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Town of Hunter Tidbits: Onteora’s artists and prominent mountaintop guests of the late 1800s

Godey’s Lady’s magazine, a Philadelphia magazine for women, which featured the article on the Onteora visitors from the late 1800s.
October 9, 2018 11:47 am Updated: October 9, 2018 11:58 am


Years ago, as we do today, the mountaintop enjoyed the company of many prominent summer guests.

Below are a few of the summertime artists, poets, writers and political men who spent their summers in Tannersville. Talented men and women traveled up the narrow wagon trail (today’s Hill Street or Route 23C) toward what was then called “the crossing,” near the All Soul’s Church.

Most were visitors, part-time dwellers, desiring to spend time near their artist (and other talented) friends in Onteora Park.

Greene County residents know of and share great pride in the Hudson River School of Art (1825-1870) founded by Thomas Cole and Asher Durand. This school attracted many visiting artists desiring to paint in the very area that lured the talented Hudson River artists.

Below is a partial list of Onteora’s visiting artists, well-known authors and other prominent people spending summers on the mountain.

n James Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917): Beckwith was an American landscape and portrait artist whose Naturalist style led to his recognition in the later 19th century. Beckwith is better known by his preferred name of Carroll Beckwith.

He taught painting at the Art Students League. At the age of 19, he moved from Chicago to New York to study at the National Academy of Design. He furthered his studies in Paris where he studied with Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran, as well as at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

n Eastman Johnson (1824-1906): Johnson was an American painter and co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His name can be found inscribed at the museum’s entrance.

At the age of 20, he supported himself by making crayon portraits, including one of John Quincy Adams and Dolly Maddison. Johnson’s work includes portraits of the wealthy and famous; he was known as the American Rembrandt in his day.

In 1859, Johnson painted “Negro Life at the South” — a realistic painting of slavery, which was considered to be his masterpiece. It became more realistic due to its timing just prior to the Civil War.

n Mrs. Elizabeth B. Custer (1842-1933): Mrs. Custer (Libbie) was a well-known American author and public speaker. She was the wife of Maj. Gen. George Custer, United States Army. She spent most of their marriage following him to wherever the Civil War sent him, according to various websites.

Married in 1864, Libbie Custer witnessed the Civil War firsthand. She was left with very little money after her husband died, becoming an advocate for Custer’s legacy through her many books and lectures.

A beautiful, bright woman, Elizabeth never remarried throughout her 90 years of living. She was buried next to her husband.

n Mary Ruth McEnery Stuart (1849-1917): Stuart was a successful fiction writer working under the name Ruth McEnery Stuart. Stuart wrote typically about her experiences while in the state of Arkansas.

According to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, Stuart was one of the most successful fiction writers of her time. She is being studied today by feminist and social literary critics.

n William McKendree Carleton (1845-1912): Carleton was a successful American poet who most often shared the personal experiences of his rural lifestyle in his poetry.

Two of his quotes: “To appreciate heaven well, it is good for a person to have some fifteen minutes of hell.

But I have learned a thing or two. I know as sure as fate, when we lock up our lives for wealth, the gold key comes too late.”

n Laurence Hutton (1833-1904). Hutton was an American essayist and critic. He was the literary editor of Harpers Magazine in the 1880s and the author of many articles and poetry.

Prior to his death in 1904, Hutton taught English at Princeton University.

Hutton was a good friend of actor Edwin Booth and published several biographies on Booth.

n Booth was an American actor who toured the United States and Europe, performing Shakespearean plays. In 1869, he founded Booth’s Theatre in New York. Some theatrical historians consider him the most significant American actor and the greatest Prince Hamlet, of the 19th century.

He was the brother of John Wilkes Booth, who is known for assassinating President Abraham Lincoln.

Two of Edwin Booth’s famous quotes:

“Homelessness is the actor’s fate; physical incapacity to attain what is most required and desired by such a spirit as I am a slave to.

But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it and must play it till the curtain falls.”

A historical tidbit taken from Wikipedia:

“During the Civil War, a young Robert Todd Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington during a break from his studies at Harvard [University]. He hopped off the train during a stop at Jersey City, only to find himself on an extremely crowded platform.

“It was a simple situation until the train started moving and dropped young Robert Lincoln into space between the platform and train. He was grasped by his collar (by a total stranger) and yanked to safety. This stranger turned out to be Edwin Booth, the celebrated actor, and brother of eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.”

n Brander Matthews (1852-1929): Matthews was an American writer and educator. He was the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university. He played a significant role in establishing theater as a subject worthy of formal study in the academic world.

Matthew’s education included Columbia College, Columbia University and Columbia Law School.

n Stewart Lyndon Woodford (1835-1913): Woodford was an American attorney and politician who served as a member of the United States House of Representatives and the state lieutenant governor.

His education included Yale University followed by Columbia University.

Thank you for reading about a few of the summertime guests visiting the mountaintop 125 years ago. Please send any comments, concerns or corrections to the, or call 518-589-4130.

Until next week, take care, be thankful and be kind. You never know how your act of kindness may change someone’s life.

Have a good weekend and enjoy the fall weather.