Friday, November 25, 2016

Welcome Back!

Hello again! After some time off I was encouraged by some very excellent people, our archivist Steve Czarniecki and his wife Kathleen, to continue. As I write the museum is closed for the winter - with the exception of Dickens festival weekend (December 3-4th 2016) - and will reopen Memorial Day weekend. General rule of thumb for the museum is that we open Memorial Day weekend and usually close around the second weekend in October and the following week is our annual country auction. Of course one can always keep up with the museum at the Historical Society webpage for exact dates and times: http://portjeffhistorical.org/
I have decided since the museum is closed to recap some of this past season with our annual display, the auction and a fan favorite: The Best of the Wurst! 
The annual exhibit this year was "Hats off to Port Jefferson." I will not lie, when I heard about this exhibit last year I was not sure what to think. What the heck could I talk about with hats? Ok, granted, as a docent I would have been talking it up with the first few rooms and this would be a great place to allow our guests to just take in the exhibits and for me to just shut up. There is a lot to see and the room itself is more than just the exhibit. Needless to say I was worried that I was not up to the task for this exhibit. The season opens and WOW! I am not a big hat connoisseur but this was one impressive display. I fear that the few pictures here can not do the display justice at all. Bravo to Laura Warren, Kathleen Cash and an array of brilliant volunteers for an amazing display. And that is a mark of a great display: to take something that one may not be interested in and just wow them. 

Above the mantle, which is directly in front of one when one enters the room, were these cut outs wearing actual hats. The effect was amazing. Right off the bat I was intrigued as these hats came to life. There was also a wide range of hats and hats for occasions that I was not thinking about. A military helmet for example. That is a hat! A very cool hat! 

A WWI German helmet - aka the Pickelhaube - brought back from the war. Oh and what about fire and police hats?
There was even a Custodian Helmet! The hat display had suddenly taken on a new dimension. But there was one hat that beat them all, yes even the Pickelhaube!
Meet the full-bird hat! There is even a children's book about this - I shall get to that later. Women's hat fashion evolved over the years. It started with a feather, then the two feather hat but not to be upstaged by the three feather hat. In a dramatic fashion of one-upping came the wings hat and then we arrive at the full bird hat by the late nineteenth century. Victorian women loved these hats so much that millions of birds were sacrificed for this odd and macabre fashion. Birds were becoming extinct and, seeing as the bird must have the most resplendent feathers they had to be taken during mating season, they left behind orphaned baby birds. Herons, hummingbirds, owls, pheasant (as shown above) anything with brilliant plumage was on the chopping block. Bird lovers - aka ornithologists - were appalled. Finally members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society pushed for the first federal-level conservation legislation with the Lacey Act of 1900. State-level Audubon Societies were created and eventually the National Audubon Society which still works tirelessly to protect our feathered friends or as I like to call them - the surviving dinosaurs. The book is entitled She is Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! by Kathryn Lasky and it retells the story of the full bird hat, the efforts to end the trade and finally the creation of the National Audubon Society. 
I shall take up the auction and the Wurst in a few days in another post. Until then enjoy some more hats from our amazing display. Next years display? Not sure if I should divulge that just yet. But what I can say is that it will be epic! 




Monday, August 3, 2015

Victorian Parlor

After checking out the exterior of the Mather House let us now venture in. One would enter the front door, turn left in the foyer and enter the parlor. This is the formal room of the house where guests would be received and entertained. Some houses had two parlors: one for  acquaintances and lesser known persons while the other parlor was for close friends and relatives. The parlor would be where the family would showcase their tastes and social status. It would  be cluttered with novelties, statues, tea pots, dried flowers, you name it. If it reflected the families taste and status then it would be displayed. The tone and scope of the room was determined by the woman of the house. The parlor was also where the family would meet during the evenings and play games, talk or listen to music and that is what we have tried to recreate here in the Mather family parlor. We do not have any of the original Mather pieces in the parlor. However, we did recreate a parlor of the time with mid to late Victorian furniture and art. The windows and floors are all original to the house. This part of the house was built in 1860 but the back part of the house, exhibit room and kitchen, was built in 1840 so the parlor is the "new" part of the house.

The above two pictures gives one an overall idea of the Mather parlor. I will be posting additional photos starting with what I call the entertainment center which is just out of shot on the left in the top picture and I will go around the room ending just out of shot to the right of the bottom picture where there is the door which leads to the library which I will discuss in the next post. One thing one has to know if one is planning on visiting the Mather House: there is a lot to take in. Do not expect to just pop in and take a few minutes. After the parlor we have the library, the exhibit room, the kitchen, and then the main hallway and that is not even the tip of the iceberg with all of the outer buildings. In each room and building there are a lot of artifacts. In this format and for this price one would find it hard to find another museum on Long Island like this. Another thing that I would like to point out is the table in the second picture. It is NOT a dining room table, people were not dramatically shorter back in 1840 as opposed to today. This is a great misconception and people look at the size of houses and beds as proof. This is not the best proof. Houses were built to a certain size for two reasons: cost and heating. Beds were also a certain size for cost, space and because a lot of people slept sitting up not because they were substantially shorter. Depending on which study one reads the average height for a man in 1840 was roughly 5'8" and today is roughly 5'10". Not a huge difference. The table that we see in the picture above is similar to a tea table or a pedestal table (1840) - a table for having a tea or maybe playing cards or any other light activity.

So as one walks into the parlor one would find the entertainment center to the left. To the right, and I will post the picture after this description, of the doorway one would find the Empire sideboard. The sideboard is also to the right of the doorway leading to the library to help give one an idea of the layout of the room. In the above picture we have a Mechanical Orguinette from the Mechanical Orguinette Co. This is an improved model probably dating around 1880. Earlier models had the paper feed into the orguinette and would create a loop around the orguinette as one cranked it. The improved models had the paper contained on rollers within the orguinette. The premise was simple: crank the handle and music will play. It was known as "the most wonderful music-producing instrument in the world!  It plays everything sacred, secular and popular! It is a marvel of cheapness, and the king of musical instruments!" The price ranged anywhere from $8 to $2000. To the right of this musical wonder is the stereoscope. This is the item that a lot of us knew as a View-Master - same idea in a lot of ways - but in 1861 it was known as the Holmes stereoscope. One views two identical images side-by-side, the left-eye and right-eye views of the same scene creates it as a single three dimensional image. An evening would be spent viewing a stack of cards (the images) of various locations. 
The Empire sideboard is to the right of the entrance as one walks into the parlor. In this picture that entrance is to the right of the sideboard and to the right of that is the stereoscope and Orguinette. This sideboard is circa 1860. The Empire style of sideboards was initially of a smaller size due to cost and space requirements in 1820. The one we are lucky enough to exhibit here is of a grander design - an amazing piece with clawed feet. Sitting atop the sideboard is a wonderful model of the ship St.Paul. Book-ending the sideboard are His and Hers chairs. The "his" chair is larger, has arm rests and is exquisitely carved. The "her" chair is small, plain and demure - well as much as a chair can be demure - but still an excessively elegant piece. It is a great reflection on the differences between the sexes at the time.                                                                                                    
Above the Empire sofa, which is shown in the first photo, is this beautiful oil painting of the east end of Port Jefferson Harbor simply titled "Port Jefferson Harbor" by local artist W. M. Davis. While I may not be an expert on paintings I do know what I like. I may not be able to speak intelligently about brush strokes or styles but I know how a piece makes me feel and that, after all, is what art is all about. To each viewer it can convey a different emotion or evoke nostalgia. I love this piece because while it is a great "snapshot" of the past there is so much familiar of today in it. Almost as if one can flip over the years as one does an onion skin and on each layer view Port Jefferson as it was until one reaches present day. Davis was an exceptional artist who was able to capture the heart and soul of Port Jefferson. And of course, art is always best viewed in person.                                                            


     
Moving to the corner of the room one finds a basic Victorian spindle back rocker. To the right of the rocker is an item that has found its way back to the house: The sea chest of John R. Mather which has been donated to us for display. Above the sea chest are items of curiosity under glass that ships captains have brought back from a long voyage: a tropical stuffed bird, stuffed ducklings and a wedding basket of shells. This was an era of great curiosity and scientific discoveries from Darwin to Lamarck. Many ships went on a cruise with a naturalist on board. These treasures would have supplied many a story in a similar front parlor after a captains glorious return.                                                                                            


This beautiful piece is the medicine cabinet from the schooner Palestine. I apologize for the picture but due to the placement of the piece I was not able to get a good, non-sun picture. Again, it is best viewed in person. We have a larger display of the schooner in the library. Since this cabinet could not fit in that display we have it as a stand-alone. We also have another ships cabinet in the sail loft. The schooner sunk in 1956 and yet the cabinet is wonderfully preserved. It is made of oak with leaded glass panes displaying the ships logo: shield and cross emblem.                                                                                                    

As we move around the room we come to the display case that houses Davis's paint supplies. The tools of the trade of a Victorian artist. Atop this case we have a copy of the book of his artwork put together by the Historical Society. To the right of the display case is a chair and table - better viewed in the first picture of this blog - which Davis himself had made. This was his painting chair that he used when he was hard at work at his easel. In that same first picture one can see an R. S. Williams parlor organ with Davis paintings book-ending it on the wall.
Again I apologize for the quality, or lack thereof, of the photos, camera phone, but as I have stated before if one does not like them then one can always come on down and see for oneself! The painting on the top is of a schooner - a typical sight in the harbor. The painting below is titled "Harbor Light, Bridgeport, Conn." A familiar sight to Davis and Port Jeffersonian's at the time as much as it is today as well as a familiar sight for all our wonderful visitors from Connecticut.                                                                                                          


Moving to the paintings to the right of the organ we find one titled "Sharpie Race on Port Jefferson Harbor," by Davis. Port Jefferson was a racing town. Yacht races became popular in Port in the 1880's and these light craft sharpies provided residents with many exciting afternoons. Below this is a painting of the "Liars Club." There is no solid information on this club in Port aside from this unique painting. There were other clubs at the time in other locations in the United States. What the club would do is plug a watermelon with vodka or another festive spirit and the gather around and take turns telling the most believable lie. This is in the spirit of the great Mark Twain. We are, after all, the land of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink and Johnny Appleseed. Americans were born with a tall-tale on their lips. Some clubs would have prizes but the most coveted prize would be the prestige and honor of being the King of the Liars. All in all a very American club. After all, would we lie?                                                                                 

Next we come to the beautiful, and original, fireplace. If the kitchen is the heart of the house then the fireplace is the soul where we stoke the passionate fires within. As with all of the fireplaces in the house it is a shared chimney. On the other side of this is the library with its fireplace. The fireplace is black marble with an elaborate iron fire screen. On the mantle are the photos of the master and mistress of the house. I will have a more detailed history of the Mather's in the future so for now an introduction will have to suffice. On the left if John R. Mather and on the right his lovely bride Sarah Jane (Wells) Mather. Together they had three children: Sarah Jane - not at all confusing - known as Sadie, Irene Willse - all we know is that she was an invalid, and John Titus. 
Whetting ones appetite for the Spinney clock collection, which I will explore in detail after all of the posts of the house, is this beautiful Tall Case Clock or grandfather clock. A beautiful piece by A. Miller of Easton Pa, with a walnut veneer. Abraham Miller was an active clock maker in Easton from ca. 1810 - ca. 1830. To the right of the clock are antique canes that we have. What is not shown is my favorite cane. An elaborate cane which belonged to John Titus, one of the few Mather items that we are lucky enough to possess. 
Finally, to the right of the door that brings us to the library are my two favorite Davis paintings. The images seem to shimmer, almost a chromatic feel. One can see the sun glistening off the water. The painting brings the viewer into the scene. I have spent many a down time gazing into these brilliant works of art. 
And this is just the parlor! Next stop the library!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The House

In this post I want to talk about the house itself and next week go inside. Just so everyone knows I took these photos with my phone so I apologize if they are not the best quality.

This is the house of John Richard Mather. And if we want to talk about the house we need to talk about the Mather's, it IS the Mather House. So who was John R. Mather and why this house? Well the short answers are because this is the only non-private historical house on the block and because Mather was one of the main shipbuilders in Port Jefferson and one of the men who put Port Jefferson on the map - it was called Drowned Meadow until 1836 when the name was changed. The name change was vital if one wants to build ships here, who would want to buy a ship built in Drowned Meadow? Sailors are only a touch superstitious. Back to Mather, incidentally the other major shipbuilder was Bayles. It may seem like Bayles was a lot more active but that is a bit of an illusion to a degree, there were simply more of them. There was the initial Bayles yard and then a brother opens another and a cousin another so there were several Bayles yards but different Bayles. They were also the last builders in Port Jefferson, when Mather sold they sold to a Bayles, so of course the last out buildings would be Bayles' buildings such as the Chandlery. NOW back to the Mather's! John R. was born to Richard and Irena Mather in 1814. Irena was the daughter of the first Port Jefferson shipbuilder, John Willse, so shipbuilding was very much in John R.'s blood. Richard died as a result of a fall from the Catherine Rogers in 1816. Irena then married Capt. William L. Jones and it was with his stepfather that John R. began as a shipbuilder. He was taught the craft by his uncle Titus Mather in Bridgeport CT and came back to work with his stepfather.

Back then the street that we now call Main Street was called Jones Street.
This was Jones street in the latter half of the 18th Century. One can see the Mather shipyard dead ahead but it was not always like that. The street ahead is West Broadway if one goes left and East Broadway if one goes right, I will just call it Broadway for our purposes. The water used to come right up to Broadway when Mather-Jones were first building and their original shipyard was around where that carriage is in the above picture. Where John R. is walking, maybe a little to the left, used to be water that ran out to the sound. They would build, put the boat in the water, float it down, there was a draw bridge that they raised and into the sound for the finishing touches. Water coming up to Broadway and water running parallel to Jones Street as well as the salt marshes one can start to see why it was called Drowned Meadow. If one goes out and about in Port today one can see the remnants of the marshes that made up most of lower Port. Stop by Town Hall and see a stream of water or by the Port Jefferson Brewery. That stream was only part of a larger network, in the Mather House we have a picture dated 1868 which shows the town from the perspective of West Broadway. Even at that late date one can see many wet, marshy places. Mather-Jones,  along with others, began a large project which resulted in a wharf, a pier (where the current Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company is) and a sea wall. This was a game changer which attracted blacksmiths, skilled workers, carpenters and a whole variety of workers. Ship yards actually employed a lot of various skilled and unskilled workers and a shipyard was a self-contained community in a lot of ways. A lot of ship yards had their own grocery stores, the Darling Grocery was, in its time, touted as being the largest grocery store outside of Brooklyn. This "fill-in" project which  created a viable waterfront sparked the golden age of Port Jefferson ship building. No longer was it considered crazy to build in Port Jefferson. Mather was one of the men responsible for this. Without Mather this could very well be a Drowned Meadow blog!

Mather married Sarah Jane Wells and they had three children: Sarah Jane (yes really) who was called "Sadie," Irene who was known as being an invalid but that is all we know, she never married and her brother, the third child, John Titus took care of her. John Titus also never married but we will talk about the kids and what they did in a future entry. So the Mather house, the original Mather house, was built in 1840. As Mather got married, his family grew, his business grew and so did his house which he doubled in size in 1860.
 This is the original 1840 front porch which is actually on the side of the house. That was a style for a while in houses. In fact if one goes to some of the older houses in the South one will find the same style. For us today this seems odd because we are so used to the front door facing the street. This was also attractive to Mather because he could see his shipyard from his front porch.
Here is a different perspective of the original 1840 house on the left and the addition of 1860 on the right. The addition changed the front door to face the street so this is a shot of the side of the house. On all my tours I take people this way. When one is inside the house one cannot tell because the room that is the original front room usually has displays blocking the front door and windows on the other side. The wrap around front porch, which is blocked in this picture by the boxwood, begins right where the addition starts.
 This is a picture of the Clock House taken from the porch. I took the above pictures of the house by the boxwood on the far right.

Moving to my left from the above picture is another view from the porch. This time taking in the amazing property and the beautiful house next door. Now we do not get a clear shot of Port but when Mather first built he had a nice view. This is also where we hold our annual Auction in October, I will let everyone know exactly when that is in the future, needless to say it is a good time!


And the amazing porch! Now matter how hot it is the porch always has a gorgeous breeze. This is a shot of the porch on the side of the house and going to the clock house.


Here is the shot of the front of the porch. Again, I love this porch. I always want to come here on days I am not working and just read.


 Finishing up our tour around the outside of the house is the front yard and . . . .

the driveway side of the house. This side has always piqued my curiosity. To the right of this picture is the back door which leads to the kitchen. And remember up to where the electric meter is located it is the 1840 house. So we have the kitchen door and the front door on the other side so what is this simple door here for? Is it a service entrance? A servants entrance? I have no blueprints to pour over and we have no knowledge one way or the other of any servants. Granted John T. was worth millions when he died in 1928 but this was part of the old house. This door would have led to the front room and been by the staircase for upstairs. It is also not a proper door either. Just a simple door. This has bugged me ever since my first day at the house!

So that is the house, well the outside at least. This is also not all of the property. Look again at the first picture. Are you surprised at the amount of property after seeing that? From that initial picture one would not expect a lot of land but wait until I do my post on the outer buildings and the gardens located in the back! Or come on down and see it for oneself! This house is one of Port Jefferson's greatest illusions. Much more than meets the eye! We live in a time when builders are trying to build over every tiny scrape of land and push house against house. It is nice to see some of the real Long Island. Also, if one is standing in the driveway facing Prospect Street, to the left is the Craft House/Consignment shop. This is another 1840 house that was originally located where the Gap is now and was moved in 1976. I will dedicate a separate entry for that house but it is a great contrast having the two houses side by side. A regular working mans house and the shipbuilders house. Next entry: Into the house and the Mather story continued!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Welcome to the Mather Museum Complex


Hello! I would like to present the Mather Museum Complex. It looks just like a regular house right? Well it is and that is part of its charm but it is so much more than that and in this blog we will explore all that this amazing museum has to offer. However, before we get to any of that I think some introductions are in order. My name is Phil and I am a docent at the Mather Museum and I will admit, extremely biased! I have been lucky enough to be involved with this museum since 2009. It is here that I would like to point out that this blog is my own personal one, any views expressed here are mine and may or may not be those of the Port Jefferson Historical Society. Therefore, if there is anything that one reads in this blog that one disagrees with or if something upsets one then contact me and not the Society.  Moving on, I received my masters in education in Social Studies in 2007 and found that I was over qualified to teach in the high schools and junior highs or rather my price tag was too high to be considered. In the spring of 2009 I was looking to get into some museum work so I did a search of all the museums on Long Island. I tried the ones that were considered the "big ones" like the Vanderbilt, the Stony Brook Carriage Museum - or the Long Island Museum - and the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. All great places which I encourage everyone to visit but also places that did not need anyone at that time. On the list was a local museum, The Mather Museum, of course my first thought was the Mather Hospital and a hospital museum did not excite me all that much. I contacted and met the secretary, Denice, an amazing woman who helps keep the museum running smooth. Denice got me in touch with the curator, Laura Warren, and I have been in love with the house since that first tour. Since that time I have met and worked with some of the most dedicated and wonderful people I could ever hope to meet. These are people who understand what it means to be apart of a community and who do everything they can to preserve its history and ensure a future. Port Jefferson itself is a special town. Yes we can get busy with tourists, whom we love, but if one just slows down and takes a stroll down East Main Street and talks with some of the wonderful residents then one will see what I mean. It is a town that cherishes its history. What better place could a historian ask for?




Laura also gave me an amazing opportunity. On my inaugural tour Laura mentioned that the Society has in their possession copies of letters from two brothers written to one another and home during the American Civil War. She also expressed that one of her deepest wishes was that they would be transcribed. A young historian just starting out does not get many opportunities such as this. I know I did not want to appear overly anxious to help her fulfill this wish and I am sure I came off more anxious that I hoped to be. Thus my journey with the letters of the Platt brothers began on July 4, 2009. Just because I love history does not mean I cannot be dramatic and what better way to celebrate the birth of the nation than by perusing Civil War letters? The brothers William and Jesse Platt came from Huntington NY and after the war William became a Port Jeffersonian. I did more than just transcribe and after three years the fruit of my labor was a book entitled I Now Take Up My Pen. I will talk about the letters in the future and the book can be purchased for $25 by contacting the Historical Society. Neither I nor the Society have made a dime from this though. All of the money goes to print more books and a portion of the books published get donated to schools and libraries so order today and help us share this amazing piece of history!

In the next post I will get more into the history of the house. Right now I wanted to touch on what else there is that we offer. We have the first floor of this gorgeous house which was originally built in 1840 with an addition in 1860, we have an amazing and unique clock collection, the Spinney Clock Collection, with 200 antique clocks maintained by one of the best clock guilds around, we have lovely grounds maintained by the Suwasset Garden Club and Kunz Greenhouses, and our outer buildings which are original to the house. The outer buildings consist of: The Tool Shed - a lot more interesting than it sounds - a carriage House, an upper barn that once housed the Mather's harness racing equipment and which was brilliantly turned into a barber shop, the first Port Jefferson Post Office and a General Store. Then we move to what I end up calling the lower barn but which we officially call the Marine Barn & Sail Loft - it is here that one can really see the beauty and extent of the property and where just last week I came across two doe feeding - we then wrap up the outer buildings with a shed of farm equipment, chair caning and the belle of the ball our two-seater outhouse. We recently were able to construct an archive building that looks like an ice house. The final building on the property is another 1840 house which we call the Craft House. The Craft House is also where one can find our Museum Shop which is open when the museum is open and again I am biased but this shop is an antique secret and there are some very exciting finds.


And that is the property! Most tours last for about a half of an hour to forty-five minutes, mine go a bit longer because I am detail oriented and have a lot of the history to share. I also have never had a tour where the people I have toured were not shocked and surprised by the scope of the museum. Not only in the size of the property but the extent of the artifacts as well as the uniqueness of said artifacts. We have a lot and it is a lot to take in. Another great part of this museum is the price. We accept donations, one does not have to purchase anything. We would appreciate it if people did give something in order to keep the museum up and running and in order to expand our services to the community. Look around at the prices for other museums. In the end most people are so impressed with what we offer that they always give what they can.


I will explore in depth various aspects of the museum and the Society in the future. If you like what you have read so far then come on down and take a tour. Personally I am there on Fridays and Sundays but any day you go I guarantee that one will be pleasantly surprised. Tour the house, have a nice lunch in Port, check out the Port Jefferson Recreation Department and then watch the ferry's come in from the Harborfront Park Pier.