November 24, 2010
Alternative high school dines at 1890 House
Students in grades 9 through 12 prepare Thanksgiving meal at historic Wickwire mansion
The kitchen at 1890 House was alive with cooking and young people’s voices Tuesday morning, as five girls prepared holiday dinner for their fellow Cortland Alternative High School students.
Coached and guided by math teacher Marianne Bertini, board of directors president for the ornate mansion built by industrialist Chester Wickwire, the group cooked turkey, potatoes, stuffing, peas, corn and butternut squash for seven teachers and about 45 students, starting at 8 a.m.
The other students in grades nine through 12 spent the morning either bowling at Cort Lanes, skating at J.M. McDonald Sports Complex or playing games at the Cortland Youth Bureau, in a day off before the Thanksgiving break. Then they joined the five cooks.
Students and teachers bought the food. The potatoes and squash came from Bertini’s garden. Senior Chase Hopkins of Cortland donated the two turkeys, weighing 20 and 12 pounds.
“I saw a chance to open the house for educational and culinary purposes,” Bertini said as juniors Amber Lee and Austin Lewis from Homer stirred a bucket of mashed potatoes. “It’s math, it’s history, it’s culinary arts.”
Bertini also encouraged the students to tour the house, accompanied by teachers from the school, which is part of Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES.
“This is especially good for the kids from Tully or Fabius-Pompey,” she said. “Cortland County school districts have field trips here, but not Onondaga County districts.”
She said the Thanksgiving lunch was for students in grades seven and eight in 2007 and 2008. When the junior high moved from the McEvoy Center to the high school’s building off Port Watson Street last year, the lunch was held for grades 7-12, but that was too many students, so this year it was for grades 9-12 and the other two grades had their lunch at the school.
The rest of the students showed up at about noon and chose their seats at several long plastic tables, set with antique silverware and plates. The five cooks — Lee, Lewis, senior Chanel Stroman of Cortland, and junior Kiersten Doupe and freshman Brittany Rothermel of Tully — set out plates of baked goods and bowls of vegetables.
Teachers carved the turkeys and carried platters of meat to the students.
“It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun too,” Lee said. “We’re glad to help out.”
The students studied the mansion’s stained-glass windows, huge staircase, ornate woodwork on the ceilings and floors, and its dark rooms. In a seasonal display for the public, Christmas trees covered with lights stood in the front parlors, one called the Gold Room. Floral arrangements by Shaw and Boehler Florist decorated the rooms.
Lewis said the house was creepy, in a way, and she could not picture how the Wickwire family sat in hard chairs and wore layers of elaborate clothes. She and Doupe marveled at how small the women were in the 19th century, judging by the outfits on display in the basement museum.
Wickwire made a fortune in steam-powered looms that manufactured wire cloth. He had the mansion on Tompkins Street built from limestone between 1888 and 1890, to replace his modest home since he felt he deserved better, the museum displays said.
Bertini told the students to be grateful for what they have, as Americans. She singled out Hopkins in particular for bringing the turkeys.
“I just told my mom we needed turkey and she bought these,” he said, shrugging off the fuss.
“It’s a lot for one student — he went above and beyond,” Bertini said.
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