What does a young lady do during the summer at Andalusia in the late 19th century? During the month of August in 1886, 14 year old Katharine Craig Biddle, affectionately known as Kitty, began writing in a diary, a gift from her Aunt Meta. Her diary provides a glimpse of summertime life along the Delaware River.
Born on May 9, 1872, Katharine Craig Biddle lived each summer at Andalusia in the house on the grounds known as the Cottage. This house was built in 1838 for overflow from the Big House of family and friends who were guests of Nicholas and Jane Biddle. When their son and Kitty's father Charles J. Biddle married, he and his family took over the Cottage. Charles died in September of 1873 and her mother Emma was left to care for their seven children. Fortunately, his brother Craig, and his sisters Adele and Jane lived in the Big House each summer and took care of running the estate. Another sister, Meta and her husband, James Stokes Biddle, also summered at Andalusia with their children and other family members rented houses nearby and could visit frequently so it was quite a lively place.
Perhaps because Kitty’s aunts Adéle and Jane were involved in animal welfare early on and many other family members contributed as well, animals were always a topic of conversation and concern. While a farm has a variety of animals and horses were used for transportation, Kitty appears to have had more pets than the average young person.
During the summer of diary keeping, Kitty's menagerie includes nine cats with names and descriptions including “. . . Yum Yum tortoise shell & white, & Peep Bo, a tabby gray and white, Puff, black and white Duff. . .” The dogs she mentions were Fidget, her sister Addie’s Yorkshire terrier, which Kitty was caring for over the summer; a big black Maryland Setter named Wad, “(he is a gunning dog, gun-wad)” who lives outside. She is most partial to her own two dogs Gypsey and Topsey, black and tan terriers. Kitty takes her terriers and Fidget on the train to visit her sister Emma in Holmesburg where she and her family were living for the summer in the Lardner house known as "Lynfield".
An traumatic event occurred in early August which Kitty devoted five pages to in her diary. Addie’s little Fidget experienced a seizure near the river one afternoon when the family was swimming. Seeming to recover, Kitty relates: “Yesterday & early this morning Fidget seemed so much better, & frisked about with the other dogs, quite like himself again, but a little later in the morning he went up to my room & got into his own bed, where he stayed until about half past eleven, when I saw him come down stairs & trot out of the front door. I, thinking he had gone to join the other dogs on the lawn, paid no attention to him, but just as we were sitting down to lunch a little before 12, Uncle passed by, & told me that Fidget was over the barn, so of course I ran over to him bring home, but I was only half way there, when I heard him yelping, & I knew he had a fit, hurrying on faster, I found him running full tilt, round & round the shed by the stable, screaming dreadfully, after he had run around it about half a dozen times, he made one dive up the road by the stable, toward the woods, with me after him, calling & whistling to him as hard as I could. But he did not seem to hear me, & only tore on up the road.”
Everyone on the estate searched the woods and Kitty’s brother Mercer rode his horse into the village asking at all the houses if Fidget had been seen. The next day Kitty took her dogs out to once again search and "offered a $1 reward to the McElroy boys to find him dead or alive." Sadly, it is Kitty herself who finds poor Fidget’s body partially covered with leaves. Adele was notified of the death of her pet and returned late from town seeing that Fidget had been placed in her brother Charlie’s room. Kitty describes the subsequent events: “. . . He [Fidget] looked very sweet & pretty for Mamma had brushed his hair, & tied a blue ribbon, which I gave her, round his neck. As soon as Addie had seen him for a few minutes, & Mamma had cut off a lock of his hair for her, we wrapped him up in nice clean white lace, & after putting him back in his box, nailed the lid on tight. Then Addie with her own hands, carried him over by the garden, where James had dug a deep grave for him.” Addie and Kitty then placed three stone slabs on the grave.
It is possible that the death of Fidget was the beginning of the family pet cemetery. Today, visitors to Andalusia can see a variety of gravestones in the garden. Kitty’s beloved Gypsey (Gyp) has the earliest dated stone, and there are some as recent as within the last ten years.
In short time, two blond long-haired dogs, Sailor and Sylvie are added to the family. Kitty calls her pets “my dear children” and she continues to think of animals as such throughout her life.
While there are few pictures of cats in the photo albums in the archives, there are many pictures of dogs, from Aunt Kitty’s days continuing into the current century.
Kitty’s diary reveals that most weekdays she walked the short distance from the Cottage down the lane to the Big House to practice the piano before lunch. Afternoons were for letter writing or sketching.
Another popular activity was swimming in the river on a hot day. Kitty writes about her sister Emma coming from Holmesburg on the train, “Addie took Mercer’s horse Tim, in the omnibus & drove up for them. [Probably to the Andalusia station (now Cornwells) as it was then known.] As soon as she came back with them, we routed out bathing suits, & all of us, Emma & her three, John (brother), Addie, little Emily & Meta, & myself, went down to the river and had a splendid swim, it was glorious fun, Addie, Emma & I, found an old cucumber & an old ear of corn lying on the shore, so we broke them into bits, & pelted each other with them. Then we ducked & splashed each other, & caught each other’s toes as we were swimming. John wanted me to dive off of his shoulders, but I like the big baby that I was, would not do it.”
Summer evenings were spent reading or sitting on the piazza of either the Cottage or the Big House for Kitty and the older relatives. This would have included her Uncle Craig and Aunts Adéle, Jane, and Meta, and Uncle James (Uncle Jeems) while the younger men in the family gravitated to the Billiards room somewhat closer to the river.
The last entry at the end of August reads:”The writing & spelling in this book is simply awful, & I have no excuse to give, except that I generally write in it when I am half asleep, or in an awful hurry. But someday perhaps I will copy it into another book.”
This diary is the only one belonging to Katharine Craig Biddle in the Andalusia archives, but perhaps there are others to be discovered. In the years to follow Kitty and the Biddles spent their summers at Andalusia to escape the city heat as just the family had since the 1790s. Not until the 1920s was the Big House used as a full-time residence.
All sketches are the work of Katharine C. Biddle (Kitty) 1872-1919.
All photos and Kitty's 1886 Diary are in Andalusia Archives.
Connie S. Griffith Houchins, Executive Director