Sometimes the key to unlocking our own history is found in the unlikeliest of ways. For California resident Mark Harrison, a beautiful discovery led him to a deeper understanding of his heritage and how it contributes to the person he is today.
A few years ago, Harrison discovered an invitation created by Dempsey & Carroll in 1888 at his aunt’s home for a party hosted by Harrison’s great-great grandfather. The party was held at Russell’s barn for the sole purpose of entertaining his close friends in his social circle.
Harrison’s interest in his genealogy led him to read his great-great grandfather’s autobiography, The Romance and Tragedy of a Widely Known Business Man of New York at his grandmother’s home in New Jersey. With the turn of each page, Harrison dove deeper into the world of his great-great grandfather, William Ingraham Russell, a successful metals broker in the late 19th century.
Russell, a beloved member of his community and a self-made man, wrote of his hard work, his devotion to his wife, and his life in the Millburn and Short Hills community located in New Jersey. He owned a large property on Knollwood, where he built a lovely home and barn designed by the architectural firm Lamb & Rich. Harrison was always fascinated by his great-great grandfather’s barn, which housed Russell’s horses and carriages and was later transformed into an inn in the 1920s.
The invitation to Russell’s barn dance is referenced in The Romance and Tragedy of a Widely Known Business Man of New York:
Excerpt: “My combination carriage-house and stable was architecturally a very handsome building, and in its interior every detail, useful and ornamental, had received careful attention. The building cost me about seven thousand dollars, but judging from its appearance and size my neighbors thought that my investment was larger. As it approached completion I suggested to my wife the idea of giving a barn-dance, something unique in the annals of Knollwood. We immediately went into a committee of two on plans and scope and as a result evolved an evening of surprise and delight for our friends. The invitations, engraved in usual note-sheet form, had on the upper half of the page a fine engraving of the front of the stable, and beneath in old English, “Come and dance in the barn.” We received our guests in the hall and drawing-room, fragrant with blooming plants. From a rear piazza a carpeted and canvas-enclosed platform extended across the lawn to the carriage-house. The floor had been covered with canvas for the dancers. Brilliantly illuminated, in addition to the permanent decorations, a life-sized jockey in bronze bas-relief and numerous coaching pictures, was the work of the florist. The large orchestra was upstairs surrounding the open carriage trap, which was concealed from below by masses of smilax.”
Harrison, whose middle name is Russell, believes that his given middle name is symbolic of his great-great grandfather’s work ethic and his commitment to being a contributing member of society. Russell’s invitation is a reflection of the responsible, thoughtful, and sociable man he was and who Mark Harrison is today.