Grayce Lulu Bickford was Charles G. Emery’s girl Friday at the New Frontenac Hotel on Round Island. Born 19 December 1872 she lived until 27 September 1953. Her parents were the Reverend Lewis L. and Emma Fox Bickford from New Hampton, New Hampshire.
Grayce was a prolific letter writer and some of her letters were made available to me for use in my book “Toujours Jeune Always Young” the story of Charles G. Emery and the fabulous New Frontenac Hotel. However there were several letters that remained unseen and I am pleased to share them now. Each tells a story on its own and allows the reader to step back in time.
The first letter sets the stage – Grayce is given the choice to work at the New Frontenac and to remain in the Thousand Islands all summer… We soon learn her decision.
- May 9, 1899 – Wentworth Hall, Jackson, NH, Grayce is working for General Wentworth at his resort hotel. The General has agreed to use his experience to assist Emery in opening the New Frontenac. The General was Emery’s first manager, but remained only one season. The General brought Grayce with him to the New Frontenac.
It has been a great hustle ever since I came up here, from seven o'clock in the morning until ten O'clock at night, write, write, write, all the time, either dictation or machine (typewriter) work. But that was what the General wanted me for. We have gotten off nearly one hundred fifty letters and there were as many more which went into the waste basket. Every mail brings packages of letters from California or The Frontenac (Thousand Islands) which must be answered right away.
But now there is a let-up. The General dictated nearly all the morning, but this afternoon he and Mrs. Wentworth left for Boston, where they will stay until Thursday, then on to New York, where we join them the last of the week and by the first of next week we will be all at the Frontenac to stay until the last of June surely. The General wants to know if I would rather come back here and be at the Hall for the season or stay up there where the work will probably be harder. I have not made a decision yet. I will see what it's like up there.
- July 3, 1904 - New Frontenac Hotel, all letters are addressed to “Folks at Home”
We went to church this morning – we three stenographers – the Episcopal church at Clayton. Mr. Trussell (Editor: Charles G. Trussell, Hotel Manager) is out for the day and the room clerk told me to go on out and enjoy the afternoon. I took my camera and writing pad and here I am. It is rather breezy but quite comfortable here in the sun. I am pre-empting one of the small summer houses built over a boat house – very near the boat landing. I got a picture of the “Kingston.”
We have got about a hundred people in the house and I doubt if we go much below that again. Next week we have two conventions which will pretty will [sic] fill up the house.
Mr. Trussell seems very nice and considerate. He does not give me any work at all in the morning time – but I work all day and that is enough. Last night I went to bed – my light out at 9:30 and slept until nearly five this morning. We all seem able to sleep well up here.
I have not taken any excursions among the islands as yet. Now I am waiting for Ada to get here and then we will go together. I have passes on all the boats and suppose she will have just the same- so I expect all we will do will be to ride on the boats.
How I wish I could make you see this blue, blue water. The rocky shores and the lovely flowers about the hotel.
We are planning to have time to play tennis a little later. The steward’s two daughters are coming up to Clayton for the summer. They are teachers – and he has made us all promise to play tennis with them. We have played croquet several evenings after dinner till dark. I have a standing engagement to play ping pong when I can get the chance. Have not got it yet.
The young lady in the bazaar (store) is nice – everybody has to be nice around a hotel. But Mrs. Reddy is the nicest of the bunch. Lillian (Grayce’s friend) will tell you who she is. She has a cottage here on the island and when we get tired of everything and everybody about the hotel we go over to see Mrs. Reddy and she sort of cheers us up. Mr. Reddy (Emery’s property manager) is the cutest little man alive and almost as smart as he is cute. He is the grand factotum, “multo in pravo” “E pluribus Unum” here on the island and he is nice as he is numerous.
Poor Ada is working all day today trying to straighten up the cashier’s books for him. The fellow threw such a bluff and was going to tell her just to do it when she came, and incidentally he thought that he was going to get her to do a good share of his work for him. But now the big bluffer does not know how to straighten out his own books and she has got to do it before she can go on with her own work at the beginning of the month when they have to have to make out their reports.
We are planning to take the search light trip tonight but if it comes windy and cloudy this evening we shall probably postpone it until some other time.
They are keeping me more than busy now. One guest came in this morning and dictated enough to keep me busy all the afternoon and part of tomorrow. Mrs. Howard Gould (Editor: daughter-in-law of tycoon Jay Gould) made an appointment this morning but went off on the yacht instead so very likely will want me in the morning.
Then the man I wrote you about last week has kept me at it pretty well all this week. It is exceedingly interesting to do all this different work. Mr. Frost who has given me so much to do is the vice-president of the company who builds the submarine boats and he was the man who has just gone to Russia and is considered so important a man that Japanese spies were put on his track when he left New York.
- September 4, 1904
Just think I weigh 135 lbs this evening. This morning it was 132. Everything seems to agree with me up here for I certainly have worked continuously the past month. One man paid me forty-five dollars and gave me a present of twenty dollars for what I did for him between Aug. 11th and Sept. 2nd. That was the sub-marine boat man. When he and one or two other men left the other day I nearly collapsed - that is. I felt just as we always do the next day after Anniversary. Could not seem to do anything - was lost like. But now I am getting to know where I am at and have planned lots of things for the next week. Ada and I want very much to go to Kingston one day this week if it is at all possible.
- June 11, 1905 – Grayce arrives back from a visit home.
But I should not have minded the wait in Gananoque if it had not rained as it was I was cooped up in a dirty old hole and no chance to get out. Gananoque Inn was just opened and I could have gone there but I told the folks here that I saw so many men going over there that it frightened me and I did not dare go. Oh, Mr. Trussell said, I should think that would be an attraction.
You see my machine (Editor: typewriter) has not been sent away as Mr. Reddy promised and it bothers me. But I will order a new ribbon and then tinker with the machine myself and if I put it out of commission they will have to send if off and have it fixed.
Mr. Trussell has got new chairs for our office and now we both have swing chairs. I have one of the nicest stenographic chairs that I have ever seen. It is a revolving chair, with an adjustable back, no arms to be in the way and just suite me. Perhaps my chair did not cost so much as his but it is better one of its kind than his own chair is.
- June 24, 1905
Ada has gone done to play golf for a while – so has Mr. Trussell and Mr.
Frost. They have been playing all the afternoon.
But Mr. Hall has brought me another letter to write and if I stay here he will bring more, so I am going to get out. It is six o’clock.
They are decorating for the ball (Editor: Winter Carnival) this evening and have asked me to come and help them but I have been too busy all day and am too busy now.
I suppose you people have noticed in the papers how the President (Editor: Theodore
Roosevelt) took a trip in the submarine boat last week. Mr. Frost was delighted for it is a great adv. for his business. The Plunger is one of the boats his people build.
Mr. F. left this morning. He also left almost as much money as my wages from the house will amount to for the season, as compensation for what I have done for him, and he said lots of nice things, among others that he will place me if I want a position in the city – either in his office or with some one who will be willing to pay me good wages. So I have no anxiety about winter even if I do not return to Lakewood.
Last Friday evening they had another illuminated water carnival. It was very beautiful to see thye yachts sailing about the harbor and to see their reflections in the water; then there were fire works which added to the brilliancy of the heavens, and the grounds decorated. Oh, it was lovely – like fairy land.
The ball tonight will be a brilliant affair, but this week will about end up the gaiety of the season.
How are you all? I have just been into the parlor to hear the music. Now the minister is speaking and I decamped - vanished as it were. How I dislike to hear that man talk - he is so affected. But I suppose he cannot help it. One of the New York papers not long ago told of one of the ministers in Clayton (NY) whose monthly salary is $39.16, who has a wife and five children to support - and whose salary had not been paid for several months. The next Sunday night the Rev. Buckwheat (his name is Bouck White) got up here in the parlor and in his pompous way announced "my salary is $800 a year and I give one tenth of this to the Lord."
I think I have told you how he always talks like he had a potato in his mouth. But enough of him. I came away from the parlor to get rid of him.
I must tell you about a corn roast we had last Thursday evening. About six o’clock we decided we wanted to go so Ada, Mr. Watson (Editor: William Watson, golf pro), Mrs. Griffith (Editor: hotel housekeeper) and I got our things together and very soon after seven we started. The moon was just coming up, the water was calm as a mirror and it was delightful on the water. Mr. W. rowed one boat and I the other. We went across the river to one of the islands, found the stone fire place, built the fire and soon were roasting our corn. Talk about roast corn! I ate so much I have not been able to look at corn since, but we had all sorts of fun. The wind came up and it took me twice as long and three times the work to row home that it did going over, but we got here before twelve and slept the sleep of the just all the rest of the night, and we have not had any pleasant weather since then. But it seems to be getting ready to clear now and, in fact, Ada has gone out taking pictures so that it is not very stormy but it is very windy and there are many clouds.
I have had lots of extra work all this week and have been very busy. Have especially had a lot of night work to do as the men are out on the yachts all day and want to write their letters between dinner time and the time they start out the next morning. But they are willing to pay for it – so I don’t mind. I have also had several compliments right to my face – the men tell me how nice my work is and how accurate. One man said I was the best steno. he had ever seen – I counted that as taffy. But then the next man came along, I repeated what he had said to one of the boys and he said “yes, I heard Mr. Dykman (Editor: William N. Dykman, President of the New York Bar Association) telling Mr. Hall about it and how well you had done the work.” Of course Mr. Hall would not tell me for fear I would get a swelled head and I might if they should do too much talking.
- June 7, 1907 – written from Emery’s New York office at 320 Fifth Avenue
The flowers arrived very promptly. They did look dried up and withered when they arrived but I put them into water immediately and they came up bright and fresh as though just picked, and when Mr. Emery went home I gave a boutonnière of them. He seemed delighted and hoped that his flowers were doing as well up at the River.
Mr. Emery and Mr. Bogardus (Editor: Emery’s business manager and trouble shooter) left for the River this morning to be gone about a week or ten days. I shall be alone and have full charge of the office until they return.
- June 16, 1908 – written in New York office
Mr. Emery and Mr. Borgardus left Saturday morning for the River and I received a letter this morning from Mr. Emery saying it was a fearful trip, hot and crowed. I could not get him no seats in the parlor car so he had a good opportunity to test the common car.
- August 24, 1911 – written at the Hotel Martha Washington, Grayce’s home in the City
Have you noticed in the papers that the beautiful Hotel Frontenac burned to the ground last night?
We have none of the particulars as yet and know very little more than what the papers tell us – although we were talking with Mr. Reddy by long distance telephone several times – long distance telephone is not conductive to “protracted conversations.” No one was killed for which we are truly thankful and the property was insured for all the companies would put on it so Mr. Emery will at least get back some money. I think he has paid about $8,000 a year for insurance.
They were running very light for this time of year as there were only 160 guests reported as being in the house – while usually at this time of year they have nearly twice that number.
Mr, Bogardus has been at the River for a week and left there only last night. We could hardly do anything all day but talk about the fire. And to think of all those people thrown out of employment in the middle of the season. Lillian knows a lot of the girls there. Jennie and Walter Miles, Jesse Crawford, Ralp Allen and his wife, Gertie Curley and her sister Mary Curley, Rose Donovan and Mattie Le Claire. I think they were all at Lakewood (Editor: New Jersey hotel were much of the dining room staff worked of season) when Lillian was there. I know every way I looked in the dining room I saw some waitresses that I have known for years, and some of the chambermaids have been there every summer for years – since long before the house was rebuilt.
Grayce work for Mr. Emery until 1914; he died in 1915. Her letters present a picture of a time gone by of life in the magic world of Round Island and the New Frontenac Hotel.
By Rex Ennis, Grindstone Island