Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Ladies Aid Album #7: Julia Beecher & A New York Rose

Block # 7 New York Rose by Becky Brown
A pattern to recall the Sewing Society at the Park Church in Elmira.

Elmira, New York in the Chemung River Valley,
Finger Lakes region. Counties just north of 
Pennsylvania are called the Southern Tier.

Rudyard Kipling, visiting Elmira to see author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) who spent his summers there, described a town "surrounded by pleasant, fat little hills."

Elmira in Chemung County: the blue star in a county
too new for this map from the 1820s.

In the 1840s Elmira, New York was divided by arguments over slavery. Fifteen years before the war a group of anti-slavery Presbyterians felt the need to form a new congregation eventually called the Park Congregational Church.

Thomas K. Beecher (1824 - 1900) in the 1850s

A decade later Thomas Beecher came from Brooklyn to head the church. Beecher had just lost his young wife Olivia Day Beecher, who died at 26 probably due to pregnancy complications. Thomas himself was not well, suffering from some chronic disorder. One reason for choosing Elmira was that it was home to Gleason's Water Cure Sanitarium. He took up residence.

Gleason's Sanitarium in the early 20th century

New York Rose by Robyn Revelle Gragg

Frances Juliana Jones Beecher (1826-1905), called Julia,
 known as the Belle of Bridgeport, Connecticut

Thomas shared his grief over Livy's death with her cousin and close friend Julia Jones. After four years they wed. The young couple were New England aristocracy (New England's rather austere aristocracy). Thomas was son of renowned minister Lyman Beecher and half-brother to famed Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher and Catherine Beecher. Julia's maternal grandfather was dictionary author Noah Webster.

Julia and Thomas lived on East Hill

Later in life Julia raised money for her charitable causes with her
 Missionary Rag Babies, hand-made dolls sold by the Park Church sewing circle.

The first Park Church

A friend described Julia as a woman "who plunged into life," and she became a full-fledged partner in her husband's job as small town minister. The Park Church Sewing Society was in place when the Beechers took over, but Julia had a strong influence upon the charitable group over the next fifty years.

Lyman Beecher with his children, Thomas at top left.
All the men became ministers.

New York Rose by Denniele Bohannon

Thomas was a charismatic person, witty enough to become close friend to Sam Clemens. He enjoyed science, mechanics and games (his Brooklyn church members never got over the fact that he suggested a bowling alley in the church basement.) However, like many of the Beechers, he suffered from depressions and Thomas and Julia's marital happiness was the subject of friends' speculation. When asked once how he was doing he replied: "As well as possible when hitched to a steam engine."

Sam Clemens enjoyed writing to both of them (and about them.) See a link to Bridget Reddick's thesis about their marriage: Hitched to a Steam Engine below.

Sam Clemens and Elmira friend Charley Langdon.
Museum of the City of New York.
Charley brought Sam to Elmira where he fell in love
with Charley's sister.

 New York sampler dated 1860 made in Elmira
Collection of the Chemung County Historical Society.

Mr & Mrs. W. J. Smith.
Their Elmira FRIENDS.

Lake Street, Elmira in 1860

Organizations like the Park Church Sewing Society became branches of the Sanitary Commission, supplying clothing and bedding during the war. In spring, 1864 the Elmira group asked neighbors in the Finger Lakes region to donate items for a Southern Tier Fair to be held at the new Presbyterian Church on Lake Street. Thomas was on the committee and we can be sure Julia was involved too. The chair was Jervis Langdon, the "richest man in Elmira," whose daughter Olivia married Sam Clemens after the war. 
"Contributions from any quarter, and of anything that can be converted into money, will be thankfully received."
The church was decorated in standard fashion 
festooned with evergreens and dried foliage. This view
is of New York City's Sanitary Fair the same year.

The Southern Tier Fair opened on March 14th for a week's worth of fundraising. 

Four days later the new church caught fire while the hall was preparing to open for evening festivities. Boys lighting the gas lights accidentally ignited the evergreen hangings. The building was gutted; the exhibits were lost but only two people were killed, 16-year-old Fred Hart and 64-year-old Maxcy Manning Converse, who had run back into the fire to rescue people. Several other men were injured in rescue efforts.

The Elmira Fair was a disaster, long remembered in Elmira history. The Beechers are remembered too.

Sculptor Jonathan Scott Hartley cast a memorial to Thomas Beecher that stands in front of the second
Park Church, as eclectic as the Beechers were. Hartley also did a memorial to Julia (a drinking fountain.)

The Block
New York Rose

New Yorkers favored a blue and white color scheme for
their fancy repeat block quilts.

Most traditional applique patterns are based on a rotation of eight units. The usual format is a central image with four north/south units balanced by four diagonal units. That 4 + 4 design fills up a square block better than 8 rotating motifs.

But you might add things to fill the corners.

From the Smith's 1860 Elmira quilt
signed by Kezia Y. Flint (1839-1878.)
She soon went west marrying Reverend Charles Hopkin Brace.

National Museum of American History

Two blocks based on 8 rotating arms from Mary Hill's 1847
sampler from Maltaville in Saratoga County.
Common New York solution to how to fill the corners,
this one from an online auction.

Sharon Waddell who collects New York Quilts has called the
image a New York Rose, the perfect name for Block #8 our Ladies Aid Sampler.

The simpler block is in the border corners.

New York Rose by Barbara Schaffer

Further Reading

"Hitched to a Steam Engine": Marriage and Crises of Gender at Park Church in Nineteenth-Century Elmira, New York by Bridget Louise Reddick: 

Block in a sampler made for Benoni Pearce of Dutchess County,
1850. National Museum of American History.

Bettina Havig is doing 10" blocks.

1 comment:

Bonni said...

This is one of my favorite blocks.