Terrace Teas with the Owen Sisters

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I’ve come across many fascinating stories that won’t make it into Emilie Loring’s biography, at least not in as much detail as I’ve discovered. A dear one is the story of the Owen sisters. They are on my mind right now, because I am re-reading The Trail of Conflict, one of Emilie’s books which mentions them.

Tea on Owen Terrace
Tea at Tyn Y Coed

Elizabeth (“Bessie”), Mary (“Minnie”) and Caroline (“Carrie”) Owen were the daughters of Joshua T. Owen, a Civil War general whose family came from Glamorgan, Wales to work in the coal fields of Pennsylvania. Owen founded the New York law journal Daily Register and married Annie J. Sheridan, the daughter of Owen Sheridan, one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia.

Glamorgan… looked to be a person who would crash through obstacles and win out by sheer persistence… “Fifty years ago my mother brought her family from Wales to this country… Until I was seventeen I picked coal… I laid my plans for life. I’d make money, Lord, how I’d pile it up; I’d cut out the dissipations of my kind, I’d marry the most refined girl who’d have me, and I’d have one of my children, at least, marry into a family like yours.” The Trail of Conflict

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Musicale in the Owens’ sunken garden

The Owen girls grew up in luxury at Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. When they traveled to Europe, each took along three trunks of clothing. (How would they have ever managed in today’s carry-on world?)  All had the blue eyes and fair skin of their Welsh heritage, but each sister wore her own color of clothing–Bessie wore green, Minnie blue, and Carrie purple. Blue Hill’s local historian Esther Wood recalled, “A dress might be flowered; a coat might be trimmed with a black velvet collar, but never did a sister forget herself and use the color of another.”

“Don’t you wear any other color but shades of violet?”  Here Comes the Sun! 

But none of the girls ever married, their parents died, and their brother lost the law journal to a rival. By the time Emilie met them, the plucky sisters ran The Green Dragon Tea Room in Philadelphia to augment their dwindling trust funds, and they summered in Blue Hill, Maine.

“Their father was an eminent lawyer. There was money and social position. The parents died. So did the fortune.” Where Beauty Dwells

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Arriving at Blue Hill

When Emilie bought Stone House in 1909, she immediately sold the Owen sisters a bit of her shoreline. Her one stipulation was that they must build a home with a value of at least twelve-hundred dollars. “Tyn Y Coed” (House in the Woods) was the result, a four-bedroom home with an expansive, stone terrace overlooking Blue Hill Bay.

The sisters arrived each summer by steamer, and a carriage took the tiny women and their numerous, huge trunks to the house. They really were tiny women—Minnie, the tallest at five-foot-three; Bessie, five-foot-two; and Carrie, only four-foot-ten.

They created a sunken garden and amphitheater in the abandoned quarry on their property and hosted musicales for charity. When finances got tighter, they purchased more land from Emilie, this time along the road, and opened “Larkspur Lodge,” a summer tea house painted in Carrie’s favorite shade of lavender.

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The Abode of the Princess

Carrie was the invalid that Emilie wrote about in For the Comfort of the Family: A Vacation Experiment:

After we had become friendly with the family across the way and had visited the invalid, we named her room The Abode of the Princess.

Therefore, the older sisters cooked and served, Carrie arranged floral centerpieces for the tables, and brother David, who came to live with them, kept the lane from Tyn Y Coed to the tea room smoothly raked.

Carrie Owen on terrace
Carrie Owen on  the Tyn Y Coed terrace

The friendship between Emilie and the Owen sisters lasted nearly forty years. When Larkspur Lodge became too much to handle, the sisters rented it out and and served tea on their own terrace. Carrie died in 1917 and was buried in the garden until both Bessie and David had died. Then, Minnie moved her next to the others in Blue Hill’s Seaside Cemetery, where she herself was buried in 1945.

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Tyn Y Coed in Blue Hill, Maine

Tyn Y Coed was left to Sheridan relatives, changed hands several times, and the Owens’ pleasant cottage is now worth millions. Fortunately, the sisters’ photo albums were kept safely in the home and passed from owner to owner. Two summers ago, I scanned them and made book duplicates which I donated to the Blue Hill Public Library and the Blue Hill Historical Society. Ask to see them, if you go.

Blue Hill is a lovely place, and the cottages that line its shores are picturesque without knowing their histories. But when I am in Blue Hill, I look up at Tyn Y Coed and imagine the Owen sisters, like little, Welsh fairies, fluttering about on their terrace and serving tea.

 


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