The Morgan-Manning House
Morgan Manning House
Welcome to the Morgan-Manning House, an important part of the history of Western New York State, and, indeed, America.
The house stands on the shady corner of Main Street and South Street, in Brockport, New York. It is carefully preserved by volunteers. It is a beautiful and gracious mansion built in 1854 and the home of the Morgan-Manning family for over 100 years.
Okay, so who the heck is Morgan-Manning?
The house was the home of the Morgan family for 100 years. Its final owner, a 96-year old widow, Sarah Morgan-Manning, left the house to be preserved as a historical site, so that it would "stand forever as a monument to the fine old traditions that are so important to our national heritage".
And so it does.
The rooms are beautiful; the fireplaces and chandeliers, and all the appointments in the rooms take one back to the late 1800's; that nineteenth century grace and charm inhabit every delicious morsel of this home.
Dayton Morgan purchased this home 13 years after it was built to be his family homestead. Dayton Morgan was very instrumental in developing and improving the McCormick reaper, which was not a success as originally patented.
This reaper was an integral part of the agricultural revolution in America, which ultimately put America so far ahead in the global marketplace.
We don't realize it now, but not so long ago, a mere 150 years ago, most field and farm work was done by hand. Harvesting was done by hand; it would take a dozen or so people doing the back-breaking work of scything the wheat to harvest a ten-acre field of wheat.
I saw a sign in the Morgan-Manning home saying "The reaper will never replace the scythe!" Oh, fools they! It is obviously much quicker and more efficient to have a machine do this labor.
Now, agriculture is "agribusiness". Machines do everything, it seems, and much more efficiently than people can. Gone are the little farmers; gone are the small fields and gone are the land workers, whose jobs were so backbreaking and hard, and also seasonal.
We don't' realize it but the agricultural revolution, which mirrored the industrial revolution, began so much later, and in America, not in Europe. America had the space, the wide-open space, the acres upon acres of arable land, to make machines not only desirable but necessary to be profitable.
And the agricultural revolution began with the reaper. People were still using draft animals to plow when the reaper caught on.
Interiors of Morgan-Manning House
I love touring these rooms. They are so well restored, so well preserved, and mostly by volunteers. It takes me back to the late Victorian period of time when gracious living had a certain formality about it and elegance.
Precious things were carefully crafted by hand, and carefully preserved. We saw in one room upstairs the lovely dresses the dressmakers sewed by hand for the Morgan ladies. The stitches were so tiny and even; it was artisanship that people cultivated assiduously back then.
The dresses and shoes were so tiny! The women were tiny! I couldn't have fit my arm into the waist of those dresses! That's one thing I would not have liked about living back then. Women were expected to have no carnal appetites whatsoever. It wasn't ladylike. Ah, well, I would not like to have all MY appetites repressed so severely by tradition.
We saw the summer kitchen, and the butler's pantry. The servants must have had it bad; the summer kitchen, where the food was cooked, was tiny, cramped and not in any way convenient. We don't realize now how very labor-intensive life was for the people of the nineteenth century. The stove was big, black and coal-fired. Someone had to bring in the coal for the stove from the coal cellar. The water came from a hand-pump at the utility sink, which was also the laundry sink. A laundry machine was a washtub and washboard, and wringer cranked by hand. All the hot water had to be heated on the coal stove and carried up to the bedrooms, if it was used for bathing. The irons to iron the clothes were heated on the stove, and heavy.
The Morgans were lucky to be rich--they had servants to ease the laborious chores of daily living for them. They had servants in the kitchen; they had servants to light the fires in the fireplaces and to clean up all the ashes. They had servants to help the ladies get dressed! All those tiny buttons down the BACK of the dress! One couldn't possibly put it on by oneself!
I say the Morgans were lucky. Well, they were. It is also a story that America can be proud of--Dayton Morgan started out as a clerk in the Erie Canal Collector's Office. His father had lost everything in the crash of 1836, and left Dayton with Dayton's aunt in Brockport, while the father went to try and recoup his fortune in Ohio (which is another story we won't go into here.)
So, Dayton Morgan was a self-made man. America produced so many people whose enterprising spirit, drive and ingenuity, made them fortunes. Dayton Morgan was one of them, and as a consequence, his whole family,numbering a wife and seven children, lived a life of comparative luxury.
I was much intrigued by the model of a racing yacht, named Mehetabel, which is a woman's name from the Hebrew meaning "God rejoices". This model was built by Arnold Morgan-Manning, Sarah Morgan-Manning's only child, a genius who died at the age of 21 from tuberculosis. Good fortune, it seems, is always tempered by tragedy.