State Historic Site
(Trail End Collection)
Ballroom Musicians' Loft (Prout)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 2013 - December 2013
THE BULK OF Trail End's third floor is taken up by the Ballroom. Originally designed as a playroom, the room was soon transformed into a spacious dance hall. The four Tiffany-style chandeliers hanging from the peaks of the Georgia Pine beams have an artificial verdigris patina similar to that found on aged bronze, brass and copper. The two electrified candelabra on the mantel are original to the room.
The piano and Edison player are not original to Trail End. The family did, however, have a phonograph in the Ballroom for use at impromptu dances. If there was a live band or orchestra, members sat in the Musicians’ Loft – safely out of the way of the dancers. The Ballroom’s original red pillows and cushions were made of a fabric called rep (or repp). This wool material is very similar to corduroy. They were stuffed with a mixture of horsehair and moss. Sadly, they suffered from 100 years of wear and tear (see the original cushion near the arched stained glass windows). Thanks to the Trail End Guilds, custom-made reproductions were installed in 2012.
COOK'S ROOM & SMOKING ROOM
Almost since the beginning, the staff wing of the third floor was used as sleeping quarters by women employees – maids, cooks and housekeepers. For a brief time, however, one room was used for something completely different: smoking. 1912 correspondence from the Omaha home décor firm of Miller, Stewart & Beaton indicates that a "smoking room" was located where the cook’s room is now: "With regards to the Smoking Room which is marked Servant’s Room No. 1 on 3rd Floor. There has been no decorative scheme made for it …"
Light fixtures were ordered for this smoking room, as were curtains and draperies. Unfortunately, few other clues exist to tell us more about the room’s function or frequency of use. The only other mention found is a newspaper article noting that "gentlemen were entertained in the smoking room" during the New Year’s Day open house in January 1914.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, most cooks in private homes were older women – usually widows who needed to work in order to support themselves. Because of her high standing in the household, a live-in cook would have a few more amenities in her room than a maid or handyman. Her bed would be larger, her chair a bit more comfortable and her dresser more spacious. Trail End’s cook was the undisputed Queen of the Kitchen. She was responsible for everything from a simple slice of toast in the morning to buffet suppers and elaborate multi-course banquets. The cook worked long hours and the mere presence of a comfortable, private room would often make the difference in whether or not she stayed on the job. Most of Trail End’s cooks stayed for many, many years.
In Sheridan, domestic servants – paid household workers – came from a variety of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. While some families employed Asian or African-American men as gardeners and porters, most female workers were of European descent. Many were daughters and wives of miners who came to Sheridan from Eastern Europe, Ireland, Austria and Scandinavia. Most maids hired out for service when they were quite young. In 1930, Diana Cumming Kendrick described one girl she’d recently interviewed for a maid’s position:
I did not realize how young she was – only fifteen – until she came and told me. She is at high school, has never worked [outside the home], but is most eager to work here. She looks healthy … and seems quiet and intelligent. Of course, her age and experience are against her.
While housekeepers and cooks stayed for years, Trail End’s maids rarely lasted for more than a few months. Because of their inexperience, most made only $30 a month (in 1929, an experienced office worker could command as much as $70 a month). As soon as higher paying jobs came along – or an offer of marriage – the maids usually left. A maid usually worked long hours. In what little free time she had, she might work on different kinds of needlework. Tatting – making lace – was popular in the 1910s and '20s, as were embroidery, knitting and crocheting.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the traditional uniform of the American maid: black dress and white apron (white cap optional). This was the same uniform worn by maids at Trail End from 1913 through the 1940s. The uniform immediately identified the wearer’s place in society and its modest design allowed the maid to fade into the background in any social setting. It was also a sturdy garment and could be worn while performing the dirtiest work. Most uniforms were provided by the employer, thus saving the maid from damaging her own clothes (of which she probably had very few).
None of Trail End’s servants’ bedrooms contain their original furnishings. We have based the current furnishings plan on photographs of other large houses from the same time period, combined with the recollections of Kendrick family members and former employees. In houses like Trail End, employers would have supplied basic furnishings – bed, linens, chest of drawers, nightstand and chair – while the individual servants would have brought their own clothing, books and decorative items. Each room here had a mirror, closet, built-in cupboard and sink. Above the sink is a bell. Although we’re not exactly sure how it was wired, the bell was probably part of a servant call system. There is a similar bell in each of the servants’ bedrooms, but we haven’t determined what they were connected to.
The Servants’ Bath was utilized by Trail End’s female staff members – never by guests. Even so, it was finished with the same materials used in the home’s other bathrooms: porcelain and ceramic tiles, stained glass windows, German Silver fixtures and Vermont marble trim. The original mirror still hangs over the sink.
The Clow & Sons "Palace" tub is very deep, but the servants did not get to soak up to their necks in hot water. The flat disk inside the front of the tub is where the water comes in. Since a tub can’t be filled higher than the level of the faucet, it only held about five inches of water (a great way to conserve hot water). The ladies probably took quick showers instead of long baths. The white knob located between the hot and cold water valves opens up the tub’s drain.