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The Hermitage in the 1890s

Will in the mill officeWhen Bessie Tyler arrived at The Hermitage in 1886 to help Will and his very ill wife, Mary, she wrote in her diary: “What have I gotten into—two children.” When Mary subsequently died, Bessie had her hands full with four-year-old Dayton and one-year-old Mary Elizabeth. Bessie was helpful and good-natured. She got along well with Bess and formed a close friendship with Harry, who was also a teenager.

Will not only appreciated Bessie’s help with his young children; he fell in love with her. Meanwhile, Bessie had formed a friendship with Will’s stepbrother, Harry, and may have been falling in love with him before his untimely death at 18 ended any possibility of a deeper relationship. Bessie accepted Will’s proposal, and they were married in Richmond. Will was 38, and Bessie was 20.

Through most of the 1890s, the household at The Hermitage consisted of Will and Bessie, Dayton and Mary Elizabeth, and Will’s sister, Bess. Brother George also lived at the house when he was traveling as an insurance assessor until he married Kate Levick, and brother John and his wife, Vinnie, lived in their own home on adjacent property. [Tell me more about John and Vinnie Rosencrantz's house.]

Bessie TylerFor Will, the 1890s brought a changing focus and search for grounding and some degree of personal and economic security. He had been left a substantial inheritance when his first wife, Mary Caroline Warner, died. In his new marital relationship, however, he constantly sought assurances of love. Bessie seems to have been away often, usually visiting her relatives in Virginia and in Washington, D.C. [Tell me more about Will and Bessie's relationship.]

William’s uncertainties extended to his working life. In 1891, he sold the cotton mill, which had been the family’s source of prosperity for some seventy years, to Lyman Goff. He would, however, continue run it for the new owner until 1895, when the mill was again sold, to the Brookdale Bleachery, which operated into the 1960s. The mill, considerably altered, is still standing in a small industrial complex at the end of Hollywood Avenue, near the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. In 1896, Will briefly tried the ice business and invented improvements to textile machinery. (In 1897, he was awarded a patent for a take-up roller for carding machine condensers. It is not clear whether this invention was used in the industry or whether it provided income for the family.) Will also became very interested in the emerging field of photography. Through a camera club in Ridgewood, he met a Mr. Hales and invested in a venture called the Hales Camera Company.

Mary Elizabeth in golfing attireWill also found a place in the community as a pioneering golf enthusiast, becoming one of the first people in Bergen County to play what would become a high-status sport. Around 1890, he laid out two holes on land just east of The Hermitage, and in 1893, he and a number of his friends founded the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club. As interest in golf grew, the members shifted locale and in 1901 founded the Ridgewood Golf Club, which in 1910 became the Ridgewood Country Club.

Meanwhile, at The Hermitage both Dayton and Mary Elizabeth grew up under the loving guidance of their stepmother, Bessie, and their aunt Bess. They attended local schools, and outdoor activities occupied much of their leisure time. Under her father’s tutelage, Mary Elizabeth became an accomplished golfer.

Bess, now in middle age, remained unmarried. She was independent in mind and movement but somewhat dependent on the family for her financial needs. A newspaper account of a charity dance attended by Will, Bessie, and Bess in February 1894 provides some insight into the social life of the Rosencrantz family during this period:

The merry company [danced to] Prof Crook’s delightful music. . . . Coffee, cake and lemonade were served, after which little Miss Jessie Graydon made a collection in the interest of charity, and found her little basket inadequate to the supply. Over forty dollars was realized on the occasion, and after a spirited Virginia reel, in which the elders distinguished themselves, the company dispersed shortly after midnight.

The camera business in which Will had invested did not generate profits, so he tried a different tack: he sought work as an insurance agent. He found a position in Enfield, Rhode Island, where he remained for six years. In 1912, Will returned to New Jersey and for a time worked at a textile mill in Paterson. Although Bessie often did not accompany Will on trips, she did join him in Enfield, where she took charge of the family’s finances. Bessie made trips to Virginia from Rhode Island and stayed there for a period of time when Will worked in Paterson.

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