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Discovering Frank T. Lent

I live a long way from the Thousand Islands but my quest to discover who designed my home in Worcester, Massachusetts led me on the most delightful journey. It all began when I found eight pages of blueprints tucked inside of an old window seat. and, thanks to “Google” I discovered Frank T. Lent (1855-1919).

Further searched let me to my most encouraging booster, Dr. Pierre de la Ruffinière du Prey, recently retired Professor and Research Chair in the Department of Art History at Queen’s University in Kingston ON. He gave me important advice, “Hang on to those Lent drawings, you are fortunate to have them.” Thus began my journey.

My first quest led me to research the owners of my home on Morningside Road in Worcester. George Bieberbach, my home’s first resident, He came to Worcester in 1867 and by 1882 was engaged in the wholesale brewer business. In fact, Mr. Bieberbach brewed the first lager beer in New England.

However, the link to the Thousand Islands became clear when I found Frank T. Lent’s obituary (Gananoque Reporter Dec. 15, 1919). It noted that he married Fannie Dean in 1902 and that they had one son, Deane, born in 1907. Also mentioned was that the “late Mr. Lent made his home in Gananoque some years ago, during which time he designed and superintended some of the most pretentious buildings in town and on various islands, and after his removal to Sterling [MA], always returned to Gananoque to spend his summers, occupying his cottage "Wee Rocks" on the south side of McDonald Island. He is survived by his wife and one teen age son, just entering his teens"

That link sent me to Thousand Islands Life Magazine. I sent an inquiry asking if there were any pictures, or information, on “Wee Island”. Editor, Susan Smith kindly directed me to Catherine Van Sickle, who lives in Lent’s summer home on Wee Island (Now called “La Vignette” and part of the Admiralty Group, near Gananoque). On EBay I found a postcard, of “Wee Rocks”, which I bought and sent Susan.

Professor du Prey had written a book called Ah Wilderness: Resort Architecture of the Thousand Islands which referenced the work of Frank T. Lent [1855-1919] The book is actually a catalogue written by Professor du Prey and Dorothy Farr, of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, of Queen’s University for an exhibit mounted first at Queen’s University in 2004. The catalogue contained two references to Lent’s work - Nakomis Lodge on Howe Island and the Atkinson cottage on Big White Calf (part of the Admiralty Group). Two of Professor du Prey’s graduated students, Summer Harris and David McKay wrote the architectural reviews and provided links for my research.

More information came from an article posted on the website of the Sleepy Hollow Bed and Breakfast in Gananoque, Ontario, which was built in 1905. It was constructed for the prominent Gananoque manufacturer, and provincial politician, Frederick J. Skinner, and was built by Mitchell and Wilson. Lent had designed it as "a three story mansion and the building illustrates the domestic architecture of a wealthy industrialist."

I soon learned that other Lent structures included St. Paul's Anglican Church in Elgin, Ontario, and in Gananoque, the Blinkbonnie Hotel (now the Clarion Inn and Conference Center), Christ Church Rectory, and the Clock Tower.

Thus, no forms of architectural endeavors, from Clock Towers to Churches to Hotels were too burdensome. Frank Lent was an accomplished architect deserving our utmost accolades.

So after hours of reading and sleuthing, I turned my attention to the man. As Professor DuPrey suggests, “At present he awaits a biographer”.

Lent earned his degree from Rutgers University in 1878 and then spent two years training in the New Jersey-based firm of William A. Potter. His first twenty years in business were spent in the vicinity of New York and Boston, designing and supervising over 200 suburban residences in nine states. In 1894 he ran a series of advertisements in the Cranford Chronicle, stating his attention concentrated on suburban work, in this area, by ” constructing one hundred buildings in four years”.

Genealogy records show Lent first married Sarah Dewitt and between 1883 and 1891 they had five children. The marriage ended in divorce.  He spent some time in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was listed in: The Antlers in 1886 as an architect, boarding at 105 S. Pike's Peak. He was listed in the 1888 City Directory as "LENT FRANK T. architect, cor.. Pike's Peak and Nevada, res. 311 E. Bijou In 1890 he was listed as a partner in Lent and Douglas. Douglas, evidently had secured a position as an office boy with  Lent  under whom he studied.

In 1893 Lent published a book, Sound Sense in Suburban Architecture: Hints, Solutions and Bits of Practical Information for the Building of Inexpensive Country Houses. (Frank T. Lent, Cranford New Jersey, 1893).

Lent believed that" there is no place like home" and that the word home conveyed numerous positive emotions and aspirations. The main thrust of his work was to design a home to meet the needs of the family which would occupy it and adapting the house to suit the buyer, was his ultimate goal.

Much was written about his style.  He believed in Colonial grace and simplicity, "no foolish outward attempts at outward display" but a concerted effort to please its occupants. In designing a house, he maintains that, "in good architecture, architecture and beauty go hand in hand." (p. 7) That there should not be any conspicuous ornamental features unless it was deemed to be necessary. He was a strong believer in a southern exposure which he felt was vital to good health. He believed that first impressions should be pleasing to the eye. He believed that the hall was imperative, that is when first impressions are formed and that it will be instilled in the mind's eye, as they go around viewing the rooms. “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder” and as an accomplished artist, Frank was quick to please his clients. He favored warm cheerful hues and the placing of stained glass windows in vital areas.

He was very precise in his instructions offering detailed information, including choice of colors. It appears that he favored yellow (The author's home designed by Mr. Lent is yellow ) Every detail was expounded upon. He favored "commodious" sliding glass doors which slide out of sight when opened. He favored a morning sun in the dining room, a well furnished kitchen well supplied with all the necessary "closets" and believed it should face the north side.

Every aspect of the home was discussed, from the second story, the den, the cellar even the piazzas, with detailed instructions from swinging pantry doors, to the fireplace and all important mantel.

He was very precise and specific in his choice of hardware from radiators, mantels, boilers, door knobs, paint and varnish, plumbing, fireplace grates, even stained glass windows.

Lent also made his mark in the art world as a contributor to "Various Phases of American Art” published in 1883 by Arlo Bates. His three-page essay, “Success in Art”, emphasizes the choices that a young artist must make.

Information from various web sites indicate that at least two of his paintings were sold recently. One On eBay dated July, 16, 2011 titled “Seascape” a watercolor – which I was lucky to purchase. Other oil paintings include "Landscape with Houses" inscribed " Brunswick" and dated June 29, 1883; "Mountain Landscapes” and "Jersey Lowland".

He was a member of the Academy of Design. In 1884 the New York Herald lists F.T. Lent as "one of others represented among the painters now in view" at the American Art Gallery in NY. Two of his sketches are mentioned in the "Salmagundi Sketch Club Black and White Exhibitions 1878-1887. A Lowland Shore" (Priced at $ 75.00) and "A Winter Effect”(priced at $35.00).

And finally I discovered that Frank T. Lent told the true story of how Mary’s little lamb followed her to school one day… I discovered that article published in The American School Board Journal, June 1913. The story may have been told before, but Frank Lent’s version was made available to school teachers across the country.

I conclude with my thanks to Professor Pierre du Prey for challenging us to discover as much as we can about this accomplished architect, artist, author and above all a gentleman who left his artistic influence in and on the Thousand Islands. The final biography will certainly be interesting.

By Dolores R. Buckley, BS, BA, MA. Worcester, Massachusetts.

[For more Frank T. Lent reference material compiled by Dolores R. Buckley, of Worcester, MA, see THE PLACE / History section, Frank T. Lent, By Dolores R. Buckley]

Dolores R. Buckley lives in a Frank T. Lent designed home in Worcester, Massachusetts. She received her Masters degree in Social Services and Rehab Counseling and worked in the field until her retirement.  She was a volunteer at the Abby’s Shelter for women for many years, a school-board trustee, and remains active as a board member of the Elder Services of Worcester. She and her husband of 62 years enjoy travelling, and we they will come to the Thousand Islands soon to see Frank T. Lent designed buildings.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Catharine Van Sickle
Comment by: Catharine Van Sickle ( )
Left at: 8:45 PM Saturday, April 14, 2012
Lots to learn.Interesting
Ewart Richardson
Comment by: Ewart Richardson ( )
Left at: 10:26 PM Saturday, April 14, 2012
A very interesting article, as I pass close by La Vignette daily during my trips to and from town from Moneysunk Island in the summer months. The family business, Mitchell & Wilson Ltd. did a lot of work emanating from Frank Lent's designs, Sleepy Hollow being one of those mentioned. I still retain in my old M & W records, some contract data of work we were involved in. Sadly, no designs or plans.

Thanks for the article.
Elaye LePage
Comment by: Elaye LePage ( )
Left at: 12:33 AM Monday, April 16, 2012
Dolores you are in for a big treat if you have never been to the 1000 Islands. I will be looking for Lent buildings and homes this summer at The River and also here in NJ. Look forward to reading Mr. Lent's biography. Good luck with the book.
Varick Chittenden
Comment by: Varick Chittenden ( )
Left at: 10:10 AM Monday, April 16, 2012
Ms. Buckley's very interesting article came as a pleasant surprise to me. It immediately conjured up memories of a visit I made twenty-some years ago to Clayton for research on some river-related topic or other. I was visiting Linda Scherer, then director of the Thousand Islands Museum that was housed at the time in the Clayton Opera House. In the course of conversation, Linda asked me if I'd like to see architectural drawings of the building, which I did. While looking them over, I happened to spot on one corner the architect's name: F. Lent (or Frank Lent, I can't remember that). That wouldn't have meant much to me then except for one thing. My old and great friend Peter van Lent--then a professor of modern languages at St. Lawrence University--had regaled us for years about his grandfather's accomplishments as an architect of some standing in both our Northeast and in Ontario. He knew of buildings in Gananoque and on some islands but had no idea that Frank Lent had designed the opera house. At the time, anyway, no one else had made the connection either. Peter is the only child of the second marriage of Deane Lent, Frank's son referred to in this article. After retiring from St. Lawrence, Peter moved to a cozy adobe house in Chimayo, New Mexico, where he'd love to have access to St. Lawrence River water again! I have forwarded the article to him and he's pleased to see his grandfather's fine work still appreciated today. Of course, the Clayton Opera House has been nicely restored in recent years, a true showplace and yet another tribute to Frank Lent's work.
Jim Bernier
Comment by: Jim Bernier ( )
Left at: 3:57 PM Monday, April 16, 2012
My wife and I were the owners of Big White Calf Island from 1995 until 2005. The Island home was designed by Frank Lent for Dr. Edward Atkinson of Gananoque, Ont. who acquired the island from the Crown in 1898 and subsequently built the main home and boat house finishing it around 1900. One evening in 1995, Ned Gurney, a great grandson of Dr. Atkinson, came by the island and presented me with two sets of original drawings by Frank Lent of the main house. These are ink on vellum and represent the original design and a subsequent design with minor revisions. During my 10 years of ownership of the island I continued to restore some of the original gas lights and other features that the previous owners had removed. The island remained in the ownership of the descendants of Dr. and Mrs. Atkinson until 1981 when the Phillipchuck family from Calgary, Alberta purchased it then ultimately sold it to my wife and I. We sold it to Mr. Thomas Grifferty of Oakville, Ont. in September of 2005. Mr. Grifferty is the current owner of Big White Calf Island. I have written a history of the island together with many pictures some current and many dating back to the very early days (c. 1904) with the Atkinson family. Selling the island was not an easy decision but because we had moved from Watertown, NY to Amelia Island, FL in 1999, it was becoming more and more difficult to continue spending much time "on the river". Two of Dr. Atkinson's great grandchildren, Gretchen Gurney Bambrick and Jim Gurney still live in Gananoque and helped me in my research.
Steve Glazer
Comment by: Steve Glazer ( )
Left at: 9:41 AM Monday, July 16, 2012
Very informative piece about someone who had a great impact on my home town in the latter part of the 19th century. By the way, there are two typos at the beginning of the article. Frank Lent died on December 3, 1919, not 1911, as stated in the first paragraph and in the caption to his picture.
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 5:06 PM Monday, July 16, 2012
From the Editor: Thanks for the correction, it is appreciated. I have made the change. It was my mistake not the author's. S.W. Smith
Kathy Veliz
Comment by: Kathy Veliz ( )
Left at: 6:33 PM Sunday, February 17, 2013
Thank you so much for sharing this information. I am excited to add it to my family history
Comment by: Michele ( )
Left at: 12:43 PM Sunday, June 9, 2013
very interesting to read. In late 2011 I purchased the Christ Church rectory referenced both above and in the Sleepy Hollow records. I love my large four square home! However I am a little puzzled by the timelines. Christ Church records show that the original stone rectory was sold and replaced by my current home built in the church yard in 1921 but it appears that Frank Lent died in 1919. So I am very curious about how this occurred. Perhaps the church had commissioned the plans well in advance of 1921. I must do more research into this as my curiosity is now piqued.

If you have not yet been to the thousand Islands do let me know when you are coming! I think reading these articles makes it plain that the architect very much changed his design principles to suit the church's needs. But the picture of your home is reminiscent of my own.

The church has some very elderly parishioners who are eager to come to tea to tell me about the original house- a place they often played in as young children. I am looking forward to hearing their stories.
L donoghue
Comment by: L donoghue
Left at: 3:14 AM Wednesday, November 8, 2017
I own a Frank Lent oil painting. I would like to know more about his art