burial grounds on the outskirts of town. The first landscaped cemetery was completed in 1084 in Paris and is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The first garden or rural cemetery in the United States was Mount Auburn in Massachusetts, which was finished in 1831. Mount Auburn inspired other cemeteries across America including Mount Hope in Rochester. These types of cemeteries are typically right outside of town and are landscaped. During the 19th century garden cemeteries were built not only for burials but also for public use, kind of like a park. They have winding paths, avenues lined with tress, garden plots, framed vistas, and monuments/funerary architecture. The concepts behind these new cemeteries were that nature could help overcome the reality and grief of a loved one’s death. There was also a push during this time to be outdoors and to take in the pastoral beauty of nature. The picturesque and romanticism of nature was seen not only in landscaped cemeteries but also in art during the early 19th century.
Click through the following photos for a general idea of the landscape of Mount Hope:
This is the gatehouse at the North Gate entrance of Mount Hope. It was built in 1874.
Another hill in the cemetery.
This cobble stone road is near the North Gate Entrance of the cemetery.
The building in the photo is the 1862 chapel and original crematory. The fountain was installed in 1875 and is called the “Florentine Fountain.” Both of these can be seen upon entering the cemetery via the North Gate Entrance (there is a parking lot here.)
Sylvan Waters is a geologic formation formed by glaciers and is called a “kettle.” The kettle is a natural source of water for the wildlife that call Mount Hope Cemetery home. The 196 acres that make up Mount Hope Cemetery have been declared a certified wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
This view can be seen on Grove Avenue where there are many mausoleums erected.
This view of the cemetery can be seen from Patriot Hill. I believe I’m looking over at the land in between Glen Avenue and West Avenue.
This section of the cemetery is located near the single graves and graves that had been moved from previous burial grounds. This is either looking down Pine Avenue or Buell Avenue in the cemetery.
Mount Hope was dedicated by the city of Rochester in 1838 making it one of the first municipal cemeteries in the county! The cemetery needed little landscaping because the site was already fantastically formed into the hilly, winding landscape it is because of glaciers during the last ice age. For example, Central Park in New York City is not a natural landscape- that’s all created into a park- the only natural thing about the Park is the rocky outcrops. Mount Hope did employ Silas Cornell, a landscape architect, to help layout the roads and features of the cemetery. The name for the cemetery can be attributed to William Wilson, a laborer who worked on the layout of the cemetery. In his bills that he submitted to the city for his services, William kept referring to the work as “for labor at Mount Hope.” The name was informally accepted and people just kept calling the cemetery, Mount Hope.
Most of the earlier burial grounds in Rochester were moved in 1872 to Mount Hope. There are a few of the old burials still in Rochester though, they include the sites at King’s Landing, Charlotte, and Rapids.
The following are images of monuments and tombstones that I personally thought were interesting:
The monument on the left is for Michael Filon and his wife, Sarah Van Ness Filon. Michael was a previous mayor of Rochester. The monument on the right is for Azarial Boody and his wife Ambia Corson Boody. Azariah was born in Quebec, Canada and happened to be a congressman in the United States during his life.
This gravestone for an army nurse was another stone that caught my eye, mainly because it was for an army nurse. I haven’t seen many of those.
This monument is a memorial to all the children who died in the care of the orphanage. The Rochester Orphan Asylum opened in 1837 and took in eight children who had lost their parents to the cholera epidemic ( a reason the Mount Hope Cemetery was created). The memorial especially is for the 31 people (28 children and 3 adults) who lost their lives in a 1901 fire at the orphanage.
I did not find a lot about the family buried here but their monument is very unique!
My friend Amanda pointed out these gravestones to me. It was unique that the stones had a plant connecting them.
This monument caught my eye as Amanda and I drove by it to find a parking lot in the cemetery. The quote is from Revelations 14:13 and reads: “Yea Saith, The Spirit That They May Rest From Their Labours and Their Works Do Follow Them.”
This is a monument to the Wilbur Barry Coon and his family. Coon was a shoe manufacturer during his life. This monument was commissioned from Tiffany Studios of NYC. The monument is sculpted from a slab of white granite from Bethel, Vermont because of its size, it needed a special train car to transport it from the city to Rochester.
This is the reverse side of the Coon Family Monument. The quote along the bottom reads: “The shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return unto the God who gave it.”
While researching Mount Hope, I came across a poem about the cemetery written shortly after it was established that was published in 1840 in the Knickerbocker.
The poet was Elizabeth Clementine Stedman (1810-1889). She was a contributor to both the Knickerbocker and the Blackwood’s. During the 19th century she had three books published: Felicita, A Metrical Romance (1855), Poems (1867), and Bianco Capello, A Tragedy (1873). The last book was written during her time abroad; while traveling Europe she befriended Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Elizabeth’s eldest son, Edmund Clarence Stedman, followed in her footsteps and also was a writer and a poet.
If you’re interested in seeing another example of a rural cemetery, check out my previous post about the Bayside Cemetery in Potsdam, New York:
The University of Rochester has a course where students do research on monuments and tombstones in the Mount Hope. This is a link to their website where you can search to find possible research papers on the cemetery: