PART VI. CIVIL WAR AND POST CIVIL WAR PERIOD

 

The war that cost the most American lives was none other than our own Civil War, 1861-1865. The North fought this war, because the continuation of slavery meant the perpetuation of two separate societies--societies with different economies, different ways of life, and different values. Slavery, besides being morally wrong, was just not compatible with the new industrial order and had to be eliminated.

The Civil War cleared the way for the dominance of the industrial way of life in the United States. The industrial society of the North now held clear sway over the agricultural society of the South. This new industrial order brought many changes to the lives of Americans. One change was the concentration of vast amounts of wealth in the hands of a few men as their companies swallowed other firms. The business methods of the new industrialists were often harsh and brutal, which explains the origin of the term "robber baron," as applied to the new entrepreneurs. Another massive change was the influx of people from rural farms to urban factories. The workers usually found factory conditions to be very harsh with long working hours at low wages.

The first part of this section tours the areas where the wealthy and near wealthy lived and/or played. Chapter 28 discusses the mansions of the wealthy, while the next chapter discusses some of the political and artistic responses to the increasing industrialism of the nation.

Along with their vast wealth, the industrialists wielded considerable political power. Indeed, some of them literally bought favorable legislation. This led to further corruption, so that by the time of the two Presidential terms of Ulysses S. Grant corruption was rampant. This part discusses some of the political and cultural responses to industrialism and corruption. One answer was a call for an American version of socialism. This is seen in the work of the utopian writer Edward Bellamy. Much to the disappointment of Bellamy's followers, socialism never had much appeal in the United States.

Along with the harsh realities of the industrial order came the death of romanticism. The following sections deal with the new, more critical trend in art: realism. It visits the homes of such realist writers as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Emily Dickinson.

After the Civil War a number of architectural styles predominated. The Second Empire style (1855-85) is often called the Grant style because so many buildings in Washington, D.C., were built in this one style during his Presidency. Its chief feature is its mansard (dual-pitched hipped) roof with dormer windows (i.e., vertical windows sticking out from a sloping roof) on the roof's steep lower slope.

In the 1880s, the Queen Anne style (1880-1910) became popular. This style avoided a solid-wall appearance. Instead the stress was on asymmetrical facades. Another prominent feature is a porch, which usually extends along one or both side walls. Towers are also common in this style. If there is a round tower on a house, the style is probably Queen Anne, although the towers can also be square or polygonal.

With architects taking the dominant role, architects, interior decorators, and artists cooperated on many building projects. This trend is known as the American Renaissance. The proponents of this style wanted a monumental architecture with huge European-type mansions. Quite a few of the persons working in this tradition found their inspiration in classical imagery and themes. Many were trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. Designer Louis Comfort Tiffany was a key figure in the movement.

Richard Morris Hunt, who designed many of the mansions for the wealthy in New York City and Newport, was the first American designer of buildings to be trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Beaux-Arts architecture emphasized the neo-classical elements with the return of two-story high columns. Another feature is the use of statuary on outer walls.

The firm of McKim, Mead, and White also designed many of the mansions in Newport, often in the neoclassical vein. Stanford White was an especially talented member of the firm. He designed houses in many different styles, including Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance. The sexually-active architect gained lasting notoriety when he was murdered by sadist Harry K. Thaw, inheritor of a massive Pittsburgh fortune. Thaw married Evelyn Nesbit, whose beauty was held in such great esteem that she became the model for the Gibson girl. White's death followed the husband's discovery that the architect had a brief affair with Evelyn before she married.

In interior decoration the styles of the Post-Civil War Period have been designated Late Victorian (1870-1900). This term encompasses many revivals of older furniture styles, including the Renaissance, Rococo, and Colonial. A rough generalization is that French styles dominated during the Federal and Romantic periods, while English styles inspired furniture makers in the post-Civil war era.

Compared to other periods, Victorian rooms have a surplus of objects. The rooms look as overstuffed as the couches and chairs. (One of the best rooms to illustrate this is the library-den of the gorgeous Ballantine House, associated with the Newark Museum at 43 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey). Filled with reds and browns the room is slightly dark because of the use of heavy drapes.

The Renaissance Revival style (1850-1885) adopted ideas from the Italian Renaissance. Borrowing from the Baroque, the primary emphasis is on overblown decoration rather than design. This was the first style to be mass produced by the new furniture factories, especially those in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

William Morris, an English designer, produced simple, sturdy furniture styled after medieval English designs. He was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, which held that the new mass-produced factory furniture had led to a decline in furniture quality and craftsmanship.

Charles Eastlake, influenced by Morris, became the chief exponent of the English Arts and Crafts movement. The Eastlake Style (1870-1890) is characterized by geometric ornamentation. The designer preferred straight lines to curves and his furniture had medieval outlines, but with ornamentation borrowed from the Gothic, the Japanese, and the abilities of the new factory machines.

A latter style in the period was Art Nouveau. Its curved shapes were based on plants, waves, and flowers. This style became popular in the 1890s and lasted until 1915. Tiffany was one of the leading exponents of this style. He specialized in lamps and other glassware, but also designed many prestigious interiors.

If you visit a number of houses from the same time period, you will develop some favorite interior features. For instance, notice the wall covering known as lincrusta (used as a substitute for leather) and the employment of hand-painted stenciling for wall decoration. You will start regarding these as old friends and fondly remember the houses where you have seen them.



Chapter 17. Henry Bowen at Woodstock

 

Henry Bowen was born in Woodstock in the northeastern corner of Connecticut. His relatives had been among the first settlers of the town. His father ran a country store and tavern, and the young lad spent four years as a clerk in the store. In 1834 he left for New York City where he worked as a clerk in a dry-goods firm. In 1838 he and a fellow employee established their own company that specialized in silks, ribbons, and fancy goods.

In 1844 he married his former employer's daughter, Lucy Tappan. Lucy was the daughter of Lewis and Susanna Aspinwall Tappan of Brooklyn and the niece of Arthur Tappan, who was the patron of Lyman Beecher at Lane Seminary. Brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan were wealthy New York silk merchants and philanthropists, who in 1833 founded the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Roseland Cottage
Route 169, Woodstock, CT (Open Wed-Sun 12-5, Memorial Day-Sept 15; Fri-Sun 12-5, Sept 16-mid-Oct)

In 1846 Bowen built a Gothic revival summer cottage in his hometown. The architect was Joseph Wells. The house is quite eye-catching with its thirteen different shades of pink used in the interior and on the exterior. Especially lovely is the contrast between the pink of the outer walls and the brown of the window outlines and barge-boards.

There is a double parlor connected by an archway decorated with trompe l'oeil paneling. Both in the parlors and the entrance hall is Lincrusta-Walton wall covering (that resembles leather) from an 1880's redecoration of the house. In the south parlor is the receiving room, which contains Gothic Revival furniture made by Wells (who liked acorns as a motif). There is more such furniture in the north parlor, namely the rosewood armchairs from the Bowen's house in Brooklyn Heights flanking the fireplace. Also here are beautiful stained glass windows. In addition, there are a black walnut Gothic revival settee, side chair, and window seat.

The bedrooms are very plain compared to the parlors. On the first floor is the bedroom of Constance Holt (1879-1968), Bowen's granddaughter who was the last occupant of the house. Most of the furnishings are original. Presidents Hayes, Harrison, and McKinley stayed in the pink bedroom. The gardens can be seen from the window. In the dining room is a pink punch bowl used in the tradition of welcoming graduates to the house. This tradition continues even to this day.

Don't miss the bowling alley, containing all its original equipment. It is attached to the gabled carriage house, which has ornamental barge boards echoing those of the mansion, and of the same color scheme. Spend some time examining the south, or garden, facade of the house. The garden here is absolutely beautiful, especially with the beautiful house in the background. Attached to the left of the main house is the service wing.

Milton Rugoff in his book The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century, has an excellent account of the Beecher- Tilton affair, in which Mr. Bowen became intimately involved. Bowen had helped found Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Hearing of the great accomplishments of Henry Ward Beecher, Bowen paid for the young man to come east from Lane Seminary in May 1847. When Henry, his wife Eunice, and their three children arrived, Bowen even paid $800 towards resolving Beecher's old debts, and purchased outfits for the entire Beecher family.

In 1848 Bowen was one of the founders of the weekly Congregationalist newspaper "The Independent," published in New York. The paper advocated temperance and abolition. Bowen later became the publisher, and then the sole proprietor of the newspaper. Henry Ward Beecher, and then Theodore Tilton, became successive editors. The three men became so intimately associated that they were often referred to as "the Trinity of Plymouth Church."

Tragically, Henry Ward Beecher began having affairs with various church women. He even gave a few of the women a key to his study in Plymouth Church. Mrs. Bowen was one of these women. One day, she saw another woman enter her lover's study with a key. She was so shocked that she shortly afterward died (in the spring of 1863). On her death bed she confessed her affair to her husband.

Bowen's dry-goods firm went bankrupt at the outbreak of the Civil War. His acquaintance with Abraham Lincoln at this time came in handy for Bowen wanted to be appointed a revenue collector. Bowen visited Lincoln at the President's house, and Mrs. Lincoln had visited Bowen's house. Just before Lincoln's nomination, the future President went to church with Bowen in Brooklyn. Bowen encouraged Lincoln before the latter's Cooper Union speech.

Bowen worried that Lincoln felt betrayed by Mr. Beecher's critical articles appearing in the Independent. More worries came when Tilton carried on the same policy of hitting hard at the Administration. Bowen wrote to Senator Sumner asking him to tell the president that he had no control over the editorial content of the paper. Mr. Lincoln must have been understanding, for Bowen received a comfortable desk in the custom collector's office in New York. (On the wall in the hall is the document naming Bowen the Revenue Tax Collector of Brooklyn, New York, signed by Lincoln). A grateful, but sad, Bowen marched in Lincoln's funeral procession.

In December 1865 Bowen married Ellen, daughter of Dr. Hiram Holt of Woodstock. He had seven sons and three daughters by his first wife and a son with Ellen.

Henry Ward Beecher was on very good terms with the Tiltons, visiting their home almost every day. Then in October 1868 made love to Tilton's wife, Elizabeth. This began a sexual relationship that lasted several months. Elizabeth finally confessed the relationship to her husband in July 1870.

At this time Bowen had a falling out with Tilton because he wanted Tilton to support Ulysses S. Grant editorially. There was perhaps a special urgency in light of various "deals" Bowen had with the collector of the Port of New York. Bowen had also heard rumors about Tilton's sexual affairs. Therefore, Bowen fired Tilton from his job on the "Independent" and gave him a job on his other paper, the Brooklyn "Union." Then in late December 1870 he confronted Tilton with the story that Tilton was about to run away with another woman. At this time Tilton told Bowen of his wife Elizabeth's indiscretions with Beecher. Perhaps, seeking revenge, Bowen and Tilton worked out a plan.

Bowen carried a letter on December 26, 1870 from Tilton to Beecher demanding that the preacher resign his pastorship of Plymouth Church. A deal may have been worked out to satisfy everyone. A few days later Bowen removed Tilton from his job with the Brooklyn Union. Then, to the tune of $7,000, Beecher helped finance a literary weekly, The Golden Age, for Tilton to edit. Beecher even reconciled with Tilton.

The three men worked out an agreement amongst themselves. Bowen compensated Tilton to the tune of $70 thousand. Furthermore, Bowen agreed that he had wronged Beecher and said he would refrain from spreading gossip about the preacher in the future. In short, the men agreed to keep the whole affair quiet.

But the affair could not be kept quiet. The whole thing began to unravel, when, much to her later regret, the feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton told the radical, free-love advocate, Victoria Woodhull, the story of the Beecher-Tilton affair. As a radical, Victoria was being harshly criticized by the liberal Beechers. She warned Henry Ward that if his sisters Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catherine Beecher did not stop criticizing her, she would reveal the adulterous tale publicly. As the criticisms of her mounted, Woodhull told the entire story, and then published it in November 1872.

The news hit like a bomb-shell, thoroughly shaking Victorian America. As testimony to the high position and esteem in which Henry Ward was held, he actually became more popular and Tilton found himself expelled from his own church. Henry Ward picked a six member church jury to try him on the charges and they, naturally, found him innocent, but a little too trusting.

Infuriated, Tilton brought suit against Beecher in City Court for willful alienation of his wife's affections. The case opened in January 1875 and lasted almost six months. In their summation, the defense emphasized that finding Beecher guilty would basically undermine all confidence in religious leaders. Doing their civic duty, the jury found nine to three against Tilton. The church raised $100,000 to pay for Beecher's trial costs, while Tilton was financially ruined. At this point, the exasperated Bowen finally told his story of his first wife's relationship with Beecher. Offering no real proof, the church expelled Bowen. However, not everyone was fooled. The New York Times declared that Beecher was guilty of the charges and many other papers, especially those in the Midwest, were very harsh towards Beecher.

The story is somewhat pathetic because all three men were less than admirable: Henry Ward because of his adulterous affairs; Tilton because of his many extra-marital affairs, and his willingness to keep quiet about his wife's affair in return for Beecher money; and Bowen because of his keeping his own story quiet during the crucial trials of Tilton, and because of his shady deals with the collector of the Port of New York.

From 1870 onward Bowen's large Fourth of July parties were often attended by presidents and other prominent figures such as Oliver Wendell Holmes. Grant came to the house in 1870. He bowled a strike in the bowling alley and was greatly pleased. Former President Hayes visited in 1883, President Benjamin Harrison in 1889, and the Ohio congressman William S. McKinley attended the Fourth of July festivities in 1891.

Bowen was a generous benefactor to his local town. He gave to both rebuild and endow Woodstock Academy, to paid the town's Civil War debt, landscaped the town green, created Roseland Park on the shore of a nearby lake, and supported the Woodstock Agricultural Society.

Other Sites

Roseland Cottage is located in the most sparsely-populated part of Connecticut, the extreme northeastern corner. This makes it a special treat for drivers. In Canterbury is the Prudence Crandall House (Canterbury Green, junction of routes 14 and 169), the site of New England's first school for black girls (1833). In Eastford are Buell's Greenhouses (Weeks Road; take Route 198 to Westford Road to Weeks Road). These are six greenhouses containing 140,000 African violets and many exotic plants. In Coventry see the Nathan Hale Farmstead (see the chapter in this book).

 

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