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Summer At Rose Hill

June 24th, 2022

By Mel Oles, Visitor Services and Program Manager at Rose Hill Mansion and Johnston House

Summer has finally arrived.  The days are hot, nights are cool, and flowers are in bloom.  For the Swan family summer would have revolved around the front porch and grounds.

Ad for Gem Freezer with a little girl feeding ice cream to a doll.Though introduced in the 1700s, ice cream remained a rate treat for the wealthy Americans.   George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Dolly Madison served ice cream at their dinner parties.  It wasn’t until the 1840s that ice cream became accessible to everyone when Mrs. Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked ice cream freezer.  In the 1870s ice cream became commercially made and ice cream parlors were created.  Perhaps the Swan children enjoyed ice cream on the porch or at another popular Victorian activity the ice cream social.

The grounds of Rose Hill would have been very busy with agricultural business and the families’ formal gardens.  Margaret wrote to Robert on June 18, 1860, “We have a great show of fruits the plumb trees are full also apricots gooseberries & currants our Strawberries I do not think are a good kind they dont bear well we have had them twice for tea…”  The family would have enjoyed the gardens to escape the heat.  The farm workers would have been busy tending the crops.

Outside Rose Hill: An Exploration Of Landscape And Architecture

Swan family and friends playing croquet on the grounds of Rose Hill, ca. 1877.

To escape the heat in New York City Robert’s relatives come for long stays.  His parents came to stay for months almost every summer often accompanied by Robert’s Uncle Caleb and Aunt Harriet Swan.  In his history of the Swan family Robert’s brother Frederick described the summer visits –

There was a delicious simplicity pervading it all; all were so kind to one another. On a large farm like this there was always something to see and be done, walking over the farm, viewing fine cattle grazing in clover three feet high, looking at celebrated milking cows, then to pastures where the “South-Down” sheep were feeding. A ride to Geneva over the Lake Road every afternoon for the mail, supplies and general shopping, the return by the same road, the climb of the long hill . . . the watching the cutting and gathering of crops by machine with some twenty farm hands assisting in the work, the storing away of the crops in the great barns, all combined, gave ample occupation to those visiting. . . . The good wife, on warm days, had iced lemonade to greet you upon return from the fields when you would seat yourself in one of the comfortable high-backed chairs upon the roomy piazza that fronted the lake and enjoy your rest and the magnificent view.

Like the Swans we still rely on the belvedere to keep the mansion cool.  Today summer means special events and programs at Rose Hill.  We are excited to announce the return of the summer concert series.  It has been two years since we hosted concerts due to COVID-19 restrictions.  The concerts are free and open to the public.   The series kicked off on June 17 and continues on July 17  and August 21.  We hope to see you at a summer concert, on a guided tour or enjoying the beautiful grounds.   For more information about the summer activities at Rose Hill visit our website.

2 responses to “Summer At Rose Hill”

  1. Molly Chapin says:

    Is there information on what summer was like for those who weren’t wealthy? Some summer realities and treats for the everywoman/everyman?

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      That is a wonderful question. Unfortunately we do not have any information about Rose Hill from those perspectives. You can find out more about the life of workers at Rose Hill in some of our other blog posts like here and here. They are also covered in our exhibit on site, One House, Many People: Workers at Rose Hill. That is a good question for a future blog post, but in general, I’d say that summer would be hot and sweaty for most people and more exhausting for the laborers doing haying and heavy agricultural labor. Ordinary people would enjoy summer’s bounty as much as the Swans–fruits and vegetables would be plentiful. Difficult labor like haying might be accompanied by community gatherings, dances and picnics.

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