Storytellers sharing the history of those who lived in Gilpin County
By Jaclyn Schrock
On Saturday, September 8th at 2:00 p.m., the Stroehle House was open for the semi-annual High Tea. This historic home at 231 Chase Street in Black Hawk has been recently renovated to the Victorian times when the home was occupied by the Stroehle family.
The home was graciously donated to the Gilpin Historical Society by an in-law great cousin of the home’s occupants as requested in the will. The home was a generous gift to be kept as a historical reminder of ways and days now gone. The front two rooms are well preserved and display framed historical photos with at least 150 year old furnishings. The box-like grand piano came from St. Louis on a stage coach, and the curved glass curio cabinet with cherished collections graced the parlor. The tradition from the 1800s High Tea where 16 guests gathered at four tables with four chairs each. The dining room next to the parlor seated about 10 more guests. The modern equipped kitchen served the scrumptiously dainty sandwiches, tea, scones, and deserts from behind the dining room. The rooms in the rear part of the house are occupied by a residential tenant who cooperates with the living museum experience of High Teas.
Since the passing of the last Stroehle Family member in 2009, and the remodeling completed by 2015, the home has been opened for historical enjoyment. The last few years have developed a tradition of a spring and fall afternoon of nostalgic tea drinking; keeping traditions remembered, sharing pleasant conversations, and maintaining historical funds sponsored by volunteers with the Gilpin Historical Society. The 2018 Spring Tea was cancelled shortly before the big day, as some aspects of the home were considered temporarily unsafe, though they were easily resolved.
The 2018 Fall Tea was held on a lovely day showing yellowing leaves. Those who gathered for the tea were sad to hear that Gilpin Historical Society plans to suspend the teas as a fundraiser for a time.
We were however very happy to hear of the alternatives for sharing Gilpin History. To promote living history experiences for younger interests, the Stoehle House and other Gilpin locations will be used to have other events. There are plans for pumpkin decorating and apple bobbing to help children remember how things were done in our past. Ice cream socials and root beer floats are being considered to attract the young, and young at heart. Lawn games like croquet are being discussed to attract those who may only know modern games, so to have the chance to play, laugh and learn in the ways of our founding mining days.
High Society, in grand attire, held High Teas in the early mining days when Gilpin County’s Black Hawk, Central City, Nevadaville, and other nearby communities flourished as the “richest square mile” in the nation.
High Tea is considered to have begun in Great Britain when afternoon tea was served. Some suggest the Duchess of Bedford began serving High Tea in the mid-1800s. It was around this time that kerosene lamps began to be used in the wealthier homes. Having better lighting made possible the fashion of eating dinner later. Since the mid-morning meal was often the only other meal, High Tea in the afternoon served scones and light sandwiches to hold folks over until the 8 or 9 pm dinner. It is called high tea, because it was served on high tables. Low tea was served on low tables and was a heavier meal since workers at the end of the day did not have the luxury of kerosene lamps.
Many comments of appreciation were expressed from those who gathered for tea at the Stroehle House this fall. Eric Chinn organized the event, and Deb Wrey helped in every way, being president of the Gilpin Historical Society. Suzzann Mathews baked the breads for the sandwiches and made the main foods. Mrs. Mathews, Breena Schembri, Wanda Larson, and Margrate Grant presented the traditional appearances of servers with crisp white blouses, long black skirts and lacy white aprons. Talented volunteers set up, served, and prepared the event.
With friendly manners and well trained etiquette, the ladies served the orange herbal tea and black tea from china tea pots. The tables were set traditionally with honey, sugar, cream, and fresh lemon. Water was also served from silver pitchers. The tables were set with real silver and beautiful china cups, saucers, and small plates. Of course, the napkins were cloth on a cloth tablecloth. The tables and chairs were also of original design, made of wood with cloth seats.
Once we had selected our tea, the sandwiches were served. There were at least five different kinds, each with its own bread type, including an apple and cheese on cranberry/ walnut bread, a chicken salad, while many others were cheesy – all were very pleasing to the pallet.
Two types of scones were served; Earl Grey with seeds and a lemon cream scone enhanced by jam and butter available on the tables. Last were the deserts which we served ourselves from elegant three layered china serving platters for each table. This type of extensive menu is considered a Full High Tea.
Those guests who chattered with those at their table through the whole tea time, now had a chance to mingle with the others. Stretching our legs helped many and allowed others to try out the beautifully tiled restroom facilities with originally designed fixtures. We soon gathered on the on lush green lawn at the side of the home. Outside the kitchen door was the original garden, garden shed, and stone retaining wall next to the Stroehle home where three children had been raised. Chairs and two canvas tent covers offered shade and protection from any rain, though there was no hint at this possibly disturbing the guests who were ready to be entertained.
Our host, Eric Chinn, in his dapper pleated white shirt and black slacks, introduced Tom Matthews for our afternoon story time. Tom in a black suit, black shirt and white tie, entertained the guests, by bringing to life, “Joe” Roma. We listened to his story about being born in San Francisco in 1895, but unable to prove it because of the fire which destroyed records the next year. His Italian accent and gangster presentation told his bootlegging story as a small business man with a grocery store in Denver, a few cars on a car lot, and whiskey stills in the old mine buildings of Central City. He tells of being gunned down in his home by three unknown individuals. His character was masterfully presented.
Eric Chinn provided the next round of musical entertainment. He began playing a baritone ukulele, explaining that this type of instrument became popular for those who could not move a piano with them as the depression pushed many people to different places. He sang the songs that folks would sing along to such as This Land is Your Land, When the Saints Go Marching In, Five Foot Two Eyes of Blue, and a couple of others. He used the tenor ukulele and hummed in a kazoo for a few songs to keep things old, timey.
This was quite a unique historical event and I am happy that I was able to attend!