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.

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