The Buttolph Collection of Menus at the New York Public Library shows what people were eating in restaurants decades ago. It contains tens of thousands of menus, with the bulk from the early 20th century, when the collection’s creator, Miss Frank E. Buttolph, was actively collecting menus. In this post, I’ll highlight three seasonal menus and a creative menu for bankers.
A Stocking Menu from Detroit
The Christmas Spirit moved the Griswold House’s menu designer in 1900, leading to a stocking-shaped menu. Based on my reading of menus from around 1900, this one is fairly typical. It is loaded with French cuisine, and also has some game (roast canvasback duck and stuffed roast opossum). And celery, of course (restaurant menus of that era often had celery in the salad or appetizer section).
A Christmas Menu from the Union Printers Home in Colorado
Another non-New York menu in the Buttolph Collection is this 1920 Christmas menu is from the Union Printers Home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I hadn’t heard of the Union Printers Home, so I did some quick research and learned that it was founded in the late 19th century using funds from two Philadelphia printers to provide homes to members of the International Typographical Union who were suffering from tuberculosis and black lung (the printing inks of the era contained fine particles of carbon that were carried into the air during printing and inhaled). It was thought that the climate of Colorado Springs would be helpful in treatment of their lung ailments. The facility operated from 1892 until its sale in 2014 to a private corporation.
The building was originally known as the “Castle On The Hill.” The clock face on the central square tower was permanently set to 8:00 to honor the Typographical Union’s work for a standardized 8-hour work day. (There’s more information about the Union Printers Home at the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs.)
The menu is typical for Christmas in the United States at the time, and of course, it includes celery (nearly every early 20th century menu I have looked at contains celery).
A New Year Menu with Birds and Bells
Something called the M.F. Lyons Dining room held a dinner in 1906, and the menu’s cover has symbolism that I don’t understand: what do bells ringing and birds have to do with the new year? Of course, the menu has celery, as was the style of the time (nearly every early 20th century menu I have looked at contains celery). Also, roast long island duck, boiled Philadelphia capon, Boston hot house tomatoes and hot mince and pumpkin pie.
A Creative Menu for Bankers
The final menu isn’t has a somewhat creative cover page that looks like a check, which is fitting since the dinner is for the New York State Bankers’ Association. The menu itself is classical French with grapefruit au marasquin, vol au vent of sweetbreads, sorbet creme de menthe, and Philadelphia squabs rotis en cresson (Philadelphia poultry appear regularly in these old menus — I don’t know why). And, of course, celery.
Griswold House, Detroit, a Pre-Automobile Hotel
Since I have connections to Detroit — early life in the suburbs (~15 Mile & Van Dyke), internships at GM, events at the Fox Theater (a Smiths concert, pre-restoration; a Lawrence of Arabia showing, post-restoration), and an annual trade show in the city — I wanted to know more about the Griswold House that created the stocking menu, so I dove into the search engines and image libraries . Somewhat surprisingly, the answers came not from Google or Wikipedia, but from Flickr Commons, where I found some old books about Detroit that had some key details (of note: a search for Griswold house gets a lot of hits for the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie’s family.)
I found a drawing of the building (first image below) from 1901, some information about the chain of ownership, and an advertisement for the hotel from 1890 that had a map showing the hotel’s location.
A book in the British Library called The History of Detroit and Michigan or, the Metropolis Illustrated, Etc gave a rough history of the beginning of the hotel:
The Howard House, on Congress Street, between Woodward Avenue and Griswold Street, was opened in 1853 with J. C. Davis as proprietor…[info about 12 landlords and proprietors]…On May 3, 1880, Van Est & Graves became proprietors, and the name was changed to Griswold House. In 1881 the house was enlarged on the north side and extensively refitted.
With Google Earth, I found that the building is gone, replaced by the Chase Tower. And that’s all I could find. Still unknown: When did the hotel close? How long did the building last after closure?
Menus from the Buttolph Collection of Menus at the New York Public Library: Bankers Association menu, 259 Bowery menu, stocking menu from Griswold House, Union Printers Home menu.
Drawing of Griswold House from page 43 of Detroit, The City of the Strait; Historical, Descriptive, Illustrated by Michigan Central Railroad Company, Michigan Central Railroad Company (Chicago), 1901. From the Internet Archive, via Flickr Commons.
Griswold House advertisement from A Lake Tour to Picturesque Mackinac via the D. & C, written by F.H. Taylor, published by O.S. Gilley, Bornman & co. (Detroit, Michigan), 1890. From the Internet Archive, via Flickr Commons.
The History of Detroit and Michigan or, the Metropolis Illustrated, etc, by Silas Farmer, published by S. Farmer & Co. (Detroit), 1884, from the British Library (full text in 1080 page, 270 MB PDF).
Originally published on December 22, 2016. Updated December 5, 2021.