A house of learning, past and present.
Ahead of Their Time: 1930s-Present (Part II)
C.V.D. Hubbard photographed Stenton’s interiors in 1939, and there are three interior black and white postcard views from 1940. The rooms included in this group are the north parlor, the entrance hall, the dining room and the two large second floor front rooms; the south one was called “James Logan’s Library” at the time. All the images show the Stenton floors stained the dark color that they remain today. Three of the images show hooked rugs on the floor.
The most changed room was the north parlor (Figure 6). The James Logan settee joined the growing collection of American furniture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1925. Algernon Sidney Logan bequeathed to the Dames six elegant Chippendale-style chairs that had originally belonged to John Dickinson, but descended in the Logan family. He probably lent the chairs to Stenton prior to his death, because in 1927, Mrs. Gribbel, the Chairman of the Stenton Mansion Committee, was already discussing the tapestry seats she had imported for the chairs in the north parlor. The postcard image of the parlor illustrates three of the chairs with these needlework covers and two large Chinese vases on either side of the fireplace. The vases were probably the “two Chinese vases” bequeathed to the Dames for Stenton in 1915 from Samuel Betton.
The Committee minutes from 1927 offer other important clues to the furnishing of Stenton. Generally, throughout the 1920s, the decorative choices were arbitrary and there was much discussion recorded in the Minutes about what was or was not “appropriate” for Stenton. At this point in time, the Dames furnished Stenton themselves without the advice of decorators or historical consultants. In 1928, the Committee, “voted to refurnish the house as far as possible with Logan things.” This has been a guiding collecting policy for the Dames ever since, and they were ahead of their time to realize the importance of genuine Logan family furnishings for Stenton.
A 1939 photograph of the dining room by C.V.D. Hubbard shows the room furnished with a pewter basin and plates on the mantle shelf and reproduction splat-back side chairs, which the Dames commissioned from Sadir Elias of Media Furniture Company. In 1930, Mrs. Paxson ordered the ten side chairs for $40 each and two armchairs at $50 each. The chairs were made of the “finest” mahogany and covered in “real black leather.”
The remaining images from the 1930s period show little change in the overall arrangement of the furnishings. The postcard view of “James Logan’s Library” (Figure 7) shows the same white walls and woodwork and long sheer white curtains with valances at the windows. One of the Japanese hooked rugs that Mrs. Gribbel purchased in New York covered the stained floorboards. The room included a large glass front bookcase filled with books and at least two glass cases, which were used to display small collection objects and documents. Chairs of various styles were placed around the room including Logan family Grecian fancy chairs, a small Windsor rocking chair from Maria Dickinson Logan, and the Windsor writing chair that had been in the entry hall about twenty years earlier. A tea table was placed in the center of the room, and a map and portrait hung on the walls. A writing box was displayed open on a candle stand.
Although the postcard of the library, is captioned “James Logan’s Library,” The Minutes make reference several times to “Deborah Logan’s room,” and Maria Dickinson Logan’s desire that the chairs she planned to bequeath to Stenton be placed there. Maria did bequeath most of the chairs in the room. Today, the same room is interpreted as one of the rooms used primarily as the library in James Logan’s time, as well as being Deborah’s chamber, which she called “my apartment in the library” in her diary. Curiously, when the Dames created a new booklet on the History of Stenton, they recycled the Charles Pancoast photographs of the house rather than making new images.
In 1956 an exhibition at Stenton featured Logan family furnishings from the Dames collection as well as loaned objects, some of which had been at Stenton in the eighteenth century. The printed brochure indicates that the James Logan matching curly maple high chest and dressing table were included in the exhibit, on loan from antiques dealer Joe Kindig. These two objects were recently bequeathed to Stenton by Colonial Dame Mrs. Lammot DuPont Copeland and now furnish the Yellow Lodging Room as they did in James Logan’s lifetime. No minutes or reports survive from the 1956 time period.
The Annual Report of the Stenton Mansion Committee for 1954-55 begins:
The chief accomplishment of the Stenton Mansion Committee during the last year was the redecoration of the North Parlor. The paneled walls have been painted the original color, which after much tedious work was discovered by Mrs. G. Edwin Brumbaugh, who is a recognized expert in this field. Beautiful golden damask was also purchased from Scalmandre Silks, Inc., who also made suitable fringe and tie-backs for us. The curtains were made by John. E. Bailey, and four window seats of the same damask were made by The Authentic Shops.
A set of color postcards from the 1960s depicts the result of this major redecoration campaign. In the postcard (Figure 8) is an upholstered wing or easy chair, purchased from Joe Kindig Antiques in York for $1000.
The hiring of Mrs. Frances A. Brumbaugh, wife of restoration architect Edwin Brumbaugh, was the Dames’ first attempt at consulting with professionals on the furnishing of Stenton. Under Mrs. Brumbaugh’s leadership, the Dames came to understand Stenton not just as an historic landmark filled with old furniture and relics, but as a decorative arts historic house museum. Certainly the 1951 establishment of Henry Francis DuPont’s Winterthur as a decorative arts museum had an impact on the Brumbaughs and the Colonial Dames. This redecoration created fashionable and elegant Colonial Revival interiors at Stenton, characterized by muted historic colors, silk damask and other printed reproduction fabrics, oriental carpets, and American antique furniture. Mrs. Brumbaugh was bringing the Dames up to date and in line with other museums like Colonial Williamsburg and Winterthur.
At this time, the Dames began to discuss issues central to the interpretation of historic house museums. On November 12, 1958, the Committee determined that they would collect furniture representing the appearance of Stenton from 1728-1799 and would only consider an object from George Logan’s time, up to 1821, if he owned it.
In 1958, Mrs. Brumbaugh began work to create a bedroom on the first floor. This room is also a postcard view. Mrs. Brumbaugh must have consulted James Logan’s 1752 Inventory. Realizing that there had been a bedroom on the first floor in 1752, Mrs. Brumbaugh convinced the Dames to re-create one using the post 1752 federal-style Charles Norris bedstead. Mrs. Thacher paid for the work to be done and conferred with Mrs. Brumbaugh “as to the color of the paint, chintz, etc.”
Examination of the 1752 inventory in 1958 began the Dames’ long journey to create the historic house museum that Stenton is today. They inventoried the rooms, taking stock of their collection and collected all the “stories” about the objects from Mrs. Johnson, who had been the Stenton caretaker for about thirty years and who had a “fund of knowledge about the Mansion.”
Also in 1958, Mrs. Brumbaugh was busy redecorating the south parlor. Her curtain designs for this room (Figure 9) as well as some of the bills for the fabrics and upholstery survive. The completed room is the third interior postcard from this redecorating campaign. The postcard (Figure 10) shows a redistribution of objects throughout the house. The black neoclassical rush seated fancy chairs remained in the space. The Betton bequest high chest, Pembroke table and arm chair moved into the room as well as the Wagstaffe clock on the corner shelf, the portrait of Algernon Sydney Logan (1788-1835) and a loaned porcelain charger.
Mrs. Brumbaugh also scraped the two large upstairs front rooms to find the original paint colors for those spaces and obtained new crewel upholstery for the second floor back bedroom. A federal-style easy chair, which had been part of the bequest from Maria Dickinson Logan, was recovered. Her scheme for the North parlor essentially remained in place until the 1980s.
Other room arrangements and furnishings would be re-evaluated much sooner. The “South Parlor” was refurnished as James Logan’s library by the late 1960s when images of Stenton were published in John Drury’s The Heritage of Early American Houses in 1969. The view of the “Library” as they then called the space shows that the Dames had acquired the William and Mary-style English cane chairs in the room now.
By 1964, the Dames were consulting entirely with professionals on how to furnish Stenton and had formed a Restoration and Research Committee as a subcommittee of the Stenton Mansion Committee. The Dames were also refining their collecting criteria. In 1928 they had stated a desire to focus on Logan objects. In 1958, they examined James Logan’s actual 1752 inventory and decided to focus on the years 1728 to 1799. By 1964, they had added a desire to collect “top-notch” objects that would make Stenton a destination for collectors of American antiques. If they could not have the actual furnishings of the Logan family, they wanted things that would represent the kinds of furniture the Logans owned. Further refining the furniture on exhibit at Stenton, the Dames decided to lend a Maria Dickinson Logan sideboard to Loudoun in 1967 because it was later than their decided-upon period of collecting.
Professionals in the museum and history fields as well as antiques dealers became increasingly involved at Stenton in 1969. The Dames took another step in adopting the Museum practice of accessioning and cataloging their collection at this time. To perform this task, they hired Jay Cantor, a recent graduate of the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture to catalog the collection for seven weeks during the summer. Simultaneously, Raymond V. Shepherd, Jr., also a student in the Winterthur Program, was conducting research for his Master’s thesis on the furnishing of Stenton. Shepherd did close inventory analysis and study of original Logan documents and located some Logan family furnishings in institutional and private collections. Archeologist Barbara Liggett excavated outbuildings over the summer. Liggett had high hopes that Stenton could be “the best documented site in the Middle colonies.” Winterthur textile curator Florence Montgomery and Winterthur’s conservation department began consulting with the Dames about the care of fabrics. Finally, Mrs. Herbert Schiffer, a Dame and a scholar of eighteenth-century decorative arts, accepted the appointment as Chairman of the Accessions Committee.
In the 1970s, the Dames focused intensively on historical research led by Dames Sarah A.G. “Sally” Smith and Betsy Halberstadt. They began to view Stenton as a Museum of everyday life. In 1973, they chose “moments” to interpret in some of the rooms. The Dining Room represented dessert, the central activity in the parlor was teatime, and the Deborah Logan bedroom showed the recently acquired bed tray in use at the moment of arising.
The philosophy or guiding principle used to interpret the house was to show a way of life; each room to be viewed at a moment of time in the lives of the people who lived there in the first 100 years. The interpretation would be based upon Logan furnishings and the inventory to show what was yet to be acquired.
In 1974, the Dames began to research the original hooks in the ceilings of the upstairs chambers. They consulted with Florence Montgomery, then at Yale, and Graham Hood of Colonial Williamsburg, once again seeking the advice of leaders in the fields of decorative arts and history. This research resulted in the reinterpretation of the upstairs back bed chamber as the White Lodging Room described on James Logan’s 1752 inventory.
Finally, in the early 1980s, the Dames began to take down the remaining Colonial Revival curtains and oriental carpets. Under the leadership of Colonial Dame Margaret Richardson, reproduction blue-and-white double festooned curtains were commissioned for the Blue Lodging Room (Figure 11) based on an original curtain in the Stenton collection. The First Floor Lodging Room bed was redressed with reproduction wool hangings like those that could have been used in the room by James Logan, and the parlor lost its rugs and heavy drapes for a more accurate view of the past that highlights bare windows and floors and includes “Independence Hall Green” wool damask seat covers and window seat cushions. The official period of interpretation was expanded to include all of Deborah Logan’s lifetime, so that Stenton now interprets the first three generations, 1730-1839.
The 1990s was a time of transition for the Colonial Dames as they gradually hired part-time professional staff to take on some of the responsibilities of running the Museum. In 2001, the Dames hired the first full-time Director for Stenton in addition to a part-time Curator and Museum Educator. Stenton has recently received a generous grant from the Richard C. von Hess Foundation for a Room Furnishings Study to pursue further research on the historic uses and appearances of the interiors at Stenton in the past. It is always important to look back before looking ahead, and this furnishings history has made that possible.