Subscribe to the newsletter and get Edwardian-themed news delivered straight to your inbox!

Happy Birthday Delmonico’s!

by
's 44th St. and 5th Ave. N.Y., 1898
‘s 44th St. and 5th Ave. N.Y., 1898

Delmonico’s turned 180 years old this week, and its current incarnation turned up and turned out in style to celebrate the amazing milestone with Gilded Age celebrities, costumes, and food.

Granted, one hundred and eighty years means that despite the grand restaurant being synonymous with the Gilded Age, it was founded well before the robber barons and Astors and Vanderbilts turned Fifth Avenue into a rich man’s playground. It was in 1837, to be exact, that the Delmonico brothers–John and Pietro–emigrated to American and opened a pastry shop in the business district of New York. They quickly prospered, with merchants, bankers, and the like addicted to the deliciously light and airy French pastries and hot coffee that was then a novelty to many Americans. The brothers were frugal, yet visionary, and when they accumulated enough business, they opened a restaurant next door to the pastry shop–Delmonico’s.

The lavish French and Italian dishes produced from Delmonico’s kitchens matched the zeitgeist of the proto-Gilded Age of the 1840s and 1850s, where the Erie Canal and railroads created a cohort of men who were millionaires one day and paupers the next. New York’s increasing prominence as the hub of American culture and high life also helped the prominence of Delmonico’s, since visiting European entertainers, artists, writers, and royals gravitated towards finely-cooked meals that reminded them of the best restaurants across the Atlantic.

Delmonico’s entered its iconic stage in the 1860s, when nephew Lorenzo Delmonico took the reins and the famed chef Charles Ranhofer entered its kitchens. Throughout the Gilded Age, there were actually multiple Delmonico’s locations across Manhattan, though the flagship location, so to speak, was located in a luxurious building at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street from 1876-1899. As early as the 1850s, Delmonico’s was the preferred site for high society gatherings, from suppers to cotillions. Though the brownstones of Old New York’s Knickerbockers were obviously too small to accommodate large parties, the practice of relatively public events held at Delmonico’s (or its rival, Sherry’s) was retained even after wealthy New Yorkers migrated up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square, where they built astonishing mansions. The reason for this: Ward McAllister, the social arbiter and the Mrs. Astor’s right hand man until his fall from grace in the early 1890s.

Delmonico’s under the approval of McAllister, the management of Lorenzo’s nephew Charles (Lorenzo died in 1881) and later Charles’s nephew Charles “Young Charley” Delmonico, and the chef’s knife of Ranhofer, reached it epoch. The 1880s and 1890s saw Delmonico’s as the site of many of the Gilded Age’s most infamous dinners, where multimillionaires splashed out thousands of dollars for the finest food and wine, the best cutlery, and the most luxurious of decor.

This was also the period in which the most famous Gilded Age dish, Lobster à la Newburg was invented by Ranhofer. The recipe originated from a sea captain named Ben Wenburg, but when he had a falling out with Ranhofer, the Delmonico’s chef merely replicated the dish with his own tweaks–including inverting its originator’s name!

The battle of the restaurant of the Four Hundred was waged in the 1890s, when Louis Sherry opened his eponymous restaurant and specialized in the types of treats and decor that appealed to the ladies of the Four Hundred. Sherry’s was also larger than Delmonico’s, which attracted the growing number of diners annoyed by the long wait-times to get into “Del.” Young Charley responded by closing the location at 26th Street and building a larger restaurant at 44th Street in 1897–though, by this time, competition for the patronage of the wealthy and famous was stiff, with the Waldorf-Astoria opening its doors that same year, and popular night spots known as “lobster palaces” siphoned the more raffish crowd. Nevertheless, if a member of high society or a politician wished to host a stately dinner, Delmonico’s was the only proper place to do it.

Most of Gilded Age New York’s popular restaurants fell afoul of Prohibition, but as seen with the 180th birthday celebration, the spirit of Delmonico’s continues to live on!

Posted in New York City | Comments Off on Happy Birthday Delmonico’s!

Edwardian Promenade is 10!

by

There have been many times where I contemplated ending my maintenance of Edwardian Promenade, and a few times where I made moves to do so; however, I am extremely astonished and pleased to have met this milestone: a decade of blogging on Edwardian, Gilded Age, Belle Epoque, (anything between the 1880s and 1920s) history! I’ve witnessed the innocuous beginnings of the worldwide phenomenon Downton Abbey, have been asked to join some fantastic projects in conjunction with EP, met a ton of amazing people, from fellow bloggers to authors to academics to editors and agents to genuine TV and film people–and all through the passion of sharing history with you all.

It is Edwardian Promenade that encouraged me to not only finish the last bit of my education but continue on to get a Ph.D.

It is the community built around Edwardian Promenade that motivated me even when I doubted the worthiness of my dedication to this site.

It is the amazing feedback from a diverse set of readers that enthused my search for interesting things to share.

I want to thank the people who’ve come aboard over the years to add their unique perspectives to Edwardian Promenade: Rachel Pritchard, Diana Sousa, Melody B, Tasha Heidenkind, Jennifer Hallock, and Lydia San Andres!

I definitely give a huge thank you to my regular blog commenters (Hels in particlar!)

It’s a little daunting to think about the next decade of Edwardian Promenade, but I hope you want to come along too! Which is why I’ve launched a Patreon for my superfans and superfriends.

What is Patreon, you ask? It’s a handy website that allows you to support your favorite creators (in this case, moi). I am building Edwardian Promenade 2.0–a greatly enhanced version of the site that includes more digital and video media, more history, and just more of everything I already offer, except on a more consistent and exciting basis. I also want to give back to the community by helping high school and college students be #historycreatives™ through formal internships where they will learn how to research, write and edit engaging history posts, film or record and edit videos and podcasts, how to conduct interviews, put them in contact with mentors in public history, and more!

In return for your support, I plan a tier of goodies, ranging from monthly downloadables to a quarterly subscription box full of history-based swag and treats. Click on the image below for more information.

Posted in EP | Comments Off on Edwardian Promenade is 10!

These Summer Resorts Once Offered African Americans Sun, Jazz, Food, and Relaxation During the Jim Crow Era

by
Group of African Americans playing croquet in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Highland Beach Historical Collection.
Photo courtesy of Highland Beach Historical Collection.

When the dog days of summer come around, the prospect of relaxing and playing on beautiful beaches is highly anticipated. The laws of “Jim Crow” (the colloquial name for the dizzying array of prohibitions and restrictions placed on black and white interaction from roughly 1896 to 1954/1964) meant that African Americans were often barred from enjoying their summers in the same manner as European Americans. In a slightly ironic twist, before Jim Crow laws hardened race relations and created a permanent color line, according to Andrew W. Kahrl in The Land Was Ours, distinguished African Americans “purchased cottages and established close-knit summer colonies in many of the popular summer destinations in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, including, among others, Saratoga, New York; Cape May, New Jersey; and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.” 1 There was also a significant year-round population of African Americans at popular Gilded Age summer resorts, as evidenced by the Gilded Age Newport in Color website. From the 1890s to the 1960s, the resorts that sprang up along the coastlines of the United States provided a haven against racism and humiliation, created multi-generational memories, and tell a story of how landscapes and leisure can be used to combat oppression!

Highland Beach, Maryland

Twin Oaks, Frederick Douglass summer home [courtesy of Bohl Architects]

It was the sudden hardening of the color line that influenced Charles Douglass, youngest son of Frederick Douglass, to found Highland Beach in 1893. Charles and his wife Fannie were barred from vacationing on a Chesapeake Bay resort and as they walked along a shoreline, they came across a black-owned farm. The owner sold them forty acres and Douglass divided the land into lots, which he sold to friends. “Twin Oaks,” the Queen Anne house Douglass built for his father, who died before its completion, is now The Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center. Other nearby African American enclaves included the villages of Arundel-on-the-Bay and Oyster Harbor.

Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts)

Shearer Cottage, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard
Shearer Cottage, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard [courtesy of CBS News]

The African American presence on Martha’s Vineyard stretches back to the mid-18th century, according to Jill Nelson in her family memoir/history book Finding Martha’s Vineyard. The area known as Oak Bluffs was originally a Methodist revival camp; by the turn-of-the-century, African American Yankees were a significant presence in this corner of the island, whether they were business-owners or pleasure-seekers. The official period of African American leisure began in 1903 when Charles Shearer, a teacher born enslaved in 1854, purchased a cottage near the Baptist church where he and his family worshiped. His wife Henrietta started a laundry to supplement the family’s income, which she ran until her death in 1917. The Shearer daughters converted the former laundry into a guest house and inn for African American vacationers–Shearer Cottage–which still operates today.

Sag Harbor, Long Island (New York)

Historic plaque marking entrance into Sag Harbor
Historic plaque marking entrance into Sag Harbor

As with Martha’s Vineyard, the African American presence on Long Island stretches back to the days of slavery. The Zion A.M.E. Church established in 1840 was even a stop on the Underground Railroad! They heyday of Sag Harbor began in the late 1920s, when prominent African American New Yorkers (re)discovered the comforts of the coast during the hot summer months. 2 The communities of Azurest, Sag Harbor, and Ninevah flourished between 1948 and 1955, when Maud Terry of Queens, NYC purchased property in Azurest and sold lots to friends. Other wealthy African Americans soon followed, and soon this became the hidden secret of the Hamptons!

Idlewild, Michigan

Idlewild Athletic Field, ca 1910s
Idlewild Athletic Field, ca 1910s

Beautiful Idlewild. Black Eden. Those were some of the names bestowed upon this incredible summer resort in the wilds of Western Michigan. Founded in 1912 by white investors who sold lots to the black elite in Chicago and Detroit (and later from all parts of the United States), it quickly became the place to be for doctors, lawyers, and the brightest stars of the 20th century, from Cab Calloway to Dinah Washington during its heyday in the 1940s-60s. The average Idlewilders took advantage of the lush beach and the gorgeous forest, taking part in hunting and fishing, as well as athletics.

American Beach, Florida

Group of African American women at American Beach, FL
Group of African American women at American Beach, FL
As stated on the plaque marking American Beach as a registered historic site, this stretch of Florida coastline was established by Florida’s richest African American, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, a co-founder of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. He intended the beach to be a leisure spot for executives and employees of the life insurance company, and from the 1920s to the 1960s it was yet another hot spot for the 20th century’s famous and renown, from Zora Neale Hurston to Joe Louis. After its near destruction by a hurricane in 1964, Lewis’s great-granddaughter, MaVynee Betsch, returned to fight for recognition of the beach’s importance to Florida history and African American history.

Further Reading

An American Beach for African Americans by Marsha Dean Phelts
Chowan Beach: Remembering an African American Resort by Frank Stephenson
Black Eden: The Idlewild Community by Lewis Walker

Links

Eastville Community Historical Society
American Beach Museum
Shearer Cottage
Idlewild African American Chamber of Commerce

  1. Andrew W. Kahrl, The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press), 88.
  2. Jerry Komia Domatob, African Americans of Eastern Long Island (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001), 83
Posted in African American | Comments Off on These Summer Resorts Once Offered African Americans Sun, Jazz, Food, and Relaxation During the Jim Crow Era