It’s pretty scary, visiting the Frederic Remington Art Museum, at least if you are travelling to Ogdensburg from the north. The trip requires crossing the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge, which climbs high above the St. Lawrence river. It does give you a great view…if you don’t have your eyes squeezed tightly shut. If you don’t share my phobia about crossing high bridges, it’s quite a pleasant drive.
The Frederic Remington Art Museum is located in a grand old mansion. The house itself has an interesting history. It was built in 1809-10 for David Parish (1778-1826). Parish was born in Hamburg to a family of financial wizards with influential connections to all the economic capitals of Europe. In the free-wheeling Napoleonic era, Parish was a star player. In America, he played an important role as an underwriter of one of the loans that allowed the United States to wage the War of 1812. In 1807, Parish purchased 200,000 acres in northern New York state and put his 28-million dollar fortune to work developing the area. I found this short excerpt entitled The American Career of David Parish, written by Philip G. Walters and Raymond Walters, Jr. in 1944.
Sounds like David was quite a character. In fact, Parish was used as a model for a long, sprawling novel written by Hervey Allen. The novel, Anthony Adverse, was later made into a movie featuring Olivia de Havilland and Fredric March.
But back to the house. It was designed by a prominent international architect, Joseph Ramee (1764-1842). Ramee is remembered in New York state for his design of the Union College campus in Schenectady in 1813.
Parish’s investment in New York was not a big moneymaker for him and in 1816 he left control of his holdings in America to a brother and returned to Europe. After further investment failures, he jumped off a bridge and drowned in the Danube river in 1926. His American holding eventually passed to his nephew, George Parish, who moved into the Ogdensburg mansion in 1838. George continued his uncle’s development work and thrived. He is credited with bringing the Great Northern Railroad to Ogdensburg. More interesting, however, is his relationship with Ameriga Vespucci (1805-1866). A descendant of the famous explorer Amerigo, the beautiful Vespucci made her way in the world through her attachments to rich and powerful men, and became the mistress of John Van Buren, son of President Martin Van Buren. She travelled with Van Buren to northern New York, where he was purchasing land, in the winter of 1841-42. Popular legend holds that, after becoming snow-bound in Hoover’s Tavern together, Van Buren and Parish engaged in a card game that ended with Parish winning Vespucci and carrying her back to Ogdensburg with him. Vespucci lived at the Parish mansion for 18 years before moving to Paris to live with her sister in 1859. She died in Paris in 1866.
As for George, in 1858 he inherited the title and estate of Baron von Senftenburg from his uncle John Parish. He eventually settled in Bohemia, near Vienna, and died on a trip to Italy in 1881. The Parish Mansion in Ogdensburg was sold and eventually was purchased by George Hall in 1896. The interior of the house was renovated extensively by Hall. A successful coal and shipping entrepreneur, Hall later moved to Montreal and placed his employee John C. Howard in charge of the Ogdensburg house. Howard was a friend of Remington and his wife, Eva. After Frederic Remington’s death, Howard made it possible for Eva and her sister Emma to live in the Parish Mansion. As Hall’s executor, Howard arranged to have the house donated to the Ogdensburg library upon Hall’s death in 1919. Eva died a year earlier, and the house would hold her bequest of Remington’s remaining works and personal items. The Remington Art Memorial opened on July 19, 1923.