Thursday, October 22, 2009

Field Trip: The William Seward House

We had a delightful time today visiting two historical landmarks. We visited the Seward House after lunch and got a grand tour of the Seward Mansion. Who was William Seward? He was a NY State Senator, NY State Governor, US Senator from NY, and finally the Secretary of State in President Lincoln's cabinet.

We had the short, rushed, fast talker tour mostly by accident. The main tour is an hour and a half and probably starts with an overview of who Seward and his family were and what they did. As it was we got a very quick, what I'm calling, "stuff tour". We got a tour of Seward's mansion and the gobs of stuff in it. All I can say is wow! Here's a little of what I was able to hear and retain!
  • there are pieces in the home that are over 3000 years old- gifts to Mr. Seward from foreign leaders
  • as Secretary of State under Lincoln he purchased Alaska for .02 an acre
  • in the dining room there are two tables which seat 20. There is a built in storage closet for the leaves for the table with a silverware safe underneath- still full of silver
  • there are bars on the basement windows to keep the wild animals out- bears, mountain lions, and wolves (were there wolves in NY??)
  • the china is Napoleonic china and Mr. Seward has 60 place settings of it
  • Mr. Seward loved his garden. At the bottom of the large staircase at the end of the banister, there is a large vase in which was put fresh flowers daily.
  • there is a square grand piano in the upstairs hallway
  • on the way up the grand staircase is a gallery of photos/paintings of famous dignitaries, rulers, heads of state, etc that were gifts to Mr. Seward. Simply amazing since these were all gifts to him.
  • Mr. Seward was a staunch abolitionist and his home was a frequent stop on the Underground Railroad.
  • He was a signer of the Emancipation Proclamation
  • The night President Lincoln was killed, Mr. Seward was also brutally attacked and did recover from his injuries.
  • the dining room table was set for a fish meal and the fish knives were nothing short of exquisite. The curator told the story about how at Seward's home in Washington, DC Lincoln used his own butter knife to get butter from a large silver butter dish. Unfortunately, this is a terribly uncouth thing to do because there is a butter knife that belongs with the dish. His wife Mary Lincoln Todd reprimanded him with a look. He leaned over to another guest and said, "I'm gonna hear about this for the next six months!"
I could go on and on and on! What I find so amazing is that there are so many of their belongings in the mansion. It's like everything is there! They saved all of their children's toys and the original boxes they came in. I'm certain that not everything left behind is on display. Although this home has been turned into a museum, the Seward family still lives in Auburn and reportedly still live a similar lifestyle today.

A fountain in the garden outside the porch area. Seward considered his garden more important than the house and spent a lot of time there.

The porch leading to the garden. See those shuttered windows under the porch roof? They are actually pocket doors!!! They are beautiful and they are one set of the many pocket doors we saw on the first floor. The pocket doors are 130 yrs old and are perfectly balanced and in excellent working order. Oh man...pocket doors. Wouldn't it be lovely to have some of those? The pocket doors to the dining room had frosted glass in them to provide some privacy.

We were able to tour just half of the enormous mansion. To the right of the wood shed are the servant's quarters and the towers held servant's quarters too. 13 rooms worth. He had 20 servants and it is said that Seward was a very generous man. If you worked for him as a servant he took good care of you and for the rest of your life.

This was the wood shed. The whole building! Inside it now is the carriage. We were told that Abraham Lincoln rode in the carriage many times with Seward.

Carriage House (on the left) and the stable (on the right) with the stable keeper's apartment above it on a second floor.
Instead of taking this field trip as a culmination of a unit, we went at what is really just the beginning of our studies on the topic of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. However, it was perfect! Now we know that we want to find out more about Mr. Seward and the events that surrounded his life.

Did you know that in June, Sarah Palin visited Auburn, NY as part of Alaska's celebration of their 50 years of statehood. We were on the way through town that day to head to Rochester for a homeschooling convention. I wish we could have stopped!

After perusing The Seward House website, I found out that there are curriculum materials that go with a field trip there. I have emailed to ask for them and I hope they come through for me. I promised the kids, who left wanting more, that we would go back again toward the end of the unit and take the long tour (1.5 hours) so we could learn more about Mr. Seward and the people with which he surrounded himself. I'm sure we'll learn some more fun facts.


Debbie said...

Very cool, Heather...being from
Alaska we are very familiar with Seward and his "folly"...but we think he made a great decision when he bought AK! :-)

Kristina Petrella said...

Paul took me to the Seward house for our 3rd anniversary! We had so much fun! They have the entire family's collection of Uncle Tom's Cabin and if you call ahead (and ask nicely, lol) they will pull them out of storage and let you look at them! Paul and I also hung around for about three hours and got to look/touch/feel/smell and everything short of taste tons of the different books in their libraries there! It was, to quote the Incredibles, "totally wicked"!