The Curious Case of Mr. Collins

Here at Locust Grove, we have an extensive research library for the use of our staff, volunteers, and docents, so everyone can continue to learn about the Croghan and Clark families, the history of the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky, and everything about life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We are always growing our knowledge to better serve our visitors and answer questions, whether someone asks what herbs were planted in the kitchen garden to the best way to cure meats in the smokehouse. Our docents, to a man (and woman!) are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable individuals, and our corps of Costumed Interpreters volunteer copious amounts of time and endless resources to bring our family and their friends and neighbors to life.  Because we are always engaged in research, we often discover new and surprising things about Locust Grove.

Heather H., a docent, master photographer, and the queen of historical pastimes, works with our Costumed Interpreters as a plainclothes handler, and conducts a great deal of primary source research to enhance our interpreters’ knowledge of their characters’ lives. Heather has “a great fondness for historic obituaries” and states that she has “been working on locating obits and death notices for everyone that is portrayed by the costumed interpreter cast. I came across Mr. Collins when I was working on the notices for the Croghans.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Mr. Collins Who? Surely you must mean Mr. Clark or Mr. Croghan.” Mr. Collins is certainly not a name we hear around Locust Grove unless there’s a meeting of the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society in session.

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Hugh Thomson, c. 1894

This Mr. Collins, however, had not walked right out of the pages of Pride and Prejudice and onto the porch at Locust Grove. Heather had discovered the obituary below of a Mr. John Collins, who has a curious relationship to Locust Grove.

John Collins obit

Published in the National Advocate (New York, New York) and also ran in the Long Island Star, the Connecticut Courant, the New York Daily Advertiser, and the Democratic Press. 

“At the residence of Maj. William Croghan, Locust Grove, on the 9th of January, mr. JOHN COLLINS, aged 102, a native of New Jersey.

The deceased had lived in the family of Major Croghan for the last 27 years, and has uniformly enjoyed remarkable good health; he affirmed before his death that he never, in the course of his life, been blooded or taken a single potion of physic. What was remarkable in the deceased, was, that he considered everything his own, and would frequently threaten to dispossess merchants in Louisville of their goods unless they kept their accounts uniform and correct, but in other respects was perfectly sane.”

WHOA. This Mr. Collins sounds like quite a character, and he has quickly become a favorite of the denizens of Locust Grove. Other death notices and obituaries only note his age, place of residence, and the date of his death, but we are nonetheless fascinated by his existence. Docent and historian Lynn R. remarks, “It’s just the most perfect story. Heather deserves extra cookies for finding him.” (I agree!)

No research has been discovered to support the idea that Mr. Collins was a blood relative of the Croghans, but it seems that he was a long-time part member of the household. According to Heather, our manuscript collection includes only one mention of a Mr. Collins in a letter written by William Croghan, Sr. in 1796:

“There are no surveys in either offices in Reynolds name, from the Situation of those Warrants & entries you should have got them Cheap from Mr. Reynolds. In my last letter to you I informed you that you omited one of your Warrants No 3580 for 2666 ⅔ are in the power you sent Mr. Collins to convey to me or any person I might direct, this warrant is the principal one, the (__) under being but five Warrants of 100 Acres each. If you intend letting me have it please to send a power to convey it by the bearer Mr. John. Gwathmey whom I expect will shortly return to this Country. I received the 100 acres by Mr. Sheppard for which shall credit your acct. I am dear sir. Your most humble Servt. W. Croghan”

about-williamcroghan

William! Tell us more about your buddy!

The 1810 census includes three white males over the age of 45 living at Locust Grove. These men are most likely William Croghan, George Rogers Clark, and John Collins. Lynn Renau believes that Mr. Collins may have witnessed some of William Croghan’s legal transactions and did some recording keeping as well, as not all of the family accounts are in William Croghan’s hand. Lynn and Heather’s working theory is that some of these accounts could have been the work of John Collins, who may have been a clerk for the Croghans. We have no records of John Collins’ burial, and there is no record that John Collins’ grave was removed to Cave Hill Cemetery with the rest of the Croghans, so it is likely that he remains here at Locust Grove in the original family cemetery.

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Where are you, Mr. Collins?

Heather notes that “I have no doubt there’s documentation floating around out there to help us fill in his story. It’s just a matter of finding the time to look for them. I do find it interesting that this man lived with the family for years and appears to have been a long time business partner of William Croghan’s, yet he is only mentioned in that one family letter […] I can’t wait to learn more about him when I have the time.”

As soon as we know more about Mr. Collins, we’ll be sure to update you all! Until then, we’re looking for volunteers to profile on this blog! Our volunteers are incredible, and they deserve the spotlight! If you’d like to be profiled, fill out the form located here. Thank you for all that you do!

We also want to hear from everyone who has ever visited Locust Grove, toured the house and grounds, followed us on social media, attended one of our programs and events, or even thought about Locust Grove! You can help us out by taking our quick survey here. Your thoughts really are  important to us as we look to the future of Locust Grove!

And don’t forget–the Spring Used Book Sale is March 4-6! Thousands of books are ready to make new homes on your shelves. We can’t wait to see you!

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With sincere good wishes,

Hannah

 

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Volunteers make Locust Grove go ’round: Meet Mary Beth Williams

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to tour Locust Grove, attend an event, drop off books for the book sale, browse in our gift shop, or stroll through our gardens, chances are you’ve come in contact with a Locust Grove volunteer. Our volunteers are passionate, tireless individuals who care deeply about Locust Grove and its mission and do everything from giving tours to directing traffic so our museum can continue to flourish and serve the community. We love all of our volunteers, and we’re always looking for new faces to join our team! Mary Beth Williams is our Curator of Collections and Education, and she also serves as our fearless leader of volunteers! Mary Beth has a Bachelor’s degree in History from Bellarmine University and a Master’s Degree in Art History with a concentration in Curatorial Studies from the University of Louisville. Mary Beth came to Locust Grove as the Program Director in 2008, and last summer rose to her current position as Curator of Collections and Education. When she’s not on site herding schoolchildren, Mary Beth loves to travel and knit, and is currently working on a sweater from the 1940s using a vintage pattern! She took some time out of her busy schedule of to answer some questions about our wonderful volunteers at Locust Grove.

Hi Mary Beth!

Hi Mary Beth!

Why are volunteers so important to LG?
Volunteers are crucial to the success of our operation!  We have a pretty small staff—only four full-time employees, and several part-time staff members.  Our volunteers make it possible for us to offer large events like the Gardeners’ Fair, Market Fair and book sale, or accommodate large school groups.  Just this week we had 95 kindergarteners and a church group all touring the house simultaneously.

Volunteer Bob Smith in the woodshop with local students

Volunteer Bob Smith in the woodshop with local students

What kinds of jobs do volunteers fill at LG?
Volunteers help in so many ways here.  They do everything from giving tours, helping in the store, helping with large mailings, research, working with school kids, and in the gardens.  At large events we always need help in the house, taking admissions, selling concessions, assisting with parking, and the ever illustrious and crucial job of trash patrol.

Volunteers in the kitchen with our gardener, Sarah!

Volunteers in the kitchen with our gardener, Sarah!

What kind of training goes into becoming a volunteer?

The type of training depends on the volunteer position.  During the training period, our docents shadow tours and are provided with a manual and materials to read.  Visitors Center volunteers work with our museum store manager to learn the ropes of customer service and using our cash register system.   Other areas, like helping with mailings or volunteering at special events, require little prior training—just the enthusiasm to help out Locust Grove.

 

What is your favorite thing about volunteers at LG?
I love working with our volunteers.  We have such fun and interesting people that are involved here.  We are fortunate to have a pretty good size group of volunteers, so I enjoy chatting and joking around with them.  I can be pretty sarcastic at times, but they’re pretty good about rolling with the punches.  Many of our volunteers are history lovers (for obvious reasons), so even though all of our volunteers are from different backgrounds, professions and ages we all share a common passion so that tends to bond us all together.

 

What is something people might not know about volunteering/volunteers at Locust Grove?
I am constantly amazed by how many years our volunteers have dedicated to Locust Grove (some for over 30 years!), as well as how many hours they contribute each year.  We recognize this service by adding a special bar with stars to a volunteer’s name tag.  One star = 100 hours of service, 2 stars = 500 hours, 3 stars = 1,000 hours of service, 4 stars = 2,000 hours, and so forth.  We have several volunteers who have earned a special fleur-de-lis which represents over 3,000 volunteer hours.  We even have one volunteer with over 7,000 hours!

 

Some of our award-winning volunteers!

Some of our award-winning volunteers!

Why should people volunteer at LG?
We are very grateful for the volunteers who give of their time and expertise, so we try to show them how grateful we are.  We have an annual volunteer appreciation party in the spring, where we have dinner and hand out awards.  Volunteers also get little perks like free admission to our monthly lecture series, and 10% off in the museum store.  We also take trips periodically throughout the year that are open just to volunteers.  In the past we have visited Mammoth Cave, Conner Prairie, Ashland, the Mary Todd Lincoln house, Riverside and Cave Hill to name a few.  We have a trip to Frankfort planned for this summer, so we’d love to have some new volunteers join us for that.

Locust Grove volunteers on a 2012 trip to Colonial Williamsburg!

Locust Grove volunteers on a 2012 trip to Colonial Williamsburg!

What are the current volunteer needs at Locust Grove?

Currently we are seeking docents, visitors center volunteers, and costumed demonstrator volunteers.  The costumed demonstrators showcase things like hearth cooking, spinning and wood working to school groups.  Training will be provided so no previous experience is necessary.

If you’re interested in becoming a Locust Grove volunteer, contact Mary Beth by calling (502) 897-9845 or emailing mwilliams@locustgrove.org. And to all of our volunteers–past, present, and future–thank you for all that you do! Locust Grove would not be Locust Grove without you.

Gratefully yours,

Hannah

P.S. If you haven’t already taken the Locust Grove blog survey, there’s still time! Click this link to add your input: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/W5X9CS3.

To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

You can also follow Locust Grove on the web by subscribing to the blog on the right, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (We’re everywhere!)

 

There’s “Snow” Business like the Book Business

Excuse the titular pun, but winter is giving a last hurrah, just in time for our Spring Used Book Sale! As of this writing, the Book Sale is still proceeding as scheduled beginning on Friday at 10am, but check locustgrove.org for weather updates. It’s too bad the snow didn’t come after the sale, so you could cozy up with your newly purchased friends, but I guess you’ll have to make do with the books you already have until this weekend! We’ve got more than 20,000 books for you to peruse, so once the weather calms down, we certainly hope to see you!

Locust Grove is incredibly lucky to have Charles Bartman and Harvey Venier, two tireless and talented book dealers help us appraise, sort, and run our book sale throughout the year. Charles took some time out of his busy week to talk to me about his life and work.

Charles is a Louisville native, who started collecting books when he was growing up and received guidance from a family member on how to be a shrewd collector. As he says, “All book dealers are collectors, but readers before that.” After graduating from Centre College, he attended the University of Louisville and received an MA in Political Science. While in graduate school, he also worked for the University’s Urban Studies Center, and even after he started his career, he kept one foot in the academic world, later receiving a second MA in Botany, because “reading got him into it.” Charles’ family worked in real estate development, and so Charles spent 30 years working in this field, and even opened a plant store with Bonnie, his wife and best friend of 45 years, but he always collected books. In the 1970s, he began selling books from his collection, and after 1996, he turned to books full-time.

At this point in his life, Charles’ collection numbered between 50,000 and 100,000 books, which just seems like a dream to me! But Charles is passionate about connecting the right books with the right people, so he contracted with the owners of Hawley-Cooke Booksellers in Louisville to sell rare and out of print books. He also used a pre-internet book match-making service to connect book collectors and dealers with books fit for their collections. He continued to grow his online business, which is how Charles and Harvey first met. Charles says that this period of his career was “a lot of fun for most of the time”, but he sold his business in 2006 so he could get back to what he really likes–traveling and appraising books. He is certified with the International Society of Appraisers and around 2006 he was called by Locust Grove to help appraise donated books given for our book sale. Charles has been instrumental in organizing our sale ever since, as he knows a number of dealers looking for treasures as well as how to sell and sort books. For several years, Charles, at the suggestion of his wife, Bonnie, rented the Visitor’s Center to sell off books from his larger personal collection, filling the room with books donated to Locust Grove and splitting the profits. The sale was always a biannual event–in the spring, Locust Grove would sell donated books, and in the fall, Charles would sell his books, bolstered by donations. By 2009, Charles’ collection had petered out, and the book sale became what we know and love today–a sale of over 20,000 used books donated by members of the community.

Of course, there are logistical issues for our sale, especially when it comes to storing the thousands of donated books. The sale relies on year-round donations, as well as a special team of volunteers, led by Lynn Boone. Volunteers have regular sort days with the help of Charles and Harvey, who appraise the books and decide whether they’re appropriate for the half of the room given over to books of greater value and meaning, rather than the other half of the room, filled with the $1 paperbacks and $2 hardbacks on which I stock up. The most important part for Charles is that we have something for everyone and that we find the right home for valuable books. Charles is always focused on putting the right book in the right person’s hands.

Outside of our book sale, Charles still maintains an online presence and continues to build his collection. When asked about his favorite book, Charles remarked that “It’s hard to have a favorite. I have been fortunate in buying books over the years.” Personally, Charles is interested in biliography and typography, and books with limited edition, bespoke bindings. He also collects books by certain designers, such as Bruce Rogers and Dard Hunter. Charles also stated that he has “a real predilection for French bespoke bindings”, so if you ever find any books fitting this category, know that Charles will give them a good home! As for one of his best finds, Charles has in his collection a copy of the first English translation of Don Quixote dating to 1736 that looks like it was made yesterday. Charles says that he still has it, but he regards himself as just the caretaker of this remarkable book. There’s a special relationship between books and individuals, according to Charles, so this particular treasure won’t leave his collection until he finds the next worthy caretaker.

You can find Charles online at Abe Books and Alibris, and this weekend at our sale! Don’t forget–Friday from 10-7:30 and Saturday and Sunday from 10-4:30. On Sunday, all books are half price, or fill a bag for $10! Continue to check our website, Facebook, and Twitter for weather updates, but know that we’ll be looking for you! Stay safe in the snow!

Yours sincerely,

Hannah