The Cultural Resources staff has unveiled a new servants quarters exhibit at LeRay Mansion. Participating in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the exhibit are, clockwise, from left, Janice Gravely, president of the Climb to Glory Chapter of ROCKS, Inc.; William Scott, chapter vice president; Jeron Draine, chapter treasurer; and Nathan Lampman, Troop 26 B Scout. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum Scout, Cultural Resource staff team up on project at LeRay Mansion
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 1, 2020) – What had been a small, dark space used for storage in the LeRay Mansion basement is now illuminated with historical relevance.
Nathan Lampman, a Scout with Fort Drum’s Troop 26 B, teamed up with the Cultural Resources staff on post to convert an old storage room into an authentic 19th century servants’ quarters for his Eagle Scout project.
The work began several months ago when Lampman met with Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources manager, to discuss household servitude on the LeRay estate.
According to their research, slavery in New York was abolished in 1829 – close to the time when the construction of LeRay Mansion was completed. The enslaved families could either leave the estate or remain as paid servants. Rush said that at least two families lived in the small building behind the mansion, but that others had to have lived inside to keep the fires going at night and tend to the family.
“Dr. Rush and I talked about how some of the servants would have to live on site, and they would have needed a room somewhere inside the mansion,” Lampman said. “The storage room could have been used for that. We started cleaning and painting – basically making sure everything looked good.”
One of the criteria of an Eagle Scout project is demonstrating the ability to lead and delegate tasks, and Lampman organized a small team of Scouts and parents for the project.
“You basically have to be a supervisor to everyone,” Lampman said. “It was a bit stressful at first. But as the time went on during the project, it became a lot easier to give orders and instruction.”
“I would say that he did a brilliant job,” Rush said. “We really appreciate what the Scouts have done, and it turned out so wonderful. They really provided some helpful basement improvements.”
The room imagines what basement quarters would have looked like for household staff. Rush said that their furnishings would have been items no longer needed or wanted by the LeRay family.
“The servants would get the leftovers, and that’s where the tradition of Boxing Day comes from,” she said. “After all the wealthy families opened up all their gifts and had a wonderful Christmas, they would box up everything they didn’t want any more to distribute to the servants.”
Karen Koekenberg, Cultural Resources curator, hunted down household items at garage sales and at the Fort Drum Thrift Shop to decorate the quarters. She also contributed her own lanterns, salt-glazed water jug and Bible. Rush lent her grandfather’s logging gloves and night shirt, as well as an old quilt that had been in storage.
“We tried to keep it as authentic as possible,” Koekenberg said. “The bed is as close to the type and style that they probably had at the time. The wooden shoes were a yard sale find.”
Heather Wagner, Cultural Resources education and outreach coordinator, researched references to wooden shoes that French immigrants often wore for outdoor chores. Stories handed down from generations in Jefferson County mention the sounds these shoes made on the wooden sidewalks that could be heard from far away.
Rush said that the project is part of a bigger effort to educate and inform people about local history.
“We want the mansion experience to be the story of all the people who lived here, and not just celebrating James LeRay,” she said. “By choosing this project, Nathan has really provided a good catalyst for us to select a part of the mansion and say, ‘OK, this is going to be our first serious effort to tell the story of the people who lived and worked here.’”
Janice Gravely, president of the Climb to Glory Chapter of ROCKS, Inc., presented Lampman with a chapter coin during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the servants’ quarters on Sept. 26.
“We held our charter installation ceremony at LeRay Mansion, and during that time Dr. Rush had given us a tour and a preview of the servants’ quarters,” she said. “As a new organization on the installation, we thought it would be a great partnership opportunity to support what the Scouts are doing.”
William Scott, chapter vice president, and Jeron Draine, chapter treasurer, also attended.
ROCKS, Inc. is a national non-profit organization that promotes mentorship, professional development, scholarship and social interaction. Since its establishment in 1974, ROCKS, Inc. has provided an opportunity to have honest dialogue about leadership and diversity in the military. The Climb to Glory chapter meets regularly at LeRay Mansion.
While the LeRay Mansion is not currently open to group tours because of COVID-19, Fort Drum community members (DoD ID cardholders) are invited to explore the estate grounds and learn some of its spookier history during the all-outdoor Haunted LeRay event from 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 30.
To learn more about the historic LeRay Mansion, visit www.facebook.com/FortDrumCulturalResources/.