Joshua’s Rock, Home of the Seelye-Eggleston Family
For over 40 years we have lived just down the road from an historic site that still houses descendants of the original owner, who arrived here in the late 1700s. Before that, both the Seelye and Eggleston families were involved in the early settlements of the 1630s in Massachusetts and Virginia.
On July 31 the Mountainside Library, located on the Joshua’s Rock property at 3090 Route 9L, hosted a group from AARCH (Adirondack Architectural Heritage.) Lito Allegra Abrams, the daughter of our friend Allegra Ireland, spoke to the group about the history of her family.
Earlier Lito had taken us on a tour of the property. In years past Allegra had invited her friends for lunch in her cottage on Dunham’s Bay. She had told us that her Seelye/Eggleston ancestors owned miles of lakeshore there but we didn’t know much more.
We didn’t know all of the secrets hidden in the woods at Joshua’s Rock. What a fascinating family it was, walking the paths and enjoying our beautiful lake years ago. And the family still returns to the old homestead, sharing vacations with each other.
Now many of them lie in the cemetery, together for all time. The cemetery is in a clearing enclosed by towering pines. A stone mausoleum marks the entrance to the cemetery. A plaque on it dedicated to Edward Eggleston reminds us that he was born in 1837 in Vevay, Indiana and died September 3, 1902 here at Joshua’s Rock. The other mausoleum next to it is that of his wife, Elizabeth Eggleston, who predeceased him.
Our friend, Blanche Allegra Law Ireland, “Laughing Allegra,” was born April 10, 1915 and died March 18, 2009. Her cousin Jane Seelye West, born the same year, lies nearby.
Edward Eggleston Seelye was born in 1924 and died in 1999. His gravestone reads: “Flie fro the presse and dwell with soothfastnesse” Flee from the press (of public life) and dwell with your own spirit steadfastly.
Older gravestones, pockmarked with age, include that of Allegra Eggleston, born
1860 and died in 1933. She was unmarried, an artist who lived at The Owl’s Nest and was known as Tante. She illustrated some of Edward Eggleston’s books. Tante also painted a portrait of her niece, Allegra Seelye, which hung in the Edward Eggleston Library and is now in the Cambridge, Massachusetts home of Katharine Q. Seelye, the New England Bureau Chief and writer for the New York Times.
The gravestone of Allegra Eggleston Seelye indicates that she was born in 1878, graduated from Cornell in 1900 and died tragically in 1901. Apparently Allegra had been entertaining her Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters in the Seelye home at 212 University Avenue in Ithaca. After her guests left, she walked along a favorite path near Fall Creek Gorge. When a thunderstorm came up, she must have taken refuge under a tree. It was then struck by lightning and Allegra fell backwards down into the gorge.
The Ithaca Daily News reported on August 9, 1901 that her parents, at Joshua’s Rock, were notified by telegram: “Allegra Seelye struck by lightning this evening, death instantaneous and without pain.” The report continues:“Allegra was one of four daughters of Mr. And Mrs. Elwyn E. Seelye. She was a granddaughter of the popular historian, Edward Eggleston. She came to Cornell five years ago after preparing for college at the Pension Onderet, Villers-le-Bel, France. Throughout her college course she was known as a student of ability and one possessed of an unusual earnestness in her college work. By all who had had any association with her she was greatly loved and admired.”
The Glens Falls Weekly Star wrote on Friday, August 16, 1901: “Miss Seelye possesses in a rare degree the gift of her family. Her mental and especially her imaginative powers were of the very highest order. . .She was a beautiful and precocious child. Her brief life was a singularly happy and varied one. She went twice to Europe, remaining a year each time, and studying there. At home she attended the best schools, including the Glens Falls Academy, and spent four happy years at Cornell. . . One of the group of noble modern young women to be seen in colleges, women who combine all the most womanly qualities with a firm determination to seek an independent career in life, she taught during the last year at Berkeley Institute Brooklyn.”
The Seelye and Eggleston families became joined with the marriage of Elizabeth Eggleston (daughter of author and historian Edward Eggleston) to Elwyn Seelye.
Captain Robert Seelye sailed on the ship Arabella with Governor Winthrop’s fleet in 1630 or 1631. He settled and was a founder of a number of towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut. His son, Nathaniel, was born in 1629 and killed in the Narragansett Swamp Fight in King Phillip’s War on December 19, 1676.
David Seelye, born in 1750, fought in the Revolution, served in the garrison of Fort Stanwix and moved to Queensbury in about 1790. He is believed to have had a home lot at Butternut Hill. Reuben Seelye, born in 1775, had a home on Sunnyside Road. He also built the oldest (still existing) building in Lake George Village next to the Post Office. He bought Lot Number 10 of the French Mountain Tract from the State of New York in 1812 as a wood-lot.
Elwyn Seelye, born in 1848, married Elizabeth Eggleston. Their children included Allegra 1878, Blanche 1882, Elwyn 1884, Edward 1888, Cynthia 1888 and Elizabeth 1893. Blanche Seelye married Lito Law and their children included Grace 1913, Blanche Allegra 1915 (our Allegra) and Benedict 1917.
Blanche Allegra Law married Harry Lotz, and later Paul Elrod and Irving Ireland. Her children by the first marriage include Russell 1939, Lito 1942, Connie1945, Karen & Gretchen 1948. This carries the history down to Lito Lotz Abrams, Allegra’s daughter. Other branches of the family still in the area include Seelye, Strempel, Branson and Law. Many of them come for family reunions and meetings.
The Eggleston family story goes back to Richard Eggleston, who sailed from the Port of London in 1631 and landed in Virginia. He lived in a mansion known as Powhattan from about 1643 to 1735. A later Richard Eggleston fought in a battle at Richmond. Joseph Eggleston was a member of the House of Burgesses in the early 1700s.
The Egglestons owned several plantations, including Locust Grove and also Egglesteton, both in Virginia. Joseph Eggleston moved to Vevay, Indiana, married and their first child was Edward Eggleston, the author and historian.
Edward Eggleston had tuberculosis as a child, toughened his body by frontier work in Minnesota, took a long walking trip to Kansas, traveled on a Methodist circuit in Indiana and preached to Indians in Minnesota. Later he worked as an editor of magazines, including the Independent, and became an historian. He wrote many books about life in the United States, beginning with The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871), a novel that established his reputation. In the next three decades he was remarkably prolific, writing seven more novels, eight books for young readers, five major works on American history, including The Beginning of a Nation (1896) and countless articles.
Allegra Eggleston (Tante) was Edward and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter. As an artist she contributed pen and ink illustrations for some of her father’s history books. She painted Morgan horses and portraits of her father and her niece, Allegra Seelye. She lived in The Owl’s Nest with her friend Mabel Cook.
Today, Lito Allegra Abrams (Lee) is following in Tante’s artistic footsteps. She has painted portraits of her mother and also of Allegra Seelye; both hang in Allegra’s cottage, called Camp Allegra. She has art shows of her work in various locations that include landscapes and portraits of hens and roosters. Lito, like Tante, also paints horses and formerly owned and rode Morgan horses.
Although the property is not open to the public, occasional tours are given by local historians or historical organizations. Armchair travelers can enjoy the family story, an important part of local history, at any time.
Many people wonder about the source of the name. One article in the Lake George Mirror of July 2, 1904 traces it to a tall tale in which the hero, Josh, fights a bear in the water and finally succeeds in crawling up on the rock, leaving the exhausted bear to drown.
The path to Joshua’s Rock meanders up and down over rock escarpments with a number of large boulders to climb. Tall pines shade the area and pine needles crunch underfoot. In fact, the tail of French Mountain runs through the peninsula. But the climb is worth it! Those who sit on the rock enjoy a long view looking north toward Assembly Point, the west shore and on up to the Narrows.
Lito and her sister have renovated Camp Allegra and it is very attractive. One of us remembers the front porch from lunches there with Allegra. The kitchen is brand new with all conveniences. Windows and light colors have brightened the entire house. The living room is large and comfortable. There’s a nook for a computer and bedrooms are beyond.
The Homestead is bluish gray with white trim. Lito wrote: “It was built a few years before Eggleston built his home and library. Allegra and the other Seelye children would have been living in the Homestead when in residence during the summers at the lake. Edward Eggleston and his daughter, Tante, would have been living in Owl’s Nest.
“My Mother told me that Grandfather Seelye (my great grandfather) had moved the entire family to Ithaca to a home that they bought there. They did this to put the children one by one through Cornell, and four of the six went through Cornell. I assume that in the summers they would go back to the Homestead. Allegra graduated from Cornell in 1900, my grandmother later, along with two brothers.”
EGGLESTON LIBRARY AND OWL’S NEST
As it was in the old days, Edward Eggleston’s Library remains connected to the Owl’s Nest by a walkway. Lito sent us an 1880s photo looking up at the houses without trees nearby. You can see the walkway in between the two houses. The stone is mellow and welcoming. Brown woodwork leads the eye up to a sunburst under the peaks.
We approached the library first on its south end. The three-section window had been removed and doors leading to a terrace added. In our photo tarps are along the terrace wall. Tante did her art work on the north side.
In 1972 the Owl’s Nest was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark and a plaque mounted on the wall.