Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Olcott Family Papers, 1819-1915
Finding aid created by Bethany Anderson, January 2008
Title: Olcott family papers Creator: Olcott, George H., 1818-1897 and Olcott, S. Adelaide Inclusive dates: 1819-1915 Bulk dates: 1870-1898 Extent: 91 items (0.25 linear feet) Abstract:
The Olcott family papers consist of incoming correspondence, receipts and advertising flyers to George H. Olcott or his daughter Adelaide Olcott. While much of the correspondence entails discussions of current and local news and family matters, "the Olcott House," the family's hotel business in Wurtsboro, New York, is central to the correspondence.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Olcott Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.
The Olcott family lived in Wurtsboro, Sullivan County, New York, where they managed a hotel/summer boarding house. The Olcott House -- the name of their family-owned hotel -- was built in 1843 by George H. Olcott (1818-1897), and consisted of 50 rooms (with capacity for up to 60), a general store, a saloon, a carriage house, and a livery. Located on the corner of Old Milne Road and Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike in Wurtsboro, the Olcott House was well known as one of the oldest hotels in Eastern Sullivan County. It was renowned for its "museum" on the third floor, which displayed local Native American objects. In the hotel's saloon, there was also a glass tank filled with live poisonous rattlesnakes.
Known for its close proximity to the Catskill Mountains, and hiking and camping grounds, visitors to Wurtsboro were attracted by the rural charm of the area. Many of the hotel's patrons came from New York City, and were either vacationing during the summer or on their way to a camp site. Near the train station, the hotel was in close proximity to five lakes, and thus was advertised as "near one of the finest sporting regions in the country" (Wakefield 1970: 56). Circa 1900, the Olcotts charged $6.00-$7.00/week, and $1.50 for children, although they gave discounts to season guests.
George and his wife Julia had five children: George W., Charles F., S. Adelaide (Adalaide), John, and Sally. Adelaide (born c.1850) was the child who helped George manage the hotel. As a family, the Olcotts had their share of tribulations, some of which were only hinted at in the letters. For instance, in 1885 John and Adelaide became involved in a legal dispute over a portion of land they owned.
George died in 1897, after which Adelaide assumed full responsibility for the management of the hotel. In 1903, the museum and the adjoining carriage house caught fire, substantially damaging the third floor and other parts of the hotel. The hotel was eventually rebuilt, though only able to accommodate up to 30 guests. The museum, however, was never replaced.
The Olcott family managed the hotel for several decades before selling it to Jack Butler in 1920. It was then renamed the Butler House. Butler's management of the hotel would prove to be short-lived, however, as it was destroyed by a second fire on March 8, 1923. The hotel was never rebuilt.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The correspondence encompasses both business and personal matters. The main recipients were George H. and his daughter Adelaide Olcott, the former having received 20 and the latter 32. Most business correspondence includes receipts for the purchase of large quantities of grocery items, advertising flyers for canned goods, asbestos building materials, an offer for a subscription to the "Library of Wit and Humor," and employment agencies supplying references for people of various trades. Another item that George received was a letter from Charles L. Webster & Co., publishers of the book, The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it (1889), by Alessandro Filippini, who retired as the chef of Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City in 1888. The letter was accompanied by two advertisements for Filippini's book, one of which contains several of his recipes.
Other business correspondence was from patrons, who were arranging a stay at the Olcott House or discussing financial matters. Adelaide, on the other hand, received more personal correspondence from friends and relatives. She did, however, also receive some business correspondence related to the hotel. Like her father, she ordered supplies for the hotel and collected payment from patrons.
As the Olcott family received advertisements from various businesses, so they too made an effort to make their hotel known to the public. In particular, George advertised in New York City. He utilized such services as "J.W. Gray's Agency of Country Resorts," which advertised "Summer Homes for 1886 within a radius of 500 miles of New York" (April 1, 1886). On George's own business letterhead, he advertises, "Families Taken in at Moderate Rates," and "Good Fishing and Hunting in the Vicinity" (July 25, 1889). The Olcotts also kept in touch with and befriended many of their patrons.
Letters from friends and acquaintances are filled with local and family news. One such letter to Adelaide from her niece of the same namesake, mentions experiencing electric lighting for the first time (January 17, 1892). Some discuss illnesses and deaths, while others relate recent travel plans, or news in their own lives. The letters also reveal details about the Olcott's lives. For instance, the fire that destroyed part of the hotel in September of 1903 and the hardships Adelaide endured as a result are alluded to in a letter that she received from her friends Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Rayner (October 11, 1903).
The collection also includes several letters written to or from members of the Helm family. Although it is possible they are relatives, their connection to the Olcott family is not clear. A deed for a land sale in Sullivan County from Jacob and Laura Helm to George Olcott (September 6, 1837 and May 7-10, 1839) is evidence of a business tie. One other letter written by a woman named Olive Newman to her niece is dated January 8, 1915. Their relationship to the Olcott family is also uncertain.
This collection contains a great deal of information on the interpersonal interactions between members of the Olcott family and their acquaintances. The many advertisements also give insight into the services and products that were available to the Olcotts, and especially how supplies were marketed to hotels in the 19th century.
Hotels-- New York (State)--Sullivan County.
New York (State)--History--19th Century.
Container / Location
Olcott family papers, May 26, 1819-January 8, 1915 [series]
May 26, 1819-May 7, 1839
February 26, 1841-February 21, 1869
March 24, 1870-December 15, 1878
October 16, 1880-December 21, 1889
April 8, 1890-August 18, 1898
January 5, 1900-January 8, 1915
Additional Descriptive Data
Brooklyn (N. Y.)
Centerville (N. Y.)
Hartford (N. Y.)
Hempstead (N. Y.)
Highland (N. Y.)
Hillsdale (N. Y.)
Madison (N. Y.)
Mamakating (N. Y.)
Middleton (N. Y.)
Monticello (N. Y.)
New York (N. Y.)
Nichols (N. Y.)
Otisville (N. Y.)
Phillipsport (N. Y.)
Rockland County (N. Y.)
Rondout (N. Y.)
South Fallsburg (N. Y.)
Spring Brook (N. Y.)
Stephenville (N. Y.)
Westbrookville (N. Y.)
Wurtsboro (N. Y.)
Port Jervis, Monticello and New York Railroad. If Thou Seekest Beautiful Country Behold, It is on the Port Jervis, Monticello and New York Railroad. Sear and White: New York, 1900 (p.60).
Roosa, Monika A. Mamakating: Images of America. Arcadia Publishers: Charleston, 2007 (p. 34).
Sickels, H.E. Reports of Cases decided in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York. Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co. (1886), pp. 152-161.
Wakefield, Manville B. To the Mountains by Rail: People, Events and Tragedies...the New York, Ontario and Western Railway and the famous Sullivan County Resorts. Wakefair Press: Grahamsville, New York, 1970 (p. 56 & 59).
Corporate Name Index
Armour & Company
May 22, 1891
CC & E Childs
August 25, 1842
M.W. Decker Spring Brook Distillery
January 5, 1900
Goldschmidt, Bachrach, & Co. Importers
March 24, 1870
J.W. Gray's Agency of Country Resorts
April 1, 1886
July 23, 1890
October 4, 1893
E.S. Jaffray & Co.
June 30, 1883
H.W. Johns MFG. Co.
September 28, 1893
G.H. Lewis General Commission Merchant
February 15, 1893
The Manhattan Agency
May 28, 1883
Moosie Powder Co.
August 18, 1898
Albert Palmer Company
June 24, 1883
The People's Bank of the City of New York
January 17, 1894
The Review of Reviews Co.
Charles L. Webster & Co.
July 23, 1890
Partial Subject Index
Deeds--New York--Sullivan County
September 6, 1837; May 7/10, 1839
May 28, 1883
Hotels--New York--Sullivan County--19th Century
January 17, 1892
New York--History--19th Century
Prescriptions--Drugs and Herbal Remedies
Publishers--Charles L. Webster & Co.--19th Century