A visit to Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York

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Synopsis: At the end of an extended trip in upstate New York, William H Seaman stayed in Rochester while his wife, Marianna Perkins Clark Seaman went on to Boston.  In this letter to his wife, he recounts some family news, then his further visit with the horticulturalists George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry, and with naturalist Henry Augustus Ward.   He describes Ward and his shops (Ward's Natural Science Establishment) at some length, then the train ride back to Washington.  He ends with brief news of friends and colleagues at the Department of Agriculture.

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Washington [Sunday] 22 Aug 1875

My dear Pet. After a long tedious ride of 18 hours I reached home about 11 o'clock this morning, & tho' I shall not send this till tomorrow, will begin now and may not have time to write all I want to. First then as I know you felt a little anxious about them, father & mother & Lucy are as well as usual, though the week after we left I think father was quite ill, and last week mother was troubled with some face ache probably the result of cleaning her room, which however I think she had finally to give up to Lucy. She wrote to us faithfully but timed her letters so well as I can find so as to be just a day behind at each place, the last one she sent to you at Londonderry!!! N.H. 

As I supposed the rains reached here as we left & it has rained every day since & the grass is a foot

high & the verbenas as bright as brick's [?] & that poor fuchsia mother stunted so is full of flowers -- red with purple center.  Joe is well  & began to sing almost as soon as I came in the parlor -- a cord of wood is in the cellar -- the coal & kindling are just out & the grapes are ripe enough to eat -- think I shall eat them up fast.  Mr Tolles stopped a minute & the Gilliards leave this week -- so wet to go before.  The Gove's are well & J Dennis [?] was up to see them so he is better. 

That is all I've learned yet & now to go back to the time you run away from me at R[ochester].  I went straight to [the horticulturalists] E[llwanger] & B[arry] and found them just coming from dinner to their office -- they believe in sticking close to business -- was introduced to [George] Ellwanger who is a much pleasanter man in address than [Patrick] Barry, though he still retains a strong German accent.  We used the little daylight left in looking round, the strip of turf you were so careful not to step on was laid for the especial use of visitors

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who formerly wandered over the grounds in an annoying way -- now said Mr. B "when they reach the end of this walk they don't want to see any more." 

Next morning I went there again and had a long talk with Mr B junior who has traveled all over Europe without being spoilt thereby.  Found to my surprise I could not leave R[ochester]. till 3 P.M. & found Wards workshops were close by the University [of Rochester] -- So at 10 I went thither. 

Now I forgot to say I was up early -- you know I said I would get up alone -- and had breakfast by  7 -- then went to see the falls which are just below the RR depot  Imagine the American Fall rainbows & all diminished by 4/5 and you will have a pretty good idea of them, tho' I learned afterward that another and larger one is a mile down the stream.  I found Prof [Henry Augustus] Ward in his office in the 2d story of a nice house with lots of papers etc etc just as I fix things when my pet don't
have the opportunity to "clear up" after me.  But his office is as large as our parlor & one entire side covered with books. 

Ward reminds me much of Dr. Howland on a larger scale if he were light complexioned.  The same gait and quiet flow of talk that surprises you by its profundity  He is decidedly a character -- lived six years in Paris & has traveled all the world over & I judge at home anywhere.  I found Dr. Barnard assisting him, who read "Protozoan studies" at Detroit

Ward took me all through his shops, the like of which I do not believe can be found any where else.  He aims to furnish museums with all they require except botanical specimens  To do this he has collectors & correspondence every where & 20 hands constantly at work at an outlay of about $1400 per month.

We first went in his store room where his duplicates of minerals shells etc are kept -- large drawers filled with shells Agates echini etc etc.  He says the agates sold at Niagra are nearly all Brazilian -- that those found on lake Superior are all very small and rarely high colored --  Then we went to his mode[l?] rooms the work done as I do it -- then to his bone rooms where skeletons are set up

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    Think of fifty large barrels filled with skeletons soaking in water the remaining flesh in all states of decay and a hundred skeletons spread out on a low roof to dry & bleach in the sun -- and five hundred more tied up carefully labeled & hung up dry till wanted -- & say if you don't believe its odiferous about Mr Wards shop

Nothing but soaking in pure water is found to answer & though a few days will make small bones apparently white, if put up in so short a time the grease left in the marrow comes to the surface & discolors it so they have to soak from 3 mo's to three years.  Then we went to his skin room -- skins of cassowaries eagles humming birds tigers giraffes snakes -- such a place you can't possibly conjure in your imagination

Then to the taxidermists room where the skins are set up -- polar bears, an elephant etc etc finally he gave
me the keys to the rooms at the end of the museum hall which you remember were locked & which it is too bad you did not see.  Here the work is deposited till sent out & they were crowded full -- one of corals and small matters like a rattlesnake 5 1/2 feet long & 4 inches thick -- (I measured it) sent to him alive from Florida -- several buffalo a giraffe 13 feet high -- he says we never have full sized giraffes in our menageries & that he has one fifteen feet to its ears &c &c.

Dep[artment of Agriculture] Monday [August 23] P.M.

I presume that is enough of Ward but no -- like to have forgotten he took me in to dinner -- introduced me to his wife a little round roly poly woman -- also to two live snakes & lizard just arrived from Germany also two half grown sons, one of whom was riding a horse standing up circus fashion when I first saw him, etc etc. 

Let me see[:] 6 oclock breakfast, 7 oclock,

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Genesee Falls  8 oclock Ellwanger & Barry, 10 oclock Wards Museum 3 oclock on the rail -- that was my day 

Rode for 20 miles along the west side Seneca lake  the east side sloping up gradually in full view and it was like a panorama passing before you. 

Just before reaching Watkins I found there was no Sunday train  So I thought best to give up the Glen.  We passed in full view of the mouth, and the former owner came in the car and sat by me all the way to Elmira & gave me quite a history of it.  Watkins is quite a large town 4000 inhabitants and the glen in only the largest of several ravines that open on the lake. 

All the country round is exceedingly attractive.  The best farmed I have seen out of the vicinity of Philadelphia & much better looking than what
we saw between Niagra & Rochester  Now I am back to place of beginning as we say in surveys, & have nothing to do but tell you that here at the Dep[artment]  1/3 are away  1/3 are sick  1/3 as usual

[William?] McMurtrie & Dodge jr are of the first [i.e., away]  Mr  Glover [Townsend Glover?] & a lot of elderly clerks down stairs the 2d [sick] & Dr [George] Vasey & family 3d

C[harles R.?] Dodge started Sat.  I saw Field & Forest sticking in Wards letter box just arrived.  It was published Tuesday [August 17?]. 

Mr Glove[r] has had really a bad time for the last week  had an attack of hemorrhage of the bronchia but is nearly recovered.  I am more inclined to think his time for hard work is nearly over

Jenny V and Mrs V[asey?] are quite well & Shelton is back.  Your card from Boston arrived & I hope you are enjoying the rest you really needed & if they don't give you a good chance just let me know.  I send some material aid -- could not get it nearer than Manchester.
Your loving WS {monogram of William H Seaman]
[monogram of William H. Seaman]


William Henry Seaman (1837-1910) was trained as both a lawyer and a physician, and had a wide-ranging interest in science.  After ten years at the Department of Agriculture, he moved to the Patent Office in 1879 and eventually became principal Examiner.  During his Patent Office years he promoted the adoption of the metric system.  His parents, John G. and Ann R. (Wall) Seaman, were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers).  After his marriage to Marianna Perkins Clark, the couple were active the Congregational church.

More about George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry can be found in the bibliography below.

Ward's Natural Science Establishment is still in business, and an article about Henry Augustus Ward with a picture of him is available on their web site.

The background image on this page shows the first and fourth pages of the letter, which was written in ink as eight pages on two folded sheets of paper.   This image is approximately the actual size of the original, but the sharpness and contrast have been reduced.  The transcription was made with the help of an image with higher resolution. 

Although the handwriting is clear, a few uncertain words are flagged with question marks in brackets.  Punctuation is original but some paragraph breaks have been added.  Italics have been used to represent underline or other emphasis in the original, or in one case the name of a publication.


"William Henry Seaman LL.B., M.D.", obituary by S. L. Lamb, in Transactions of the American Microscopical Society, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1911), pp. 78-81; first page viewed on line at JSTOR May 19, 2007.

"The Flower City: Center of Nurseries", by Blake McKelvey, The Rochester Historical Society Publications, Vol XVIII (1940), 121-169; viewed on line May 19, 2007.  See especially the section on George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry.

Much more about Henry Augustus Ward, George Ellwanger, and Patrick Barry, and the history of Rochester can be found in the online archive of the journal Rochester History.

History of Entomology at The University of Maryland (PDF), by Theodore L. Bissel, viewed May 19, 2007; source of information about Townsend Glover and Charles R. Dodge.

"Searching for Dr. Vasey", by Ed Collins, in Chicago Wilderness Magazine, Winter, 2001; viewed online May 19, 2007.

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Last revised June 4, 2007