Monday, August 1, 2016

A Summer Cottage: Chateau de Mores, 7/29/2016

Located a short distance from the town of Medora, ND, is the home Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, began building in 1883 as a hunting lodge and summer residence for his family and guests. Born in Paris, France, in 1858, into a family of nobility, he attended the best schools, and served in the military. He met the beautiful Medora von Hoffman in 1881 in New York. They married and he began working for her father, a wealthy banker. With an adventurous spirit, he was convinced there were ranching opportunities in the west. 

The Chateau de Mores has 26 rooms and is a two-storied frame structure. Today it is a historical museum open for self-guided tours in the summer months. Docents are on hand to provide additional information or answer questions about the house, artifacts contained therein, and the family.

Admission ($10/adults) is paid at the Interpretive Center where there is a small museum with information about the family; a Native American quilt exhibit; and a gift shop. A short video is shown that provides a synopsis of the history of the family and house.

Because there was a bus tour at the Interpretive Center, we watched the video and went directly to the house to avoid the "crowd." 

The aristocratic Marquis and Marquise enjoyed an elegant lifestyle (by frontier standards) with formal dinners and numerous servants. A placard in each room lists the contents and those that are original (which is most of the furnishings). Below are the dining room and kitchen/servant's dining area.

The linen room was used to store the linens, dishes and crystal used in the dining room. An icebox and bottles of beverages found in the basement are on display. The scullery was used by the servants to scrub pots and pans and do laundry. A pump was used to bring water in from an outside well.

Upstairs were eight bedrooms; two for the children and their caregivers; two for servants; and the rest for guests. 

Below are some of the guest rooms.

The Marquis and Marquise frequently hosted extensive hunting expeditions. This room is where preparations were made and equipment was stored. Cowboy hunting guides were employed to lead the hunting trips.

The bedroomsdressing roomsbedrooms, and offices of the Marquis and Marquise were on the first floor. The Marquis bathroom was very "modern" for the times with a large bathtub and a commode (that was periodically serviced from the outside by servants). Shown below are his bedroom and study, too.

Next to his bedroom was the Marquise's bedroom. It was common for the aristocracy to have separate bedrooms for husband and wife. Also shown is her study.

The living room is where the family and guests gathered to read, play cards, games, and enjoy music. The Marquise frequently entertained them by playing the piano. I loved this revolving bookshelf that is original to the house. Theodore Roosevelt was known to be a guest here and frequently borrowed books from their library. 

From the front of the house, you can see the other buildings that were built at the same time the house was. 

After touring the house, we returned to the Interpretive Center to check out the exhibits there. I was drawn to the Star Quilt display (to the right of the gift shop). During the 19th century there huge changes to Native American cultures. For the Plains Indians, the virtual elimination of bison caused them to make blankets and quilts to replace bison robes. 

The star quilt eventually became a preferred design and replaced the red painted buffalo during the yuwipi ceremony (guiding the spirits of the dead to earth). The morning star represents fulfillmentrelease from darkness and the dawning of a new day. Below is a sewing box display, a couple of the quilts, and intricate beaded items made by Native Americans in the Dakotas. 

The Marquis de Mores had various business enterprises that he established here including a beef packing company, stagecoach line, a freighting line, refrigerated rail carscattle and sheep raising, land ownership, and a town named after his wife, Medora. She was an excellent horsewoman, skilled hunter, painter, accomplished musician, gracious hostess, and mother of two (when she lived here, she subsequently had a third child).

There are many artifacts from the businesses and household of the Marquis in the small museum. In 1883, he created the Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company to haul beef cattle slaughtered in Medora to Chicago. Previously, livestock were shipped alive and slaughtered after it arrived by rail. The problem with this approach was that only about 55% of the original beef made it to market. Shipping beef brought the number up to about 75%. The cars were cooled with ice and brine (requiring replenishment of the ice every 100 miles or so). His meat packing company handled the work of slaughtering the beef and loading it into the cars.

The stagecoach operation began in 1884 and provided transportation to Deadwood, 215 miles away. The trip took 35.5 hours and cost $21.50/per passenger. The Marquis was unable to acquire the government mail service business (which would have provided a steady income) causing an end to his stagecoach business just 8 months later. 

Below is armor that the Marquis wore in his early military career in the 22nd Dragoons. Also shown are the Marquise's riding boots and side saddle.

There are lots of other items of interest in the museum and placards with the history of the family and businesses. Ultimately, the meat packing industry failed and the Marquis's business interests collapsed. The family moved back to New York, but left their mark on Medora forever. I love learning about the history of the towns we visit.

The house and surrounding property was donated by the family to the North Dakota Historical Society who now maintains it, primarily through fees for admission, gift shop profits, and donations.

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