Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Hawthorne House," The Residence of George & Julia Leary

There used to be a summer estate named "Hawthorne House" (pictured above) right where a new home has been constructed on Meadowmere Lane. The new home is a virtual copy of an historic estate named "Ten Acre" which still survives and is located just north on Ox PastureRoad (photo below).

Hawthorne House, which obviously no longer exists, was built in 1920 (coincidentally the same year as Ten Acre) for George Leary by John Lowrie, Inc. Lowrie also built the high school, which is now Southampton Town Hall. In 1920, the Hawthorne House property spanned the distance between Halsey Neck Pond all the way west to Halsey Neck Lane (Meadowmere Place didn't exist) and encompassed approximately 25 acres. (1938 aerial below).

George Leary bought the property in 1919 from Frank and Louise White, who inherited it from George Gilbert White (1819-1893), a town trustee and a prominent village figure. The home was built in the formal Georgian style and was large and stately with many accessory buildings and manicured gardens. The main house was set back from the road and more centrally located on the property. It was clad in brick, had wood doors and windows, a flat roof with parapet walls, a roof garden, and a central cupola (image at top).

George Leary (1869-1942), an engineer and builder of drydocks, was the president of Morris & Cummings Dredging Company, established in 1823, which was said to be the oldest in the country. It built navy piers in Norfolk, Virginia, docks on Staten Island, and dredging work for Chelse Piers and South Brooklyn. There was even a steamer ship named George Leary which collided with a propeller boat in 1865 but did not sink.

George was married to Julia May Crofton (d.1935) "who was honored with the title 'Lady of the Holy Sepulchre' by Pope Benedict XV for special services to the Catholic Church," and was also frequently referred to as 'Countess Leary.' In 1927 George and Julia went through a very public separation and battle over infidelity, property, and wealth, but eventually made amends.

A descendant of George and Julia recently found this blog and contacted me. (I just love when that happens!) The Crofton-Leary family is ripe with entertaining stories which are bound to make it into this blog one of these days. Or maybe a book?

Naturally the Hawthorne estate included accessory structures. The carriage house was located, logically, right along Meadowmere Road, and was similarly clad. Later it was covered in stucco and altered as it was converted into a home (photo below). The carriage house no longer survives.

But I recently discovered another accessory structure that does! In the 1954 aerial below (where the main house is now gone), nestled next to the egg-shaped western garden you can see another building (white) to the west that was accessed both from Meadowmere Lane to the north and from Halsey Neck Lane to the west. Its still there, and it looks as if time has stood still.

Built circa 1940, perhaps this was the caretakers home, appropriately situated next to the manicured gardens. Below is an image of it today. Driving by a thousand times, you wouldn't be inclined to stop and say, "Oh yes, that was the caretaker's cottage to George Leary's Hawthorne House." You'd be more likely to say, "Look at that sad little house surrounded by mansions."

What gave it away? One day last fall I was visiting a friend that was in town for a week or so, and she was staying in this house. I went to meet her one morning, and when I pulled into the driveway I was immediately struck by the moldings surrounding the entry door and the windows in the center. They are very elaborately carved, with fluted pilasters on each side, panels below, and dentil moldings above. A little elaborate for a non-descript ranch. Then it dawned on me: this is the Hawthorne House's caretakers cottage. And I tell you, it hasn't changed a bit. I'm sure that won't last much longer, especially as the rest of the property's history has been obliterated. And to this day I haven't found out why the Hawthorne House was even demolished. I know I'll figure it out one day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Summer Home of Samuel E. Tillman, 81 Halsey Neck Lane

I have always admired this house, sandwiched between Claverack and Westover at the top of Halsey Neck Lane. Driving by dozens if not hundreds of times, I have found it to be such a stately home with a grand but not fussy presence. The owners over the years have seemed determined to keep up with its endless maintenance requirements, but they must have given up, or other circumstances arose, because this estate was sold for a pretty penny last April.

Built circa 1900 for Brigadier General Samuel Escue Tillman, the house is in the Dutch Colonial Revival Style with cross gambrel roof and dormers. It has nine-over-one double hung windows with louvered shutters (many of which seem mysteriously upside down), a three-bay wide front porch with paired Doric columns topped with a beautiful balustrade decorated with turned urns over each post. The wide entry door has sidelights with beautiful leaded glass divisions and is accentuated by the wide dormer above it on the second story with Chippendale inspired swan-neck pediment open at the top.

Samuel Escue Tillman (October 3, 1847–June 24, 1942) was an astronomer, engineer, military educator, and career officer in the United States Army who spent 30 years teaching at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. In addition to writing for periodicals on a wide range of subjects and authoring several influential textbooks on chemistry and geology, in 1917 Tillman was recalled from previous mandatory retirement to serve as superintendent of the United States Military Academy for the duration of ……World War I.” (Wikipedia)

Samuel was born in Tennessee and raised with at least five siblings on a plantation during the Civil War. In 1887 he married his wife Clara and in 1889 they had daughter Clara Katherine Delaplaine Tillman. In 1919 she married John F. Martin Jr. who was the Second Secretary to the American Embassy in London at the time. Both marriages were officiated by the same Reverend.
Samuel retired in 1911 settling in Princeton, New Jersey but continued to write. After being reinstated from retirement in 1917, he died nearly 30 years later at this lovely home on Halsey Neck Lane which was then owned by his daughter.

One of his brothers, A. H. Tillman, was the United States District attorney for awhile.
Hopefully the new owners are interested in preserving and sensitively improving the property, without removing a significant chunk of its soul as others have done in the recent past.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Mon Repos," The Home of Judge Monson

This lovely Shingle Style home was built in 1899 for Alonzo Castle Monson (1822-1902) and named "Mon Repos" which means "my place of rest" in French.
Alonzo C. Monson was a Yale and Columbia Law graduate. At the age of 23 he was a postal clerk in New York City where his brother-in-law, Robert H. Morris, was the postmaster, and his brother, marcena Monson Jr., was the assistant postmaster. Four years later he went west to Claifornia and became a judge. The San Francisco Alta claimed, "No more capable or efficient judge ever sat upon the bench in California." In 1857 he started his journey back east and sailed on the S. S. Soora after losing his house and his money in a famous poker game. He was lucky to survive the trip. At Panama he transferred to the S. S. Central America which headed straight into a hurricane. By the evening of Thursday, September 10th, "the seas were so rough that most people were sick in their cabins. Judge Alonzo Castle Monson later recalled that "the evening games of cards and other pastimes for diversion and amusement usual in the cabin were dispensed with. This must have been a disappointment to the judge, an inveterate gambler. Earlier during the voyage, Commander Herndon had been Monson's partner at whist; but on this night the commander had more important matters on his mind." (Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea) The storm instensified, the ship began to take on water causing its engines to fail and the passengers were forced to bail water, but without success. "Knowing the situation was hopeless, Captain William Lewis Herndon managed to hail a passing ship, the brig Marine, and one hundred persons, including all but one of the women and children aboard, were safely transferred to the other ship. Time and conditions would not allow for any more transfers, however, and shortly after 8 pm on September 12, the Central America began making its quick descent to the bottom of the ocean....In all, 153 persons were rescued, while approximately 425 lost their lives. Also lost were hundreds of bags of mail and the $1,219,189 in gold." (Columbus-America Discovery Group vs. Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co., 1992)
After building "Mon Repos," in 1901 Judge Monson purchased the large lot on the southwest corner of Cooper's Neck Lane and Great Plains Road with the intention of building but died before he was able to, less than a year later at the age of 80. That site would later become the location of the enormous and famous "Mille Fiore."
Judge Monson never married and did not have children. He was at one time president of the Knickerbocker Club and apparrently even one of its founders. He was also a member of the Metropolitan Club and president and treasurer of the American Jockey Association. His sister, Ann Eliza Morris, was married to Robert Hunter Morris, mayor of New York for three consecutive terms as well as his postmaster position previously mentioned. Upon Judge Monson's death, he left his entire estate to his grand-nephew, Monson Morris, and his grand-nieces, Helen Van Cortlandt Morris and Caroline S. Reboul.
It is erroneously believed that "Mon Repos" was built for Margaret Carnegie, only daughter of Andrew Carnegie, famous philanthropist and industrialist, but there is much evidence to prove that a misconception. First, the property was developed by Judge Monson. Second, Margaret Carnegie was only 2 years old when the house was built. Last, Margaret spent her summers in Scotland at Skibo Castle with her parents. Those with great wealth often have many homes, but Andrew Carnegie wasn't 'showy' or frivolous with his means, preferring to build libraries and other community amenities instead.
The next owner was a Carnegie though, but it was Virginia Beggs Carnegie (1878-1952). She was the wife of Thomas Morrison Carnegie Jr., Andrew Carnegie's nephew. She and her husband renamed the home "Clyden," after the Clyde river in Scotland near where Andrew Carnegie was born.
Florence Nightingale Carnegie Perkins (1879-1962) was the home's third owner. She was the 7th of 9 children and Andrew's niece. Known by her family as "Aunt Floss," she married Frederick Curtis Perkins, a lawyer, in 1901. She spent most of her life on Cumberland Island, Georgia which the Carnegie's owned. "Floss was unpredictable, edgy, a flighty sort of woman. She smoked long before it was acceptable for women. Family members said they didn't know how Frederick put up with her. A story says that she once papered a bedroom in the Grange [on Cumberland Island] in dollar bills and that her relatives made her take it down..." (Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses) Her son owned the home next but was then the last Carnegie to do so.
The home is now occupied by its 7th owner, since 2001. It survives today for all of us to enjoy, seems well-maintained and often occupied.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steeple Change?

The latest historic preservation scandal in our lovely Village is that the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton wants to, in essence, put a cell phone tower in its steeple. This historic structure was built in 1843 and is one of the most well known icons in the community. So far there have been two or three public hearings regarding this proposal in front of the Village's Architectural Review Board, and it's not over yet.
Cell phone towers continue to be a persuasive source of income for churches, fire stations, etc. and in these days of economic struggle, who can blame anyone for creatively trying to battle their financial woes? And the Presbyterian Church sure has tried to be creative, but they may need to go back to the drawing board.
Representatives of the cellular components are proposing to dismantle the 168 year old steeple, and some say even store it in the basement for possible reinstallation one day. Then they would replicate the steeple with Styrofoam and fiberglass and other materials that more easily allow for cellular transmission through them. After that, 8 cellular antennas would go inside. So, what do you think?
Wait, there's more. There's the whole issue of the clock and the health of its keeper. In 1871 a clock made by E. Howard & Company was added to the steeple and works to this day. It is thought of as the "Town Clock." Since its installation, its timeliness requires that it be re-winded every 8 days which has happened consistently to this day, more or less. But while the cellular elements are not harmful to the environment, from what I hear, they may be harmful to the steward of the clock, who would be exposed to something that these components are made of, or emit, to a higher and unsafe degree. Well, that's no good!
While I am sympathetic to the church's desires, I think this application should be denied. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation suggest that a building's original features can only be considered for replacement if they are too deteriorated to salvage and that doesn't seem to be the case here. I would rather see a cell tower somewhere else on the property - perhaps designed as a tree or flag pole - than the church's original fabric toyed with, setting a dangerous precedent for future applications. We'll see what the ARB decides.
Postcard image courtesy of the Southampton Historical Museum.