“Making a Home at Quarry Farm: An Exploration of Its Historic Furnishings and Interiors”
Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American domestic architecture, interiors, and furniture. He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to organizing decorative arts exhibitions for museums and researching and developing furnishings plans for the restoration of period rooms in historic house museums. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Mr. Ritchie held the position of director of furniture and decorative arts at several auction houses. He also served as executive director and curator of a number of historic house museums. After earning a bachelor’s degree in the history of art and architecture from Carnegie-Mellon University, he pursued graduate studies in the history of decorative arts at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum/Parson’s School of Design Master’s Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. Mr. Ritchie is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City during the second half of the nineteenth century.
CMTS is proud to list Mr. Ritchie as one of its most important collaborators. He is a member of the 2019 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows. He has assisted CMTS in helping identify, catalog, preserve, and restore the furniture and interior layouts of Quarry Farm. In addition, Mr. Ritchie has paticipated in the CMTS lecture series, including:
- Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., “The Clemenses, The Cranes, and the Household Art Movement” (September 19, 2019 – Chemung Valley History Museum) Lecture Images (Part 1)/Lecture Images (Part 2)
- Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., “High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture & Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion (May 9, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
Click on Mr. Ritchie’s name to hear an audio version of his lectures.
In 1865, Jervis Langdon (1809-1870), who had attained enormous wealth in the wholesale anthracite coal trade, and his wife Olivia Lewis Langdon (1810-1890)—Mark Twain’s future father-in-law and mother-in-law—created one of the largest and most elaborate mansions in the city of Elmira. Several years after he purchased a modest but elegant Greek Revival residence built about 1850, at the corner of North Main and West Church Streets, Langdon had the house extensively enlarged and remodeled in the Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone palazzo-like residence (fig. 1), which for decades, was regarded by the citizens of Elmira as one of the city’s grandest mansions until it was torn down in the 1930s.
In order to ensure that the interior of their newly renovated residence mirrored the taste and elegance of the exterior, the Langdons commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and interior decorating firms in New York City during the second half of the nineteenth century, to decorate and furnish the principal rooms on the first floor of the house. The firm executed painted decoration on the walls and ceilings, in addition to supplying plush wall-to-wall Brussels and Wilton carpets and elaborate window curtains. For the drawing room, Pottier & Stymus produced a stylish suite of Louis XVI Revival furniture (fig. 2). In 1874, Olivia Lewis Langdon, now a widow, contracted Pottier & Stymus a second time to make significant alterations to the interior of the house as well as to supply new suites of furniture for a number of first-floor rooms, including the reception room, library, and dining room (figs. 3 & 4), and for bedrooms on the second floor.
In 1939, after unsuccessfully attempting to convince the city of Elmira to purchase the Langdon residence for the purpose of creating a museum devoted to Mark Twain, Jervis Langdon’s grandchildren sold the property to a real estate developer, who razed the mansion and built a shopping center on the site. While the Langdon residence is no longer extant, it “lives on” through period photographs of the exterior and interior of the house as well as through surviving pieces of furniture that are now among the furnishings at Quarry Farm. Shortly after the death of his mother, Ida Clark Langdon (1849-1934), Jervis Langdon (1875-1952) removed a number of pieces of furniture from the mansion and brought them to the house at Quarry Farm, which had become his home in 1925. The furniture included pieces made by Pottier & Stymus for the Langdon residence in the 1860s and 1870s.
Standing in a corner of the parlor at Quarry Farm is the fall-front desk that Pottier & Stymus produced in c.1874-1875 for the reception room of the Langdon mansion (fig. 5). The desk is visible in a stereographic view of the room dating from about 1875 (fig. 6). Made of walnut and rosewood, the desk is strikingly reminiscent of an American Empire secrétaire à abattant of the early nineteenth century with its two frieze drawers, fall front, cupboard section with two doors, plinth base, and bun feet, but the incised and gilt Neo-Grec decoration of stylized classical motifs, including the palmettes on the fall front and leaves on the frieze drawers, announce that the desk was produced in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Among the furnishings in the library at Quarry Farm are two side chairs that were once part of the suite of seating furniture made by Pottier & Stymus in 1866 for the drawing room of the Langdon mansion (fig. 7). This suite was comprised of two sofas, two side chairs, two low-seat chairs with short arms, an open armchair, and a fully upholstered armchair. In a c.1875 stereographic view of the drawing room, the side chairs can be seen flanking a pier mirror that stood in between the two windows at the front of the room (fig. 8).
The two side chairs, made of ebonized cherry with lightwood veneers, are embellished with gilt-bronze mounts, bronze-patinated copper medallions, and gilt incising. Features such as the round, tapering, fluted legs surmounted by square blocks, bowed front seat rails, and backs with crest rails of chapeau de gendarme outline, are derived from French furniture made during the reign of Louis XVI. In the 1860s, parlor suites that borrowed forms and decorative motifs from aristocratic French furniture of the late eighteenth century were de rigueur for the drawing rooms of the most fashionable homes in the United States. The Langdons, through the guidance of Pottier & Stymus, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with current furnishing trends by selecting for their drawing room a set of furniture in the modish Louis XVI Revival style.
About 1880, Susan Langdon Crane (1836-1924) and her husband Theodore Crane (1831-1889) made improvements and alterations to the exterior and the interior of the house at Quarry Farm. The work on the interior included redecorating the hall, parlor, and dining room with new woodwork in the Modern Gothic style. The Modern Gothic style reflected the tenets of the English design reform movement, also known as the Aesthetic Movement, which advocated a restrained use of ornament, truth to materials, and a frank expression of structure. The style was popularized in the United States during the 1870s by English architect Charles Locke Eastlake’s book, Hints on Household Taste, published in London in 1868 and in America in 1872 (fig. 9). Soon after his book achieved widespread acclaim, Eastlake’s name became synonymous with the Modern Gothic style in the United States. By the late 1870s, many American architectural pattern books illustrated designs for Modern Gothic or “Eastlake” interior woodwork (figs. 10 & 11).
Both interior woodwork and furniture in the Eastlake style tend to be very rectilinear and severe, with clearly articulated construction, chamfering on structural components, low-relief carved decoration consisting of conventionalized or “geometricized” plant forms such as flowers and leaves, and ornament of incised lines to emphasize flat surfaces. Gothic structural forms and motifs were frequently employed, as the basis of the style was medieval architecture.
Much of the Eastlake oak woodwork that was installed about 1880 in the parlor, entrance hall, and dining room is still intact. In the parlor, the surviving woodwork includes double-ogee molded door and window frames with square corner blocks decorated with round bosses and incised lines (figs. 12 & 13); two bookcases (fig. 14), each featuring a surmounting frieze with a rounded projection in the center and applied decoration of “lambrequins,” shelves with reeded front edges, stiles (or uprights) decorated with reeding, and a base fitted with two drawers, the fronts of which are decorated with applied moldings and lozenge-shaped corner blocks with round bosses; and the ceiling with beams framing flat panels in various geometric shapes, including squares, rectangles, and hexagons (fig. 15). Even the brackets supporting the curtain poles (fig. 16), which are original to the room, are designed according to the Eastlake aesthetic, with their Gothic-inspired outlines and restrained ornament of applied bosses and incised lines that echo the decoration on the square corner blocks of the door and window frames.
A photograph dating from about 1895 shows the parlor with its complete Modern Gothic decorative scheme (fig. 17), which included an imposing mantelpiece and overmantel, later removed during a renovation of the house in the 1920s. Both incorporated Gothic structural forms as well as other details associated with Eastlake designs, including panels composed of diagonally arranged boards above the mirror in the overmantel and incised decoration of conventionalized flowers and leaves, seen on the hood and corbels surmounting the mantelpiece and on the pilasters flanking the overmantel mirror.
Eastlake woodwork in the entrance hall includes the same type of double-ogee molded door frames found in the parlor (fig. 18), as well as a paneled and beamed ceiling (fig. 19).
In the dining room (fig. 20), the beadboard dado on the lower part of the walls (fig. 21), the double-ogee molded door and window frames with square corner blocks decorated with round bosses (fig. 22), and the ceiling with beams and panels of beaded boards (fig. 23), are all features commonly found in Eastlake-style dining rooms of the late nineteenth century.
The mantelpiece (fig. 24), which appears to be original to the room, was installed more than four decades later, in 1925, when Jervis Langdon, who had inherited Quarry Farm from his aunt, renovated the house and made changes to the interior. Although it was introduced in the early twentieth century, this Eastlake-style mantelpiece, which was removed from Langdon’s former residence at 311 West Church Street in Elmira, harmonizes perfectly with the other woodwork in the dining room.
Like most of the woodwork, the curtain poles and brackets are original to the dining room (fig. 25). The brackets feature bas relief decoration of Japanese fans, a motif that was popular during the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s and 1880s.
When Susan and Theodore Crane updated the interiors of their home by installing Eastlake woodwork, they also purchased new furniture in the same style. Unlike the furniture that was custom made for the Langdon mansion by Pottier & Stymus, a high-end cabinetmaking firm, the Eastlake furniture at Quarry Farm was made with steam-powered machinery in the large factories of furniture manufacturing companies based in the midwestern part of the United States. Most likely this furniture was purchased from Elmira furniture dealers who bought factory-made furniture on the wholesale market.
Surviving pieces of Eastlake furniture include a dresser, an armchair, and a dining table. The cherry dresser in Susan Crane’s bedroom (fig. 26) consists of a tall case of drawers with an adjustable mirror. A distinctive feature of this dresser is the “side lock,” found in the hinged part of the right front stile (a vertical structural element that forms part of the frame of the dresser), which locks all the drawers simultaneously. Characteristic of Eastlake furniture are the reeded bands decorating the drawer fronts, the chamfered edges of the mirror frame, the bold turnings of the posts supporting the mirror, and the incised ornament seen on the corners of the mirror frame as well as on the upper part of the brackets flanking the top drawer.
In Mark Twain’s bedroom is a fully upholstered walnut armchair that was originally a reclining chair with an adjustable back (fig. 27). Eastlake features include the round tapering legs with bands of reeding and the incised decoration of geometricized leaves on the seat rails.
The modified oak table standing in the kitchen was originally an extension dining table (fig. 28), once used in the dining room of Quarry Farm. In its original state, the top and pedestal base of the table were each divided in the center. The dining table could be made longer by separating the two sections and inserting several leaves. In typical Eastlake fashion, the pedestal base features reeded supports with baluster turnings, each joined to the square center standard by a stretcher with pierced decoration of geometric patterns and conventionalized leaves.
In 1893, Susan Crane updated the entrance hall by introducing a new staircase in the Colonial Revival style (fig. 29). By the final decade of the nineteenth century, the Colonial Revival had superseded the earlier styles associated with the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s and 1880s. Like the rest of the woodwork in the room, the staircase is made of oak. The turnings of the balusters, the square paneled newel post, and the decoration of bead-and-reel moldings are all features loosely based on the staircases found in houses of the colonial period.
Further changes were made to the interior of the house in the 1890s, when Lincrusta-Walton was hung on the walls of rooms including the parlor, entrance hall, first-floor bathroom, second-floor hall, and Susan Crane’s bedroom. This embossed wall covering, made from a combination of linseed oil and wood flour, was invented in 1877 by an Englishman named Frederick E. Walton (1834-1928), who first achieved success with his patent for Linoleum in 1863. Lincrusta-Walton, also known simply as Lincrusta, was produced in a variety of patterns, and could be easily painted, gilded, or marbleized.
Lincrusta was first manufactured in the United States in 1883, after Frederick Walton licensed a newly formed New York company to produce his patented wall covering at its factory in Stamford, Connecticut. In 1890, the manager of the business, Frederick Beck, purchased the company and renamed it Frederick Beck and Company.
Frederick Beck and Company–the only manufacturer of Lincrusta in the United States—produced all the extant Lincrusta wall coverings at Quarry Farm. The designs seen in the parlor and entrance hall, first-floor bathroom, and Susan Crane’s bedroom, are illustrated in trade catalogs issued by the company in 1894 and 1901.
For the parlor, entrance hall, and second-floor hall, Susan Crane selected Lincrusta with a Renaissance-style design consisting of barbed quatrefoils centering medallions (fig. 30). Forming a frieze on the wall behind the staircase is a horizontal band of Lincrusta featuring a pattern of trelliswork with small and large rosettes (fig. 31). On the walls of the first-floor bathroom, above the beadboard dado, is a diaper pattern of trelliswork and conventionalized flowers (fig. 32). For her bedroom, Susan Crane chose Lincrusta bearing a dense pattern of stylized flowers (fig. 33). The same pattern of Lincrutsa is applied to the panels of the doors, on the side facing her room (fig. 34).
In 1924, Jervis Langdon (1875-1952), the only son of Charles J. Langdon and namesake of his grandfather, inherited Quarry Farm from his aunt, Susan Crane. In the following year, Jervis remodeled the house and built an addition in the Tudor Revival style. The new wing featured a library decorated with mahogany wall paneling, a marble mantelpiece, and plaster ornament on the ceiling. The style of the library is commonly described as “Elizabethan,” but in fact, the room’s decoration is a composite of several English historical styles, including Elizabethan, Restoration/William and Mary, and Georgian Palladian. The paneling on the walls (fig. 35), comprised of tall panels over low panels and surmounted by a cornice decorated with acanthus leaves, in addition to the cove between the walls and ceiling, derives from Baroque interiors of the Restoration and William and Mary periods. The large marble mantelpiece (fig. 36), which serves as the focal point of the library, exhibits several decorative elements frequently found on the mantelpieces in Palladian interiors of the early Georgian period, including pilasters, consoles, and an entablature with a wide frieze centering a rectangular tablet. The plaster relief decoration of geometric shapes and rosettes on the ceiling (fig. 37), borrowed from the plasterwork ornamenting the ceilings of Elizabethan interiors, inspired the stylistic label frequently used to describe the library’s decorative scheme.
Contributing to the distinctly English character of the library are the designs of hunt scenes in the hammered and pierced copper grilles set into the front panels of the radiator cases (fig. 38). Each of the two grilles depicts a stag attacked by hounds in a wooded landscape with hills and mountains in the background.
When the library of Quarry Farm was decorated and furnished, historical styles continued to prevail in American architecture and interior design. Consequently, most of the room’s decoration was traditional, based on adaptations of styles from the past. The grilles in the radiator cases, by contrast, struck a thoroughly modern note with their designs in the new Art Deco style, introduced to the United States from Paris in the 1920s. Art Deco embraced the modernist aesthetic, eschewed the past, celebrated technological progress, and emphasized fine craftsmanship and the use of luxurious materials. Elements of the decorative designs in the grilles that are characteristic of Art Deco include the stylized hounds and stags, geometrical trees, hills, and mountains, and abstract scrolls.
On October 26, 1925, Jervis Langdon recorded in his diary that he moved the “Library furniture, books, etc., from 311 Church Street” to the new library at Quarry Farm. The furniture no doubt included the Colonial Revival mahogany library table visible in the background of a photograph of the library from c.1930 (fig. 39). This table, which remains in the library, is fitted with a single drawer flanked by a “false” drawer on each side (fig. 40). The leaf-carved columnar legs with Ionic capitals are joined by a shaped stretcher shelf resting on carved lion’s paw feet.