Interview with Catherine C. Irving (Mrs. A. Duer Irving), 1974 February 21 [audio](part 1)

Hagley ID:
  • Her connection to Louise du Pont Crowninshield and description of Mrs. Crowninshield's personality and character
    Keywords: Conduct of life; Crowninshield, Benjamin; Crowninshield, Francis Boardman, 1869-1950; Crowninshield, Louise du Pont, 1877-1958; Du Pont, Evelina, 1840-1938; Du Pont, Henry, 1812-1889; Du Pont, Louisa Gerhard, 1816-1900; Historic Preservations; Jeremiah Lee Mansion (Marblehead, Mass.); Marblehead (Mass.); Peaches Point; Personality; swimmers
    Transcript: This is an oral interview with Mrs. A. Duer Irving, 1303 Delaware Avenue, February 21, 1974.

    Ward: Mrs. Irving, could you tell me your relationship with Mrs. Crowninshield when you first knew her?

    Irving: I first knew her when I married my husband, who was her first cousin. They were the first and second grandchildren of Gen. Henry du Pont and his wife who was Louisa Gerhard of Philadelphia, and Mrs. Crowninshield was named Louise for her grandmother and Evelina for her father's unmarried sister, Miss Evelina du Pont. My husband was the first grandchild in that family and she was the second. They were quite close together and were always very warm friends. More like brother and sister I think. I met her after I married and I think at Marblehead if I remember correctly, where she lived and had a summer home. The Crowninshields lived on Peaches Point and all their various ramifications and after she married Mr. Francis B. Crowninshield they lived there, first in a smaller house, then when his parents died in what had been their family summer home. Her brother-in-law, Benjamin Crowninshield lived with them at that time and of course she was a marvelous swimmer, very strong swimmer and they had turbulent waters all around Peaches Point where their home was and our aunt, Miss Evelina du Pont had a house adjoining the Crowninshield place so in the summers we would be up there quite a lot, and saw a good deal of her. She could swim like a fish. She was very strong. She had a perfectly wonderful quality of "giving out" is the only way I know how to express it. She gave out of herself so much to people, was interested in everybody - and not prying kind of an interest, but a real interest in order to help or just enjoy their qualities, if they were fine qualities. I think that was one of her most intriguing charms really, one that she always had time to be interested in other people, especially if one were troubled or anxious or if something nice had happened, to enjoy it with them. She was a very lovable, wonderful person. Full of personality. It is a shame they never had any children, and that meant that she just loved every child that she saw and gave her heart to them.

    [The following in double brackets appears in the typewritten transcript but not in the audio]:

    [[I feel that a complete picture of Mrs. Crowninshield requires a few other details which will show the breadth and variety of her interests.

    She loved music, and regularly attended the Boston Orchestra concerts in Boston, and also had a box for the summer concerts at Lenox. Several times she took me to private concerts which were of course by invitation, but if I did not know the people she asked for permission to bring me knowing how much I also loved music.

    Usually I met a New England friend in Boston, from where we drove to Lenox and had our subscription series tickets for several periods during the summer for the concerts there, but finally Mrs. Crowninshield suggested that we take two tickets in her box, which we did for the last few years of her life, and of course it was more enjoyable to be with people who knew music and were regular habitues.

    Then also, she was constantly occupied by the Historic Preservations, I rather think that she was a high official of the group but in any case her advice on acquisitions and on restorations and refurnishings in suitable period pieces seemed to be most helpful to all their efforts.

    She had had much to do with the restoration of the Lee House in Marblehead to which many tourists came, and later with several restorations of famous old houses in Salem, and was often away on trips visiting and considering further undertakings of Historic Preservations, and afterward consulting on means and methods of acquiring and using whatever was necessary to complete the job.

    Occasionally, I would be with her, merely as an onlooker, and it was amazing to see how well (and in what a business-like way) she made her decisions.

    All these interests added to her work in the Garden Club and her full home life, and the entertaining of house guests, dinner and lunch guests, made her accomplishments in a 24 hour period look overpowering but she rarely seemed tired, and her mind seemed to always be ready and able to embrace more.

    She was also deeply religious and had been brought up by her father to be so. As you can see, her life was well-rounded.]]
  • Eleutherian Mills vacated by family members and later reacquired by Mrs. Crowninshield; the French sleigh bed of E.I. du Pont's that her husband had inherited and the way it made it back to Eleutherian Mills; Mrs. Crowninshield's efforts in finding furnishings appropriate for the house
    Keywords: antique furniture; Conestoga wagon; du Pont, Eleuthere Irenee, 1771-1834; Du Pont, Evelina, 1840-1938; Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; Eleutherian Mills (Greenville, Del. : Dwelling); explosions; Historic buildings--Conservation and restoration; Inheritance and succession; Marblehead; sleigh bed; workers' clubhouse
    Transcript: Ward: When was it that you first met her?

    Irving: Well, in 1910. I was married in 1910 and met her soon afterward.

    Ward: Did you see much of her here in the Wilmington area?

    Irving: No, she didn't live here then. When she came it was at Christmas usually and she stayed at Winterthur with her father who was alive at that time. He didn't die until several years afterward, and then Winterthur came into possession of her brother and she stayed there. It wasn't until quite some time afterward that a letter came from the DuPont Company who had earlier forbidden anyone to live in Eleutherian Mills on account of its proximity to the powder works, and it had been taken away from her grandmother, Mrs. Louisa Gerhart du Pont and Aunt Evelina, on account of the danger. There were terrible explosions from the powder and I think it was during World War I that, (someone else could check that for you, you could easily find that out), but it was taken away from them and later it was turned into sort of a club for the men working in the powder mills and they had to hastily, her grandmother had to hastily find some other place to live. Mrs. Crowninshield in the winters lived in Boston, or fall and spring rather, in Boston and in the winters in Florida and just came here for visits, at Winterthur.

    She had no other home here at that time but soon after World War I, I can't remember exactly, but a letter came [to Aunt Lina] from the DuPont Company (by that time was in the hands of cousins, Mr. Pierre S. du Pont and his brothers Mr. Irenee and Mr. Lammot) saying that the former owners of those homes on the Brandywine...there was a house next to Eleutherian Mills occupied now by Mr. Dean. Mrs. Dean's mother bought it at that same time for them...the houses were offered back to the original owners and the letter came while we were staying with our aunt at Marblehead, and she was simply frantic. She was not a rich du Pont, our aunt, and to think that the house might go other people which had been their home and in which she and her brothers and sisters had been born worried her terribly. She had two homes and she couldn't acquire a third, couldn't afford a third, and it was settled wonderfully within a few days when Mrs. Crowninshield's father, having also received the same kind of a letter from the DuPont Company, bought it for her for a Wilmington home or a Brandywine home and everybody felt relieved. Our aunt did because she loved her niece, her oldest niece, and was very devoted to her and she felt she was just the person to live there, and she had a very excellent income and she could restore it and do the things that were needed. For years it had been neglected you know, just a man's club the house was used for and I don't think much attention had been paid to the outside, or the grounds. It was going to take lots of time and knowledge and money to bring the house back and she did all of that aided and abetted by Mr. Crowninshield who built a very swell, fancy garden, put all kinds of ruins in it, fallen pillars and things of that kind and she did the garden part and he did sort of the decorating part and along the Brandywine they had...they built something that you might find in Greece or in the Orient some place, for swimming, a pavilion I suppose you would call it, dressing rooms really, and that was very elegant looking also. All in all they had a wonderful time taking several years to bring it back.

    She meanwhile looking for - course everyone who could give her things they'd inherited from the house, but they'd been dispersed in a thousand different directions, and anyone who had anything that'd been in the house originally tried to give it back to her. We did - things that we had inherited either from my mother-in-law who had been born in the house or from our aunt. She hadn't died at that time - Miss Evelina didn't die until '38, and this was long before that. But, the things that we had, except for the bed that E.I. had slept in and that came to us from another aunt to my husband, and it was a French sleigh bed and rather interesting and after my husband died - this may be of interest although it doesn't particularly pertain to her, but it's...things from around; I said to Mr. Pierre du Pont, "My husband's been sleeping in this bed for, I guess, twelve to fourteen years since his aunt, Mrs. Chandler, she had been Miss Sophie du Pont, and they all had the names, our aunts, and my mother-in-law, of their aunts who had been the daughters of E.I. and were named for them. And Aunt Sophie, Mrs. Chandler, had left in her will - she had inherited when the things were broken up in the Eleutherian Mills - she happened to inherit her father's bed, which had been E.I.'s bed before General Henry's. And she left that in her will to my husband, and we had had it made a little longer - E.I. could not have been a very tall man - my husband was [5] feet 10 and 1/2 or 11, and he wasn't overly tall but he was much too tall to occupy that bed. And it was a sleigh bed so it was quite easily done letting four pieces in where the sleigh part fell away, and he slept in it. We lived in New York then, and when we moved down here, and brought it when we re-enlarged the house that we lived in - brought our furniture from New York and that was among them. My husband continued to sleep in that bed, but when he died, I said to Mr. Pierre du Pont, "This bed should be given to someone with the name du Pont." And as we had no children and didn't have the name du Pont, I thought it most certainly should go to a du Pont. And he said, "Just think of any of our cousins who have more boys than anyone else," and he finally named one, and I gave it to his son. He had three boys, and I gave it to them. And when the house was being restored, and they wanted to find all the things that had been E.I.'s, I spoke to somebody at the museum and said what a pity I gave that bed away - E.I.'s bed - before we let it in this house, but I gave it away. But fortunately they felt the same way, and the boy had grown up and married by that time and so they returned it and gave it for the room, and it's in the room now. And that was very fortunate that they saw it the way I had felt it - I didn't like to ask for it to have it returned, for them to return it, so I hadn't said anything at all, but I don't think any pressure was brought to bear. But I think they just felt it belonged there as I did and gave it, so it was very nice it got back safely to that house.

    Well, she had great pleasure in going around and gathering things. I think the house was the same size, but she had to find more things because they couldn't ever find exactly all the things. They'd gone to many different people by descent to other people and possibly even away from here, so it was hard to find everything and she just found the appropriate things.

    [The following in double brackets appears in the typewritten transcript but not in the audio]:

    [[Mrs. Crowninshield enjoyed looking for suitable furnishings and in replanting trees and also in restoring several of the old buildings and houses that were on the property. You have probably seen the old dairy house, with running water and places for cooling the milk and cream. She remembered so many details and restored the dairy house and made it look pretty also.

    She searched for a Conestoga wagon and turned one of the old stone buildings into a museum with the Conestoga wagon and other vehicles, one of which was the old family sleigh which we found in Aunt Lina's carriage house.]]
  • A Maine antique dealer opening her shop on a Sunday when Mrs. Crowninshield came to visit Mrs. Irving; Mrs. Crowninshield's knowledge of antique shops and dealers throughout the East Coast; garden club guests of Mrs. Crowninshield staying with the Irvings; purchasing a pine table at auction and later giving it to Mrs. Crowninshield for a historic house in Virginia
    Keywords: antique dealers; Boca Grande (Fla.); garden clubs; historic houses; historic preservation; James River (Va.); Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pa.); Rumford (Maine)
    Transcript: We had home in Maine at that time where we used to go in the summers and there was an exceptionally nice woman who ran an antique store several miles from where we were, possibly 20 or 30 miles, but she was in the general direction of Rumford or Rumford Junction and we used to go to her quite often. Mrs. Crowninshield was going to be in Maine for about a week or 10 days not far from our camp and I said to her, "You are going to be near us. Can't we come over and get you at the end of your stay and bring you over for a few days to visit us?" She said she would love it. I happened to be in that antique shop and said to the owner, "Are you ever open on Sundays?" and she said, "No, I go out and do most of my buying on Sundays," and I said, "Oh, that's a pity, because Mrs. Crowninshield, a cousin of ours, is going to be with us Sunday, and we are going over to get her and we pass fairly near here returning with her to our camp and I thought I would bring her in to see some of your lovely things." She said, "Mrs. Irving, are you talking about Mrs. Francis B. Crowninshield of Marblehead, Mass.?" And I said, "Yes," and she said, "I will have this shop open any day or any night of any year to have the pleasure of having Mrs. Crowninshield come into my shop and see what I have. If she never bought a thing it would mean so much to me to have her come here. I think she is one of the greatest people I have ever known." She said, "Of course I'll be here and delighted to have you." Well, we took Mrs. Crowninshield, and she recognized this woman right away. They had gone to many of the same antique sales and possibly might have outbid one another occasionally. But this woman was so glad to have her come and she was looking at that time for several handsome, very handsome early American rugs. I don't think it was for her house but it might have been. Of course she bought things if she could find the better one she would eliminate one or use it elsewhere and she spent a great deal of money while we were there that day but that woman said if she hadn't spent a penny it was worth it to have her come to my shop and she even sent some wedding presents also from there that she found, unusual things. This woman had quite a territory in which she could go and look over things and buy and bid on wonderful antiques and she had really one of the best collections of early American rugs in the country and she was so everlastingly grateful about having Mrs. Crowninshield there. That's the way everybody felt about her. It wasn't unusual for this woman to feel this way. And having said no, the minute she found out who it was she quickly changed her mind.

    Ward: Did this woman help her find other things later?

    Irving: Oh, she always sent to her for things if she was looking for certain things. People would give her money because she went around looking a great deal and knew where everything was. She scoured the country...of course this area she knew all around Pennsylvania and so many wonderful antique dealers all through Pennsylvania and not to mention right here, that...I think it was before Mr. Stockwell had his shop here. He had one in Philadelphia at that time. And then all of New England, she knew everything there, every good shop almost in New England and then of course she often drove going down to Florida for the winter where they had a house at Boca Grande and going and coming and then she had an area that was hers for the garden club that she supervised and she had all the ladies, after she got into the house here, she had the heads of various garden clubs in that part of the south of which she was the head, so to speak, she invited them all up and of course there were more than she could take care of in her house but a lot of us who wanted to help her took guests and we had several perfectly delightful ones staying with us, 3 or 4 ladies, and one of them, although she came from Memphis, came from a perfectly beautiful house in Virginia that we knew and were very glad to hear more of its history. We had been to see it. It was an unusual house off the beaten track but my husband enjoyed having these ladies because they could tell us more about this beautiful place. It was on the Upper James. We had made an all day trip in order to go and see it. He had read about it in a book on Virginia, and it was well worth the effort. This lady was from that family and afterward that became her home, a very historic house which they bought and where they lived when he retired. It had been in the hands of rather distant relatives who had very little money and toward the end of their lives these two old ladies who occupied the house were very glad to turn it back to its old line, so to speak, and someone who could restore it and take care of it and keep it up beautifully. All these ladies she entertained in various ways every year. It was before we had as many museums in Wilmington as we have now but of course there was Longwood and so much of interest in Philadelphia where she had a host of friends. She always knew people every place and she was rather noticeable. She was quite large and quite tall and a lovely face, not a beautiful face but a lovely face and a very handsome person. You would notice her almost any time or any place. And so she was well known wherever she went.

    [Following portion of interview had no transcript. Mrs. Irving relates an episode in which she and her husband purchased an antique pine table at an auction for use in their home in Florida which then was too large for the room. Later, when Mrs. Crowninshield was looking to purchase a pine table for the restoration of a house in Virginia (possibly Kenmore), Mrs. Irving donated the table she had purchased for the project.]
  • Mrs. Crowninshield giving Mrs. Irving and her husband a house in Greenville, Delaware rent free after Mr. Irving retired; her husband's aunt, Evelina du Pont, offering housing to DuPont Co. workers in her home
    Keywords: Du Pont, Evelina, 1840-1938; Greenville (Del.); Inheritance and succession; Kennett Pike (Del.); Old Hall farm
    Transcript: We had a house that we lived in and was our home in Delaware and we came away from the reading of our aunt's will. She had left quite a little property to my husband, and Mrs. Crowninshield and I had been talking to my husband about retiring although he was a New Yorker of course, born in New York and lived there all his life - the Irvings are an old New York family as you know, but this was where he felt very much at home and he had been here often with his grandparents when a little brother or sister was due and then he came a great deal to visit his aunts and uncles and various relatives and he said about his aunt's will and the property she had left to him and to his brothers and sister, "Isn't it funny that of all the places she has, there isn't anything we really want to make our home in. They are either too large, too something or other. They are not the type of house we would like to live in." And she said, "You know that house on the Pike, I will be able to take that over and I don't want that to go out of the family. I will take that as part of my share of what she's left me and to Harry (her brother) and we can fix it up and I'm going to stipulate just two things - you can do anything you want to after we get it ready and you can't pay any rent for it. I would just like to feel that someone who appreciates that house is living in it."

    Ward: Where was this house?

    Irving: On the Kennett Pike. Well, I spoke of our aunt's farmers and I didn't want to designate the house, but I can. It's still a very pretty house. I haven't lived in it for 14 years - Old Hall farm, if you know where that it. It is on the right just after you pass the Greenville [Alexis I. School. Later we bought it and made a few changes, as it became our permanent home.] [Tape cuts out momentarily]

    Ward: Can you tell me something about your husband, Mrs. Irving? You said he was born in New York, and he came back here to visit in the summertime.

    Irving: Oh, he came any time during the year, not necessarily summertime. He came down to visit with all his family, but after his mother died, Miss Evelina mostly. She was the unmarried one and he was her godson also, and she was like a mother to him and to me, and we'd come at any time, summer or winter to stay with her a few days and keep in touch with her. She lived alone with a secretary and a very nice household out on the Kennett Pike, a new house to which she had moved after her mother died. They had moved hurriedly out of Eleutherian Mills to a large house, whatever they could find, to move into quickly when the house was condemned for living in, and she had continued (and her mother) to live in that house until after her mother died, then she built a smaller house and things were divided that had been in the house always, in Eleutherian Mills, divided among the brothers and sisters, so she had an enormous amount of furniture in the large houses she had been in before and she wanted a smaller household, just one person although she always filled practically every room. She would take in people, sons or grandsons of people that she knew who were coming here perhaps to work for the DuPont Company or in some capacity, parents or grandparents would write and ask her and she would just write and say let them come and stay with me while they look around and sometimes they would continue and she had a very nice young man living on the top floor, the son of a bishop and she knew his family and wrote and asked her, and she just kept the boy there and gave him a home...

    Mrs. Crowninshield, of course, had those qualities plus many others. She was very alert. Our aunt was quite an old lady by that time. She lived to be 98, Miss Evelina du Pont. She was born in 1840 and died in 1938 and that covers a tremendous era or series of eras and Mrs. Crowninshield always kept in close touch with her, though, being her godchild and Aunt Lina was a very lovable person as Mrs. Crowninshield was. They both had kindly and wonderful feelings toward people less fortunate. Wasn't it a wonderful quality?
  • Mrs. Crowninshield's relationship with her parents; people stealing from Mrs. Crowninshield's handbag; Mrs. Crowninshield's interest in collecting antiques
    Keywords: antiques; Du Pont, H. A. (Henry Algernon), 1838-1926; Du Pont, Henry Francis, 1880-1969; Du Pont, Louisa Gerhard, 1816-1900; Du Pont, Pauline Foster, 1849-1902; Du Pont, Samuel Francis, 1803-1865; horticulture; Newport (R.H.); Sunday walks; Winterthur (Winterthur, Del. : Estate)
    Transcript: Ward: Who are the people in the family, other than those you mentioned, that you feel had a great influence on Mrs. Crowninshield's outlook on life?

    Irving: I think her father must have influenced her although in that respect I never saw any terrible outpouring of kindness. I think possibly it was her grandmother who might have been inclined that way because certainly Aunt Lina was like that and she lived at home all her life with her mother and I think it might have been that influence, her grandmother, to whom she was devoted and for whom she was named and I think just her own individuality made her like that.

    Ward: Can you tell me about her father taking the children on a Sunday walk?

    Irving: Yes, of course he had a great influence on both of them, turning their thoughts and their interest in growing things, trees, flowers, shrubs, and so forth and every Sunday after lunch, (they would go to church and Sunday School) and after lunch he took them for a walk on the grounds at Winterthur where there were beautiful specimen trees, as you know, and bushes and growing things and they knew the name and learned the names of every tree and everything growing on that place, not only the names that you and I would know it by, but the Latin name also. He was a scholar and he wanted them to learn the Latin names. They both were wonderful. That's what made them so knowledgeable. Taking those walks with their father and learning as they did from him constantly, and that was his life. He enjoyed that home and walking and talking to his children. Their mother died when they were quite young, and they had adored her also.

    Ward: What was their mother like?

    [The following text in double brackets appears in the transcript but is significantly altered from the audio]:

    Irving: [[I never knew their mother but there was a photograph of Mrs. Henry A. du Pont with her son Henry Francis du Pont which was among Aunt Lina's things and was returned to Mr. and Mrs. H.F. du Pont. It was a lovely picture of a loving mother looking at her only son and she was tall and slender with a beautiful face.]] Mrs. Crowninshield was a little older than her brother and they seemed devoted to one another. She never seemed to tire. I never knew her to be tired or unable to do anything she wanted to do. She would swim for hours, in and out of the water several times during the day. If it was hot during the morning, two or three times more during the day, even in the evening to cool her off before she went to bed, she was very able to do anything apparently that she wanted to do.

    She was quite large, as I told you. Several times, things were taken from her right out of her bag. She was prosperous looking - very well dressed and well turned out and all that kind of thing - and she evidently had a bag on her arm then be looking at something and somebody would open her bag and take the money and other things that were valuable - anything that looked like money would be taken from her bag...She was kind of large and always looking around at things...and people would just take things from her. But I don't think she ever begrudged anything to anybody.

    Ward: What do you think started her interest in collecting antiques? 40.55

    Irving: Well, she had grown up with beautiful old things which were in her own home and then when she married Mr. Crowninshield he had beautiful things in his home and New England is full of beautiful antique shops. She was very alert and when they went out in their yacht and they went to many places along the New England coast or would go to Newport, and she just naturally gravitated toward beautiful things. And a great many of the beautiful things in this world are old, as we know. Of course she was always interested in everything, flowers, beautiful flowers if they were unusual, then she would find out how and grow that flower herself. She was very knowledgeable about everything horticultural. She just seemed to have knowledge about almost everything...She grew up with handsome things around her and was interested in them and if she saw something similar then she was interested in it, not necessarily to buy but to admire. She didn't buy it for use but she'd think of it if somebody said they were looking for thus and so, she'd say, "Oh, I saw such a lovely one," and tell them about it and pass the information along.

    Ward: Do you think she was interested in collecting before her brother was or had he...?

    Irving: You mean in his collection? As I say Winterthur was furnished with beautiful things. Her mother had them in her family and her father also and she grew up among beautiful things and there were quite a few things that various members of the family got from the Admiral's estate. They had no children. They had beautiful china much of which he brought from China when the treaty ports were opened and their house, as you know, was just across the river from Eleutherian Mills. They never had children so their possessions went back to various members of the families. Mrs. Crowninshield could tell you the year and possibly the maker of clocks, furniture, rugs, glass, china, etc. Not always but she would know its type so well that she could place it. She was very knowledgeable.
  • Mrs. Crowninshield's interest in travel and her ability to speak French; Mrs. Crowninshield's houses and gardens in Boca Grande, Florida
    Keywords: Bible box; Boca Grande (Fla.); bower; Commonwealth Avenue; cutting garden; French language; gardens; traveling; Yachts
    Transcript: Ward: I understand that she liked to travel. She went to Europe a number of times?

    Irving: Well, I never knew of her going to Europe very much. [A few years before her death, she went on a long trip around the world with three women friends which she thoroughly enjoyed.] They had gone to Europe. I don't remember that Mr. Crowninshield ever cared very much for traveling. He loved to sail his boat at Marblehead in the summer and on cruises and she was very adaptable. She had studied French. She spoke French quite fluently, and she and Mr. du Pont had had French governesses. They both spoke French and her father did, too. And her mother. Whether they spoke French in the family I'm not quite sure. My husband spoke French with his mother and his family before he spoke English. And it is possible that she did too as a child.

    Ward: Do you think she enjoyed Boca Grande as much as she liked Massachusetts?

    Irving: Oh yes, she simply loved Boca Grande. She was the queen of Boca Grande. No doubt about that. If you went to Boca Grande and weren't invited to her house for something you just hadn't seen the place. And that's quite a tall order because there were two large hotels there at the time, one quite near her and then the Inn which is very large and surrounded by ever so many cottages...The Inn did a wonderful business during the winter months...Mrs. Crowninshield had a boat and went out tarpon fishing, that is the great thing in the Boca Grande area. Later in life they had a cousin who stayed with them. He was quite a good painter and she persuaded Mr. Crowninshield to study with this cousin. The cousin and Mr. Crowninshield would go out and put themselves down with the easels and paint and have a wonderful time and that made a tremendous interest in his life. He couldn't play golf or fish all the time and it was a great source of pleasure to both of them, I think, his taking up painting quite late in life. She was all for people doing things they enjoyed, just the way she urged us to come down to Boca Grande and take a house for part of the season and she did everything in the world to make us comfortable and to see that we had a pleasant time, which we most certainly had, and liked it so much that we bought a piece of land and by the next year we were living there, during the winters.

    Ward: Was your house near Mrs. Crowninshield's home?

    Irving: Well no, not very. That was pretty well built up. She and her brother had adjoining places and then they owned quite a little land around and near their homes. She had 4 or 5 houses that she bought and either let friends have, or rented to them if someone was looking for a house and if it was someone agreeable, an old friend that she'd like to have near and she would only let people with whom she was intimate, or their relatives, have her houses. [Mrs. Irving describes the house she and her husband purchased.]

    Ward: Is your house still standing there?

    Irving: It is still there but it is quite changed. I don't think much has been done to it. A few years ago I was in Sarasota. A friend was staying with me in Sarasota, and we drove down one day to see the house and when I drove down the lane I was just heartsick because it looked so neglected, it was overgrown and needed paint. It had been a very pretty house but you have to pay a great deal of attention in Florida to the growth - everything grows so quickly. You plant a hedge and by next year you have a tall hedge if you don't pay attention and things growing soon take over. You have to take them out if they grow too much and put in things which will be as decorative but more practical. Growing anything in Florida takes time and trouble and knowledge.

    Ward: I suppose Mrs. Crowninshield planted many trees and flowers?

    Irving: Oh, her house was a bower. She had a cutting garden and a garden to look at and she had a patio with flowers planted all around the patio and one or two very pretty trees for shade. It was protected by the house, built on three sides, around the patio. There were tables with parasols making a very picturesque effect. [Irving continues to speak of the gardens and mentions a Bible box she had given to Mrs. Crowninshield.] Have you talked to Chandler, her Eleutherian Mills gardener?

    Ward: Yes.

    Irving: Now there is somebody else, her chauffeur. Have you talked to him? Of course he could tell you by the book-full everything about her because he used to drive her to these auctions and social affairs and saw her bid on a lot of them and get them and take them away and what she did with them afterward. Did he tell you all those things?

    Ward: Well, not all of them I'm sure, but he did mention that. I'm going to see him again this year when we go down to Boca Grande.

    Irving: You are going to Boca Grande?

    Ward: Yes.

    Irving: Well, he has a house down there.

    Ward: We saw him there last year.
  • Mrs. Crowninshield's kind nature and her habit of helping other people
    Keywords: bridge; Crowninshield, Frank, 1872-1947; garden club; Kindness; Personality; Robinson family; Secretary of the Navy; Yachting; Yachts
    Transcript: Ward: How would you sum up, among the many things you said about Mrs. Crowninshield, her greatest impact, what do you think that was?

    Irving: On people? Well, a wonderful, gracious, kindly, marvelous person. I don't think there are enough adjectives to say what she really was or to describe her fully. Those are a few however. There wasn't a mean instinct or thought, I believe, that she ever had about anybody or anything. I never knew her to have any feeling of retribution against anybody. She liked people although naturally, she had her preferences. She had her own ideas and if people didn't live up to them she didn't care for them. They weren't her kind of people but she never had, I never heard her make very many, if any, disagreeable remarks about anyone. If she spoke of them not affably you knew how she felt. She didn't have to say anything disagreeable about them.

    Ward: Was her brother this same way, too?

    Irving: Not to the extent that she was. No, he had his tempers and his strong feelings and didn't hesitate to express himself. She was thoughtful toward people she was interested in...

    Ward: You mentioned the fact that she grew up in these lovely surroundings and had the love of her parents and her grandmother and grandfather so I suppose she never had any reason to feel any other way.

    Irving: I don't know about her grandfather. He died long before the grandmother did. She was a godchild of both Aunt Lina and her grandmother and always very close to them and she was her grandmother's oldest granddaughter.

    Ward: This was on the du Pont family side. Do you know anything about her maternal grandparents?

    Irving: Well, I don't know very much about them, the Robinson family in New York. [Tape cuts out momentarily. The following text in double brackets appears in the transcript but not the audio]: [[Her cousins, the Robinsons, often visited here and at Marblehead. There were three first cousins and she was very fond of them all.]] [Irving mentions how Mrs. Crowninshield gave away more than one of her Boca Grande houses.]

    Ward: I understand she was interested in helping young people to get their education.

    Irving: Yes, I'm sure. I think she paid for a great many young people to acquire an education. I can't think now at this particular moment, well possibly one or two, that I think I know about but I wouldn't want to discuss that. It was part of her character to feel that she wanted to help other people in an unobtrusive way.

    Ward: It seems as though she lived a very positive and creative life.

    Irving: Very. She was on the go all the time, always going to meetings. Of course she was very active in the garden club [Tape cuts out momentarily. The following text in double brackets appears in the transcript but not the audio:] [[and had that area which included the several southern states, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, etc. They called it the southeastern states. I'm not sure if it included Florida. I don't think it did. I think it was more toward the middle southern states.]]

    Ward: Was Mr. Crowninshield interested in the flowers, too?

    Irving: The results yes, but you know the way men are. They don't get down to the practical things except where boats are concerned and fishing. They have their own interests. He loved bridge and they had that in common and boats would come in to Boca Grande, the people they knew, old friends of theirs, yachts when people could have yachts, at least a yacht requiring a large crew. Afterward they had a beautiful big yacht and his, one of his ancestors had been Secretary of the Navy...[interview continues in part 2]

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