Collis and Arabella Huntington’s “State Dining Room” at No. 2 NYC (1900)

By Nancy Armitage

The Statue of Liberty in New York City. The Southern Pacific Co. ran ferries in NYC & across the United States, along with ships & railroads. In the 1700’s, New York City was America’s 1st capital; Congress met in City Hall (Federal Hall).

At the Collis & Arabella Huntington’s Mansion in New York City they had many “Entertainments”. Collis P. Huntington hosted many Gilded Age multi-course fancy dinner banquets. Their mansion address was No. 2 East 57th St. New York City, NY (& 5th Ave.). Some elegant dinners were hosted for the top executives of his numerous train & ship companies; one particular business dinner menu is preserved at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. These unique intimate dinners were Collis’ way of having his executives & maybe wives gather & break bread. Mr. Huntington, or “C. P.” they called him. It could be said of him that these dinners were his way of mixing business with pleasure. 

Mrs. Huntington owned many gold & white plates in Limoges, Haviland, & Copeland & Garrett. The Huntington’s entertained Presidents of the United States in their New York City Mansion. Could they have owned Presidential plateware with the eagle on it?

Mr. Collis P. Huntington, one of the railroad “Big Four”, he helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. He was a driven businessman & railroad man. Helping the economy of the US; in 1869, meeting two railroads together: the Union Pacific RR & the Central Pacific RR in Utah. Creating America to be linked coast to coast. He was the founder of Central Pacific Railroad Co. running from New York City to Utah. CPRR became the Southern Pacific Co.

In the Huntington’s New York City mansion, they had 2 Dining Rooms: one was for fancy banquet dining & the smaller one was for family dining. The fancy dining room was called the“East Salon” was also called the “State Dining-Room”. This was documented in the Architectural Record Magazine in 1903. It described & photographed of Mrs. Collis P. Huntington’s “State Dining Room”. It should be noted that in 1900, the only other place in the United States of America that had a “State Dining Room” was the White House Washington, DC. The Huntington’s “State Dining Room” was a formal dining room with a salon-style art gallery filled with master paintings. The dining table fit up to 24 dinner guests. Red Roses would have been appropriate for the special dinner party. The Huntington’s favored “American Beauty” red roses in very large arrangements with 100-300 of roses. Full flower arrangements, like the foyer of fancy hotels.

A gorgeous velvety red rose called “Veterans Honor”; the Huntingtons were partial to “American Beauty” red roses, that look similar to the rose above. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The “State Dining Room” intrigued me to investigate more. There were 3 US presidents who would have dined with the Huntington’s. There was President Ulysses Grant (Grant was in office when the Transcontinental Railroad went thru in May 1869; it changed the course of American history linking the US from coast to coast; Collis Huntington & Grant had many letters of correspondence between them. President Taft (C. P. Huntington helped start to build the Panama Canal; Taft & many others were trying to get the Panama Canal finished finally in 1915; another great thing for the commerce of USA; very important to Collis Huntington & his Mexican Railroad. We know that the Huntington family dined with the President of Mexico, President Diaz. We know President Theodore Roosevelt knew Collis Huntington, a fellow New Yorker. There is a photo with C. P. Huntington & Roosevelt at Huntington’s Camp Pine Knot in Adirondack Mts. in the Roosevelt archives. We know that Roosevelt helped Huntington get the Racquette Lake Railroad built in the Adirondack Mt. In 1903, the White House was being renovated, where did they have formal state affairs at that time? 

If the Huntingtons had a “State Dining Room”, wouldn’t it have been appropriate for them to have Presidential plateware. Homer Laughlin made these plates; Mrs. Huntington owned several sets of Homer Laughlin plates. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Collis relied heavily on his wife, Arabella, her tastes & style of entertaining. Mrs. Arabella Huntington took care of everything: handwritten invitations, gourmet food, handwritten menu, table linens, & fancy dinnerware & flatware, the guests’ every need. She was a Southern Belle, after all and tablescapes at her dining room table were important.

Arabella loved to decorate in the French style of Louis XV & Louis XVI with fancy brocade (red damask) fabric. She loved everything French; she & Collis sailed to Europe annually & traveled to Paris. Her first transatlantic trip was in the 1870’s. They shopped for French furniture, French paintings by Boucher & Fragnard, & enjoyed French food. During these trips, Arabella absorbed & brought back to America, French influences that later showed up at the Huntington’s dining table. She purchased many French fine porcelain plates dinner sets; she loved elegant Sevres, Haviland, Old Paris, & Limoges. 

Mrs. Huntington had many Limoges & Haviland (gold & white) plates, similar to these plates with gold rims. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

At the time (1900), it must be noted that the luncheon & dinner menus were all in French. This was was the tradition at the time period. These Huntington menus themselves were works of art. Each menu & name cards were individually hand printed/painted in fancy calligraphy & sometimes illustrated by Tiffany & Co., NYC. Written in 1900, in beautiful calligraphy by Mrs. Huntington’s social secretary & friend, Miss Carrie M. Campbell. That was part of her job for Mrs. Huntington.

This is my version of the fancy Huntington menu that I found in the Huntington Ephemera archives. This Huntington Dinner event took place on March 23, 1900, located at the Huntington Mansion 2 E. 57th St. NYC, NY. Hosted by Collis P. Huntington. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage Original menu: H. E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

The “East Salon” was the dining room-art gallery that housed some of C. P. Huntington’s favorite paintings; Collis called his paintings “pictures”. Per the seating chart for this elegant dinner, the banquet table was set up in a long rectangular shape. According to the seating chart: the 20 guests were seated along both sides of the long table with two place settings at each end. Mr. Collis P. Huntington, the host, sat directly in the middle, across the table from his stepson, Archer Huntington. H. E. Huntington, Collis’ nephew, (who worked at the Southern Pacific Co. & was Secy. to the President Collis Huntington) who sat at one of the ends of the table. 

My version of the seating Chart for this Huntington Dinner; the calligrapher was practicing her fancy letters on the seating chart. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage original menu and seating Huntington Library San Marino, CA

Who was invited? On the back of the fancy menu card was the seating chart for this gentlemen-only affair. The list of 22 men invited this intimate dinner on January 23, 1900: W. West Durant, T. H. Hubbard, Levi P. Morton or Merton, A.M. Huntington (Archer), Mr. Huntington (CPH), D.O. Mills, H. E. Huntington (HEH), Lynde Harrison, J. E. Gates, A. B. Hammond, Geo. H. Sargent, Chas. H. Tweed, Wm. E. Dodge, General Ian Thomas, Jno G. McCollough, Edward King, John MacKay, Whiteton Reiel, Edmund Giles, R.T. Wilson, Geo. Baker, & Jas. Speyer.   

A pair of green chairs have a great example of green damask fabric which Arabella Huntington loved to decorate with. The Huntington Dining room chairs would have probably been green velvet fabric. Huntington Library San Marino, CA Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Huntingtons “State Dining Room” colors were green & gold. Which was a brilliant idea of Mrs. Arabella Huntington. Green (Sage, Forest, or Celery greens) match every season of the year: Winter, Spring, Summer, & Autumn. These things are important to a hostess trying to make her tablescape beautiful. So her green velvet chairs & drapes mingle great with the gold crystal glasses & lovely porcelain French plates with & decorations. 

French Limoges “oyster” plates for 5 oysters for “Oysters on the Half Shell”. Always, the 1st course of a Gilded Age multi-course banquet dinner. These oyster plates were used at the White House in Washington, DC; during Rutherford B. Hayes administration.

Both Arabella’s southern & French influences were apparent in the formal dinner menu (in French) for the banquet on Tuesday, January 23, 1900. It appears from the menu, that a 10 multi-course dinner was served “Service a la Russe” (course by course). The first course, as always started with “Huitres” (Oysters on the Half Shell.) The second course, a soup course, was a Consommé Tortue (a clear turtle soup- recipe below). This oyster course would probably have been served on fine gold & white Limoges Oyster plates. Often, with the soup course, a relish course was served on the fancy table made up of “Celeri” (Celery Sticks maybe with McCaren’s Roquefort spread), Olives would be Queen Olives, & “Amandes” were Roasted salted Almonds.

The third course, usually a fish course was Bass, Sauce Mousseline usually accompanied with a Sauterne White Wine. This was a fish dish in a fancy molded creamed mousse. The fourth or entrée course was Selle de Agneau, a roasted & salted Leg of Lamb with Haricots Verts (French Green Beans). Usually the main or entree was served with French Champagne. The Lamb was also served with  Pommes Hollandaise. I have researched the unusual “Pommes Hollandaise” using Hollandaise sauce & cream (recipe below). It is similar to French Gratin Dauphinois with garlic or American Potato au Gratin dish (using Hollandaise sauce instead of heavy cream). 

The fifth course, Terrapin (a turtle stew), a food choice veered toward Arabella’s southern sensibilities. It may have been cooked like the popular Terrapin a la Maryland, a rich flavorful white wine cream sauce with mirepoix of vegetables. The next or sixth course, Jambon & Epinard, (an Arabella Southern-influenced dish that was diced ham with spinach) was the vegetable course. 

The game or 7th course was a Canvas Back Duck served with Hominy & Jelly. One speculates the hominy (a southern dish), probably had Orange Jelly (made with sherry or champagne) accompanied it. The entrees were usually served with a Victorian Claret red wine in fine crystal glasses. Arabella collected numerous kinds of crystal glasses (etched glasses from Tiffany & Co., Venetian gold glasses, & English crystal, too.) 

An example of elegant crystal ware champagne flute..

In the French style, the Salade, the 8th course was served after the entrees. The menu does not state what kind of salad but the Huntingtons often served: Waldorf Salad or Chiffonade Salad, (a French chopped vegetable, lettuce, & French herb – arugula salad with French artichokes & hearts of palm) maybe with Roquefort cheese & crunchy French garlic croutons).

Sterling Silver Coffee Service with hothouse fruits & bonbon chocolate candies.

An array of tantalizing desserts was the 9th course, which was splendidly served using the Huntington collection of Gorham silver & fine porcelain French plateware. The numerous desserts tempted the Huntington’s guests by the abundance of sweets. The Huntingtons often served “Gateaux” in French means French cake. French tea cakes sometimes called “petit fours” are square of small pieces of cake with royal icing or tarts), Glace (fancy shaped ice creams), & Bonbons. Bonbons are fancy French chocolate truffles or peppermint truffles (many were purchased on No. 2  confectionery receipts from Huylers). Hot Coffee was served with Hothouse Grapes & Strawberries that ended this multi-course dinner. A glass of cognac or after-dinner liqueurs could have been an accompaniment, most likely served in the Louis XV Drawing Room (Angels) or the larger “Reception Room” while listening to music, or poetry.  

French cakes “Gateaux”, Napoleons, Opera Cake, & Petit Fours were served.

Once the culinary part of the banquet was completed, the evening took on an artistic direction. First, there would be business speeches, after a leisurely tour of the Huntingtons 5th Avenue Mansion & C. P. Huntington Library. Mr. Huntington would offer his guests a tour of his library of books (technically next door at 4 West 57th Street but attached to the Huntington Mansion). The Huntington’s had a prominent collection of paintings, they called the “Picture Gallery” he owned Rembrandt, Hal, Peale, & many other famous master painters. Brandy & Cigars would conclude the gentlemen’s delicious & productive evening. 

 Potage a la Tortue (Green Turtle Soup) Recipe

These recipe ingredients are from the notebooks of Aldolphe Duglere, the famous chef:

1 qt. green turtle meat, canned or chicken 

1 qt. chicken stock

4 carrots, cubed

1 turnip, cubed

1 qt. veal consomme or beef

2 c. Madeira wine

1 small cabbage

salt and pepper

2 t. Amontillado sherry

1 bouquet garni of herbs (basil, rosemary, savory, thyme, parsley & marjoram)

1 bouquet garni (peppercorns, coriander seeds, & garlic

To a stockpot, add all ingredients except sherry. Heat until turtle meat is cooked, about an hour. Serve in pretty fine china bones with two handles. Serve hot & sherry just before serving & sprinkle croutons on top.  Historical Note: Green turtle soup was on numerous Huntington family menus. You can buy turtle meat at gourmet stores. Recipe: Nancy Armitage  

Mrs. Huntington’s Pommes Hollandaise Recipe

8 russet potatoes

2 c. Hollandaise sauce (or Aunt Penney’s Hollandaise Sauce)

1 onion, thinly sliced

2-4 t. heavy cream or ½  & ½ 

salt & white pepper

Slice the potatoes thinly. Layer potatoes & onion with sauce in a buttered casserole dish. Mix the cream with Hollandaise sauce & spoon in each layer. Bake 350 for 60 mins, cook until golden brown. Cut into squares & serve on pretty French plates. Garnish with baby chives & parsley. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Orange Wine Jelly Recipe

This recipe was adapted from Hotel St. Francis Cookbook 1919.

4 oz. French gelatin

1 lb. sugar

juice of 3 oranges

6 cloves

2 qt. water

rind and juice of 6 lemons

piece of cinnamon stick 

whites of 6 eggs

1 wine glassful of Sherry or {French] Champagne

In a medium saucepan add all ingredients, stir & rise to a boil. Stir well and put on fire to boil. Then stir quickly into the jelly the whites of the 6 eggs, boil again. Then take off the fire & strain through a flannel jelly bag & add the flavoring (Sherry, Rhine wine, or Champagne) desired. Pour into jelly moulds & put on ice until firm. To remove the jelly, dip the moulds into hot water to loosen; turn out on a cold dish. Make 2 qt. Recipe: Nancy Armitage 

In a pinch “Orange Champagne Jelly” Recipe

1 jar orange marmalade

¼ c. Champagne

dash of cinnamon

dash of cloves

Mix together & put in a pretty crystal bowl with silver spoon. Serve with entree or game course.

Historical Note:

In an abstract by David Deacon, he gives a description of the Huntington’s green & gold Dining Room, which could possibly be describing the Huntington’s State Dining-Room. Mr. Deacon states, it “was furnished simply with one eighteen foot ( 18 ft.) oblong table in oak, carved to match the woodwork, a twelve-foot side table of marble & gilded bronze, a serving table, two armchairs & ten chairs, all in oak with upholstery of green & gold silk velour. With curtains to match the upholstery…” 

In viewing the photograph of the C. P. Huntington’s New York Mansions’, described as the “State Dining-Room”, there is nothing simple about it.  Mr. Deacon describes it the Huntington State Dining room in the Architectural Record Magazine 1903, much of the mystery of the Huntington’s New York mansion is revealed. 

There are 3 black & white photographs in existence that captured the magnificence of the Huntingtons’ 5th Avenue residence; one photo of “State Dining-Room”, one photo of the private or family dining room, & one photo of elegant furnished Louis XV Drawing Room (Angels). 

There were two dining rooms in the Huntington mansion, there was nothing simple about either one of these European castle-like rooms. The “State Dining-Room”, looks like a room in a castle, rising up 3-stories high with curved wood Italian-looking paneling, carved round ceilings with beautiful gilt accents. 

There were elegant French Louis XIV dining chairs in a Versailles design, elegant French velvet back [green], & velvet seats, & gilt gold carved legs. In this State dining-room, also called the “East Salon” was a large room with a massive fireplace in the center of the long room. A gilded framed painting hung over the fireplace. The artist of this painting is unknown; the painting was of an elegant women arranging a large floral arrangement with a child looking on, sitting in a chair. All the landscape & interior paintings in the Huntington state dining-room surrounding the gilt fireplace were hung salon-style along the rectangular room. A gigantic wide dining room table fit about 18-24 people. 


HEH Coll. MS Boxes 198-199 (Mr. H. E. Huntington personal papers & menus; Menu of C. P. Huntington No. 2. 57 Street St. New York City residence, dated Jan. 1900 Dinner Banquet menu & seating chart) located at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Book: Mrs. Beeton Household Management 1860 (defining food)

Architectural Record, May 1903, published by the American Institute of Architects, (3 black and white photos of Mrs. C. P. Huntington’s Mansion, 57th St. & 5th Ave. with “State Dining-Room”, family or private Dining Room, & French Louis XV Drawing Room- Angels)

Abstract, “The Huntingtons of HooDoo Corner: the Construction of the C.P. Huntington House” (1889-1896) by David W. Deacon, Department of History, Syracuse University.

“State-Dining Room” was recorded in Architectural Record 1903, meaning that important political figures like the President of the United States dined with the Huntingtons. There is correspondence with Huntingtons & several presidents. We know that CPH knew President U.S. Grant, President Taft (Pan-Pacific project) and Presdient Theodore Roosevelt.

Letterhead of “Huntington Library No. 4 57th Street NYC” [2nd floor & attached to the Huntington Mansion at No. 2 57th St. NYC Huntington Library. San Marino, CA

Collis Huntington’s Formal Dinner Banquet (10-12 courses) 1900:

Location: Huntington State Dining Room, Huntington Mansion

No. 2 East 57th Street (5th Ave.) New York City, NY

Date: Tuesday January 23, 1900

Guests: 12 gentlemen guests (seating chart) 

Huntington Dinner Menu (Fancy) 

Date: January 23, 1900

1. Huitres (Oysters on the Half Shell)

2. Consommé Tortue (Clear turtle soup) with Relish dishes: Celery sticks, Queen Olives, & Roasted Almonds

3. Fish course: Bass, Sauce mousseline  served with Sauterne White wine

4. Entrée course: Selle de Agneau, roasted & salted leg of Lamb served with Haricots Verts (French Green Beans) and Pommes Hollandaise (Potato au gratin with Hollandaise Sauce & heavy cream)

5. Terrapin (turtle stew) a southern specialty like “Terrapin a la Maryland” which is a white wine cream sauce with mirepoix of vegetables

6. Vegetable Course: Jambon & Epinard (Ham, diced with Garden Spinach)

7. Canvas Back Duck (served with Hominy & Jelly, probably Orange Jelly served with Victorian Claret red wine

8. Salade Course (French style after the entree) probably Waldorf salad or Chiffonade Salad (French style chopped vegetables, lettuce, French arugula & herb salad with a French Vinaigrette maybe served with Roquefort cheese, a favorite of the Huntingtons

9.  Dessert course, Gateaux (French fancy cakes, petit fours, & tarts)  & Glaces (Fancy shaped ice creams, shaped in train car)

10. Bonbons (Chocolate-covered French truffles & Creams or Ice Cream in the shape of a train)

11. Coffee, with Fruit: Hothouse Grapes & strawberries (perhaps chocolate covered)

12. Brandy & Cigars in the Huntington Drawing Room or “Reception Room”

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