Monday, September 26, 2016

Charles A. Jackson, first caretaker of the Museum

Charles A. Jackson with two "young friends" in 1971
Chicago Tribune photo by Harold Revoir

As Glessner House Museum continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary during 2016, we take a moment to remember the first caretaker of the museum, Charles A. Jackson.  Although Jackson was several years older than the house itself, he served as an able and well-respected watchman for a period of time after the house was rescued from demolition in 1966.

Jackson was born in Mobile, Alabama on June 6, 1880 (7-1/2 years before Glessner house was completed).  As a young man, he travelled extensively, working in the kitchen on ships owned by an Alabama-based shipping firm.  Following World War I, he made his way to Chicago, during the early years of the Great Migration, when more than 6 million African-Americans relocated from the rural South to the northern part of the United States. 

He settled in the Prairie Avenue neighborhood, during the period when the Glessners were still in residence in their home.  In the mid-1950s, he was hired as the caretaker for the Lithographic Technical Foundation, which at that time owned and occupied the Glessner house.  He rented a room two doors to the south, in the former Wheeler mansion at 1812 S. Prairie Avenue, which had been converted to a boarding house years earlier.

1812 S. Prairie Avenue (far left) in the mid-1950s; Glessner House at right
Photo by Jack Simmerling

When the Foundation (by that point renamed the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation) relocated to Pittsburgh in 1965, Jackson remained as the caretaker for the Glessner house, admitting our museum founders during 1965 and 1966 when they held meetings in the library to plan how to purchase and save the house. 

Charles A. Jackson sitting on the porch of 1808 S. Prairie Avenue in 1965
Photo by Jack Simmerling

In 1967, Jackson had moved into the basement of Glessner house when the two houses at 1808 and 18012 S. Prairie Avenue were seriously damaged by fire.  (The two buildings were razed in 1968).  Jackson occupied the front room of the basement, previously the coachmen’s waiting room, and today occupied by our Visitor’s Center.  One of the museum founders, Marian Despres, in her twenty year history of the house, noted the following about him:

“By March 1967, Charles Jackson, who had been hired as a watchman, had moved into the basement of Glessner House.  He knew everyone in the neighborhood and as long as he was there, there were no further break-ins. . . The only problem that arose during his tenancy was that sometimes, when a distinguished visitor was being entertained in the library, the aroma of cabbage and onions would waft up through the registers to mix with the brandy and cigar atmosphere of the House.”

Jackson became such a well-known fixture in the neighborhood, always sitting in the doorway of the house when the weather was good, that he became the subject of an article in the Chicago Tribune on August 1, 1971.  Entitled “Glessner’s Caretaker, 91, Basks in Glow of Memory,” the article included a quote from the Executive Director, Jeanette Fields:

“Our caretaker is kind of a legend around here . . . He’s really a grandfatherly type, altho he has no children of his own. . . Mr. Jackson has been a great influence on the children in the neighborhood.  He’s always eager to help them earn money by doing things for him and encourages them to do what’s right.”

It appears that Jackson was quite a good story teller.  Despres noted that he claimed to have been a drummer boy in the Civil War, but given that he was born 15 years after the war had ended, that was easily disproven.  However, in the 1971 Tribune article, Jackson also claimed to have played a part in the history of aviation.  He noted that he designed and built a propeller for an early airplane for Mobile resident John Fowler, a watch repairman and part-time preacher.  Jackson noted:

“Mr. Fowler was a preacher and he used to preach up and down the streets of Mobile, and I would follow him around.  One day I heard him say he was going to build an ‘air ship’ and fly it over Mobile Bay.”

After helping Fowler build a shed and the body of the plane from lumber, Jackson recalled watching the airplane take flight and travel 28 miles across Mobile Bay.  That was in the early 1890s, a full decade before the Wright brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903.  In 1966, Jackson wrote a letter to the editor of a Mobile newspaper seeking recognition for Fowler and his contributions in the field of aviation.  He received several letters from various Mobile residents who confirmed they had either seen the flight or heard of Fowler and his invention.

The story of John Fowler is well-known, although his exact accomplishments are subject to debate.  He did build three “flying machines” and charged an admission fee for residents to see them.  It appears what he designed may have been more appropriately termed gliders that could take flight in strong winds.  One of the Wright brothers supposedly did visit Fowler around 1900 to study his wing design. 

Exactly what role Charles A. Jackson played in Fowler’s experimental designs is ultimately unknown.   But what we do know is that Jackson was a much beloved institution at Glessner house for many years, delighting countless young people with his stories of the old days, no doubt hoping his tales would inspire the children to “do what’s right” and live their dreams.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Brief History of the Humble Window Screen

The light bulb, the telephone, the automobile, and the phonograph are all ranked among the greatest inventions of the 19th century.  But what about the humble and often overlooked window screen?  Prior to its introduction during the Civil War, hot weather meant either keeping the windows and doors of a house closed, or opening them and subjecting the occupants to wasps, flies, mosquitoes, and a range of potentially infectious diseases.   In this article, we will briefly explore the history of the window screen, and then look at how they were used at the home of John and Frances Glessner.

Cheesecloth was sometimes used to cover windows as a way to keep out insects.  Being loosely woven, it allowed air to circulate, but it was easily torn, soiled quickly, and limited the visibility from inside.  Advertisements for wire window screens started to appear in the 1820s and 1830s, but the idea didn’t take off.  It was the onset of the Civil War that made window screens a household word (and necessity).

Gilbert and Bennett factory (destroyed by fire in 1874)

Gilbert and Bennett, a Connecticut based company that made sieves, is generally credited with the invention of the modern window screen.  The company’s business suffered during the Civil War, as they could no longer sell their products in the Southern states.  An enterprising employee had an idea that changed history – paint the wire cloth to prevent it from rusting, and sell it for use as window screens.  The idea took off, and the company made the production of wire cloth a major part of its business.  Homeowners would purchase the wire cloth and then nail it to wooden window and door frames they constructed.  The firm later introduced steel wire, which did not rust.

The firm of Bayley and McCluskey filed a patent in 1868 for screened windows on railroad cars, which helped to prevent sparks, cinders, and dust from entering the passenger compartments.   Screens were first advertised in the Chicago Tribune in May 1869, the advertisement reading in part:

“The annoyances of spring and summer, such as flies, mosquitoes, dust, etc., can be obviated by using the wire window screens manufactured by Evans & Co., No. 201 Lake street.  These can be obtained at fifteen to fifty cents a foot.”

Window screens not only made houses more comfortable, they also had a direct impact on health, as they kept disease-carrying insects out of homes.  Over time, the incidents of these diseases declined dramatically.  This aspect of window screens was considered so important that the Boy Scouts and other volunteer organizations would help communities install and maintain screens.

As was the case with window shades, artists soon saw the possibilities of window screens, which were basically canvases with holes in them.  Screens were painted on the outside, normally with landscape scenes, leaving the holes unobstructed.  In addition to being decorative, the screens were practical as well.  From the outside, the painted scenes blocked the view inside the house, providing a level of privacy.

Painted screen, National Museum of American History
Click here for more images from their collection

Painted window screens became extraordinarily popular in Baltimore, after a Czech immigrant named William Oktavec painted a screen to advertise produce in his store in 1913.  He was soon asked to paint screens for homes, and other artists jumped on the bandwagon.  It is estimated that there were 100,000 painted screens in Baltimore at its peak, many adorning the row houses with windows at sidewalk level, where privacy was most desired.  The screens are considered a Baltimore folk art and are still produced today, and a collection is displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum in that city.  There is even The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore, formed to preserve and encourage the art form.

The building specifications prepared by H. H. Richardson for Glessner house specifically include window screens:

“Finish and put up to all the outside doors and windows, the best patent wire screens, to have steel frames and hardwood runs, except one window over main stairs on 18th St., one in library, one in Parlor, two in dining room and one in upper hall.  The window screens will be on the outside.  The doors will be made of 1 ¼” clear pine stock.”

Male servants' door at right, with screen door, 1923

It is interesting to note that the specifications call for the screens to be on the outside – an indication that screens were far from being universal at the time, so the contractors needed to be given extra instruction.  One will also note that screens were not put on every window in the house – the specifications list six windows that would not have screens, in each case in rooms where there were multiple windows.  

This bit of information relates directly to instructions written by Frances Glessner in 1901 for the servants who were to remain in the house during the summer.  She noted:

“When the weather is warm, open the windows and doors to court yard early in the morning and at about six in the evening – open only doors and windows which have wire screens.  Keep all closed from 9 o’clock in the morning until six in the evening.”

Screen door for the Prairie Avenue door, in storage in the basement.
Note the custom made wall brackets to hold the door.

The screens for the Glessner house were manufactured by E. T. Burrowes & Co. of Portland, Maine, the largest manufacturer of window screens in the late 19th century.  They were sold locally through Robinson & Bishop, the western managers for the company, with offices at No. 1202 Chamber of Commerce Building.  In October 1893, the firm won the top award at the World’s Columbian Exposition for their production of wire window screens and screen doors. 

The company noted that “our screens are in use in the best dwellings in every city in the United States,” listing the homes of Thomas A. Edison, P. T. Barnum, General P. H. Sheridan, George Westinghouse Jr., and Grover Cleveland in their advertisements.

In the early 1890s, the company published a 12-page booklet listing the names of hundreds of Chicago area residents who used Burrowes window screens in their homes.  Listed were many Prairie Avenue residents including George Pullman, Joseph Sears, Philip Armour, and William Hibbard.  The booklet was illustrated with photographs of thirty houses, including the “Residence of Hon. Robert T. Lincoln (U.S. Minister to England)” which adorned the cover. 

The Glessner house was illustrated as were several other prominent South Side residences.

2720 S. Prairie Avenue (demolished)

2904 S. Prairie Avenue (demolished)

2838 S. Michigan Avenue (demolished)

1826 S. Michigan Avenue (demolished)

Next time you open your window on a warm summer day, without the worry of a mosquito flying in, take a moment to recall the interesting history of one of the most useful and practical items ever invented to keep our homes safe and comfortable.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ada Small Moore, Art Collector

In our last two articles, we have discussed Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, organized in 1894.  This week, we look at one of the most fascinating members of the class – Ada Small Moore.

Ada Moore (center) with Reading Class members
Alice Hyde (left) and Julia Herrick (right), May 5, 1902

In her journal, Frances Glessner recorded the last meeting on May 5, 1902 before the class broke for the summer season.  This was the class at which the iconic photo was taken.  In the journal, she noted “Mrs. Wm. Moore was here.”  This was a reference to Ada (Small) Moore who had moved to New York City in 1900, but was visiting Chicago, and therefore able to join the class that morning.

Ada Waterman Small was born in Galena, Illinois on August 17, 1858 to Edward A. and Mary C. (Roberts) Small.  Her parents were both born in Maine, and moved to Galena shortly after their  1852 marriage, where Edward entered into business.  In 1857, he entered the law office of the Hon. Wellington Weigley as a law student, and was admitted to the bar a year later.  He formed a partnership with Weigley, and then continuing his own private practice until 1869 when he moved his family to Chicago. 

In October 1875, Ada Small was married to William H. Moore, an attorney who had joined her father’s law firm three years earlier.  He was ten years her senior.  Edward Small died in 1882 at his residence, 1910 S. Indiana Avenue, and Moore then formed a law partnership with his brother James, who in turn, married Ada’s sister.  The William H. Moores took up residence at 3625 Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive), later moving to 2922 S. Michigan Avenue.

William H. Moore, often called Judge Moore, became an extremely successful attorney, financier, and corporate organizer.  He organized and sat as a director for several steel companies that merged to create United States Steel.  With his brother, he organized numerous companies including Diamond Match Company, National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco), the American Can Company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, and several railroads.  He was also known as an expert horseman.

In 1900, the Moores moved from Chicago to New York City, purchasing the home then under construction at 4 East 54th Street.  The house had been commissioned in 1898 by William Earle Dodge Stokes and was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White.  However, Stokes marriage was quickly failing and in December 1899 he sold the partially completed house to William and Ada Moore for $325,000.  In reporting the sale, the New York Times stated that the house “may safely be classed as one of the finest private dwellings in the city.”

The house lived up to the description.  Standing five stories tall and three bays wide, it was clad in white marble and designed in the Italian Renaissance style, complete with a balcony extending across the second floor, and a balustrade at the roof level.  The rusticated ground floor was set behind a marble and wrought iron fence.  The interior featured elaborate stained glass, inlaid floors, cast plaster ceilings, and a five-story winding marble staircase.  (Later history:  The house was listed on the National Register in 1972 and is a rare survivor of the residential prominence of 5th Avenue.  It was purchased by the present owner, Banco Di Napoli, in 1993 for $12.8 million and extensively renovated).

The Moores hosted lavish dinner parties for opera stars and the elite of New York City, and Ada Moore filled the house with Asian antiques.  She became well known as a fine and decorative art collector with her collecting interests including painting by Peter Paul Rubens and John Singer Sargent; Chinese bronzes, paintings, jades, and porcelains; Roman and early Christian glass; Persian miniatures and textiles; Luristan bronzes; Japanese woodcuts; and French furniture.

Rockmarge (above), stables (below)

In 1901, the Moores commissioned the Boston architects Herbert Brown and Arthur Little to undertake a major remodeling of the 1870s E. V. R. Thayer House in the Georgian style.   The remodeled house, set within the stretch of homes in Beverly, Massachusetts known as Prides Crossing or “the Prides” was named “Rockmarge” and was a full sporting estate, to accommodate Moore’s interest in horses.   The home was frequently the site of local charity events, and the extensive gardens were open to the public.  For more information on Rockmarge, visit

Ada Small was deeply interest in archaeological excavations in both Iran and Greece.  She donated a scientific library to the American College in Teheran, Iran and received the Order of Elim, First Class.  She was also made an honorary member of the community of Corinth, Greece, funding the museum there, and received the Greek Golden Cross of Saviour’s Regiment. 

She frequently loaned items from her collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University for exhibition, many of the items later donated as gifts and bequests.  The Chinese and Japanese collections at the Yale University Art Gallery were built through her gifts.  She donated cylinders and other ancient Oriental seals to the Morgan Library.  She also presented the Library of Congress with a set of 46 Chinese paintings depicting tilling and weaving, executed in the 17th century.

Deeply proud of her ancestral heritage, she was a member of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Society of Colonial Dames, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  She was also a member of the Society of Women Geographers.

William Moore died in 1923, and Ada continued to travel extensively throughout Europe and Asia, collecting many of the objects she later donated to museums.  She lived in the family’s New York home until her death in January 1955 at the age of 96. 

Prominent descendants of the Moores include their son Paul Moore, Sr., founder of Republic Aviator; grandsons the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr. and Bankers Trust chairman William Moore; and great-grandson poet and author Honor Moore.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Monday Morning Reading Class, Part 2

The photograph of Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, taken by her son George on May 5, 1902, is one of the most iconic images of Glessner House.  Thousands of visitors see the image each year, as a copy is on display in the library where the class took place.  It has also been reproduced in various articles and publications about Frances Glessner and her home.

But there have been a few fundamental problems with the interpretation of the photo.  For one, the image is interpreted primarily as a group photo, with little thought given to the individuals within the class.  Secondly, when the women are described, they are usually identified with respect to their husbands. For example, one will learn that several of the women were the wives of professors at the University of Chicago.  While this is true, it minimizes the women under the umbrella of their husbands and their husbands’ profession.  Given Frances Glessner’s propensity for surrounding herself with people of cultural, artistic, and musical backgrounds and interests, it would seem that she in fact gave very careful thought to the women whom she invited to be members of the class.  Mrs. X would not be selected simply because she was the wife of Mr. X, but rather because she would contribute to the intellectual and social structure of the class. 

This led to a journey to discover the identity of the 34 women who are pictured.  Social convention of the time made the journey a bit more difficult.  On the one copy of the photo on which Frances Glessner identified all the ladies, she refers to them simply as Mrs. Clarke, Mrs. Perry, etc. with no first names.  Additionally, the annual roster of the class she prepared only gives the initials, or occasionally the first name, of the husband.  By consulting the 1902 Blue Book of Chicago and the 1905 Book of Chicagoans (with some additional help from, we have, at long last, been able to give names to the faces we have so long gazed upon.

The roster for the 1901-1902 class year indicates that there were 64 members of the class, so just over half of those women were in attendance for the final class before it disbanded for the summer.  It also happened to be the last class with Miss Anne E. Trimingham as reader, as she had earlier announced her retirement.  Louise Goldsmith, one of the two sisters of Miss Trimingham who were members of the class, prepared and read a history of the class from the time of its founding in 1894.

Frances Glessner identified the women beginning with the ladies standing on the porch from left to right, then right to left for the middle row, and finally left to right again for the women seated in the front row.  (See key below).   For purposes of this article, the women are listed with their husband’s full name first, followed by their own name, including maiden name, in parentheses. 

1 – Mrs. William R. Linn (Nellie B. Butler)
2 – Mrs. William R. Stirling (Alice I. Hibbard)
3 – Miss Helen Macbeth
4 – Mrs. Henry L. Frank (Henrietta Greenbaum)
5 – Mrs. Hugh J. McBirney (Mary Campbell)
6 – Mrs. John J. Glessner (Frances Macbeth)
7 – Mrs. William H. Colvin (Bessie Small)
8 – Miss Anne E. Trimingham, reader
9 – Mrs. Andrew R. Sheriff (Marguerite Mitchell)
10 – Mrs. Henry H. Donaldson (Julia Vaux)
11 – Mrs. Frederic I. Carpenter (Emma Cook)
12 – Mrs. Benjamin S. Terry (Mary Baldwin)
13 – Mrs. Shailer Mathews (Mary P. Elden)
14 – Mrs. Alfred L. Goldsmith (Louise Trimingham)
15 – Mrs. Frank S. Johnson (Elizabeth B. Ayer)
16 – Mrs. Frank Allport (Kate A. Ellwood)
17 – Mrs. Harry P. Judson (Rebecca A. Gilbert)
18 – Mrs. Philo A. Otis (Alice J. Sanford)
19 – Mrs. Robert B. Gregory (Addie V. Hibbard)
20 – Mrs. Secor Cunningham (Althea I. Stone)
21 – Mrs. John J. Herrick (Julia T. Dulon)
22 – Mrs. William H. Moore (Ada W. Small)
23 – Mrs. James N. Hyde (Alice L. Griswold)
24 – Mrs. Howard E. Perry (Grace Henderson)
25 – Mrs. William E. Casselberry (Lilian Hibbard)
26 – Mrs. William G. Hale (Harriet K. Swinburne)
27 – Mrs. John H. Hamline (Josephine Meade)
28 – Mrs. Carl D. Buck (Clarinda Swazey)
29 – Mrs. Blewett H. Lee (Frances Glessner)
30 – Mrs. Frederic A. Delano (Matilda A. Peabody)
31 – Mrs. Horace K. Tenney (Eleanor Favill)
32 – Mrs. William G. Hibbard, Jr. (Susan D. Follansbee)
33 – Mrs. Frank P. Wheeler (Elizabeth F. Trimingham)
34 – Mrs. Edmund A. S. Clarke (Louisa H. Ward)

There are only two single ladies in the photo – Miss Trimingham, the reader, and Helen Macbeth, the sister of Frances Glessner.  As a general rule, only married women were invited into class membership.  Additionally, residency on the South Side was a requirement, although one could remain a member of the class if they later moved to another part of the city.  Only two of the women pictured had “defected” to the north side by 1902 – one moving to Cedar Street, the other to Wellington Avenue.  (The number of north siders would increase dramatically in later years as Prairie Avenue fell into decline.)  Seven of the ladies lived in Hyde Park due to their husbands being on the faculty of the University of Chicago, but it was interesting to note the presence of three women married to physicians who were also professors at Northwestern University.

Surprisingly, one lady pictured resided in New York City, Ada Small Moore.  We shall learn more about her in our next installment.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Monday Morning Reading Class

Monday Morning Reading Class, May 1902 (Photo by George Glessner)

I began my summer project on Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class with little idea of what I would uncover. As I looked more and more into the class, I was struck by the similarities between this group of women and my college sorority. As a sorority girl who loves everything about sorority life from the sisterhood to rituals to formals, I think of the organization that brought me and my sisters together quite often. As such, while reading about the Monday Morning Reading Class through my collections project, I was struck by the similarities between this class and my sorority.

Mrs. Glessner had the first meeting of her Monday Morning Reading Classes in November of 1894 with the goal of gathering young married women from the South Side of Chicago together, including the wives of the professors of the newly opened University of Chicago. Mrs. Glessner hosted a meeting every week while she was in town, typically November through May. The class ran for two hours and involved a reading from a book (provided by a paid professional reader) or a lecture, followed by a performance from a visiting musician and lunch the first Monday of each month. It was a popular social event that was by invitation only; Mrs. Glessner created a roster of members every season that included around 90 names. The Monday Morning Reading Classes continued until Mrs. Glessner’s declining health required that the class be disbanded 1930.

Chi Omega - Tau Mu Pledge Class, 2016

It’s plain to see the similarities between the class and my sorority at first. Sororities are women-only groups, just like the Reading Class. There’s a special sacredness to women-only spaces where we don’t have to worry about the impression we make and can form bonds with those around us. Women who wouldn’t otherwise meet become close friends. It’s also a relief to have a gathering where men may be invited but are not allowed to invite themselves. In a sorority, a male visitor is permitted to speak and must leave directly afterwards. In the Reading Class, a male visitor was held strictly to their role as lecturer or musician, leaving swiftly after completing his task.

There are other small details of the Monday Morning Reading Class that match closely to sorority life. The members paid dues and went to weekly meetings, at which attendees were expected to dress a certain way, much like a sorority chapter. The class operated during the Glessners’ yearly Chicago stay, November through May, and sororities operate throughout the school year, from September to April with a break for the winter holidays. There were select people in charge of the class: the hostess, Mrs. Glessner; the reader, Miss Trimingham and later Mrs. Kennedy; and the treasurer, Mrs. Philo Otis. Similarly, sororities have their own set of directors.

The roster of Monday Morning Reading Class members changes slightly from season to season, as some members leave and others are selected. While there isn’t any record of how Mrs. Glessner selected the new members, one can assume that the names were given to her by members and friends of the class, just like sorority recommendations for recruitment. Although in this aspect, I must say that the class seems to be more exclusive than my sorority was during our recruitment process.

The small details that I found to be the most intriguing were descriptions of rituals. The Reading Class went out with a bang at the end of every season. Much like a sorority ends with a formal, the class concluded with a luncheon for all members complete with gifts and more flowers than Mrs. Glessner could handle. However, there were several journal entries by Mrs. Glessner describing elaborate rituals.

On January 13, 1901, Mrs. Glessner described a peculiar scene from the Reading Class in her journal:
I gave some tapers to some of the ladies who lighted them at the library fire—they were passed from one to the other until every one had touched them. Then they were carried out in procession to the dining room where the new lamp was lighted. The lamp stood in the centre of the dining table with a wreath of green ferns and red carnations around it. We all applauded the lighting.

There were also extra parties that hinted at some ritual aspects, such as the one described in Mrs. Glessner’s journal, held on April 25, 1904:
The day was rainy but there were sixty of the ladies at the party. Mrs. Stein stood in the hall watching for us and as soon as we stepped out of the elevator disappeared telling the ladies we had arrived. We left our cloaks in the dressing room and went in to the Fortnightly assembly room where the ladies stood in a circle at the door, Mrs. Kennedy and Miss Trimingham being without hats. The rooms were most beautifully decorated with flowers which had been sent by the ladies. The mantel was trimmed with pink snapdragons. The rest of the room seemed done with yellow and white flowers and green palms. Two large baskets of daisies, violets, hydrangeas and white lilacs stood on the rostrum and came from the University ladies. A large box of yellow jonquils came from the Hibbard sisters. The dining room had tulips all around the wainscoting and the table decoration was made in a pyramid of all sorts of spring flowers and was very beautiful. After the greetings were over twelve members of the orchestra came and played a beautiful program. Mrs. Thomas read her paper on the musician’s life and temperament. Then Kramer played, the musicians played again and after that a very pleasant tea was served. It was all most beautiful, the spirit of affection and whole tone was especially charming. I came home quite tired and headachy but never enjoyed a more beautiful afternoon in my life.

On November 20, 1904, Mrs. Glessner described a memorial service at the class for one member who committed suicide: “Monday we had a good sized meeting of the Reading Class and had a little memorial to Mrs. Donaldson, a written word to the class from me and a very pretty tribute from Miss Trimingham.” Descriptions became briefer after that; Mrs. Glessner described a couple more parties given for the Reading Class in 1907 and a memorial service for Miss Trimingham and Mrs. Smith on November 16, 1913.

Rooms were decorated in an elaborate and specific way; the description of greetings was vague and may be more ceremonial than a casual hello. This is all conjecture of course, but the combination of several parties with specific details about actions and decorations leads me to believe that these were more like ceremonies. The repeated ceremonies, such as the memorial services and the end-of-year celebrations, could be considered rituals.

Given its many sorority-like characteristics, Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class was a proto-sorority. If the Glessners had not purposefully disbanded the group due to Mrs. Glessner’s illness, I believe that the class would have gone on for much longer. Maybe they would have eventually picked out a couple of Greek letters in order to abbreviate such a long title.


Our guest author is Genevieve Leach, an Art History and Archaeology major at Washington University in St. Louis. During her summer internship at Glessner House Museum, she organized the collection of documents related to Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Richardsonian Romanesque in Washington, D.C.

During the 1880s, architect H. H. Richardson designed four residences in Washington, D.C.  Within a five year period in the mid-1920s, however, all four of these structures were demolished.  (The façade of one, built for John Glessner’s business partner, Benjamin H. Warder, was salvaged and rebuilt at a different location.)  In spite of this disregard for the importance of these buildings, Richardson’s legacy survives in our capital city through a number of prominent buildings designed by local architects in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.  In this article, we will look at three of the most significant structures, all located on the 900 block of F Street, NW.

Atlantic Building
930 F Street, NW

The oldest of the three, the Atlantic Building, was completed in 1888 and, at eight stories, was the largest commercial structure in the city at that time.  The building was constructed as a speculative office building by a group of Washington businessmen, headed by attorney Alexander Thompson Britton.  Many of the 142 offices were rented to attorneys who appreciated the convenience of being near the Patent Office and Pension Building on the next block.  The eighth floor contained two large assembly rooms which hosted numerous important meetings including one at which the National Zoo was founded.  President Benjamin Harrison’s 1890 inaugural committee used one of the rooms for their headquarters.

The architect of the building was James G. Hill.   Born in 1841, Hill headed the Office of the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 1876 to 1883.  During that period he designed or supervised numerous projects including courthouses, post offices, and other public buildings in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.  Many of these are designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, including the Old Post Office in Albany, New York, one of several Hill buildings listed on the National Register.

Photo by John McWilliams for HABS, 1990 (Library of Congress)

The Atlantic Building was among the last to be constructed with load bearing masonry walls but one of the first DC office buildings to contain a passenger elevator.  A wooden staircase wraps around a skylit stairwell, providing secondary access to the offices featuring fireplaces with wood mantels and decorative tiles.  The ground floor, originally designed with projecting show windows, was designed for retail use.

A variety of materials are used to present a highly ornamented and decorative façade.  The ground floor retail space features a cast iron façade, with Sullivanesque-style flourishes including the name “ATLANTIC BUILDING” set amidst lush foliate decoration.  The second and third floors are grouped under a series of three arches, with recessed spandrels displaying a checkerboard pattern of two contrasting stones, a device frequently used by Richardson.  

The remaining floors are faced in brick with floors four through six grouped together under arches with richly decorated recessed terra cotta spandrel panels.  

The seventh floor is simpler with smaller single story arched window openings and two groupings of clustered columns.  The eight floor, the location of the large assembly rooms, is the most simple, and is set beneath a tall parapet wall with a large decorative center panel featuring the year construction began, 1887.

Photo by John McWilliams for HABS, 1990 (Library of Congress)

The building was in poor condition when it was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1990, including photographs by John McWilliams.  It was extensively restored in recent years as part of a larger development that includes new and renovated buildings wrapping around the corner onto 10th Street, extending south to Ford’s Theatre.  It is listed as a Category III Landmark in the District of Columbia. 

National Union Building
918 F Street, NW

The National Union Building was designed by a devoted admirer of H. H. Richardson, architect Glenn Brown.  Born in 1854 in Virginia, Brown rejected the classical training he received at M.I.T. and instead chose to follow Richardson, a fellow Southerner, whose designs were “not limited and bound by rules and regulation.”  Brown spent two years as the Clerk of Works for O. W. Norcross, the firm selected by Richardson to construct many of his most important buildings (including Glessner House).  Although Brown greatly admired Richardson’s work, he did not feel that the architects who continued in the style were nearly as successful.  As noted in Brown’s 1931 Memoirs, “While all of Richardson’s work was artistic, interesting and cultured, he set a fashion in architecture that produced monstrosities throughout the country.  Not a single one of his followers produced an example worthy of notice.”  (Presumably he excluded himself from that evaluation).

Brown served for many years as secretary of the American Institute of Architects, and was largely responsible for the purchase of the Octagon House in Washington, D.C. as its national headquarters.  He also took a deep interest in the L’Enfant Plan for the city and his work in advocating the plan led to the establishment of the Senate Park Commission and their 1901 Plan for Washington.  A prolific author, he wrote the two-volume History of the U. S. Capitol in 1901-1904, and was also deeply interested in historic preservation, leading the restoration efforts at Gunston Hall and Pohick Episcopal Church, both located in Fairfax County in his native Virginia.

Among Brown’s other projects in Washington, D.C. is the Dumbarton Bridge, which carries Q Street across Rock Creek Park between Dupont Circle and Georgetown.  The bridge, completed in 1915, was inspired by a Roman aqueduct and is one of numerous projects by Brown to be listed on the National Register. 

The National Union Building was constructed in 1890 for the National Union Fire Insurance Company, which occupied the structure until after World War II.   Given the original owner, it is not surprising that the structure was constructed using a fireproof steel frame, combined with brick bearing walls.   Although the building is quite narrow, its façade measuring only 26 feet across, the use of rusticated stone and design elements spanning more than one story give it a commanding presence on the street.

The first two stories are combined under a pair of large arches set atop three pilasters with richly ornamented capitals, the center one of which features an owl set amongst the foliage.  Most noticeable is the pair of recessed spandrels featuring six-petalled flowers composed of stones in contrasting colors.  The effect is reminiscent of similar flowers seen on the façade of Richardson’s Austin Hall at Harvard, which also features the checkerboard stone patterning copied for the Atlantic Building.  

Floors three and four, set beneath a huge panel reading “NATIONAL UNION BUILDING,” are united by two-story groupings of clustered columns at either end, framing slightly bowed ribbon windows.  The remaining floors feature smaller windows expressing the four bays, the sixth floor window openings set beneath arches and framed with engaged columns, a treatment similar to Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse.  Set above the sixth floor is a row of sixteen small windows illuminating the attic, set beneath a decorative cornice.   

The west side of the building, facing into an alley, features a brick-faced oriel window extending from floors two through six.  The interior of the building was designed with tiled vestibules on the east side of each floor, with all of the offices facing west, accessed by an open cage elevator and a wide metal staircase. 

Washington Loan & Trust Company Building
900 F Street, NW

This building, the largest of the three, has maintained a commanding presence over the intersection of F and 9th Streets since it was completed in 1891 for Washington’s largest and oldest trust company.  The architect was James G. Hill, the same architect who designed the Atlantic Building (see above).  Given the stylistic similarities with Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium Building in Chicago, completed just two years earlier, one can’t help but assume Hill was familiar with that iconic building and used it as inspiration.

The original building for the Trust Company was considerably smaller than the current structure, extending only four bays along F Street.  When six additional bays were added in 1926-1927 under the direction of architect Arthur B. Heaton, every element of the original design was replicated exactly, forming an overall seamless composition. 

Classified as a Category II Landmark in the District of Columbia and listed on the National Register, the building is one of the very finest Richardsonian Romanesque buildings in the capital city.  Faced in rusticated gray granite, the façade extends nine bays along 9th Street, where one can sense the rhythm of the fenestration, set into four distinct sections.  

The ground floor windows and doorways are set beneath huge arches with a row of simple unadorned transomed-windows above, all set beneath a belt-course with dentil trim.  The four floors above are grouped under arched arcades, highlighted with delicate colonettes at the piers.  These four floors are especially reminiscent of the Auditorium Building design.  The third section consists of two additional floors with simpler pairs of double hung windows set beneath another course of bolder dentil trim.  The upper most floor features windows set beneath arches with pairs of columns forming the piers, all set beneath another row of dentil trim and a dentated cornice.

In later years, the building was occupied by Riggs Bank.  It now houses a Courtyard by Marriott hotel and brew pub.

Together these three buildings provide an outstanding opportunity to experience how architects perpetuated the Richardsonian Romanesque style in the years immediately following the architect’s death in 1886.  As a grouping, they also provide a well-preserved visual reminder of the late 19th-century period in Washington, D.C.’s architectural history.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Other Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, 1908

Long before British Prime Minister Winston Churchill became famous around the world, another man by the same name enjoyed widespread fame throughout the United States.  The American Winston Churchill (1871-1947) was one of the best-selling U.S. authors in the first part of the 20th century.  In this article, we will look briefly at his career and his interaction with the Glessners.


Winston Church was born in 1871 in St. Louis, Missouri, making him just one month younger than the Glessners’ son George.  After attending the United States Naval Academy and serving briefly as the managing editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, he “retired” to devote all his time to writing historical novels.

His first novel to appear in book form, The Celebrity, was published in 1898.  It followed Mr. Keegan’s Elopement which had been serialized in a magazine in 1896.  However, it was his novel Richard Carvel, published in 1899, that brought him widespread fame and success, selling nearly two million copies. 

In 1901, Churchill published The Crisis, set in his native Missouri in the years leading up to the Civil War.  It was the best-selling book in the United States that year.  It was also in 1901 that the Glessners met Churchill.


The Glessners were visiting Boston in March 1901 when, as noted in Frances Glessner’s journal:

“Wednesday I lunched at Mrs. Clifford Moore’s.  In the afternoon we met at Mrs. Brooks’ and went over the Longfellow house.  We made calls and in the evening dined at Dr. Councilman’s where we met Mr. & Mrs. Endicott and Mr. & Mrs. Winston Churchill – the author of Richard Carvel.”


Dr. William Thomas Councilman (1854-1933) was a well-known pathologist, and had served as the Shattuck Professor of Pathological Anatomy at Harvard Medical School since 1892.  He was especially known for his work with yellow fever, and a specific globule of cells in the liver of yellow fever victims is known to this day as “Councilman body.”  He also made important contributions to the study of smallpox, diphtheria, and dysentery.

His wife was the former Isabella “Isa” Coolidge, the younger sister of architect Charles A. Coolidge, who helped to complete the Glessners’ home on Prairie Avenue after the death of H. H. Richardson in 1886.  (Coolidge and his partners George Shepley and Charles Rutan took charge of Richardson’s practice, renaming the firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge.  They would later design a new campus for Harvard Medical School).  Charles and Isa Coolidge were both close friends with the Glessners, as was their younger brother Frederic, who married the prominent music patron Elizabeth Sprague, daughter of the Glessners’ close friends and Prairie Avenue neighbors, Albert and Nancy Sprague.


Frances Glessner notes in her journal that she read Churchill’s The Crisis during 1901, while at her summer estate, The Rocks.  (Other books read that summer included Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington and The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck).  Shortly after finishing the novel, she wrote to Churchill telling him how much she enjoyed it.  In June 1901, Churchill replied to her letter, and Frances Glessner pasted the letter inside the front cover of The Crisis.  

His letter reads:

“My dear Mrs. Glessner,
Your letter was sent to me in Canada, to my Salmon Club, and then lost.  This leaves me for the present without your address, so I am sending this to Mrs. Councilman in the hope that it will ultimately reach you.  I appreciated greatly the trouble which you took to write to me, and it gives me great pleasure to know that you liked the book.  I am glad of the chance of telling you how much Mrs. Churchill and I enjoyed meeting you that evening at dinner, and we hope that we may have that pleasure again, in the near future.
Sincerely yours,
Winston Churchill”


The letter is written on stationery from Churchill’s home, Harlakenden House.  That house was designed by architect Charles Platt and completed in 1899 in Cornish, New Hampshire.  It was named for Churchill’s wife, the former Mabel Harlakenden.   The home served as the summer White House for President Woodrow Wilson from 1913 through 1915.  It was destroyed by fire in 1923.


Churchill published The Crossing in 1904 telling the story of the westward expansion of the United States, including the settlement of Kentucky.  It was the best-selling novel in the United States that year, and the Glessners owned a copy. 

He became deeply involved in the Cornish Art Colony and served two terms in the New Hampshire state legislature in 1903 and 1905.  (George Glessner would serve in the state legislature a decade later).  During World War I, Churchill toured the battlefield of Europe, writing his first non-fiction work.

Shortly after the end of the war, Churchill stopped writing and withdrew from public life, focusing on painting in watercolors.  He became well respected for his landscapes, several of which are now in museum collections in New Hampshire.

Not surprisingly, the identity of the two Winston Churchills, both of whom were authors, became confused.  Interestingly, both also had political careers and were noted amateur painters.  After the British Winston Churchill became aware of the American Churchill’s books, he wrote to him suggesting that he would sign his own works “Winston Spencer Churchill” to differentiate them.  The American Churchill replied that the suggestion was a good one, and he would have done the same, if he had a middle name. 

Winston Churchill died in Winter Park, Florida in 1947 at the age of 75. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...