A Travellerspoint blog

Day 77 (11.17.07) - Bicycles & Old Houses

We stay in New Castle, Delaware another day for a Velocipede Museum, the Amstel House (1738) and the Dutch House (1700)

50 °F


Miles Driven - 50
Weather - Cool, but warming a bit throughout the day. No Rain.
Camped at Wal-mart in Milford, Delaware


This morning, Mom wanted to visit the Velocipede Museum as did I. We were really in luck, they are only open on Saturdays from 11 - 5, and we got there about a quarter to 11 on a Saturday. (I took the rig into the New Castle Wal-mart we stayed at last night for LOF (lube & oil filter), so we didn't head back into town until that was done).

It turns out this is a private collection that is generously shared with the public. A friend of the collector hosts visitors on Saturdays when she's available. This is Caroline and Julia (her dog) who greeted us and allowed us to enjoy the velocipedes.


Mom's grandmother, Maude Cummings had a bad foot which made it difficult for her to walk. Mom's grandfather, Charles Kingsbury Stinson, suggested she ride a bicycle for exercise. He designed a skirt, split in the middle, for this purpose. However when she went riding in Boston, some people felt it was improper for a lady to ride a bicycle and threw things at her, so she rode only at night and probably didn't continue very much longer. This was in the late 1800's or early 1900's.

The collection includes a large wheel bicycle with steps and a platform so you can try sitting on it. I found it to be somewhat scary and uncomfortable so am personally quite glad this form of bicycle became obsolete.


There are also some very old contraptions, children's bikes and even motorized bicycles! Some are replica's, which is fine - it still gives you and idea what they looked like and how people rode them. I've got descriptions attached to these, so will just post the thumbnails. These should be roughly by age (older to newer). Click to enlarge and see the descriptions of the ones you like (if you don't like this approach, let me know via a comment).




Finally, there was an stationary bike that didn't look very interesting to me until I read the description. One like this was used in the Virginia State Prisons to generate electricity for lights! We sure take our modern conveniences (like electric lights) for granted.


What a treat this was. I had never seen things such as some of these 'velocipede's (a 'dandy horse'?). Also, I would have to assume that a wooden tricycle in 1885 would have been enjoyed only by wealthy families. Nowdays, even rundown apartment have bikes, trikes and all sorts of toys strewn about - such toys are available to almost all children in the western hemisphere at least.

Just down the block from the Velocipede Museum was one of the houses on the "New Castle Heritage Trail". We decided to go ahead and take the tour. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the inside so there's only one photo:


Our tour guide, Sara, felt as bad about this as we did. Unfortunately it seems some scumbags go around photographing old museum artifacts, then go back after hours to take what's of value - so insurance companies are increasingly telling museums not to allow photography. What a sad reflection on how a small few can mess things up for others.

This house was built in 1738 by Doctor Finney, a wealthy landowner in town. For the next 60 years, this was the grandest mansion in town. It was built in the 'georgian' style, with a central hall & staircase and symetrical rooms on either side. One was a parlor, the other a multipurpose room (office, dining room, family room or whatever was needed). When the Finney family no longer needed the house, they rented it to the Van Dyke family. George Washington attended the wedding of Governor Van Dykes daughter in the house in 1784 (I tried to stand on the same spot as George, to the left of the fireplace). It was said of Gen. Washington's stay that he kissed the bride and the other pretty girls, 'as was his wont to do'.

Several of the items in the house came from the period the Van Dykes lived in the house. One chair was donated from their other home that was said to be the chair Gen. Lafayette sat in when he visited the Van Dykes.

By the time this house was built and furnished (mid 1700's), most of it's furnishings were made in the Colonies. The workmanship on the wood furniture I saw was quite good. Even the tallcase cloce was made in Wilmington.

The house was not insulated when it was built of course and the New Castle Historical Society doesn't have the money to retrofit it with insulation, so it is quite cool inside even now. Sara said that when it starts getting really cold here, the heating bill can go as high as $1,400/month so they generally close down in January and February.

One interesting feature was a desk in the multipurpose room. It had 9 hidden drawers or compartments. Sara explained that in the 1700's, there weren't any banks or police in New Castle, so someone with money, like Dr. Finney, would need a place to hide valuables.

The Finney's had four live in servents, one of whom was a slave and another was an indentured servent. Because of their wealth, the Finney (and later Van Dyke) women would not have worked in the Kitchen except to give directions or oversee/plan dinners. The kitchen was also fairly well appointed for the 1700's however and had all the latest gadgets. One thing we saw in this kitchen was a tall wooden mortar and pestle. (I looked up the spelling on this, it is pestle). When the house was built, there were no grain mills in the New Castle area, so women had to grind grains into flour for baking.

Our guide, Sara said that while kitchen fire was one of the leading causes of women's death during the colonial times, it wasn't necessarily burning to death. Sparks that flew out from the fire could cause burns that weren't fatal, but could become infected and without antibiotics, cause death a few weeks after the initial injury.

The Amstel house did have a lot of closets. Early houses for working class people didn't really need closets because few people had very many cloths. A wealthy family such as lived here, had quite a bit of clothing as well as other household cloths (table cloths, towels, napkins, etc.), so closets are another clue this was a mansion during it's day.

The second historic home we toured was also very old, but otherwise quite the opposite of the Amstel house. Again, no photographs were allowed inside, but this is the exterior of the "Dutch" house (the little one with the red shutters, not the big, brick one next door).


Our tour guide in this house was Mimi. Mimi had been a high school teacher, so Mom had a little more trouble tripping her up with bits of history, "Did you know..." (she pretty much knew it all. I think Sara mentioned she might have been a teacher also and was likewise very knowledgeable, although Mom enjoyed trying.)

Historians aren't sure who built the house or exactly when it was built, but probably in the range of 1690 to 1700. They do know a working class Dutch family lived in the house for most of the 1700's. The town was never 100% Dutch and the house was also likely a combination of cultures (even if a Dutch family resided in it, they would have acquired Swedish or British goods in trading with neighbors or even picked up some of their customs). This wasn't the first house built in town, bit is the oldest surviving house in New Castle. None of the original furnishings remain (except for a few items that were boarded up with the kitchen fireplace.) Period appropriate items were carefully researched & located by Louise Crowninshield, one of the founding members of the New Castle Historical Society.

Like the Fairbanks house we saw up in Dedham, the house didn't just sit around but was modified and added to as the residents needs evolved. Originally, it was a one room home with a giant fireplace along one wall. Later a wall was added in the middle with two fireplaces in the center, one for each room. Even later the roof was raised and two bedrooms added upstairs. At some point a kitchen was also added in the back with yet a third fireplace.

Dutch eating customs were somewhat different than we're used to. Everyone in the family worked on food preparation during the morning. Men and older boys might hunt or fish, younger children might gather oysters, clams, nuts or berries. Women might prepare food in the kitchen, milk goats or bake. At lunch, all of the food would be arranged on the table. Then the father would sit down alone and eat his fill (or be joined by a grandfather if one as in the household).

After the father ate, the food would be cleared and a very large family bible brought to the table. The father would read from the bible, and also teach the older boys to read and write (this was probably the only book the family owned). Then the food would be brought back in for the children to eat. Finally, after everyone else was done, the women would eat. They were considered the most expendable. In fact, malnutrition was another leading cause of death for women during this period. (Mom also points out however that malnutrition was not limited to women during this period).

In the afternoon, the father and older boys would go to their shop to work (or fields if a farmer). Women and girls would work on sewing, washing, or mending as all cloths were handmade and each person needed two sets of cloths for each season (Summer & Winter, Work Cloths and Church Cloths).

There is an interesting story about the Pirate Period (from 1650 - 1724). In Cape May, NJ, we learned that the NJ townfolk were not too fond of the Pirates and had even tainted a local pond to keep the pirates from coming there for the water. Delaware folks didn't feel the same way and Captain Kidd regularly visited New Castle. At one point, the British were coming to look for Captain Kidd, he townfolk welcomed them and invited them to stay the night. However, during the course of the night they stole the soldiers cloths so they couldn't pursue the pirates.

We saw a lot of interesting Dutch furniture, household items, cookie molds, etc. and learned more about them. But by the time we'd done all this, there wasn't enough time left to visit any more homes in New Castle (I was interested in the Read house, but like other things, just won't get to it).

So we finally started down the coast of Delaware. We saw more fall foliage (OK, this is from a different state so cut me a little slack for uploading yet more leaves!)


We saw more seaside vista's such as this:


And finally, because Delaware has so many wetlands, we saw a very interesting sunset:


We did get to Milford after dark, but the pharmacy was still open and they did have Mom's prescription. We picked that up, did a little shopping, and settled in for the night.

Posted by jl98584 18:31 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Hi! We're in San Diego, ready to leave for NZ tomorrow afternoon. Our hotel-room wi-fi hasn't worked well, but now I'm on a computer downstairs. Enjoyed catchingup on the last several days here, but very sorry you couldn't do Philadelphia.

Our convention has gone well. Today we enjoyed a 4-hour tour of area churches (Mission San Diego, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, and Pt. Loma Nazarene Univ., originally built by the Theosophical Society). Both meetinged-out, we skipped evening ones and instead went to Ghirardelli's for chocolate sodas, a great final supper here. Daily we've eaten at fine restaurants midday, sometimes with friends, and then skipped supper. We've tried Indian, Italian, Thai, Mexican--all very good.

Yesterday I toured the huge book exhibit downstairs in the Convention Ctr.--a few hundred publishers always--and got a kick out of seeing Beth's new book prominently displayed at the Templeton Press booth, and they told me they've just ordered a 2nd printing (within 6 months!). We took pictures, and I called Beth, and she was excited.

We've seen many friends, enjoyed the meetings. Our hotel is old and not fancy, about a mile from the Conv. Ctr. We get 3 free nights for enduring a sales pitch on timeshares by Wyndham. It was supposed to be 2 hours, but became 3.5, and the last of 4 poeple to deal with us was downright rude and abrupt in telling us to leave when we again explained that we never make big decisions on the spot. Things were a bit misrepresented to us, but loding has still been cheaper than 6 nights in a convention hotel.

Continue having a great trip.

by msj

Hope you have a great trip to NZ! Still wishing I'd gotten you into using Travellerspoint a bit more, maybe Beth & Lyndon can help - it would be fun to see your photo's from the trip.

I know what you mean about those sales pitches, I don't mind hearing about their product and offers, but hate the hard sell approach. Sometimes I've walked out of meetings that I might have been wanting to buy something just because I had those kind of sales tactics. Glad you were able to enjoy San Diego though, I was there once for a software conference and really enjoyed it also.

by jl98584

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