Thursday, March 15, 2018

Commodore Gerry: Gilded Age Melons and Good Breeding

Elbridge Thomas Gerry (1837-1927) dubbed the "Commodore" among his New York Yacht Club society friends was a prominent Gilded Age trial lawyer. He was known for his philanthropy--founder of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, bankrolled the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and served as chairman for the New York City commission for the insane. 

BUT, did you know his Newport palace, the "Seaverage" produced some mighty nice melons, which were the envy of all his fashionable neighbors? So sought after he extended his green thumb to his estate on Lake Delaware, New York.



In fact, the Commodore's home grown melon industry created a cult of melon grangers. Ogden Livingston Mills (1884–1937) became one of the most successful with his melons crop which he grew at his Staatsburg estate along the Hudson. 

The melon craze produced the Jenny Lind melon, named for the famous singer, known as “The Swedish Nightingale.” The seed grower, Peter Henderson called it “the gem of the muskmelons, flavor unsurpassed by any” in his 1902 seed catalogue.




As Gerry melons became the rage, the society pages reported that the hot house melons were spread among the poor for good cheer and charity during the Christmas season. The theory was it was pleasanter to get what you do not have, rather than what you need. When the luxury fruit arrived at their door, the housewives thought it was a new brand of pumpkin, so they made pies. 

New York debutantes sold Commodore's melons at all their fundraisers. One charity bizarre sold enough melons to equip the farm for the Anglican Sisters of St. Mary's in New York. 

Gerry merged with Hamilton McKown Twombly (1849-1910) son of Alexander Hamilton Twombly (1804–1870) and Caroline McKown (1821–1881). He
financial advisor to William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885) and married his daughter Florence Adele Vanderbilt  (1854–1952). Her mother was and Maria Louisa Kissam (1821–1896) d. of Reverend Samuel Kissam and Margaret Hamilton Adams.

Elbridge T Gerry Family line*
Son of Thomas Russell Gerry (1794–1848) and Hannah Green Goelet (1804-1845) d. of Peter P Goelet (1764-1828) and Almy Buchanan (1768-1848) Grandson of Elbridge Gerry* (1744-1814) and Ann Thompson (1763-1849) d. of James Thompson (1727–1812) and Catharine Walton (1729–1807). * Signer of the Deceleration of Independence from Marblehead, Massachusetts. 
Great Grandson of Thomas Gerry (1702-1774) and Elizabeth Greenleaf (1716-1771) d. of Enoch Greenleaf (1686-1774) and Rebecca Russell (1892-1711) d. of Samuel Russell (1645-1711) and Elizabeth Elbridge (1653-1721)

Elbridge married Louisa Matilda Livingston (1836-1920) daughter of Robert James Livingston (1811-1891) and Louisa Matilda Storm (1807-1883).

From American Florist, Volume 16 June 1 1901: House of Winter Melons. Grown by Mr Arthur Griffin, gardener to Mr Gerry. The accompanying photograph of a musk melon house at the Newport establishment of Elbridge T. Gerry was taken on January 29 1901. There are three of these houses, one fifty-foot, one thirty-foot and one twenty-five-foot house, each twelve feet wide, and since November 2 Mr. Griffin has cut five hundred ripe melons. The varieties grown are Mr. Griffin's own hybrids which were last year registered with the S. A. F. and the flavor is unexcelled by anything grown either outdoors or indoors at any season of the year. 



Above Photo from Lost Newport Paul F. Miller 




Elbridge T. Gerry papers, 1856-1912 at Columbia University

History of the Great American Fortunes, Volume One By Gustavus Myers

The Walton Family of N.Y. 1630-1940 by Annette Townsend

The Diaries of George Washington, Volume 6

Ann Thompson Gerry


To read a full account on Gerry check out Elbridge Thomas Gerry: An Exceptional Life in Gilded Gotham by Shelley L. Dowling. Loaded with family photos and stories.



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