After the Swans: The Plummers, 1890 – 1893

August 31st, 2018

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

The people we talk most about in our tours of Rose Hill – Robert and Margaret Swan and their family – lived here for 40 years.  Margaret died in 1889, and Robert the following year.  They left two daughters, Maggie and Agnes.  In July 1890 Agnes wrote to her cousin James:

We have just sold the dear Rose Hill Farm.  Maggie & I felt it was too lonely there now for us to live there and too much of a care – so large a place needs the almost constant presence of the Master or Mistress to keep the many men needed to keep it in order farmwise and to attend to the constant repairs, so we offered it for sale & a man came from near Detroit and bought it . . .

The man from near Detroit was Ephraim H. Plummer.  The local newspapers welcomed Plummer and his wife, Anna Belle, to the area.  On July 11, the Gazette relayed Mr. Plummer’s plans for the farm:

[He] . . . will utilize it as a stock farm . . . His specialty will be the breeding and training of running horses . . . He contemplates laying out and grading a mile track on his farm if the lay of the land will enable him to do so . . .   But if not a mile, he will have a good half mile track . . . Rose Hill farm will then be a center of attraction to all lovers of turf sports.

The Plummers had grand plans for the house, as well – “When Mr. Plummer pronounces the Swan mansion finished it will be a veritable palace.”  Six Rochester decorators were working on it.  (Gazette, August 8.)  The Geneva Advertiser reported on September 23 that Rose Hill was brightly lighted by electricity.  Mr. Plummer had installed a generator and wired the house and grounds.  This is the first we know of that Rose Hill had electricity.

Meanwhile, the Plummers had received an offer to buy Rose Hill.  On September 12, the Gazette printed letters.

Dear Sir, [said Henry S Hopkins]

I have looked carefully over your Rose Hill farm, and not knowing whether you wish to sell or not, have concluded to make you a cash offer for the same.  I will give you eighty-five thousand dollars for the farm [over $2 million in 2018 dollars], seventy thousand dollars to be paid in cash on receipt of a clear title, and fifteen thousand dollars to be paid, with interest, at six per cent, in six months.

Dear Sir, [responded Mr Plummer]

Your letter of the 8th . . . [is] at hand.  My farm is not for sale at any price.  I bought the farm for the purpose of making a Thoroughbred Stock Farm of it, and expect to spend the remaining days of my life on it in this business.  Allow me to thank you for your offer, but decline the same.

In spring of 1892 there are the first hints that things might be going badly for the Plummers.  The Advertiser reprinted a bit from the Waterloo Observer:

In the various suits against Ephraim H. Plummer of Fayette, the defendant and his witnesses not appearing, judgment amounting to several thousand dollars was taken against him by default.  This in the special term of supreme court held . . . last week (March 15.)

We do not know what these lawsuits were about.

After that nothing else appears in the papers until April 1893, when there was a rumor that Mr. Plummer had sold Rose Hill.  (Advertiser, April 18.)  The next news was an ad in the Advertiser from May 15, 1893:

Great Auction Sale . . .

On the Plummer Farm  . . . .

The largest auction sale of live stock, farm tools, and particularly of household furniture ever held in this part of State [sic] will . . . continue until every article is sold.  Every article of household goods is comparatively new, in as good order as when it came from the store.

. . . Arrangements have been made to convey people over to the sale every day by omnibus, and bring them back free of expense  . . .

. . . talk it all over, then go and buy these rich things at your own prices.

man with a horse

Image that accompanied the ad for the Plummer Auction, Geneva Daily Gazette, May 19, 1893.

A few days later, the Gazette reported that the Sheriff of Seneca County tried to stop the auction because he had an execution against the property being sold.  The implication was that the Plummers had bought a lot on credit, and had yet to paid for it.  Since the Sheriff did not have all his paperwork done, Mr. Plummer was guaranteed title to the goods.  Still, buyers were wary, and the Sheriff kept interfering.  Gazette, June 2:

The Plummer sale was suspended last Friday afternoon owing to certain legal complications.  When it will be resumed, if ever, depends upon a settlement or throwing out of sundry claims made against E. H. Plummer, to secure which attachments have been as we understand, issued against the property of Mrs. A. B. Plummer.     . . .

Apparently the Plummers had tried to protect the property by putting it in Mrs. Plummer’s name.  The Plummers and the Sheriff persisted, as the Advertiser tells us on June 6.

More Trouble. –  . . . all our citizens are aware of the rumors regarding the many interruptions by the sheriff of Seneca County on attachments, which inconvenienced both seller and buyers.  Many of the things that had been sold were levied on by the sheriff . . .  The sale closed on Friday, for the interruptions had become so numerous as to cause grievous annoyance.  . . .  following this we were told that Mrs. Plummer had engaged two noted New York lawyers to “go for” Sheriff Van Cleef, and that big damages would be demanded . . .

The two parties eventually came to a preliminary agreement.  The Gazette of June 9 explained that the plaintiffs who objected to the sale, and Mrs. Plummer, had decided to confine their wrangle to the proceeds of the sale rather than the goods being sold.  Mr. Plummer told the newspapers “he has a heap of fun ahead of those who interrupted his wife’s business” (Advertiser, June 20.)

By the end of 1893 the Plummers had left the area.  Their lawsuits, however, continued.  On March 13, 1894, the Advertiser reported that “all of the Plummer suits at law arising out of . . . that auction sale . . . have been tried, and Mr. Plummer has come out second best in every one of them.   . . . the attorney for the various parties . . . won their cases hands down.”  The Plummers seem in general to have had little luck in court.  What happened to them after they left Rose Hill is still a mystery.


Discover more about the families who called Rose Hill home with the Historical Society’s newest publication Rose Hill Mansion: From Progressive Farm to Historic House Museum.  To purchase a copy, call 315-789-5151.

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