Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Nella Fontaine Binckley: "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter IV, Part 2

Martha Washington Inn, formerly College, formerly Preston House, in Abingdon, Virginia, 2006 (Wiki Commons)
[Nella Fontaine Binckley, "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter IV, part 2. From a transcription annotated by Patricia D'Arcy Binckley of typewritten original, February 25, 2005. Original "written some time after 1941 by Nellie F. Binckley, 1860-1950 or 51." Notes in brackets are mine, unless followed by the initials "P.D.B." Occasionally, additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading. 

Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing a scan of the original document, and in turn many thanks to Peter Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]

Grandmother had a niece there -- the only niece she had -- the daughter of her brother Charles, Eliza Hughes. Uncle Charles had been in Congress and lived in Alexandria, across the Potomac from Washington. There was a night session of Congress one very rainy and [stormy] night, and Uncle Charles wanted to go over to the Capitol. In those days there were no bridges, only a ferry boat. And very dim lights at the pier. The boat was rocking on the rough waves and as Uncle Charles tried to step aboard, he mised the footing and fell in the river. In the dark and the storm they could not [find] him and he drowned. His wife was dead, so his little daughter was taken and brought up in a friend's family, that of Gov. [John Buchanan Floyd], Cousin Nicketti's father [brother]. 

Cousin Eliza had married Judge Hughes of Norfolk, where they lived in the winters. In the summers [they] stayed at their place near Abingdon, called Val Verde. We used to visit out there, as well as at Eggleston. I remember one time we [were] out there and Cousin Sally Floyd, who had brought up Cousin Eliza, and was of course an old lady, was also visiting there. She was strongly allergic to cats. So whenever she was there, the family cat was shit up in the corn crib. This was a small building outside, with slatted sides, where the dry corn on the cob was stored as feed for the livestock. One morning we were all at the breakfast table and suddenly Cousin Sally screamed and fainted dead away. Everybody knew exactly what had happened. Old Tom had gotten out of the corn crib somehow. Sure enough, he was happily coming in the door.

Mother had entered me at Martha Washington College, though I was very young for college. The building was a big rambling old house, formerly the mansion of the Preston family, cousins of ours who had gone out in the world years before. I was well up in most studies, was reading Virgil, and went into classes of girls older than myself.

Except arithmetic! Both Mother and Grandmother hated arithmetic, so it was slurred over at home. I had never gotten beyond the rudiments. Once in a while Father would ask if I knew the multiplication table. I never did. He thought that disgraceful (which it was) and I was put in a room and told that I must stay there till I learned it. At first I threw myself on the floor and bawled. But when I got good and hungry I would rise up, buckle down and learn it. Then I'd recite it glibly to Mother and be let out. When Dad returned from the office, again a glib recital. But a day or so later, it had escaped me utterly. Evidently I was not built for mathematics. So this had to be gone through periodically. At college I had to go into an [elementary] class with small children. Most humiliating. But my teacher very kindly offered to hear me recite after hours, so I could catch up. Soon I went into University arithmetic with my contemporaries. I crammed before exams and got through. But none of it stayed with me. Through life I have managed to keep my accounts straight because I had to. But it always takes agonized concentration, and at the moment death seems preferable.
The Cave House, 1857/58, built for Anna Liza Hickman Campbell*
We boarded at Mrs. Ann Eliza Campbell's house. (Everybody pronounced it Analiza.) In her back yard was the large entrance to a cave. There was a spring just inside and shelves had been put up and she used it as a springhouse, where she kept her butter, milk, etc. It was always very cool in the summer. One could walk back in the cave for quite a distance to a place where there was a well. Overhead an opening had been cut up into the back yard of a family living farther up the street, who used the well. It was [said] that if you looked up from the cave through this opening you could see the stars at midday.

[Ellen/Nellie/Nella Fontaine Binckley (September 1, 1860-April 27, 1951). Family names and dates were whimsically tweaked by their owners during their lifetime, adding mystery and sometimes causing confusion. For Binckley's "Artist's Life," I'm opting for the full artist's signature name, Nella Fontaine Binckley. 

Grandmother = Jane Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Mother = Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).
Dad/Father = John Milton Binckley (circa 1831-1878).

Eliza Hughes = Eliza Mary Johnston Hughes (1825-1909).
Charles = Charles Clement Johnston (1795-1832).
His wife = Eliza Madison Preston Johnston (1803-1828).
Hughes = Robert William Hughes (1821-1901).
Nellie is conflating John Floyd (1783-1837) with his son, John Buchanan Floyd (1806-1863), brother of Nicketti Buchanan Floyd Johnston (1819-1908).
Sally Floyd = Sarah "Sally" Buchanan Preston Floyd (1802-1879).
Martha Washington = Francis Preston house, 1832-1858; Martha Washington College, 1858-1935; Martha Washington Inn, 1935-present.
Prestons = Gone with the Wind, but not completely. 
Ann Eliza Campbell = Anna Liza Hickman Campbell, wife of Frank Campbell and daughter of Adam Hickman, who had the "Cave House" built for her (279 East Main Street, Abingdon) in 1858. 
*Cave House picture via Creeper Trail Info 2013. Link here ]

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