Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oneida Community Mansion House

Yesterday was my birthday and to celebrate, we drove to the Oneida Community Mansion house and took a tour.  We learned a lot about the Oneida Community, which was a Social Experiment in community living which was founded in 1848 and disbanded in 1880.

The mansion was built in 1862, with several wings being added as needed.  Above is the main entry to the main building.  Next is a corner view of the original house, Bill standing in front.
This is a view of the top of one of the subsequent wings on the left, the roof over the main entrance on the right.

And this is the tower on the right of the original house which housed John Humphries Noyes bedroom, the founder of the Community  (we weren't allowed to see it--not sure why).

This is a small portion of the library.  Alcoves like this lined three walls in this very large room and were all full of books of the period on just about any subject you could imagine.  The Community also subscribed to numerous newspapers and magazines--they wanted their members to be well educated.

The women in the Community were skilled in arts and crafts.  These are some crocheted dolls on display outside the library.  Interesting.

This is a gathering room in one of the later additions to the house.  The fireplace/mantel was really beautiful.  The amazing thing about this beautiful building is how well built it is.  This room is one of the newest additions, but it was the only one in which the floor squeaked!

This is the post office located in the other end of the above room, and the little cubby holes on the right were where the members of the community received their mail.  A lot of the house has been rented out as apartments and I believe they also receive their mail in the same holes.

This picture is a braided silk landscape created by the artist Jessica Kinsley, a member of the Community.  Her works are hung throughout the house, and a whole room is dedicated to her works.
This is a tray with an illuminated "B" and you can see scenes in the circles formed by the B.

I was amazed that we were allowed to take pictures of these beautiful works.  There is a drawer in a table that contains one of her works and the differences in the depth of color was astounding.  The details in the pictures hung on the walls were quite difficult to ascertain because of the fading.
The pictures were created by drawing a rough draft on butcher paper.  The silk was cut into long, even strips, then braided just like cotton is braided for a rug.  Then the silk was pinned on a board creating the pattern.  Waxed paper was placed over the pattern, then ironed onto the silk which transferred the wax, and the paper was removed.  Ms. Kinsley gave all her works of art away, but after her passing, many of them were returned to the house to be displayed there.

We learned that John Humphrey Noyes was a ministerial student at Yale.  While there, he associated with some people who called themselves Perfectionists, who believed they could become (surprise!) perfect in this life.  He wrote a letter to the head of the school, declaring himself to be free of sin.  His ministerial certificate was promptly withdrawn.  Soon, he and the Perfectionists formed the Oneida Community.  They were not a religion, per se.  They did not hold religious services on Sunday, but studied the Bible frequently and lived as John Humphrey Noyes interpreted the scriptures.  They taught that people could live without sin and be happy.  They all lived together and shared everything.  Everything.  They did not marry.  This was based on the scripture in Matthew 22:30.  There were several committees that decided important things regarding personal relationships, duties, assignments, and their vocations.  Men lived in one area, women in another and children in another.  If the committee approved, a man and woman could become partners for a period of time decided by the committee, usually long enough that if a child was produced, the father could be ascertained. The progeny were called "Stirpicults."  The mother kept the baby until it was weaned, at which time the baby was moved into the children's area.  They decreed that older men should introduce young women to the joys of sex, and older women (past child bearing age) would do the same for young men.  When the committee decided it was time to produce another baby (only 2-3 children were born per year), they would decide which man and which woman would produce the healthiest, smartest child and lo, it was done.  We were shown an "interview room" which was used by this couple.  In the room was a chair, chest and bed.  The bed was between 18"-24" wide.  There were several interview rooms located adjacent to one of the many sitting rooms.  Bill and I both wondered how the joy was experienced in these barren rooms...

The community grew their own food, were vegetarians, and ran some businesses.  The Oneida silverware or stainless flatware that you are familiar with came from this Community.  They also manufactured animal traps (does that seem strange for a group of vegetarians?) that were the best produced in this country.  The mouse traps we are familiar with that have the "Victor" logo were produced by the Oneida Community.  Even though the market for animal traps has dropped significantly since the days of mountain men, they still produce quality traps.

In the late 1870's, John Humphrey Noyes (the guide always referred to him by all three names) was being persecuted by the law--they were going to arrest him for statutory rape, so he fled to Canada.  The young people in the Community were unhappy with the marital practices, and the general public wasn't too happy about them either.  So the Community got together and decided to disband as a commune.  They founded a stock company and all the members received stock in the company.  They then went away from the mansion and build homes of their own in the surrounding area.  The mansion was converted into a hotel with a restaurant and was run as part of the stock company.

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