Maria Mitchell’s Attic
Somewhat Forgotten By Time

My husband grew up in a rural, mainly farming community outside Buffalo, NY. We recently returned for a family wedding and stopped at some of the spots that were must visits: Duffs for Buffalo Wings, Beef on Weck, his mother’s favorite chocolate and ice cream shop (yes, we gained some weight in just 4 days), his family’s old farmhouse (that is unfortunately no longer in the family), and the large tracks of farmland that are still in the family and where we picked wildflowers for the cemetery.

It’s interesting to compare the architecture of this little town – which is unfortunately now being overbuilt – to that of Nantucket. There are a lot of brick Greek revival farmhouses like you see in one of the images. This house has thankfully been largely forgotten by time. It’s certainly inhabited as you can see by the air conditioning unit in the window, but the old pump still stands outside with a newer coat of white paint. I am sure if primed, that pump would still work.

My husband’s family’s old farmhouse is mid- to late nineteenth century. It’s the white clapboard house with the transom over the front door that you see here and it still has a few out buildings of the same vintage. It sits along what is now a wide, busy road – though in rural areas that is often all there is – set back in the landscape with nothing immediately around it but grass. The driveway is simple, just two tire ruts. It makes you realize that this is how it always looked thought I am sure the trees are much taller. I can imagine his great grandparents or those before them planting some of those trees.

Solitary and still among the fields of the farm, the house has not changed. It’s quiet. It was where my husbands’s great-grandparents raised their two children – his great aunt and his grandfather. While the family sadly no longer owns the house, the farmland still sees some farming – his cousins rent it out to local farmers at times so corn and other crops are grown on the old farmland still. His cousin hunts just as his family before him and in the past, the family was still felling some trees and clearing out fallen ones to use as firewood. My husband remembers doing this when he was young. While my son is too young to remember this visit, we hope he will visit again and again and learn a bit more about this side of his family as well as their history and that he will learn to appreciate the past, particularly those buildings forgotten by time but thankfully largely unchanged because of it.

JNLF

Answer to “What is This?”

This is the front door latch of the Mitchell House.  The mahogany used to make it came from a shipwreck; specifically the Queen, and the wood is from cargo items found on the ship.  The Queen was a vessel that was broken in two when it came ashore in the area of Nobadeer on January 4, 1813.  An English ship, this was certainly a prize.  The Queen came into action with the American privateer, General Armstrong and the cargo of the Queen was supposedly strewn about the shore from Siasconset to Miacomet – quite a large distance.  Her cargo was invoiced at about 100,000 British pounds.  New Englanders – and certainly Nantucketers – were very good at creating something useful out of something else and of salvage – they were the original recyclers.  In fact, something that was repaired and made into a new use or repaired using materials other than what the item was originally made from were referred to as “make-dos.”  This door latch was installed in the Mitchell House before the Mitchells inhabited it but think of all the times it was opened and closed by the family, including Maria.   

Where Is This?

Here is a photograph of an architectural element.  Can you tell me where it is?  First correct answer – and this is not for employees of the MMA – receives a free gift.  Please send me an email at jfinger@mmo.org with “Where Is This?” in the message line.

JNLF

Mitchell House Goes Pinterest!

Shocking!  What does a nineteenth century historic house museum have to contribute to a twenty-first century Internet sensation like Pinterest?  Lots!  After careful thought, I think this is a great way for Mitchell House to showcase itself – and historic preservation, art, architecture, and more!  So, via Pinterest I will be posting images of the House and its activities, as well as interesting images from the MMA and other images I find that have to do with museums, historic preservation, architecture – things that fit with the mission of the Mitchell House.  It’s another great way for this dear old house to fit into the twenty-first century.  I will not stop this blog – it is too much fun sharing all the things we have in the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections!  But if you have the time, check out “MitchellHouse” on Pinterest.  I wonder if Maria would “pin” if she were here?  Kind of like the whole idea of “Would Maria Tweet” that I blogged about.  Maybe an image of the Transit of Venus?  A dome party image?

JNLF

Recognize this Building?

While it’s not on Nantucket it was designed, in part, by a descendant of a long-standing Nantucket family. He was a senior architect for McKim, Mead, and White (MMW) which designed this building.  The senior architect was named after his grandfather – William Mitchell.  It is William Mitchell Kendall (1856 – 1941), the son of Phebe Mitchell and Joshua Kendall and the nephew of Maria Mitchell.  A graduate of MIT, Kendall was a long-time supporter of the MMA, leaving Mitchell family pieces including the family’s tall case clock and Lydia Coleman Mitchell’s childhood sampler to the Mitchell House in his estate.  He travelled through Europe with his parents and Maria in 1873 and today we have the notes from his travels during that trip – his focus?  Architecture of course! 

Kendall was known for continuing the firm’s traditions of Renaissance and classical forms after the death of White.  Kendall designed the American Academy in Rome; the New York Post Office; the New York Municipal Building; the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C.; and the surround at Plymouth Rock to name a few.  The well-known quote from Herodotus on the façade of the NY Post Office was translated by Kendall and used at his suggestion.  Does that little line about the post office delivering in rain, sleet, and snow sound familiar? 

The building in this image is located in Boston – it’s the Boston Public Library built in 1895 with the work of senior partner William Mitchell Kendall.  I like to think that he had a little something to do with making sure his aunt was on a tablet there with all of the other famous scientists, artists, and others whose names are carved into the window tablets around the BPL.  Even more fitting?  That Maria’s name is under that of Mary Somerville’s – one of her heroes and someone Maria met on her first trip to Europe in the 1850s.

JNLF

 William Mitchell Kendall