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.

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