Love Letters, Chapter 7

The General Leavenworth Mansion – Syracuse, New York

New here? Start from the beginning….

This story started with a pair of love letters I found for sale on ebay. They were written in 1949 by a woman named Ruth Ives of White Plains, New York, and addressed to a Dr. John Van Duyn of Duluth, Minnesota. I bought them with the intent of finding the original owners (or their families) and returning them. Easy… especially since I live in Minnesota.

Or so I thought.

As it turns out, Dr. John Van Duyn wasn’t from Minnesota at all. I’m still not clear exactly how he ended up in Duluth, Minnesota in 1949 (still working on that), but I’ll get to that later. What I did learn from the 1920 U.S. Census and other data available on, is that Dr. John Van Duyn was a third generation surgeon from Syracuse, New York. He belonged to a prominent family there, and lived in a historic mansion at 607 James Street.

(A mansion, you say? Oh yes, a mansion.)

Leavenworth Mansion

Leavenworth Mansion, 1934 - Syracuse, New York

It was known as the Leavenworth Mansion, named after Dr. John Van Duyn’s maternal grandfather, Elias Warner Leavenworth. Leavenworth was born in Canaan, NY in 1803 and graduated from Yale in 1824. He went on to study law, and was admitted to the bar in 1827. In 1850, he moved to Syracuse and married the daughter of Judge Joshua Forman, the founder of Syracuse. In 1836 he was appointed Brigadier General of Militia, and in 1849, served Syracuse as the city’s second mayor.

Work began on the Leavenworth Mansion in 1839, while Leavenworth was President of Syracuse Village. It was designed by architect Deacon Elijah Hayden, one of the first architects in Syracuse, and was completed in 1842. You can read much more the Leavenworth Mansion on the “Syracuse Then and Now” web site.

On September 2, 1945, the Leavenworth Mansion was featured on the front page of the Syracuse Herald-American. The article was the first in a series concerning historic houses in the Syracuse vicinity.

Syracuse Herald American, 1945

The Leavenworth Mansion was featured in a 1945 article in the Syracuse Herald-American

“A sacred spot – in the sense of beauty – to Syracuse, and for that matter, to the world, is a noble mansion which stands at the corner of James and North McBride Streets…”

“Technically, it is known as the General Leavenworth mansion; colloquially it is called the Van Duyn house…”

“From a home standpoint, it might be well to consider that this is where Dr. Edward Seguin Van Duyn makes his residence with Mrs. Van Duyn. He is the present head of a family internationally famous, but “Who’s Who in America” states simply that he is a surgeon, born in Syracuse, Aug. 20, 1872, the son of John and Sarah (Faulks) Van Duyn. He was graduated from Syracuse University with an M.D. degree in 1897 and married Lucy Leavenworth Ballard on Feb. 4, 1903. Their children are listed as Mary L., John and Constance.”

The article goes on to talk about Janet (Dunning) Van Duyn’s book, I Married Them, which was published the same year as the article.

“Now comes the version in a book entitled “I Married Them,” by Janet Van Duyn. On an introductory page is the warning: “This is a work of fiction. While certain aspects of its background and its characters are drawn from experience, it is not intended as a factual or biographed report in any sense.”

“Then the author, described on the publisher’s jacket as ‘blonde, blue-eyed, cool, detached,’ has this to say in her opening chapter, called “The Toast Is Burning:”

“The house on the corner of East Hall Street and Sullivan Hill was no exception; there was plenty of smoke and soot with which to woo the Greek Temple that was the home of the Doctors MacLean.”

“This mansion of an architecture known as ‘pure Greek’ – from which the American Colonial is said to have been adapted – crowned the top of three ragged terraces and was approached by a flight of irregular stone steps guarded, half way up, by two ferocious bronze lions. Built in the eighteen thirties by Col. Jonas Davenport, the maternal grandfather of the man I married, its high Ionic columns and gabled roof gave it a purity of line and dignity which neither the ravages of time nor the onslaught of soot has been able to destroy. A century ago the house had been beautiful and imposing; now even though the blinds sagged and the lawn was unkempt, it still retained a certain grandeur.”

Next time… my favorite excerpts from Janet Van Duyn’s book (it’s very funny)…

Read next chapter…


  1. oh, Joy!!! What a treat to read about your journey into this family’s life! I finally got all caught up today and am very intrigued by your story–which you weave very well, I might add. Can’t wait for the next chapters!

  2. So who is Janet? John’s wife? And she’s a writer? What an appropriate twist!

  3. Betsy, yes, Janet is John Van Duyn’s first wife. You must have missed Chapter 6. Read that one and this post will make a lot more sense.

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