“Church Steeple” by Patrick Dooley, a California artist who was just passing through town.
“Church Steeple” by Patrick Dooley, a California artist who was just passing through town.
Born in Illinois in 1878, George Hewlett came from Chicago to Skaneateles in 1913 to serve as rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church. His first wife, Mary A. Hewlett, died here in 1916 from infantile paralysis (polio) at the age of 28. Today, a plaque marks the pew that was endowed in her memory.
In 1918, the Reverend Hewlett married Catherine Warner of Skaneateles, the daughter of Helen Warner and the late Dr. Fred Warner. Catherine had not had an easy life; her father died when she was very young; her brother, Frederick, died at the age of 15 when she was just 17. Together with her mother, she grew up in the home of an elderly aunt, Mary Smith. She married, but life continued to be challenging; in 1919, her infant son died just 25 days after his birth. But in 1921, a second son, David Frederick, was born, and thrived.
In 1922, the Hewlett family left Skaneateles and St. James’ to serve other dioceses, including Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. They had a long life together; they enjoyed ocean voyages to Bermuda, England, France and Italy. When Catherine died, her body was brought to Skaneateles to rest next to that of her first son. After George’s death in 1972, in Keene, New Hampshire, his body too was returned to Skaneateles to join those of his first son and Catherine.
George and Catherine’s surviving son, David F. Hewlett, studied at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Julliard School of Music, and served as the organist and choir director at St. Mark’s (Episcopal) Church-in-the-Bouwerie, in New York City. He later moved to Martha’s Vineyard where he led the Abendmusik choir. He died in Barnstable, Massachusetts, in 2002.
In 2004, the Rev. Hewlett was portrayed in the “Skaneateles Living History” program at Lake View Cemetery by the Rev. Dr. Robert de Wetter, the present rector of St. James’.
Photographer E.L. Clark of Skaneateles took pictures of many people in this Village, and the bench with its hollyhocks was one of his favorite settings. In reading about the life of Hazel Smith, who blessed our congregation in many ways, I came across a photocopy of a newspaper reproduction of a photo of Hazel; the search for the original did not go well. Clark’s descendants, who live in California, searched through his entire collection of negatives, but could not find this photo. And then, this week, the Village Historian was reviewing a file left by a previous historian, and there it was. And here it is. The lady who gave her name to Hazel Smith Hall, as she was in her youth.
Our thanks go to the Skaneateles Historical Society for this treasure.
There are four memorials to the Loney family at St. James’, and once opened, the book on this family is hard to put down.
William Amos Loney (b. 1822) was a merchant from Baltimore who did well in dry goods and real estate. By his first wife, Ruth Ann Barker, he had a son, William (b.1849), and two daughters, Mary Loney (b.1851) and Ruth Arabella Loney (b. 1853). William’s first wife died young, and her children were raised by William and their grandmother, Elizabeth Barker.
In 1863, William Loney summered in Skaneateles, where he met Alice Louise Allen (b.1844). They were married in January of 1864. William Loney bought a small farm on Genesee Street and on the land built a 25-room summer home; the grand lawn behind the house sloped all the way to the lake.
The first Loney home, now The Athenaeum at 150 Genesee Street; the “back lawn” is today the site of Lake View Circle.
In the winters, William and Alice Loney lived in Baltimore; when William retired, they moved to the village of Pelham in Westchester County. Every summer, they lived in Skaneateles. Their marriage was blessed with four children: Alice Rebecca Loney (b.1866), Allen Donellan Loney (b.1871), Henry Edward Loney (b.1873) and Frederick Roosevelt Loney (b.1878)
Around 1873, Mary Loney, William’s eldest daughter, married Frederick Roosevelt, son of James I. Roosevelt, a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Frederick and Mary lived in New York City, summered in Skaneateles, and traveled abroad.
In January of 1879, they purchased land in Skaneateles from Henry Latrobe Roosevelt. In March, they contracted to have a summer home designed by New York City architects Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead. In the autumn of 1879, a young man named Stanford White, just back from 15 months in Europe, joined the firm as a partner, which then became McKim, Mead & White. The Roosevelts’ house, designed by William Mead, was built in pieces in New York City, shipped to Skaneateles and assembled here in 1880 and 1881; the interiors were designed by Stanford White.
The Roosevelts called their estate on the lake “Roseleigh.” It had 10 bedrooms, 4 baths, a billiard parlor, den, dining room and living room, with a fireplace in every room. It included a stable, a boat house and a generous expanse of shoreline.
Roseleigh in 1907. The lines of the home, dwarfed by additions, can still be traced today; it is the Stella Maris Retreat & Renewal Center, 130 East Genesee Street.
In 1880, the U.S. census-taker found the William Loney family at home in Skaneateles: William (age fifty-eight) and Alice (36), daughters Ruth (24) and Alice (15), sons Allen (8), Henry (6) and Frederick (2), and three servants. I imagine the three boys lined up in a pew at St. James’, trying not to fidget.
Some time after 1880, Ruth Arabella Loney, William’s second daughter, married George Bruce-Brown (b. 1844) of New York City, a widower. He was the grandson of George Bruce and Catherine Wolfe Bruce, hence an heir to the fortune of his grandfather — a printer, type manufacturer and real estate investor — and to the fortune of the Wolfe family — which included a portion of the J.P. Lorillard tobacco fortune through Catherine Lorillard Wolfe.
Also, through George’s first marriage to Virginia Greenway McKesson, he was linked to the McKesson pharmaceutical fortune. George and Virginia had two children: a daughter, Catherine Wolfe Brown (b. 1877) and a son, George McKesson Brown (b.1878). Sadly, George’s first wife, Virginia Bruce-Brown, died the year her son was born, but her name would live on in the next generation.
George and his new wife, Ruth Bruce-Brown, lived in New York City and on their estate on Long Island; they had two sons of their own, William Bruce-Brown (b.1886) and David Loney Bruce-Brown (b. 1887).
In 1890, William Loney gave his third daughter, Alice Rebecca Loney, in marriage to Mr. Harry Stephens Abbot, a Harvard man, in a ceremony at St. James’. The service was performed by the bride’s uncle, the Rev. Anthony Schuyler, and our rector, the Rev. Frank N. Westcott. Allen and Henry Loney, the bride’s brothers, were among the ushers. George and Ruth Bruce-Brown were in attendance, as was the bride’s uncle, Baltimore attorney Henry Donellan Loney. The sanctuary of St. James’ was decorated with flowers and the bridesmaids wore Gainsborough hats, the height of fashion. At the Loney home, also filled with flowers, an orchestra played for the couple’s reception.
In 1891, with his children grown up and leaving the nest, William Loney sold his house at 150 E. Genesee Street and moved with his wife Alice to a smaller house on the northeast corner of East Genesee and Leitch Avenue.
The second Loney home, 103 E. Genesee Street; today home to Bill, Corinne, Reed and John Buterbaugh of our congregation
Over the years, William Loney remained close to his first wife’s family. In 1892, he attended the wedding of Maria Elizabeth Barker, probably a niece of his first wife, Ruth Barker Loney. Also present were William’s daughters Mary (Roosevelt) and Alice (Abbot), his brother Henry D. Loney, and one “Miss Chamberlaine,” the daughter of William’s sister Maria, who we will get to know later.
In 1892, George Bruce-Brown died at the age of 48, leaving Ruth, his 39-year-old widow, with four children, including George’s daughter Catherine, who was 15 years old. At some point, Catherine caught the eye of Ruth’s half-brother, Allen Loney, and by 1895, they were married, living on Park Avenue with Catherine’s brother George, and listed in The Social Register. (And thus Allen Loney’s half-sister, Ruth Bruce-Brown, also became his stepmother-in-law.) Allen had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, traded and sold bonds, but mostly he managed his wife’s money. The interest on the principle, by itself, came to $75,000 a year.
In 1894, Harry S. Abbot and Alice Rebecca (Loney) Abbot became the parents of a daughter, Alice Louise Abbot.
In 1897, William Loney’s third son, Henry E. Loney, married Mary Hise Norton, the daughter of Eckstein Norton, a railroad president and Wall Street investor. Their wedding at Staten Island’s St. John’s Episcopal Church, with the Rev. Dr. Anthony Schuyler performing the service, was said to be the largest of the year; Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Carnegie were among the guests. The newlyweds summered in Skaneateles at the home of Mrs. T.Y. Avery (91 East Genesee Street, across the street from St. James’, later the home of Jeannette Scott of our congregation).
In 1898, William’s eldest son, William Loney Jr., died in Denver, Colorado. In 1899, William’s brother, Henry Donellan Loney, died in Baltimore.
In the fall of 1899, Henry and Mary Loney moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Perhaps Mary, who had lost a child, needed a milder climate. For whatever reason, the move did not help. Mary Norton Loney died on March 17, 1900. She was 24 years old; she and Henry had been married less than three years. Her body was brought to Lake View Cemetery in Skaneateles and interred in a tomb specially commissioned by the family. Henry Loney went to Europe, noting on his passport application that he planned to return “within two years.” (He did return and remarried quietly in 1902, to Miss Henrietta de Rivera of New York, “noted for her vivacity and for her musical talents.” They would have a daughter, Isabelle, born in 1903.)
There was some good news in 1899: a daughter, Virginia Bruce Loney, was born to Catherine and Allen Loney. The family lived in New Rochelle, New York, with eight servants, one of whom was Elise Bouteiller, a French widow with two children of her own; she had come to the United States in 1887, and had been with the Loneys for many years; now, she was Virginia’s nurse.
Elise Bouteiller and Virginia Loney, about 1902. Photo courtesy of Paula Rosal, great-great-granddaughter of Elise Bouteiller. The photo has been in her family for more than 100 years, and I am very grateful to her for sharing it with me.
The Allen Loney family, with Elise as Virginia’s constant companion, crossed the Atlantic every year, and eventually settled into a pattern: When in New York, they lived in the Gotham Hotel. In the summers, they visited Skaneateles; Virginia learned to swim in Skaneateles Lake. For most of the year they lived in England, at Guilsborough House in Northampton, the shire of spires and squires. Riding cross-country from one church steeple to another — steeplechasing — was a popular pastime, as was the hunt: pursuing a fox over a less predictable course; Allen, Catherine and Virginia Loney all rode to the hounds. Allen had a stable of 25 horses, all hunters, three of which were Virginia’s.
In 1907, Alice Louise Loney died, leaving William Loney a widower for the second time. He had now lost two wives and a son.
William’s grandson, David Loney Bruce-Brown, the younger son of Ruth, attended the Allen-Stephenson School in New York City, and then the Harstrom School in Norwalk, Connecticut, a prep school for Yale. But he was not cut out for academic pursuits. He instead showed an interest in auto racing, wrecking his mother’s Oldsmobile in 1906. It is possible that he caught the bug from his half-brother, George McKesson Brown, who that year purchased a Benz racing car and engaged a German driver, Karl Klaus Luttgen, to drive it in the Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island.
By 1907, David Bruce-Brown had his very own Oldsmobile and won a race in it, catching the eye of Emanuele Cedrino, the manager of Fiat’s New York operations, who invited the young man to Daytona the following year for the speed trials on the beach.
In 1908, Matilda Wolfe Bruce died; she was the last of George Bruce’s children and left all to her grand-nieces and nephews: Catherine Wolfe Loney (Allen’s wife), George McKesson Brown, William Bruce Brown and David Loney Bruce Brown. (In 1910, the real property in the estate was auctioned off for $2,000,000.
David Loney Bruce-Brown in his Benz, outside his home in New York City
Now fairly certain that college was irrelevant, David Bruce-Brown left prep school and made his way to New York and Emanuele Cedrino, who took him to Florida. When Ruth Bruce-Brown traced her son to Daytona Beach, she threatened the organizers with legal action. Those in charge agreed that David could stay and work as Cedrino’s mechanic but would not be allowed to drive. Which he did anyway, and promptly set a new world’s record for the flying mile. Cedrino had been right; the boy was born to go fast. His mother eventually relented, and David Bruce-Brown’s racing career began in earnest. He was a square jawed, muscular, handsome young man, and the public loved him.
David Bruce-Brown celebrates a victory
David Loney Bruce Brown and his riding mechanic, Anthony Scudellari, on a trading card enclosed with Hassan cigarettes, No. 1 in the 25-card Auto Drivers series
In 1909, he returned to Florida and set new records for the 1-mile and 10-mile runs. Also that year, he beat the legendary Ralph DePalma, who would later say that David was “one of the greatest drivers who ever-gripped a steering wheel.” In November of 1910, driving a Benz, David won his first American Grand Prize (Gran Prix), covering 415 miles in less than six hours on an open road course at Savannah, Georgia, defeating France’s Victor Hemery. The victory, in the words of the New York Times reporter, “only needed some sentimental happening like Brown’s mother rushing onto the track to kiss her victorious son’s grimy face to set the crowd perfectly wild.” And so it happened.
At the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, Bruce-Brown drove for Fiat and finished third. Again in a Fiat, he won the 1911 American Grand Prize at Savannah, his second consecutive victory. With a Grand Prize win in 1912, he could retire the trophy.
David Bruce-Brown and his riding mechanic
In October of 1912, he prepared for his third American Grand Prize. Arriving at the Wauwatosa race course near Milwaukee, eager to practice, David ignored those who urged him to put on fresh tires, and roared out in pursuit of his teammate, “Terrible Teddy” Tetzlaff. On the open course, at 90 m.p.h., David’s left rear tire burst; the car swerved into a ditch and cartwheeled; the young driver and his riding mechanic, Antonio Scudellari, were hurled into the air and landed in a field. They were rushed to the hospital, but died. David Bruce-Brown’s fellow drivers stood in the corridor outside his room and wept.
Ruth Bruce-Brown had already boarded a train in New York to travel to Wisconsin; she would arrive to learn that her son was dead. Allen and Catherine Loney got the news by telegram as they were arriving at the Carlton Hotel in London.
In the New York Times, the race’s official starter, Fred Wagner, wrote, “Every one connected with racing and many of the public at large were inexpressibly shocked over the lamentable death of David Bruce-Brown. This young driver was liked by all connected with automobiling… Mrs. Bruce-Brown will have at least one balm in her deep grief in the knowledge that her son was always a favorite and always was honest in his driving.”
An American sports writer said, “As a racing driver, Bruce-Brown was looked upon as the best, not only in America but in the entire world. Built around a rugged framework were as stout a set of muscles as any athlete of his age and height could boast of, a fact which made the racing car more or less a plaything in his hands so far as guiding it on the highway.”
And a writer in England’s The Motor added, “Bruce-Brown was typically American in his style of driving… a driver determined to get the most of it from beginning to end. But coupled with this wild dash was a consummate skill in the handling of his car, which is given to few men to possess… the extraordinary combination of wild fury and calm reasoning shown in every movement of the American driver.”
The family was plunged into mourning. Alice Louise Abbot, daughter of Harry S. and Alice Rebecca (Loney) Abbot, was to make her debut that October in New York City, introduced by her aunts, Mary Roosevelt and Ruth Bruce-Brown, but this was postponed. In December, she was formally introduced to society; in January of 1913, her engagement was announced at a luncheon at Sherry’s. The lucky lad was Clive Burlingame Meredith, a Harvard student from Cazenovia, New York. The engagement was expected to be a long one, but in October they eloped, motoring from the Abbot summer home in Skaneateles to Syracuse where they were married at the home of the Rev. Karl Schwartz, an Episcopal priest.
In 1914, William A. Loney, the family patriarch, died in Skaneateles at the age of 93. He was remembered as one of the Village’s most esteemed citizens. Funeral services were held at St. James’, and he was buried in the family plot in Lake View Cemetery.
All of the Loneys had been accustomed to sailing to and from Europe, but the war in Europe brought that pleasure to a halt. Allen Loney, being an American, could have lived the life of the country squire uninterrupted, but he instead volunteered with the American Ambulance Corps, outfitting two of his cars as ambulances to evacuate the wounded from the front. In 1915, his wife Catherine chose to return to England from New York, so that she could work in a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.
Allen was nervous about Catherine and Virginia returning to England, so he sailed to New York where he joined them, and they all sailed together for England, aboard the Lusitania. It was known as the greyhound of the seas, a fast, beautiful boat that members of the family had sailed on before. Although a Cunard liner, it was under the control of the Admiralty and being used to ferry supplies and ammunition as well as passengers. The British felt it was nonetheless a civilian vessel; the Germans felt otherwise, and ran an ad in the New York newspapers warning American (neutral) passengers not to sail on British vessels. Most people ignored the warnings as propaganda.
On the voyage, Virginia was accompanied by Elise Bouteiller. Virginia was only 14, but she was a well educated, well traveled, confident and composed young woman, probably comfortable speaking French as well as English. Virginia was resting in her cabin after lunch when the Lusitania was torpedoed by German submarine U-20. She rushed to the deck and found her parents. Her father, Allen, passed around lifebelts, but did not keep one for himself. As the family stood on the deck, Allen saw a lifeboat about to be lowered with just one place left. He ordered Virginia to get in; she protested, but obeyed. As the lifeboat hit the water, it capsized, throwing everyone into the water.
Few women of the day knew how to swim, but Virginia had learned in Skaneateles. The Lusitania was sinking fast; the decks, usually six stories above the water, were swiftly drawing level. Virginia looked up and saw her parents, waving. She swam farther from the boat, but the suction of the sinking vessel drew her under. When she rose to the surface again, the Lusitania was gone; her parents were gone; Elise Bouteiller was gone. In the open ocean all around her, hundreds of men, women and children were drowning. Virginia finally spotted a lifeboat that had stayed afloat, swam to it and was pulled aboard.
When the survivors were picked up, Virginia was taken to London, and then went to Guilsborough House. The author Henry James, who was serving as the Chairman of the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps at the time, wrote this of Allen Loney:
“He had been from the first one of the most ardent and active of our volunteers, friendly and devoted in every way, and sparing least of all his own splendid personal energy… He put at our disposal the passion of the born sportsman, but still beyond that an active human sympathy which rejoiced in helpful service and fellowship.”
Virginia passed a joyless 15th birthday in England, and then returned to the United States, going first to the estate of her mother’s brother, George McKesson Brown. On his passport applications and customs forms, Uncle George always listed himself as a “gentleman farmer.” His estate, West Neck Farms, was in Huntington, on the north shore of Long Island. The main house was designed by Clarence Luce and built between 1910 and 1914; it was in the style of a French chateau, with towers and 40 rooms. There was a gatehouse, servants’ quarters, a stable, a garage and a boathouse where George docked his yacht and an 18-foot high speed runabout. George collected art and fine books, was a member of two yacht clubs and the New York Horticultural Society. He awoke every day to a lovely view of the ocean.
The vista from George McKesson Brown’s main house (as seen today), with the boathouse in the foreground.
George assumed financial responsibility for his sister’s child, but her care soon shifted to Mary Bose Chamberlaine, a daughter of William Loney’s sister, Maria Loney Chamberlaine. Miss Chamberlaine had definite ideas about how a woman of Virginia’s position should be protected and prepared for her role in society, apparently not the job for Uncle George; Miss Chamberlaine was dismissive of Virginia’s four uncles and two aunts, “with none of whom she could live satisfactorily.”
Before the voyage, Virginia’s mother had drawn up a new will; Virginia received property worth $45,000, her mother’s jewelry, a $12,000 trust from a great-aunt, and an automobile. At 21, she would inherit her mother’s entire fortune, about $1,500,000, outright.
Mary Chamberlaine set up an apartment on Park Avenue, and went to court to see that Virginia’s needs were met. In her petition, in which she repeatedly referred to Virginia as “the infant,” Miss Chamberlaine asked for $25,500 yearly from the principal of her fortune to cover such items as rent ($5000), clothing ($3500), three servants and a personal maid ($1800), school, music and languages ($2500), summer vacation and travel ($2500), automobile and chauffeur ($2000), amusements, including horseback riding ($1500), and incidentals ($1000).
Miss Chamberlaine also requested her own income from the estate, explaining that she had been forced to leave her own home in Skaneateles, where she lived with her sister, and needed to outfit herself in the manner appropriate to the guardian of a young woman in society. Mary and Virginia were joined by Mary’s sister, Rebecca Chamberlaine Fabens, the widow of a Boston shipping magnate. One can only imagine what a change this was for Virginia: from riding to the hounds in England to becoming the ward of two spinsters in a Park Avenue apartment.
But not for long. In December of 1917, Virginia was engaged to Robert Howard Gamble, of Jacksonville, Florida, a naval aviator and Yale graduate. She was 16; he was 26. The two had met in Europe; they were married on April 27, 1918, at Virginia’s apartment at 840 Park Avenue, and left for Washington, D.C., and a home in Chevy Chase.
In 1921, at the age of 21, Virginia inherited $1,452,000 from her late mother’s estate. She and Gamble had two children, Robert Gamble Jr. and Catharine Gamble, but the marriage did not last.
The printed note on the back of this photo of Virginia, from the Bain News Service of New York reads, “Mrs. R.H. Gamble, N.Y. society, getting divorced, April 11, 1923″
In the spring of 1923, Virginia divorced her husband in Paris, and then returned with her children on the Aquitania. A few months later, Robert Gamble appeared in Huntington, New York, and spirited his children away to Jacksonville, Florida. Virginia reported them kidnapped. A custody agreement was eventually reached, and when Virginia married Paul Abbott, her ex-husband sent the children to the wedding. Virginia and her new husband honeymooned in Aiken, South Carolina, before returning home to Long Island. Virginia gave birth to a second son, Paul Abbott Jr., and settled into the life of a wealthy Long Island matron.
Life and death carried on for the other Loneys as well. In 1916, Frederick Roosevelt, husband of Mary Loney Roosevelt, died at home in New York City. Ruth’s son, William Bruce-Brown, whose health has been troubled for years, died in 1918 at the age of 32.
Ruth Bruce-Brown, and an unidentified boy, in her passport photograph, 1922
In 1921, the George Bruce-Brown estate on Long Island was divided into 967 lots and auctioned off for $554,850. Ruth spent her time either in New York or in Europe; in 1921, she noted on her passport application that she was to visit France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and Spain.
Also in 1921, Alice Abbot Meredith, who had divorced her husband Clive “years ago,” married Alpheus Montague Geer in the orangery of the Garden Club, Pelham Bay Park. The bride was attended by her daughter, Mary Ruth Meredith (named for her aunts, Mary and Ruth), with Frederick and Henry Loney as ushers, and Virginia (Loney) Gamble holding ribbons with other guests to form an archway. Alice’s new husband, whose wife had divorced him the previous year in Paris, was the son of the founder of the Marshall Stillman Movement to Conquer Crime. Alpheus Geer Sr. felt that boxing was the key to keeping young men engaged in sport and away from a life of crime, and he put his heart and his resources into the cause, opening athletic clubs in New York City, including one that became the legendary Stillman’s Gym. Alpheus and Alice lived in Pelham, and had two more children, Abbot Montague Geer, born in 1925, and William Loney Geer, born in 1929.
In 1927, Ruth Bruce-Brown died in New York at the age of 73.
In 1930, Henry Edward Loney died in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.
Frederick Loney, William’s youngest son, had made his way in the world as an architect and then as a mortgage broker. Frederick married late in life, to a young woman from Australia named Margery Cummings, 21 years his junior. In 1934, he died, leaving his widow and a 5-year-old son, Frederick Loney Jr.
Virginia Loney Abbott, the little girl who learned to swim at her grandfather’s summer home in Skaneateles, died on April 4, 1975, in Southampton, New York, bringing to an end a remarkable family saga.
Mary Norton Loney is remembered at St. James’ by a chalice and paten, donated in 1900, and in Skaneateles by her tomb in Lake View Cemetery, designed by architect Cass Gilbert with a beautiful bronze door by Andrew O’Connor.
Alice Louise Loney is remembered by a litany desk, donated in 1908.
Maria Elizabeth Chamberlaine, William Loney’s sister, is remembered by a brass processional cross, donated in 1911.
William Loney, who died in 1914, is remembered by a plaque on an endowed pew (#38), which also bears the name of its donor, Ruth A. Bruce-Brown.
One summer, a young photographer and painter named Harry J. Sunter (1850-1889) caught a moment of our history with his oil painting “The Great Scull Race of July 4, 1878 at Skaneateles” (also known as “Boat Race at Skaneateles, 1878″). His subject was the race itself, but there in the center of the painting is St. James’ Episcopal Church, barely five years old at the time. It is one of the earliest likenesses of our present building.
Sunter painted landscapes of scenes in central New York, and spent a summer on Block Island, off the coast of southern Rhode Island, returning with beautiful paintings of life on the ocean shore. It was said that he loved sunshine. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design and at the Pennsylvania Academy but his career was cut short when he died at the age of 39. Today, “Boat Race” is in the collection of the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery; it is in storage, but can be seen at the gallery’s website. Also, in 1995, it was used as art for the Skaneateles Antique & Classic Boat Show poster.
The boat race itself was between Charles E. Courtney, a carpenter from Union Springs, N.Y., and James Dempsey, a blacksmith from Geneva, N.Y. Courtney, who believed in training prior to rowing, easily defeated Dempsey, who arrived at the finish about a minute or so after the race was over. Courtney went on to be the National Champion in 1876, and coached the Cornell crew team from 1889 to 1916.
Before our stone church was built in 1873, and before the wood church was built in 1827, there was open shore, sloping down to the water. And on the site, Col. William J. Vredenburgh began building the first yacht to take to the waters of Skaneateles Lake. In the winter of 1811-1812, he chose trees from the surrounding forest, had them cut, and set local carpenters to preparing the timber. In the early summer of 1812, he traveled to New York City in his carriage and returned with a ship builder who drew up plans and made patterns for every detail of the boat; he also built an apparatus for steaming the planks to make them pliable. The ship was to be 40 feet long, and rigged as a sloop, with a jib and mainsail. Vredenburgh died in May of 1813 and never saw his boat completed. The unfinished hull was sold to residents of the village and finished in 1816. Named The Four Sisters for the daughters of Col. Vredenburgh, the boat was launched at last. Soon after that, the land where it was built was donated to the parish of St. James as a site for its first church.
In 1866, another boat was built on the shore behind St. James': The Ben H. Porter was a propeller driven steamboat named for one of Skaneateles’ Civil War heroes, Benjamin Horton Porter, who died at the age of 20 while storming the ramparts of a Confederate fort carrying the American flag. Porter’s namesake boat plied the lake for 10 years.
– Thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society for the loan of Sailing on Skaneateles Lake, 1812-1934, written and published by Sedgwick Smith of our congregation.