‘Hunt’ing Down History (final episode)

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

PHOTO: Bracelet with cameo portraits of four sons of Jonathan and Jane Hunt (physician Jonathan Hunt, painter William Morris Hunt, architect Richard Morris Hunt and early photographer and New York attorney Leavitt Hunt), carved by artist William Morris Hunt, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo by Martin Langeveld.

Two days before Halloween, four years ago, I slipped through a side door of a massive, two-story granite building in Barre. I was met by a woman who said she had “something of interest” to show me. “It is just their heads,” she continued, cautioning me “not to touch them.” I was given white gloves to wear, just in case I forgot her orders.

I was in the workroom of the Vermont Historical Society Museum in Barre’s former Spaulding High School. (There is also the Main Museum in the old Pavilion Building near the Capitol in Montpelier.) Before me were portraits of Jonathan and Lavinah Hunt. They had been purchased from the same family selling the Hunt family papers; $3,000 was paid for the portraits. The paintings were about to be properly packaged and shipped to the Art Conservation wing of the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA, where cleaning and possible repairs would be professionally done.

The portraits were painted by Lavinah’s nephew, Caleb Lyman, as a wedding present. Jonathan Hunt is shown wearing a dark coat, with a white cravat tied in a bow. His light brown hair, sprinkled with white, is combed back from his face, revealing a receding hairline. Lavinah is wearing a dark dress with a fichu (a 3-cornered shawl of a light material) tucked into the V-neckline. Her white day cap stands upright and reveals a bit of auburn hair tucked behind her ear. Her blue eyes look directly at the viewer. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 18

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Although Richard Morris Hunt is remembered for his oversight of the design of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as for being the architect who designed opulent homes for prominent wealthy patrons, he also was engaged in the design of many public buildings in the Northeast.

In New York City are the Plaza Hotel; the Columbian Presbyterian Hospital; the central entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Stuyvesant apartments on E. 18th Street (known as the “French Flats”); and the New York Tribune Building. Also, St. Mark’s Church, Islip, NY (which was commissioned by William K. Vanderbilt); the Academic Building at West Point; Scroll and Key Clubhouse at Yale; the Fogg Museum at Harvard; the Howland Library in Beacon, NY; the Vanderbilt Tomb on Staten Island; the pedestal of the statue celebrating the Revolutionary War victory at Yorktown; and the Cromwell House, located at Hyde Park, near the Roosevelt House. (Despite his being born in Brattleboro, the only works of Richard Morris Hunt situated locally are two simple stones for his father and brother William Morris Hunt, in the Hunt lot in Prospect Hill Cemetery.) (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 17

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

Severe cold and snow ushered in 1892. Daniel Burnham, construction supervisor at the Columbian Exposition, was living in a construction shanty on the Chicago fair grounds, heated by an immense fireplace. Workmen constructed a moveable enclosure that could be heated, so that “staff” could continue to be applied to the framework of unfinished buildings. Burnham was criticized by both Congress and the local Fair Committee that he was paying wages that were too high. He also built barracks within the park where workers could get three large meals a day and sleep in clean beds in a heated space. They were paid even if kept from working because of injury or illness. It resulted in a loyal work force that gave full measure in its 8-hour day.

Richard Morris Hunt had returned to his New York City office, but kept in touch with architect Charles McKim, who designed the Fair’s Agriculture Building. He visited the shanty and passed on information to Hunt of progress slowly being made.

Lake freighters were unloading wooden crates bearing labels in foreign words and alphabets. Gigantic draft horses drew wagon loads of exhibit materials destined for yet unfinished buildings. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 16

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

When Congress chose Chicago as the Columbian Exposition site over other contenders, including New York, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, the Chicago Committee received a telegram from Chauncey Depew. He was U.S. Congressman from New York, lawyer for the Vanderbilts, president of the New York Central Railroad, and one of the most witty and celebrated speakers of the day. The message, part of a letter also sent to the Chicago Tribune, warned: “Chicago is like the man who marries a woman with a ready-made family of twelve; the trouble has just begun.” His comment proved to have hit the nail on the head.

Burnham, who had convinced Richard Morris Hunt to be chief architect of the Exposition, and Frederick Law Olmsted its landscape designer, had expected to rely on his charismatic business partner, John Root, for help on the massive project. However, Root died of pneumonia just as preparation of the site was to begin. At least, the two, along with Hunt, had figured out how to combat the quicksand of Jackson Park, making it suitable for the erection of massive buildings. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 15

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

ILLUSTRATION: World’s Columbian Exposition Administration Building, Chicago, 1893, designed by Richard Morris Hunt

With only two years to create a “dream city” in what was Chicago’s derelict Jackson Park, Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted were almost in a state of despair. It was a square mile of desolate land overgrown with a tangle of wild vines and grasses, spotted with a few pockets of various kinds of oaks, many of them dead. Then, there was the soil: a top one-foot layer of black dirt, followed by two feet of sand, then eleven feet of sand so saturated by water it became quicksand. Locally, it was called “gumbo”.

After a dismal tour in the bitter wind, everyone returned to their carriages, driving back to the city at the pace of a funeral cortege. McKim found a telegram awaiting; the message was that his mother had died. He left immediately on the next train to Boston.

That evening, the entire committee convened at the University Club, the first of many lavish dinners that would take place. Avoiding a swarm of reporters, they entered the banquet hall. Hunt and Olmsted were ushered to the head table, where they flanked Lyman Gage, President of the Exposition. All were in tuxedos, and a red rose boutonniere was at each place. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 14

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

Although George Vanderbilt’s 600-room mansion “Belleville,” in Ashville, NC, still demanded attention from Richard Morris Hunt, in 1893, he also became involved in the plans for buildings at the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in Chicago. Its purpose was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. The city, now mostly recovered from its disastrous 1871 fire, had been chosen by Congress. There was pressure, also, to produce a structure that should surpass in every way the iconic Eiffel Tower, which had been built for the 1867 Paris Exposition.

The oversight of the massive project and the selection of architects, fell to Daniel Burnham of Chicago, an architect himself. He was told to meet with “the greatest architects America has to offer: George Post, Charles McKim, and Richard Morris Hunt.” Hunt — a scion of the Hunt family in Vernon — was the nation’s “most venerable architect,” and also “a man of legendary irascibility,” Burnham later wrote. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 13

by Barbara Emery Moseley

Before the Hunt family’s move to Europe, Richard Morris Hunt had attended the prestigious Boston Latin School where, coincidentally, a Hunt cousin of his was headmaster. It was well known as a school that prepared boys for Harvard.

Instead, the family moved to Europe where Richard began his college education in Switzerland. Then, following in the footsteps of his brother, William Morris Hunt, he went to the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. There, he was the pupil and colleague of Hector Martin Lefuel, architect to Napoleon III.

In a letter to his mother, Richard complained that he “had been told America was not ready for the Fine Arts, but I think they are … Why shouldn’t our public buildings rival or even surpass those of Europe?” So, at the age of twenty-seven, he returned to the United States.

It was a disappointing beginning for the 27-year-old, but he resisted the ardent entreaties of his colleagues in Europe, that he return. His persistence was rewarded, and he became known as one of the greatest American architects of the 19th century. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 11

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Imagine Brattleboro’s Main Street in the Spring of 1822. There are three hotels along its unpaved length. The stagecoach stop is at the Brattleboro House, on the north corner of Main and Elliot. Teams of oxen haul goods from the river landing. Salt cod, sugar, molasses, spices, cloth, glass, black powder, and cigars have been delivered by flatboats. Products going downriver will be lumber, grain, tallow, and pork. A stop may be made in Vernon to pick up roofing slate, brought to the river from the quarries at the Guilford/Vernon border. (It will be a quarter-century before steam trains will deliver passengers and freight to the locality, making commerce and travel easier.)

At the north corner of High and Main Streets, Brattleboro’s downtown residential area begins. First is an imposing two-story white house surrounded by green lawns and shaded by tall elms. It is the new house of Jonathan Hunt II, who was born in Vernon in 1787. He had graduated from Dartmouth, studied law and was admitted to the bar, and married Jane Maria Leavitt of Suffield, Connecticut, in 1821. It will become the birthplace of a remarkable family whose members will experience great acclaim and devastating tragedy. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 10

By Barbara Emery Moseley

The first child of Jonathan and Levinah Hunt was born August 12, 1780, ad name for his father. However, the infant died at three-and-one-half months. Following the custom of the day, the name of a baby boy who did not live to be a year old was given to the next male born to the family. Consequently, the Hunts’ fourth child, born May 12, 1787, was named Jonathan. He became politically prominent, like his father, and established a distinguished family of his own.

Two girls, Ellen and Fanny, followed, in 1781 and 1783, then the “second” Jonathan and, lastly, Arad.

Ellen and Fanny were known as great beauties, in their day. In 1801, when she was twenty, Ellen married the Hon. Lewis R. Morris, congressman from Vermont. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 9

By Barbara Emery Moseley

At last, the handsome house built near the river and set on hundreds of acres was finished. Jonathan and his bride Levinah were married July 15, 1779. They were among about 100 townspeople at the time, who lived in much simpler farmhouses, mostly scattered along the river valley.

Accompanying the newlyweds was Anna, Hunt’s daughter by a previous marriage. Her mother’s name is unknown, and quite likely she died from complications of childbirth, the common fate of many women at the time. Anna’s name, however, became well-known and is recognized still in Brattleboro, and Vernon.

In 1797, she married Dr. Perley Marsh of Hinsdale. Her dowry was “one good horse, three cows, and good household furniture which amounted to $600.” She and her husband soon moved into a large frame house (on today’s Brattleboro Road, Hinsdale) that rivaled in elegance the one she had left.

At the time, the insane were shut away, sometimes in dungeons or caves, or tied into chairs in their homes. Anna and Dr. Marsh deplored shut inhumane treatment. After her death in 1834, her will provided a sum of $10,000, “to be given for the purpose of erecting and support of a hospital for the insane in Windham County.” It was built and known as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 8

By Barbara Emery Moseley

In the 1700s, on seeing a bareheaded man, people would assume that either he had lost his hat or his mind! The almost universal headgear was the three-cornered hat, which could be plain, or embellished with braids and cockades, and was easily tucked under an arm.

Made of felt, it was produced through a tedious process of treating beaver fur. Indeed, Fort Dummer, built in 1724, near the northwest corner of what was to become Vernon, traded briskly with the Native Americans for beaver pelts. Hats could be felted from any soft fur, but beaver was preferred because of its soft sheen. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 7

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Here comes the bride—but is it Levina, Lovinah, Lavinia, or Levinah Swan who will glide into matrimony with Jonathan Hunt on July 14, 1779? All these versions of her name appear in various references. Lovinah is on her tombstone in Vernon’s North (Hunt) Cemetery, but, although “written in stone,” it is incorrect. However, the Vermont Historical Society has in its archives an 1831 letter written from Vernon to her son, U.S. Senator Jonathan Hunt, in Washington, DC. It closes with: “I hope I shall see you all again in good health is the daly [sic] prayer of your aff’nt Mother Levinah Hunt.”

Her great-great grandfather Thomas was the first of the Swan family to arrive in this country, about 1648. He was a doctor, born in Scotland, and educated in England. Settling in Roxbury, a section of Boston, he soon met and married Mary Lamb.

On July 11, 1681, his house was “set on fire” by Maria, a black servant, and “burned with some in it.” For this crime, Maria was sentenced to be burned at the stake. The barbaric punishment was carried out on Boston Common, September 22, 1681. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 6

By Barbara Emery Moseley

No doubt Jonathan Hunt, early on, had built a rough, cabin-like dwelling on his many riverside acres in Vernon. It was likely that it became attached , on the east side, to other sheds and barns. That was a practical New England style that allowed settlers access to their stored firewood and provisions, and to attend to the farm animals in all kinds of weather. His bride, however, would expect a more comfortable home.

Jonathan had the means to hire a master builder. Also, there was close access to a sawmill built several years earlier by his father. It was located on Lower Salmon Brook, near today’s Post Office Plaza (George’s Mill). (more…)