Layers of Dutchess County History are Exposed in a Rare Personal Setting
By Bill Jeffway
A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2023 issue of the Northern/Southern Dutchess News.
A rare weaving together of the varied and rich threads of Dutchess County history will come together at the historic 1840 Collins Estate, a private home in Union Vale, on Saturday, June 3rd. While the main purpose of the event focuses on the three traditional DCHS Awards for 2023, the site, and the site’s family history, is extraordinary in and of itself.
A direct descendant of the Collins family that built the home, Fredrika Simpson Groff, will attend with two daughters from her home in Colorado. Groff is central to the cohesiveness of the varied and intricate threads that reveal our county’s distinct history. Her careful distribution of items among the Dutchess County Historical Society, the Adriance Memorial Library, the Loeb at Vassar College, and the current owners and stewards of the home, Frank and Jennifer Castella, is a model of historic preservation. This preservation involves the home, family histories and genealogy, and objects that range from fine art to photographs and diaries to furniture.
The builder of the home was George Collins (1788-1848) and wife Elizabeth Borden Collins (1795-1865). One of the interesting dynamics of the story is the tension caused by the Quaker insistence on simplicity while the couple and their descendants became increasingly successful in business and society.
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A family fascination with growing things, and manufacturing things, is reflected in a diary entry of Fredrika Groff’s grandmother, Elizabeth Borden Campbell (DCHS Collections). When she attended the US Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia she spent the first day in the Horticultural Hall and Machinery Hall. On Friday, June 16, 1876, she wrote, “One large machine runs all the machinery in the building,” and goes on to list all the things she saw, like silk wallpaper, “made entirely by machinery.” A respect for the integrity and importance of agriculture, while developing and embracing revolutionary technologies, is a major thread in the family story. Campbell’s husband, Albert Adriance Simpson, was a descendant of the well-known Adriance family.
Elizabeth Borden Campbell’s sister, Ada, also married into the Adriance family. She married Isaac Reynolds Adriance who was involved in the Adriance, Platt & Co. and Moline Plow Company that at one time employed 1,500 people in Poughkeepsie. We may underestimate today how profound an impact a new type of farm plow could have. Adriance led the effort among his siblings to create Adriance Memorial Library.
The Loeb will have on display for the month of June, the portrait by Rembrandt Peale of Elizabeth Borden Collins, the first resident of the house. It was a gift of Fredrika Groff. That portrait, along with its companion of husband George Collins, also by Peale, will be featured as reproductions at the June 3rd event.
DCHS will carry on its longstanding tradition of given awards to both recognize and encourage best practice in support of local history in historic study, engagement of the broader community, and in business.
The DCHS Business of Historic Distinction Award is given for a longstanding tradition of service & commitment to Dutchess County residents. The 2023 Award goes to the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce. Frank Castella, Jr., President & CEO accepting. Today’s Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce traces its roots to the 1907 Poughkeepsie-based Chamber. Whether taking a leading, visible role, or working behind the scenes, the Chamber has been a champion and advocate for small and large business. Constant changes in technologies, customer needs, and fluctuating economic climates make this a constant need.
The DCHS Dutchess Award is given for exceptional contributions to the community in preservation, history & education. The 2023 Award goes to The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, Bart Thurber, Director, accepting. The very deliberate, thoughtful, and evolving collaboration between the team at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College under the leadership of Bart Thurber — and DCHS — has allowed both organizations to expand what they offer to constituents. DCHS’s major exhibition of the life and works of Caroline Morgan Clowes benefited from both material support and important counsel. We are pleased that four of Clowes’s paintings are on exhibition at the Loeb through an extended loan agreement.
The DCHS Helen Wilkinson Reynolds Award goes to an individual or organization that has demonstrated a commitment to the necessary and accurate pursuit of historical truth embodied by DCHS founder Helen Wilkinson Reynolds. The 2023 Award goes to Local History & Genealogy Team & Rooms, Adriance Memorial Library, Tom Lawrence, Director, Poughkeepsie Public Library District accepting. Located on the main floor, the team has grown in size and skills. In addition to classic archives there is a growing range of interpretation through programs, blogs and social media postings that tell a wide range of local stories.
Due to the generosity of our hosts, DCHS will benefit fully from the ticket price. In addition to the celebration of the best practices in preservation, and our enjoyment of the fruits of that careful stewardship and preservation, this is equally a request to support DCHS’s ongoing work. Information at www.dchsny.org or call 845-293-7711.
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We are grateful to the extended family for the information related to the history of this extraordinary, multi-generational family that shaped Dutchess County so profoundly and positively. The family’s consistent vigilance in preserving narratives, images and important items that relate to the family, help us feel an intimate connection to the past.