Madison Co. Historical Society, Part 3

I’ve written in Part 1 and Part 2 about our visit to the Madison County Historical Society, housed in an 1849 historic home in Oneida, NY. The place is phenomenal! It’s like walking back in time, to the early 1850s. Most of the house has been updated and restored, and contains a lot of treasures and everyday articles of home life of a pre-Civil War, prosperous American family.

Cottage Lawn Madison County

We’d seen the downstairs and were headed to the less formal upstairs. On display up here were many curiosities and personal effects. There are several enormous glass cabinets in the hallway, filled with dozens and dozens of stuffed birds. The hallway was too dark for a photo– how I wish I could have snapped one! The displays were spectacular. In one of them stood a huge stuffed bald eagle, trapped at Lewis Point (by Oneida Lake). This pufferfish (is it?) was displayed at the top of the cabinet.

Stuffed Pufferfish

Another cabinet was filled with cigars, cigar boxes, and cigar-smoking accessories. The man of the house was very fond of Napoloeon brand cigars. It’s interesting to note that the people who occupied this house were old enough to have lived while Napoleon was still alive (Napoleon died in 1821).

Napolean Cigars

Our tour guide, Carolyn, showed us the various sleeping rooms. This house has eight bedrooms for family and servants. Here’s a mahogany rope bed from 1820 in the children’s room.

Rope Bed

A nanny or housekeeper would tighten the ropes each night, to keep the feather mattress from sagging. This is where “sleep tight” comes from.

A dresser and various things occupying the children’s bedroom.

Chest of Drawers

The grandmother’s room was simple, with a nice bed, a dresser, a wash table, and a trunk. Displayed on the bed are bloomers, made fashionable by a local lady in the mid-1800s with whom the family was acquainted; a head cap; and a bustle net.


The trunk showed a hoop skirt.

Trunk with Hoop Skirt

I also spotted a transom window above the door. How unique! The transoms I have seen have always been glass. Transoms are wonderful additions– opening them allows heat and air to enter the bedroom, while still retaining privacy.

Wooden Transom Window

Some of the servant’s quarters are in the rear of the house. The housekeeper’s room was expectedly less decorative.

Burnings Room

The housekeeper was named Catherine Skenandoah Burnings. Five generations of the descendants of Oneida Chief Skenandoah worked for the Higinbotham family. We are very fond of Chief Skenandoah, so this was a wonderful surprise! We have visited Skenandoah’s gravesite next to Samuel Kirkland’s at Hamilton College, seen the Skenandoah Boulder outside of town, and visited one of the earliest Oneida Indian settlements in this area.

Catherine Skenandoah Burning

Mrs. Burnings was the housekeeper for the Higinbothams for 31 years. She did lovely beadwork. It is said that the beadwork in the next two photos are Mrs. Burnings’ history of the Higinbotham family, in Oneida Indian picto-graph language.

Indian Beadwork

Indian Beadwork CloseUp

Burnings Moccasins

We loved our visit here! We had some unexpected surprises that relate to our various other trips and interests, like seeing Gerrit Smith’s portraits and articles, and learning about Catherine Skenandoah Burnings. This is a wonderful place to visit if you are in Oneida. Tours are $5.

About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (6)

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  1. I would love to visit this place.

  2. lew says:

    It’s great that the Historical society has been able to keep this place like it was 150 years ago. It does look in pristine condition!

  3. Sol says:

    That’s really beautiful and I would love to visit one day.

  4. Renee says:

    I just read this for the first time. So fascinating! I learned a few new things today! 🙂

  5. Leah says:

    Thank you for posting this information it really helps those of us so far removed from the area to understand this time and place better.