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“T” is for…

The UMass Student Homophile League got a cubicle next door to the Students for a Democratic Society to use as an office on the mezzanine of the Student Union. Stopping in between classes became a habit of mine even though it was mostly gay men who were hanging out. It was here I first heard the word “T-room.” Since, in context, I understood it to mean that the men were going to cruise the Goodell Library restrooms for casual sex, I thought the “T” I was hearing meant “toilet.”

Only decades later, upon reading Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn, did I come to understand the “T” was “tea,” and that cruising the “tearoom” was very old American gay vernacular, the origins of which had been lost over time. Not only that, but Jan, a Northampton resident as well as a restaurant historian, had discovered an example in the city of the early 1900s Bohemian tearoom phenomena that, like others of its type, may well have been cruised by men we would today call gay. Whether the men were there or not, we know that the tearoom which was enormously popular with women was run by a gender bender former actress who had passed through NYC.

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Postcard of the Rose Tree Inn (courtesy of Jan Whitaker)

For fifteen years, 1908-1923, Madame Anna  deNaucaze ran Ye Rose Tree Inn at 252 Bridge Street. Madame  had several different women partners in the business. Like many other tearooms of the time, the Rose Tree Inn introduced the dining public to a setting with special décor and food that was a great improvement over the usual hotel or tavern meat and potatoes fare. Well-prepared fresh ingredients were featured. Salads and sandwiches were introduced for lunch. There was also afternoon tea, sumptuous six-course dinners and extravagant deserts. Above all, tearooms like the Inn were mostly women-run and, for the first time in the U.S., provided a welcoming place for women unaccompanied by men. In fact, according to Whitaker, “real men” didn’t generally eat in tearooms, perhaps because they were uncomfortable on women’s turf.

In addition to being the province of women, a genre of tearooms became popular in Bohemian Greenwich Village. These even more exotic venues gained a reputation for welcoming those outside the new heterosexual norm, as well as other social mavericks. While we have lost the presence of such dining/lounging establishments, gay lore has retained the use of the word “tearoom” to designate places worth strolling through to look for kindred souls.

In Northampton, the Rose Tree Inn proprietor A. dN., as she signed herself, was such a maverick, and so was subject to local criticism. She has been described by a Smith College student as wearing “mannish suits and stiff collars” and that “there is a mystery surrounding her. No one knows if whether it is a man or a woman.” Although no alcohol was served at RTI, she is recalled as visiting Anna Bliss, an unmarried woman friend living down the street, where behind drawn shades, they would share some port and a cigar. According to the stories Bliss told her nephew de Naucaze also lost a lot of money gambling in  Monte Carlo one summer.

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Anna deNaucaze, 1919 Smith College yearbook paid ad (courtesy Sophia Smith Collebction, Smith College, Northampton MA)

In 1910, she came to the defense of her Inn and others, by publishing a newspaper entitled, 4ALL: They Say- What They Say?- Let Them Say.  In decrying townspeople who spread rumors about the Inn and her customers, she said, “Nor do I wish to blazen forth the weakness of any individual picked up on Main Street, limp of limb and thick of speech. Neither do I desire to spread scandals…I shall at all times be delighted for the sake of truth… I have no use for people who talk through their hats and veils, protecting themselves with their hatpins to the detriment of their neighbors.”

The former New York City actress moved to the area in 1907. After briefly trying to run a tearoom in Goshen, she packed all her pots and pans into a horse-drawn wagon and moved to Northampton. She and Marie VonVeltheim (aka the Countess), who was a painter of miniature portraits, bought a 200 year-old farmhouse on the edge of town from an Irish family.  This became the Rose Tree Inn.

The Inn opened in December of 1908. It rapidly became popular with Smith College faculty and students. Perhaps because so many of its customers were on an academic schedule, the Inn was closed during the summers. In an entrepreneurial spirit, deNaucaze also owned, for a brief time, a summer Rose Tree Inn in Maine, and two “annexes:” the Rose Tree Hut on Arnold Avenue in 1918 and the “Queer and Quaint” Rose Tree Den on Masonic Street in 1919.

Contemporary accounts credit her personality as being as great a draw as the Inn’s fine food. Her wit and intelligence are repeatedly noted. Many Smith faculty visited in her book-lined “den” at the Inn to exchange views. She was unpopularly outspoken about many contemporary affairs.  She was against women’s suffrage, vehemently anti-German, and in favor of America joining the Great War, now known as World War I. This latter opinion, she felt, was the reason she was eventually forced to close the Inn.

No mention of a “Monsieur” deNaucaze has been found, and she refused to tell the 1910 Census taker if she was divorced. A friend recalled that A.dN. had been born in Belgium to the Irish Montgomery Moore family, was educated in Paris, married, and had a son.  This same friend said that when A.dN. began her stage career, she had adopted the deNaucaze name from an aunt who was an actress in Paris. The Countess probably lived with her at the Inn until 1912.  Kate Sangree joined the Inn partnership in 1919. In 1923, “Mrs.” Sangree and deNaucaze were planning to adopt an infant girl that had come into their care in some unspecified way.

Although A.dN. cited other issues as well, being popular with Smith students seems to have led directly to the demise of the business. In order to serve students, establishments had to be on the College’s approved Warden’s list. DeNaucaze was variously forced to prohibit dancing, smoking, and drinking.  She was also required to provide a “matronly” cashier to act as chaperone at her places of business. In 1923, despite student protest, the Rose Tree was dropped from the Warden’s list of places approved by the College, allegedly because students had been smoking there. The resulting loss of business forced Madame, at age 69, to sell the Inn. She moved briefly to Maryland and then to New York City where she died a year later of pneumonia.

Even under a new woman owner, the Rose Tree Inn wasn’t able to regain Smith College approval. In 1928, the Rose Tree Luncheonette became the Rose Tree Filling Station. Today, what remains of the original structure houses Duffy Tire. An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1989 to preserve and restore the building as the Inn.

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The current use of the former Inn at 252 Bridge St. (Google map street view)

 

Further reading: See more on the Inn

__at Jan Whitaker’s restauranting history blog   http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/tag/roadside-restaurants/page/2/

__The building has been inventoried as a historic site

http://www.northamptontimelines.org/bridge-street-252.html

__ Elizabeth Kent presented research in 2012, http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/2012/03/01/northamptons-lgbt-ancestor-anna-de-naucazes-story-intrigues-inspires

__and in  again in 2015

http://www.historicnorthampton.org/rose-tree-inn.html

 

Sources:

__Whitaker, Jan. Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. 2002. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

__Pease, Kathleen. “Rose tree: Local historians seek to save inn built in early 1700s.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 18, 1989.

__Murray, Clarence. “Reminiscence of what told by Anna Catherine Bliss, friend of A. dN.. 1987.” This is a handwritten account by Bliss’ nephew of stories told him by his aunt. Historic Northampton.

__DeNaucaze, Mme. Anna. “Baby at ‘Rose Tree” not Kidnapped.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Sep. 1, 1923.

__”Madame De Naucaze sells ‘Rose Tree.’” Daily Hampshire Gazette.  Sep. 7, 1923.

 

Coming Next: autumn 1971

 

 

 

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