Time Traveling

The Tontine and Connecting Lounge

We have lived in the Tontine section of the 93,000 square foot Oneida Community Mansion House now for two weeks.  It seems like much longer.  Perhaps the false sense of time is caused by all that we have had to do to make our apartment our home, or the heat wave that we endured all of last week.  But I am certain that time feels very relative because we are living and working within three time periods.

Our apartment was built during the Civil War and completed in 1864.  It was named after a Boston hotel, The Tontine.  The name Tontine comes from an Italian banker named, Lorenzo de Tonti.  He devised a scheme for raising capital with the amount of an investor’s dividends  determined by the number of surviving investors.  A great incentive to hope for the demise of one’s fellow investors, or even help them along into the next world.  Agatha Christie territory.

The Oneida Community built the Tontine to meet their work and dining needs.  The basement of the Tontine was used as the kitchen, laundry room and the area where the dying of silk would take place.  They made silk thread for sale. There is still a laundry room in the basement.

The first floor was the communal dinning room, serving meals for up to 300 members of the Community.  After the break-up in 1881, the dinning room was used to serve meals to all who lived in the Mansion House ~ former Community members and their families, Oneida Limited employees, and people who rented or lodged in the Mansion House.  Today, there is a very nice Spanish restaurant and lounge, Zabroso (www.oneidacommunity.org/dining.html) that serves tapas, paella and other Spanish and Latin American cuisine, and also has a Happy Hour.  What would  the Community Members have thought of Happy Hour in their dining room?

Tontine 2nd Floor 1864-1874

Our apartment, #255, takes almost half of the second floor of the Tontine.  This floor was a work area from 1864-1874.  Drying clothes and silk was done here.  Starting in 1868, the Community newspaper, The Circular, was printed on this floor.  There was also a small classroom.  In 1874, when the Community’s population was reaching close to 300, more bedrooms were needed.  Also, some of the work performed in the Tontine was moved to buildings outside the Mansion House.  So the second floor of the Tontine became sleeping rooms.

Tontine 2nd Floor 1874-1880

Since all meals were taken downstairs, there was no need for a kitchen in these rooms.  Where we now live, there were six sleeping rooms and one larger sitting room (R 271) that looked out on to the Quadrangle or courtyard that is now surrounded by all the buildings of the Mansion House.

After the transformation of the Oneida Community into the Oneida Community Limited (later Oneida Ltd.), changes were made to the Mansion House, including to the Tontine to accommodate the new living arrangements of individual families, rather than one large communal family.  Our apartment was created out of the 1874 layout of six bedrooms and one sitting room into what it is today – a two bedroom apartment or a 4 1/2 (as we learned to say in Montreal).

Tontine 2nd Floor 1920 to 2010

What was once three bedrooms is now a kitchen/dining room.  The back bedroom (R277) is now our work area (returning to its roots).  The bathroom was once a bedroom.  Our bedroom and living room are in the same place, in the front facing the Quadrangle, but the bedroom was expanded three feet at the expense of the sitting room.

So we are living in a building that was built and occupied in the 19th Century.  But our apartment is the result of transforming some, but not all, of the 19th Century bedrooms during the early 20th Century.  And we enjoy the conveniences of the 21st Century – Internet and Cable TV, etc.  – that allows us to work and live here in the Tontine.

The Tontine

Our bedroom and living rooms are on the second floor containing  the four windows on the left.


This is our view of the Quadrangle and the Tulip tree that dominates it.


1 Comment

  1. Lonnie Chu said,

    November 20, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Thank you so much for this description of the Tontine! I’m just finishing Pierrepont Noyes’ book, “My Father’s House”, which I took up because my flamenco troupe, Puente Flamenco, regularly plays in the Spanish restaurant currently occupying the ground floor of the Tontine. It is fascinating to think of all the people who have eaten in that dining room over the years.

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