19th Century Decorative Arts Scholar Discusses the Jervis Langdon Mansion at Upcoming Trouble Begins Lecture


Period photograph of a painted portrait of Jervis Langdon Senior of Elmira New York, father of Olivia Langdon Clemens and father-in-law to Samuel Clemens.

On Wednesday, May 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm at 7:00 p.m, Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. will present a lecture entitled, “High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture & Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion”

By the 1860s, Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, was ready to create a home that announced his status as one of Elmira’s most successful and influential businessmen. After purchasing a house built in the 1850s, he immediately arranged to have it enlarged and remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone mansion that was counted among the largest and most elegant residences in the city. Langdon then commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish a number of the principal rooms on the first floor of the house. After her husband’s death in 1870, Olivia Lewis Langdon continued to patronize the firm, purchasing bedroom suites and other furniture. This lecture will explore the architecture, interiors, and furnishings of the Langdon mansion, sadly destroyed in the 1930s, but well documented by period photographs showing both the exterior and interior. Surviving pieces of furniture made by Pottier & Stymus, now preserved in various museum and university collections, will be discussed to illustrate how the Langdons, through the guidance of the firm, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with the latest modes in household decoration and furnishing.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American architecture, interiors, and furniture. He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to having served as director and curator of a number of historic house museums. He is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Lecture Schedule, click here. Visit the “Trouble Begins” Archives for a downloadable recording of all the 2018 Spring Trouble Begins Lectures and other past talks.  You can also see past Trouble Begins programs and our quadrennial conference and symposia programs.

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