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Home » » Local History with Dede Terns-Thorpe - Candace Wheeler

Local History with Dede Terns-Thorpe - Candace Wheeler

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 6/7/24 | 6/7/24

This story is a follow-up to last week’s story on Onteora’s co-founder, Candace Wheeler. Her description of the early park cabins tells how she wished to keep a minimalist lifestyle at Onteora.  

 It’s been a learning experience and a privilege to study Wheeler. She seemed naturally bright, an organizer, and a friend to all. It appeared her goal was to keep her life simple, get to know your neighbors, and enjoy the wildlife, bears, foxes, chipmunks, woodchucks, and other critters. 

Her description:

The typical house was wood framed with shingles and rustic slabs on the outside, wainscotting, and burlap on the inside walls, with at least one porch. A stone fireplace was necessary on both floors for warmth.  Architect Reid designed homes with a rugged stone mantelpiece on either side of the hearth and a balcony over the living area. 

The artists’ studios had northern skylights and most of Reid’s houses displayed his murals around the living room. In ordinary cottages, each bedroom had a washstand, furnished with a crockery basin and pitcher, a sloop jar, and a soap dish. Each bathroom contained a zinc tub with a cold-water faucet. Hot water was brought from the kitchen in watering cans. 

Homes had earth closets, rather than bathrooms. Twice a week a man, driving mules and called Honey Wagons, came to service the closets. There were no screens on the doors and windows, but over each bed was a canopy of mosquito netting. Oil lamps were used. Usually, a house was built with one special squirrel-proof room for winter storage of bedding. Each corner had strips of tin applied to keep out the critters. Bedrooms for the servants were usually on the upper floors. 

Local merchants made their rounds about twice a week - the butcher, the grocer, the ice man, and other merchants. (This next statement surprised me.) One itinerant group we always delighted to see was the Indians, with huge gunny sacks slung over their shoulders and containing a variety of items woven from grass of an incredibly fragrant odor: baskets for knick-knacks, sewing, and trash, coasters for glasses, placemats, napkin rings, etcetera. 

Twice a day the mailman would arrive on his wagon bringing mail. This was a highlight of the day for many vacationers. 

A Winter Garden

“During the winter days when my garden lies lonesome and shrouded with snow on the great white uplands, I remember not alone the sheets of color and the general beauty and brightness, but individual flowers walk in loveliness through my mind and seem to salute my senses with their fragrance.

Candace Wheeler

An interesting 2001 Washington Post article said the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Amelia Peck said of Candace Wheeler, "She literally got forgotten." The article said that Wheeler was to textiles what Louis Comfort Tiffany is to the art of glass. The two were briefly partners in an interior design firm known as Tiffany & Wheeler. 

That Wheeler has been forgotten while Tiffany's reputation has prospered adds poignancy. Today, of more than 500 designs created by Wheeler and her firm, only 40 survive. Sad.

Thanks for reading. Take care, and stay safe.

Dede Terns-Thorpe/Hunter Historian

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