Nov. 28, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Sloane family, the wealthy and energetic New Yorkers whose influence changed Norfolk’s business and cultural life.

William Sloane took over several knitting mills in Berkley and Portsmouth and made a
fortune selling underwear to the Army and Navy during World War I. Florence Sloane became a driving force behind creation of an art museum, forerunner of the Chrysler.

And together they built and lavishly decorated the Hermitage, now a museum and garden on the Lafayette River.

The Sloanes didn’t forget the reason for their growing wealth. They not only established a service club and convalescent hospital for the military but turned their home into a virtual weekend playground for service members.

On summer weekends from 1914 to 1918 the Sloanes entertained American, Australian and English troops on the lawn and gardens of the Hermitage. The entertainment
included cookouts, games and music, with as many as 1800 arriving for one event.

At the same time, Florence volunteered as postmistress, sewed for the Red Cross and helped out at the hospitals. The couple even donated their yacht for use as a patrol boat to search for German submarines.

Last month I included a portrait of Mrs. Sloane and regretted not being able to show these great pictures of the troops disporting themselves on the grounds of the mansion. It’s clear the Sloanes weren’t just being patriotic but enjoyed sharing their good fortune with the troops.

Above photos show troops engaged in a human wheelbarrow race on the lawn of the Hermitage, and the Sloanes entertaining guests at a Saturday lawn party. Click to enlarge. Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and Garden.