Friday, November 26, 2010

"Westlawn/Littlecote," 107 Great Plains Road

107 Great Plains Road is well-known to some because it was a “Designers Showcase House” in 2003. I went on that tour years ago. The Designers Showcase Houses are always fun to see. Each interior designer gets their own room or space in which to create whatever their minds come up with, sometimes far-fetched, but usually breath-taking and clever.

This lovely symmetrical home, known originally as “Westlawn,” then “Littlecote,” is a 2 ½ story 6 bay singled house with five decorative dormers across the front that have pilasters supporting pediments and round-top windows, and a two-story round bay on the east side. The dormers mimic the pilastered and pedimented entry, which is flanked by large bay windows on each side. Not all of these features are original however. Below is a photo from the April 1921 issue of Architecture magazine.

You can see lots of differences, besides all the ivy. First, there were large barrel-vaulted (or “hooded”) porches where the bay windows are now, the entry had a much more elaborate broken pediment top with urn ornamentation, and the dormers had shutters.

The house was designed by F. Burrall Hoffman Jr. (1882-1980), an architect educated at Harvard and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and perhaps best known for Villa Vizcaya, the historic mansion in Miami. Most references state the house’s construction date circa 1900 but I would say it was more likely in the early 1890s because of its appearance on the historic F.W. Beers map of 1894. It still may have very well been built for Charles H. Lee though as he purchased the property in 1891.

But let’s back up a little. The property was originally owned………………..okay, by the Indians, then bought by the original settlers, and so on. At some point the property was owned by Albert Hildreth, then by Augustus E. Halsey and his wife, and then by Charlotte N. Schermerhorn.

Charlotte N. [Benton] Schermerhorn (1844-1903) was the second wife and widow of Alfred Schermerhorn (1819-1878). He was connected with the bank of New York and served in the Civil War. They had three sons: Alfred Egmont, Charles, and Colford. Alfred Egmont was a member of the Southampton Village Board of Trustees, a member of the Board of Governors of the Southampton Hospital, treasurer of the Meadow Club and Secretary of the Southampton Club.

Charlotte sold the property to Lucie C. Lee, wife of Charles Henry Lee (1855-1921) in 1891. Charles and Lucie [Whitney] (b. 1855) were married in 1880 and had five sons and two daughters and homes in Hempstead, and Manhattan, as well as Southampton. “Mr. Lee, whose home in the city was at 24 Gramercy Park, was a grandson of the Gideon Lee who was mayor of New York in 1830 and founded in 1804 the original Lee & Co., which sold out to the United States Leather Company in 1893. Charles H. Lee soon after became head of the Andean Trading Company, and later re-established his own leather business.”[1]

The next owner was Edward Tiffany Dyer (1849-1913) who was married to Edith La Bau (1854-1919), a grand-daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Edward was a member of the Union, Country, and Colony Clubs, the Metropolitan Club of Washington, and the Sons of the Revolution. Mr. Dyer was in the wholesale commission business for many years, a member of the firm of Otherman, Dyer & Southwick. Edward’s father, Henry, was a noted physician.

Edwin Willis Shields was born in 1866 in Iowa. In 1896 he married Martha Deardorff who was born in Indiana in 1878. They had two children together: a son and a daughter. The 1920 census shows them living in Kansas City with five servants. Mr. Shields was a successful grain merchant. “Edwin W. Shields was president of the Simonds-Shields-Lonsdale Grain Company and a resident of Kansas City for over forty years. He was known nationally as an authority on grain. In 1910 he built his beautiful home "Oaklands" at 5110 Cherry Street in Kansas City. It was among the first homes to be constructed in that part of the city. It is Elizabethan in architectural style and contained many furnishing and works of art from that period. Today the home is the administrative headquarters for the Bloch School of Business and Public Administration on the UMKC campus.

After the death of Mr. Shields in 1920, his widow Martha resided in the home for another 30 years entertaining guests and displaying the extensive art collection including the works of old masters and 17th century tapestries. Mrs. Shields was a trustee of the Kansas City Art Institute, and a trustee of the Philharmonic Orchestra Association.”[2] Their home, "Oaklands," is now the administrative building for the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Rebecca Bolling Littlejohn (1873-1961), a Southampton based collector and former chairwoman of the Parrish Art Museum, owned the house next. She assembled the core of 19th and 20th century American art collection at the Parrish Art Museum in the 50s. In 1961 (upon her death) she bequeathed her collection (hundreds of works) to the museum.[3] She was married to Robert Malcolm Littlejohn (b. 1874, who was listed on census documents as a bank clerk in 1910 and an importer in 1920. They had one daughter, Charlotte Townsend Littlejohn who was married in 1929 to Edward Norris Rich, Jr. in St. Andrews Dune Church.

I am currently reading At Home; A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (I highly recommend it.) In the introduction, the following statement is made which has really stuck with me: “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”

Property Owners (present to past):
Great Plains Realty Co. Inc. (Emmet Blot, Madeleine Blot; 1983-present)
Estate of Cecile J. Johnson (1982-1983)
Estate of Harold F. Johnson (1954-1982)
Rebecca Bolling Littlejohn (1926-1954)
Edwin W. & Martha D. Shields (1919-1926)
Henry Lyman Dyer
Edward Tiffany Dyer (1909)
Charles & Lucie Lee (1891-1909); of Orange, New Jersey; $4,200; less than 7.75 acres
Charlotte M. Schermerhorn (1881-1891); 7.75 acres; $2,400
Augustus E. & Harriet Halsey, vacant
Albert Hildreth, vacant

[1] New York Times, Jan. 2, 1921
[2] Elmwood Cemetery Society, Kansas City, Missouri
[3] New York Times, Nov. 6, 2009

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