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During the early 1800s, central and western New York State were called the “burned-over” district because so many religious groups were formed during this time period. The term came from the idea that there were so few of the unconverted population (referred to as the "fuel") left to be converted or "burned" that the area had been “burned-over.” The Mormon religion is the best known of the many religious groups formed during this time period; but the Oneida Society also began during this period and will always be associated with fine tableware.
The Oneida Community Mansion House is a large rambling brick mansion that was built in stages starting in 1861. The community was founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848 in an attempt to create the perfect society. At its height it had about 300 members that lived together as one family. It was a religious commune where everyone shared in the work. In an effort to create a more perfect community they developed what they called stirpiculture; which, in plain terms, was eugenics or selective breeding. The children were raise communally.
Several rooms are set aside for exhibits. One room has a display of the Lady Hamilton flatware, china and crystal. They were pioneers in promoting their products by using attractive people in their advertisements. One of the members, Jessie Catherine Kinsley, made braided rug tapestries that are beautifully detailed. Her work is displayed in several locations with one room devoted to her works. Built around the stairs on the second floor is their cabinet of curiosities containing an eclectic collection of “treasures” from mastodon teeth to Chinese foot ware.
The tour includes the library filled with books and during its prime the community subscribed to more than 100 newspapers and magazines. Unlike a lot of similar groups they were very worldly, encouraged learning, and were well-traveled. Before Amelia Bloomer, the women’s rights activist, the women of the community wore the knee-length dresses over pants or bloomers. However, because the outfits caused such a flurry of attention when the women went out in public they dressed in a style that was appropriate for the time.
The grounds are beautiful with century old trees, meandering paths and peaceful gardens. Today the mansion is a National Historic Landmark that features a museum, overnight lodging, residential apartments, and meeting facilities. Tours are given Wednesday through Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. for $5.