Ancram Quilt: History and Donation by the Ancram Preservation Group
A stitch in time: A family heirloom helps preserve the fabric of a town
Photographs by B. Doktor
Jack Lindsey has always had an affinity for old objects. “My partner and I are collectors,” says the antiques dealer and former museum curator. “We try to collect items that are local to wherever we live.” Soon after settling in the Columbia County town of Ancram in 2003, he joined the Ancram Preservation Group. “You never know what’s going to show up; sometimes you find furniture and sometimes you get documents like ledger books or letters,” he says. Some time later, a dealer in New York contacted him about a quilt she had obtained at an auction. The bed covering was made in 1856 and had the word “Gallatin” — the next town over from Ancram — stitched on it. But it wasn’t just the local origin that piqued Lindsey’s interest; the coverlet is an album quilt, meaning each square has an individual’s name stitched on it. And in this case, many of the names belonged to onetime prominent citizens of Ancram. “I immediately said, ‘we’ll take it,’ ” Lindsey recalls.
Album quilts were quite the fad from the 1840s through the 1890s, but a great number of them did not survive into the 21st century. Lindsey explains that many of the colored dyes used to make them actually ate away at the fabric over time. Also, as the years passed, quilts were no longer considered keepsakes and were often poorly cared for or discarded. “Because textiles were affordable in the 20th century, the quilts weren’t viewed as such precious things,” says Lindsey. As a result, when something like the Ancram quilt survives to modern times in pristine condition, it tends to be worth a considerable chunk of change and often ends up in a museum.
Album quilts were usually created to mark a momentous occasion like a wedding. A group of people would come together and have all their names either stitched or written on one of the quilt’s squares — sort of like an autograph album. “People with a common tie either paid for a square, or they would make a square with their name on it to be put all together,” explains Lindsey.
In the case of the Ancram quilt, the common tie was a young woman named Mary Moon. Only 19 years old in 1856, Mary, possibly with the help of her mother, stitched the quilt with the names of many of her family members. That same year, she married a farmer named Albert Rockefeller, and had two children before passing away three years later. Besides this, very little else is known about Mary. “Eighty-five percent of people at that time died middle-class or poor,” Lindsey explains. “Those folks tend not to leave a personal record.” And the exact reason for making the quilt also remains a mystery. “Unless somebody leaves a diary or will, which she didn’t, we won’t know for sure,” he says.
But the quilt is more than a personal family record; it also offers a window into the history of the whole town. Several of Mary’s extended family members bear illustrious Ancram names — including her Rockefeller husband. Although not directly related to John D. the oil tycoon, the northern Rockefellers were one of the first families, along with the Livingstons, to settle in the area. (In the 1740s, Philip Livingston founded the first iron works in the region, which produced ammunition for the Continental Army during the Revolution.) Early on, the majority of people in Ancram earned their keep by farming. In the mid-19th century, that livelihood flourished even more when railroads came to town. “Ancram was lucrative in a way that a lot of other towns weren’t because the railroad enabled farmers to get goods easily into New York,” Lindsey says. The Hoysradt family, who were related to Mary on her mother’s side, owned copious amounts of farmland; five members of the family are named on the quilt. “And to this day one of the larger tracts of land in the area is still Hoysradt owned,” says Lindsey.
In 2010, the Ancram Preservation Group purchased the quilt and donated it to the town; it now sits in a place of honor in the Ancram Town Hall. “People who come to the town hall for meetings are often related to the people on the quilt. Some even say, ‘That was so-and-so’s great-uncle,’ or ‘Weren’t they related to such-and-such?’ ” Lindsey says. “It’s active, ongoing history. That’s what makes it so cool.”
Hobbies at work
Robin Massa has long had a passion for genealogy, so when she heard about the Ancram quilt and all its names, she had to dig deeper. “I knew that I had information on these people and it just piqued my curiosity,” she says. Massa delved into various books and charts and compiled a 13-page report, which details the identities of the 30 individuals on the squares and how they were connected. “Some of it is supposition that I can’t prove, but I lean very strongly towards my conclusions, and make notes when I’m not 100 percent sure,” she says. Though her work is not published, it is used by the town historian and the Ancram Preservation Group for reference.
Lorraine Wiener is a local artist who was also inspired by the quilt. “The colors and symbolism of quilts has always moved me,” she says. “When I heard about the Ancram quilt I was especially touched.” So she chose one section to reproduce on a massive scale — it’s seven feet square — on exterior grade plywood and mounted it on the outside of her garage. “The project consumed many, many hours due to the detail, but I was so moved by the quilt that I just needed to paint it,” she recalls. The best part for her, though, is the fact that the square she painted was signed by Franklin Hoysradt, who is an ancestor of the Hoysradts she knows today. “My husband and I have a deep appreciation for the town’s history, and also know descendants of many of the family names listed on the quilt,” she says.