by Lynn Byrne
When most people hear of a club in the Catskills, the so-called Borscht Belt immortalized in the film Dirty Dancing comes to mind. But back in 1887, interior designer Candace Wheeler (subject of yesterday’s post) established an artists’ colony she named Onteora, which seems more akin to Charleston, the country base for the Bloomsbury Group.
Early visitors to Onteora, in addition to Candace Wheeler and her family, included Mark Twain, the conservationist John Burroughs, painters George Bellows and Caroll Beckwith and the writers of Elizabeth Custer (General Custer’s widow) and Mary Mapes Dodge.
At Onteora, Candace Wheeler is said to have espoused the beauty in a simple country life with a focus on nature. Apparently even indoor plumbing was too luxe for her. She abandoned the club when other members demanded it.
It turns out that the Onteora Club continues to exist today. Some of the cottages are still standing, including Candace Wheeler’s own home, Pennyroyal.
Although Pennyroyal is not a museum and some of its furnishings have changed over the years, certain features of the original home remain, and it continues to embody pure and simple country life.
This is country decorating distilled down to its essence.
The front parlor looks much like it did back in Candace Wheeler’s day with wicker furniture and a yellow painted grass cloth. It has a hand painted frieze with one of her mottos, “Who Creates a Home, Creates a Potent Spirit.” Ya, what she said.
Candace’s daughter Dora Wheeler Keith, a successful artist, painted the door in the next photo. This image in particular looks like the Bloomsbury Group’s home Charleston.
In the foreground of the next shot of the dining room, you catch a glimpse of the bench Candace designed for her last major commission, the Women’s Building at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
This sweet bedroom with its homemade quilt and rug are true to the style that Candace maintained at Pennyroyal. Following is a shot of the bathroom she found too fancy for her taste. Funny how the two sinks are side by side thus illustrating the path of renovations.
Of course much of life at Onteora was spent outside. This luscious porch swing at Pennyroyal makes you want to sit a spell. Surely Candace drew much of the inspiration for her designs, which are so heavily influenced by native plants, from her time at Pennyroyal.
With a little digging, I unearthed a feature in Country Living on another home in Onteora, known as Witchwood. Built in 1891, it has been lovingly restored.
This home is everything I love about an old house beginning with that red trim on the exterior.
The original owners had guests sign the staircase instead of a guest book. Architect and artist, George Reid also painted a small miniature.
The decorator, Iliana Moore, evoked the impression that the house was owned by the same family for 100 years by combining furnishings from several periods, including Art Nouveau, Victorian and Edwardian elements. I used that strategy in my new, “old” house as well.
The rebuilt fireplace at Witchwood still bears it original painted musical notes, in tribute to its first owner Mary Knight Wood, a composer.
The dining room is small, like most early homes at Onteora, because members often took their evening meal at a clubhouse.
The sunroom was once part of the open porch. It has a nice outdoor feel. Love the sweet “camp” style pillow.
Here are some exterior shots of a few other “cottages’ at Onteora. Believe me, if I had found interior photographs, I would have posted them.
Photo credits: Pennyroyal photos by Steve Gross and Sue Daley from their book Catskills Country Style or via Old House Interiors. Witchwood via Country Living. Heritage photos and exterior “cottage” photos via the Onteora Club website.