By Nancy Armitage
“Come to tea at No. 2”, Mrs. Huntington (Arabella) would often write in her letters to her niece: Miss Carrie D. Huntington later Holladay. Carrie lived bi-coastally in San Francisco & in Oneonta, NY. A French Tea when have been a delight in her “White Salon” – Drawing Room. Served in a elegant fashion by the butlers in Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington’s New York City Mansion.
Between 1890 & 1920’s, Mrs. Collis. P. Huntington (Arabella) had one of the finest French Drawing Rooms in New York City. If you can imagine Marie Antoinette’s Drawing Room; you can picture Arabella’s palatial angel-themed white & gold Drawing Room or “Salon”. This room was Arabella’s favorite room in the New York Mansion. The famous artist-painter, Edwin H. Blashfield painted the “White Drawing Room” with all the angel faces on the walls. With many angel motifs decorating the room.
Arabella adored afternoon tea & “At-Homes” tea gatherings. She was the hostess to her family, houseguests, & intimate friends. In Mrs. Chas. B. “Harriet” Alexander’s affidavit she stated that she was invited to tea by Mrs. Arabella Huntington many times. In fact, while they were “in-residence” in NYC & also in Paris; Harriet was Charles Crocker’s daughter, Charles Crocker was a partner to Collis P. Huntington in the Central Pacific Railroad (the Big 4). They formed the 1st Transcontinental Railroad with Stanford & Hopkins in the US.
For Arabella tea parties, in the Huntington’s No. 2 57th Street & 5th Ave. Mansion…They had a “reception room” (larger gatherings) & a “drawing-room salon” (for intimate gatherings). The tall, intimate drawing-room called the “White Drawing Room” or “Louis XVI Salon” was decorated in the elegant French style. Mrs. Huntington’s intimate tea room was decorated with the finest of French Louis XVI antiques and furniture. Such a lovely place to enjoy tea with a white, gold, & blue color scheme.
The colors of the Drawing-Room (Blue, Gold & White) matched her favorite porcelain tea sets, Copeland & Garrett “Best”(gold & white), Coalport (blue, white & gold), Haviland, & Limoges (gold & white). The ceiling & walls were decorated with angels & cherubs (a favorite motif of Arabella’s) by some of the finest painters of the day like Vedder painted the museum-like murals. There was a white marble fireplace with fancy brass andirons, with lattice & angels embossed in the marble in the base of the fireplace.
In the Huntington’s 5-story, NYC mansion was located at #2 57th Street in NY. Which the family affectionately called “No. 2”. In this elegant mansion, there were all the modern luxuries at the time. The mood was set in a romantic & Parisian fashion. In the Drawing Room: there were several 3-candle or gilded gaslight sconces for lovely soft tea lighting. Above the fireplace, was large French gilded mirror & gilded molding with angel faces. In the middle of the mantle sat a fancy French gilded clock with 2 large French Serves-looking vessels at each end.
Ready for a tea party at any time. There were several elegant buffets, desk tables, & tea tables with gold reception chairs & Louis XVI armed chairs. It was a most elegant room, but a cozy place to take tea by the warm fireplace. Especially on a cold day in New York City, with tea candles & a fire lit.
The Collis Huntingtons were living in one of the richest neighborhoods in the New York City. Their house was decorated in the fanciest of French Louis XVI style. Collis Huntington & Arabella Worsham were married in 1884; at first living at 65 Park Ave. NYC. In 1895, with the encouragement of Arabella, they built their stately New York City mansion at No. 2 on 57th St. This new residence just across the street from the Vanderbilt castle. The Huntington residence location was where Tiffany jewelry store stands now.
“At-homes” tea parties or receptions were invented by the French in the early 1900’s. At-homes was a designated day of the week that friends & neighbors would come to visit; to have a chat & cup of tea together. These tea receptions were “entertainments” that gentlemen were also invited with heartier fare served. “At homes” tea were usually scheduled from 4-6 pm or 5-7 pm. Many high-society women at the time would have “At Home” printed on their calling cards with the day of the week (at the bottom left corner) & their address on the bottom right) with their full name printed in the middle. The printed Calling Card was the invitation to be invited to tea.
Mrs. Arabella Huntington often entertained her guests on her “At-Home” day. Her “At-Home” day of the week was Tuesdays at her New York City mansion. This mansion was nicknamed at “No. 2” by the Huntington family. The Huntingtons also entertained on other days of the week, also. Arabella Huntington entertained often but on a more intimate scale, with dear friends, lots of family on Collis & her sides of the family. Sometimes for 24 guests at a formal dinner with multi-courses in the “East Salon”.
Mrs. Arabella Huntington “at-home” teas were on Tuesdays both at her New York City mansion & also at the Huntington San Francisco Nob Hill mansion, too. These teas embellished a elegant French flair. In the Huntington family archives, there were many Tilford gourmet market invoices NYC. A pattern found looking through all Huntington invoices, many mansion tea receipts & tea groceries were purchased, on Mondays & Tuesdays. The house servants at the Huntingtons No. 2 residence had 2 days to get ready for Mrs. Huntington “At-Home”. The maids would work busily to clean the house, & iron the damask tablecloths to make everything just perfect for Mrs. Huntington. While the butlers would rub down the sterling silver tea spoons & elaborate silver tea set with accoutrements. It was said the servants worked very hard to make Arabella happy, she liked things just so.
Mrs. Huntington’s kitchen staff made a special blended tea. In high-society, it was a tradition for the wealthy ladies of the house to have a special tea blend made for them. The Huntingtons special tea blend was a mixture of India tea & Ceylon tea, when blended together make the lovely fragrant Orange Pekoe tea. The Huntingtons favored this blended tea & also Lipton’s tea & Ridgeway Tea which was “Orange Pekoe” too. Did the Huntingtons serve alcohol at their “At-Homes” tea gatherings? Mrs. Huntington preferred French Champagne; Champagne Punch was a favorite of Mrs. Huntington.
In a large book called, Wine Manual filled with Spirits & Champagne & recipes was published by Maison E. H. Glass, Inc. NYC. There are several interesting cocktail recipes are in the book, maybe they tried one of them:
Chantre Frappe: 1 t. powdered sugar, one raw egg [omit], 2 jiggers of Brandy, 2 jiggers rum, cracked ice & shake well
Alexander: 1/3 Brandy; 1/3 Cream de Cacao & 1/3 Cream
Cafe de Paris: 1 white of egg, 3 dashes Anisette, 1 t. cream, & 1 drink of gin
Brooklyn: 1/2 Rye [Bourbon], 1/2 Italian Vermouth, 1 dash of Amer. Picon, & 1 dash of Maraschino
Also served at a “At-home” were Southern Beaten Biscuits; also English Cream Scones sometimes called “5 o’clocks” were light & flaky. These scones or biscuits taste sublime when served with whipped cream, orange marmalade & raspberry jam in beautiful crystal bowls. Mrs. Huntington favored French “Chantilly Cream” which was a whipped heavy cream with super fine sugar added or French vanilla sugar added. Mrs. Huntington’s head cook at the mansion was Kate McGillivray Smith, who was Scottish. The scones might have been served Scottish style, that is more of grilled scones then a baked English (heavy cream) or Irish scones (made with buttermilk). The Huntington servant staff made delicious homemade raspberry & strawberry jam that were prepared weeks in advance.
For an afternoon tea party, they served dainty tea sandwiches made of chicken salad, ham salad, roast beef, & cheese sandwiches. The tea table was set up with all sort of lovely French treats. There were many sweets like Jordan almonds & French chocolate Bonbons [chocolate truffles]. They had French imported cheeses like French Roquefort, served with water crackers. Of course, tea sandwiches of egg, cucumber, lobster, chicken salad, roast beef, or ham. In one of Mr Huntington’s rare books called The Book of Parties & Pastimes, there is some unusual tea sandwiches listed in 1912. There was Rose Petal & butter, Chicken & Butter, and some with ginger, dates & figs minced on Brown Bread.
The Huntingtons served a varieties of Tea cookies (some French & some American) were purchased like “5 o’clocks” (a tea biscuit), Loone Doones cookies (a shortbread cookie) , French “beurre blanc” (French butter cookies) & French macaroons. Fancy teacakes were prepared by the kitchen staff like French Petit fours, Chocolate cake, Raisin cake, & French Vanilla Cake were favorites. Sometimes, French Teacakes & Bonbons candies were ordered from Louis Sherry’s NYC. In November of 1919, they order mincemeat, which could have been used in French Petit tarts for Mrs. Huntington’s afternoon tea.
Arabella “Belle” Huntington collected many kinds of fine bone chinas & porcelains. Some from Paris, London- England, & New York City. She had lovely sets of French porcelain plates: pink & gold Sevres tea set, Limoges Service, Old Paris, & many different Haviland service (gold & white).
For Tea in her White Drawing Room, Mrs. Huntington would have chosen her best French porcelain tea cup & saucers, the Limoges, or Sevres or Haviland patterns from France.
In Victorian & Edwardian times, it was a tea custom to have the “lady of the house” usually poured tea. By researching the large Gorman silver teapots that the Huntingtons owned. It was recorded that Mrs. Huntington bought 2 large silver tea sets in the “Imperial Chrysanthemum” silver pattern, but it was huge & very heavy. By 1913, Mrs. Huntington probably had her Scottish butler, Angus McGillivray or Mr. Henry Huntington valet, Alfonso Gomez poured the tea. The Huntington’s 57th Street mansion was always filled with house guests or family visiting for 1 or 2 month at a time especially during the holidays of Thanksgiving & Christmas. Many teas were enjoyed by the Huntington’s & their guests.
HEH Coll MS 38/11 (1919 NYC City Mansion records (Huntington Library, San Marino, CA)
HEH Coll MS 38/6 uncat (CPH, ADH & HEH wills, papers, & Affidavits)
HEH Coll. HEH 11/1/(3) uncat (Folder 2) Huntington Library, San Marino (List of paintings in the C.P. Huntington located in the “Picture Gallery” and “The Library” in No. 2 57th St. NYC. A painting called “Boy” by Bouguereau & it was valued $1,000.00.
Article: Stone: An illustrated magazine, Volume 2 1889, “A novel Residence” (C.P. Huntington Fifth Ave & Fifty-seventh Street mansion in NYC) Article on page155, states that the mansion was 5 stories high, the location of the kitchen on the 4th floor, “3 stories above the dining room with which it will be connected by elevator”.
One of 3 photos of the Huntington mansion: A black & white photo of “Mrs. C.P. Huntington drawing room” is featured in Architectural Record Magazine Volume 13 (American Institute of Architects) in 1903. You can view the Huntington NYC mansion by goggling “Mrs. C.P. Huntington state dining room on Google Books. The grand Huntington Drawing Room is on p.405
San Marino Ranch records showing the Huntington family fine china and porcelains. HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 (SMR papers) Huntington Library San Marino, CA
Collis P. Huntington died in 1900. 13 years after his death, his widow, Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington married C. P. Huntington’s nephew, Henry “Edwards” Huntington. After they were married in 1913, Henry & Arabella lived in several different mansions besides the New York City Mansion, too. They also were “in-residence” at their Throggs Neck estate (Westchester Co. NY), Pine Knot Lodge at Adirondack Mts., Château Beauregard close to Paris, & St. Cloud, & San Marino Ranch in Southern California, just south of Pasadena, CA.