Sing Us a Song, You’re a Player Piano

By Ashley Montevago

This week’s object is a player piano that was made in 1901. It is currently on display in the Deyo House and is a brand new addition to the HHS Permanent Collection. It was constructed from a dark quarter sawn oak wood and has a simple, minimal design, which was common among upright pianos at the beginning of the twentieth century. Upright pianos were made popular in America during the last quarter of the nineteenth century replacing the large square grand pianos which were much too large for people’s home that were becoming smaller as the twentieth century approached.  The manufacturing of upright pianos in 1880 and 1890 began to increase causing the once popular square grand piano to disappear from the market. Being that this was the height of the Victorian Era, the early upright pianos were made using exotic woods and ornate carvings, producing lavish models that matched the décor of the time.1



So why is HHS’ player piano rather plain? At the end of the turn-of-the-century, the public’s taste began to change causing piano design to become more streamlined than those produced during the Victorian era. During the first decade of the twentieth century there was a shift to a calmer, less extravagant movement in interior design than the previous decade and this change was made apparent in the styles offered by the major piano manufacturers. Upright pianos became more utilitarian in their appearance with simple, basic designs. This created upright pianos to have a more modern feel which was considered “beautifully simplistic”.2

This electrified upright piano is one that plays itself. According to the Antique Piano Shop, “a conventional player piano is operated via a perforated paper roll inserted above the keyboard, and large pumping pedals below the keyboard. While pumping these pedals, vacuum is created which pulls air through the holes in the paper roll, causing the piano note to play.” Between 1900 and 1930 more player pianos were built in America than any other type of piano. Before the phonograph and radio were invented, the player piano was used as a source of entertainment for members and guests of the household. Many different songs were available for the perforated paper rolls and were sold by the millions.3 People would gather around to listen to the player piano play itself, which was often in the living room of a home. In the Deyo house, we decided the player piano would make a great addition to our holiday programming because it is the season of families coming together to celebrate- an excellent occasion to show of a piano that plays itself. The player piano sits in the Living Room for guests to now enjoy over 200 different rolls of music.

1Identify Instrument: Upright Pianos.” The Antique Piano Shop, n.d. Web. 9 Dec 2015.

2 Ibid.

3Identify Instrument: Player Pianos.” The Antique Piano Shop, n.d. Web. 9 Dec 2015.


Major LeFevre’s Ice Skates

By Ashley Montevago

This week’s object is a pair of ice skates that belonged to Major Isaac LeFevre. Legend says that in 1791 he skated from Roundout Creek to Albany in one day, which is roughly 70 miles. The pair of ice skates has a metal blade on the bottom of each that curves up at the top with two leather buckle straps at the front and back used to attach to the shoe. There are wooden foot supports that are round at the back and dull at the toe.


Historians say that ice skating originated in ancient Europe, however it is unknown when and where the first ice skates came into use officially. The oldest pair of skates found date back to about 3000 B.C. They were discovered at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. The ancient Swiss skates were made from the leg bones of a large animal, holes were made at each end and leather straps were attached so the skates could be tied onto the wearer’s feet.1

It is thought that ice skates first appeared in Finland, where time was saved by skating across frozen lakes rather than circumnavigating them. In the 14th Century, the Dutch began using wood as platforms for the skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater’s shoes with leather straps, similar to the ancient Swiss design. At first poles were used to aid the skater in their journey, but around 1500, the Dutch added a metal, double-edged blade. The poles were no longer necessary since skaters could push and glide with their feet to move across the ice. 2

Major Isaac Lefevre was born on October 10, 1760, to Peter LeFevre and Elizabeth VerNooy of New Paltz, New York. On December 17, 1803, he married Catherine Burhans, daughter of Edward Burhans and Bridget Blanshan. They had 11 children: Eliza, Peter, William, Jane, Anne, Henry, Alfred, Sally, Margaret, Elias, and Catherine. 3

After getting married, Major Isaac Lefevre built a house where his father had once lived. This was the third house on that site and is still standing. He later moved to Rifton and built a large frame house, which is still standing. It is said that the Major is one of the best remembered men of the period. He was a member of the Legislature in 1803, and Supervisor of New Paltz in 1807 and 1808. After he moved to Swartekill, he was Supervisor of the town of Esopus from 1820 to 1825.4 Major Isaac moved around a lot; he felt the need to travel often to better understand his surroundings. Perhaps the fact that he had 11 children made him constantly in search of the perfect home for his large family.

Major Isaac was noted to be a famous surveyor; he was once employed to make surveys in his neighborhood of Paltz Point (Sky Top). His employer, Mr. Mullenix, gave him twenty acres for his day’s work, and Major Isaac would often travel great distances for the sake of his job.5 This fact lends more credibility to the legend that he once skated 70 miles. It makes me wonder why he had to travel to Albany. Was it for a surveying job? Perhaps he was on a political campaign of some sort. What I am certain of is Major Isaac Lefevre was a respected business man in his community as well as a local politician who helped explore Ulster County.

1 Bellis, Mary. “The History of Ice Skates.” About Money., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

2 Ibid.

3 Wright, Donald L. The New Paltz LeFevres: Simon LeFevre and Elizabeth Deyo, married 1660, and their descendants. New Paltz, NY: LeFevre Family Association, 1978. 5. Print.

4  LeFevre, Ralph. History of New Paltz and Its Old Families. Albany, NY: Fort Orange Press, 1909. 437. Print.

5 Ibid.