Story Of Allene Tew, Jamestown Native And Dutch Princess, Shows Wonders Of Research
As a public service throughout 2011, the Chautauqua County Historical Society featured “Bicentennial Biographies” to celebrate the county’s rich history. Radio listeners may recall some of Trustee Jason Sample’s broadcasts of two hundred notable individuals who, over the course of two centuries, impacted our region.
To compile his extensive list in a relatively short period of time, Sample researched various secondary source materials found in Chautauqua County history books available online at Google.com and/or extant copies located at the Chautauqua County Historical Society and various other county repositories. Among the most notable authors and editors of these treasured volumes were Andrew W. Young, William J. Doty, John P. Downs and Fenwick T. Hadley, the Hon. Obed Edson, and Ernest D. Leet. Countless others concentrated on individual communities including the Chautauqua Assembly (renamed the Chautauqua Institution), Fluvanna, Mayville, Bemus Point and Jamestown. In addition, the Prendergast Library in Jamestown and the Patterson Library in Westfield have placed images of early newspapers online to enable researchers around the globe to readily find information about the area’s history
Locating primary source material by interviewing individuals with firsthand knowledge of a subject or individual is another key to the research process. Jane Currie and I used both techniques when we wrote Legendary Locals of the Chautauqua Lake Region for Arcadia Publishing in 2013. For that endeavor, we chose to highlight people who were noteworthy members of a cross section of 13 communities bordering Chautauqua Lake. To do so, we sought suggestions from current residents of each area. From our visits to village and town halls, libraries, small businesses and private homes, we learned of the accomplishments of an array of people, both former and current residents living in our midst.
For example, had we not sought assistance from the late Sally Carlson, town of North Harmony supervisor, we would have missed a man of great distinction. By then, Albert W. Brown had retired to his residence in Connelly Park near Stow. We learned that while serving as president of the State University College at Brockport from 1965-1981, he had fostered physical education programs for the disabled and attracted the attention of major politicians who selected Brockport as the host site for the 1975 and 1976 New York State Special Olympics Games. He then served his adopted community as a town of North Harmony board member and as a member of the Chautauqua Lake Local Waterfront Revitalization Committee.
The willingness of others to share personal stories, often offers a glimpse into the area’s past as well. With the recent death of John C. Cheney on July 19, the area lost another local icon who spent nine decades on the shore of Chautauqua Lake. Imagine his trove of knowledge about the entire region and the Bemus Point area in particular. While sitting at their kitchen table, he and his wife Betty Lou regaled Jane and I with tales of the Sea Lion Project, his passion for the Bemus-Point ferry and of his lengthy involvement with organizations that fostered local dairy farming. Such candid recollections are invaluable to a researcher as well as a community.
A LONG-DISTANCE PROJECT
Admittedly, however, there was one fascinating Jamestown woman who escaped our notice until well after that publication in 2013. All credit goes to award-winning Dutch author Annejet van der Zijl for discovering that a member of the Tew family, prominent early settlers in Jamestown, was worth heralding.
Thanks to her sleuthing skills, Ms. Van der Zijl has brought to light the storybook life of Allene Tew (1872-1955). Her implausible rise from a livery stable on Pine Street in Jamestown, N.Y., to the ranks of European aristocracy is thoroughly documented in the original 2015 Dutch version, De Amerikaanse prinses, and again in the 2018 English translation of An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew.
Of great interest is the way Ms. Van der Zijl stumbled upon the existence of Allene Tew and then her ensuing dogged research. During the final stages of completing a biography about Gerard Heineken, the Dutch beer baron, she recalled articles she had previously researched in German and Dutch newspapers for her biography of Prince Bernhard of the Netherland, the husband of former Dutch Queen Juliana.
She had read about Allene Tew, “a kind of surrogate aunt who assisted with the prince’s marriage in 1936.” One article, “The Princess with the Record Number of Marriages” intrigued her as did the fact that in 1938, Allene became the godmother of Crown Princess Beatrix, daughter of Prince Bernhard and Queen Juliana. Exceedingly curious, she decided her next endeavor would be to learn more about [Allene Tew’s] life and considered [this new project] “a wonderful opportunity to explore American history.”
To initiate her research, Annejet van der Zijl and her husband, residents of The Netherlands, began to correspond with Barbara Cessna and Karen Livsey at Jamestown’s Fenton History Center for their expertise. When Ms. van der Zijl felt sufficiently prepared to begin her quest, she and her husband then came to the United States, “borrowed a house” on Chautauqua Lake from a Dutch friend, and subsequently spent hours immersed in the Center’s archives, seeking additional information.
Their next step was to contact Sam Genco, Superintendent of the Lake View Cemetery Association, where numerous members of the Tew family are buried.
Later, in an e-mail to me, Annejet praised that entity and our region: “What a lovely place by the way. I loved the trees. But then I loved the whole country side round Chautauqua. The Netherlands are looking rather boring and flat in comparison.”
Nearing the conclusion of their working vacation, the couple stopped at Cadwell’s Cheese House in Dewittville seeking further information about the mysterious Cinderella. Jane Currie, the proprietor and my co-author, was told by Ms. Van der Zijl “…[since] I found your books so interesting (our Arcadia publications regarding local history) and you both seem to know so much about this place I wanted to meet you.”
In September 2013, Annejet and her husband drove south to Pittsburgh to learn about Allene’s first marriage to Theodore R. Hostetter, son of Pittsburgh millionaire David Hostetter, who she met during the summer of 1890, apparently at an event on Chautauqua Lake. As previously arranged, the couple met up with Jane and me at the Busti Apple Festival where we had been invited to promote our books. Our discussion with the couple resulted in my agreeing to assist the author with her research about Allen Tew’s early life and Jamestown connections. Since Ms. Van der Zijl had her own images, the research then fell to me rather than to Jane whose specialty is photography.
THE TALE OF ALLENE TEW
That was the beginning of our long-distance communication which has continued intermittently until the present. In early October, Annejet wrote: “Dear Kathleen, I am so happy to have found a co-sleuth here who wants to help me bring Allene back to life…And to Jamestown. I do think she deserves a place here.” The following month Annejet entrusted me with copies of “Allene Tew Files” including brief data on “the Jamestown years, 1855-1891,” “Pittsburgh, 1891-1903,” and “The rest, her global years, 1904-1956,” a year after Allene’s death.
My task was to supply details of the early days of Jamestown, the Gilded era in which Allene Tew grew up. Annejet became more specific: “I am interested in everything. How were those houses? How did Jamestown at that time look, smell and feel? Were the streets muddy? Did you hear machinery all day? Did you hear trains in their house on Pine Street? Are there any accounts of those early settlers’ days? And, of course, anything on those [Tew] families? May there be some descendants left? By telling Allene’s story, I want my readers to feel and experience life and spirit in early America.”
Already familiar with the fascinating histories of the original owners/ occupants of the Alonzo Kent Mansion at 305 East Fourth Street, the current home of the Robert H. Jackson Center, and those of the recently renovated Marvin Community House at 2 West Fifth Street, now a cultural center for numerous Jamestown’s women’s groups, located directly across the street, I readily found information on the Tew Mansion at 413 North Main Street in the center of the city.
In 1816 the first schoolhouse in Jamestown was built on that site by James Prendergast, the city’s founder. According to the architectural marker on the southwest corner of Main and Fifth Streets, George Washington Tew, Jr. purchased the property and his elegant home was constructed between 1881 and 1882. City historian B. Dolores Thompson reported that it was known for its mansard roofline which disguised a third-floor ballroom. After 1895 it changed owners several times and currently houses the offices of Lewis and Lewis Associates.
My immediate assumption was that Allene grew up in that residence with all the trappings, but I needed more specifics. Fortunately, several Chautauqua County history books reference the Tew family. Like many of Jamestown’s pioneers, the family patriarch, William Henry Tew, migrated west from Rensselaerville, New York, in 1826, one year after his brother George W. Tew. Because first and middle names were often repeated in the same family, the exact lineage is confusing but, suffice it to say, most of the Tew progeny in the 19th century were prominent bankers in the area and active in civic and community affairs. Sadly for Allene, her father Charles Henry Tew, William Henry’s youngest son, and George W. Tew’s nephew, was the exception and a mere assistant bank cashier at City National Bank of Jamestown founded and owned by his uncle.
In 1872, Allene was born in Janesville Rock, Wisconsin, to Jeanette M. Smith and Charles Henry Tew, both of Jamestown. By 1875, she and her parents returned to Jamestown where she lived until her marriage in 1891. Unlike her privileged cousins who grew up in the posh Tew Mansion, Allene and her parents moved into Jeanette’s father’s livery stable on West Third Street. According to the City Directory, by 1878 Allene and her parents had moved to 32 Pine Street near her grandfather William Tew while her grandfather Andrew B. Smith remained on West Third Street
Out of step with her cousins, Allene developed a love of horses and a love of adventure. Known for her signature beauty and impetuousness, not surprisingly, she caught the attention of the son of a Pittsburgh millionaire, flirted with danger, and never looked back. They eloped and on May 14, 1891, the Jamestown Evening Journal announced the wedding of Allene and Theodore Hostetter in the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City.
Following Theodore’s death in 1902, the young widow was married briefly to stockbroker Morton Colton Nichols. Following the death of her third husband, General Electric executive Anson Wood Burchard, she inherited an estate of $3,000,000. In 1929, she married Prince Henry XXXIII of Reuss, one of Europe’s oldest reigning houses.
According to the Jamestown Evening Journal, the newlyweds spent part of their honeymoon in Jamestown with Mrs. Edward C. Brown, “They were entertained at 406 Lakeview Avenue by Allene’s niece Mrs. Oliver R. Johnson [the former Dorothy Tew whose husband was a prominent architect] and by her niece’s mother, the former Cora Sheldon, daughter of Porter and Mary Sheldon, who married Herbert Whitney Tew in 1886. The Tew Home at 70 Prospect Street was bequeathed to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) by Dorothy Tew Johnson.” Allene married Paul Kotzebue, her fifth and final husband in 1936.
Throughout this project, Annejet thanked me “for these new pieces of our jigsaw puzzle” and apologized for spelling mistakes; “I am just a Dutchwoman trying to write English!” I assured her that her English was far superior to my Dutch! I admitted that I was overwhelmed by the fascinating information she had shared with me. I added, “Allene Tew’s life was truly extraordinary and I remain in awe of the fact that no one here in town seems to be aware of her celebrity status. You are truly going to shock the Jamestown community with your book.”
In 2015, Jane and I each received an autographed complimentary copy of De Amerkiaanse prinses from Ms. van der Zijl’s publisher. Despite our inability to read Dutch, we were pleased to see lovely images in the first two chapters of Allene with her cousin, the City of Jamestown steamboat on the Chadakoin circa 1880, and Allene’s alluring 1892 portrait. One year later Ms. Van der Zijl proudly wrote that her book was an immediate success in her country: “…it seems the girl from Jamestown is taking the Netherlands by storm as there are in 11 weeks already 84,000 copies sold…a lot in a small country like ours.”
This past spring I was delighted to hear from Annejet that her book had been selected by AmazonCrossing to be translated into English and that as of April 5, 2018, it ranked 14th on the Amazon nonfiction chart. Because of its success, she was eagerly anticipating her trip in late May to New York City. She was invited to the New York Book Fair and to make a presentation at the city’s Netherland Club. She generously hoped I could join her.
When this second autographed version of An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew arrived, I delved right in. I paid special attention to the ease with which she took my research and weaved a fascinating tale of this rags to riches story, presenting the reader with appropriate and vital historical background. Although the Jamestown connection comprises a mere two chapters of the biography, Allene’s ability to reinvent herself despite losses and disappointments has great appeal. Several of my women friends have enjoyed reading about the hometown connection and have commented on the themes of independence, dauntless courage, and perseverance, admirable qualities for a woman of her era. Coming “from a family of strong men who had little time or patience for self-pity or weakness…Allene believed it possible to start over again after heartbreak.”
This particular American princess was one of the first of about a dozen elite women who, through marriage, became European royalty. Among the most notable on that list are Grace Kelly, wife of Prince Ranier of Monaco; Lisa Halaby, “Queen Noor,” wife of King Hussein of Jordan; Wallace Simpson, wife of King Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne; Caroline “Lee” Bouvier, wife of Prince Radziwll of Poland; and Rita Hayworth, wife of Prince Aly Khan. Most recently, American Princess, The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry by American author Leslie Carroll, topped the book charts.
On June 26, Ms. Van der Kijl’s gave me this update:
“I am amazed by the success the book is having in the US right now. It was an Amazon and Wall Street Journal bestseller and this morning I saw there are already a thousand reader’s reviews on Amazon.com. Last month I had a wonderful promotion tour in New York. Also, the film rights were bought by Joop van den Ende, the foremost producer in our country. …He is responsible for the excellent Tina Turner musical that is now playing in London. He wants to make my book into a TV series, something like Downton Abbey.”
“On and off it took me nine years to reconstruct Allene’s life story. I traveled to France, England and the United States. I spent several weeks in a house on Chautauqua Lake and was struck by the helpfulness of the people of Jamestown. My publisher is now working on the translation of my other books, so I might come back. I hope to get the chance to visit Jamestown then–I have such great memories. It is great that with this translation, Allene is coming home.”
“PS. and I would love to see my book in the bookstore of Chautauqua Institution!”
As the late Jim Roselle, our local broadcaster and masterful interviewer, frequently noted: “Everyone has a story….”
The key, I believe, is to discover, share and preserve as many as possible.