Desk & Chair Fine Provenance

History Is Written Here

Visitors to the Society’s headquarters in Rhinebeck are often drawn to the northwest corner of the building where a stateley desk and chair are found.  They come to DCHS via very different routes but are beautiful examples of story of provenance.

The 18th-century Queen Anne style chair with floral fruitwood inlay, upholstered slip seat and vase-shapet splat. The finely worked front legs terminate in a ball and claw foot and the flowing bvraced arms terminte ina scrool. This chair was a gift of Mrs. Anna Hill in 1962. Mrs. Hill was active with DCHS is board leadership positions from the 1930s until her death. At the time of the gift, she was living at the Hill family home that is the site of DCHS’s Historic Preservation & Awards Celebration June 1.

We have a great deal of information on the desk. Paperwork that accompanied the gift states that “by tradition this piece of furniture was acquired by the first owner during the War of 1812.  The carvings on the piece agree with the tradition, being in the style of the Empire.  In design the piece is English.  It is in a model known as a butler’s buffet.  In a large house it would have been in the butler’s room for linen, wine, and desk-front for memoranda.” 

Made of mahogany, the buffet has ebony knobs and curly maple columns.

xThe original owner was Dr. Ebenezer Cary (1745-1815), a practicing doctor in Beekman in Dutchess County from the 1760s until his death.  A signer of the Articles of Association, he was commissioned Adjutant and Muster Master of the Dutchess County Militia in 1776.  In 1781 and 1784, he represented Dutchess County in the state legislature and was a founder of the Dutchess County Medical Society.

The buffet passed to his son, Dr. Egbert Cary (1789-1862), who, like his father before him, practiced medicine all his life in Beekman.  His daughter Tamer (1829-1901) became the third owner.  Unmarried, census records find her in her parents’ home until their respective deaths in 1862 and 1870.  In 1880 she is found working as a post office clerk in Washington D.C., but she ultimately returned to the Newburgh area, where she died in 1901.  The provenance of the buffet reveals that just prior to or at the time of her death, the piece passed to Miss Carey’s great-niece, Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.

Students of local history will recognize that name.  According to the Poughkeepsie Public Library District’s website, Reynolds was “Our Patron Saint of Local History.”  Born in Poughkeepsie in 1875, she was the consummate historian, researcher and writer.  One of the earliest members of the Dutchess County Historical Society, she was the chief editor of the Society’s annual yearbook for many years.  The author of such books as Old Gravestones of Dutchess County (1924) and Dutchess County Doorways, (1931), she frequently collaborated with her dear friend Franklin Delano Roosevelt on local history projects.  Is it possible that Miss Reynolds penned her books from the desk front of the buffet?

Like her great-aunt, Reynolds was unmarried at the time of her death, and she passed the buffet on to the Misses Lucy and Eleanor S. Upton of Orange, New Jersey, daughters of her first cousin and direct descendants of Dr. Ebenezer Cary. 

Ultimately the desk found its way back to Poughkeepsie and was given to the Society by the Estate of Eleanor Van Kleeck.  For many years, it was on display in the Glebe House in Poughkeepsie. 

Today it occupies a place of honor in our headquarters and reminds us daily of the debt of gratitude local historians owe to Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.  We hope our visitors will find inspiration in a simple buffet that may have played a pivotal role in the recording of the history of Dutchess.