Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hedge Rows, 484 First Neck Lane

This property is immediately north of The Mallows (with striped awnings, currently owned by television news anchor Chuck Scarborough) and immediately south of Mocomanto, two of at least 10 summer cottages built by the Betts family in the late 1800s. It was located at 484 First Neck Lane and known as "Hedge Rows" but no longer survives. Another home enjoys the site today (beige stucco), overlooking Lake Agawam and owned by David Bohnett. David is the head of his own foundation which strives to "[improve] society through social activism." He previously co-founded an Internet-based media and e-commerce company which was publicly traded on NASDAQ and subsequently acquired by Yahoo!Inc. He is also the Chairman of the Board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, a trustee of amfAR and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

There are few known surviving images of Hedge Rows, most of them post cards, and none of them featuring the home. The image at the top of this post is an enlarged detail of one of the many postcard views across Lake Agawam published in the early 1900s. Eric Woodward, a local architect, has an immense and invaluable collection of these postcards for which us 'history types' are constantly appreciative.

Charles Wyllys Betts (1845-1887), a lawyer in the same firm with his famous patent lawyer brother, Frederic Henry Betts (1843-1905), bought a 4 acre stretch along the western shore of Lake Agawam, then known as the Town Pond, from Albert J. Post in 1878 for $750. He and his brother bought practically all the acreage at the southwest end of Agawam Lake, even along the Atlantic in the late 1800s and created a quasi-compound of summer cottages for themselves and family members. At the very same moment which C. Wyllys bought this parcel, his brother's wife, Mary "Louise" Holbrook Betts (b.1847) purchased the lot immediately to the north - another 4 acres - from Mr. Post for $900 on which she promplty had Mocomanto built.

Nine years later C. Wyllys died and bequeathed his parcel to his sister, Sarah Eliot [Betts] Foster (b.1841). Within a year's time, Mrs. Frederic H. Betts, Sarah's sister-in-law, had an agreement drawn up ensuring that no structure would be built on Sarah's parcel east of her Mocomanto. See, Mrs. Betts was accustomed to her lovely view to the southeast, across the little inlet on Sarah's property, to the Dune Church at the foot of the pond. The Betts family was instrumental in the establishment of this church (several Tiffany windows in memorial to the Betts family survive) and Mrs. Betts was even known to ride in an authentic Italian gondola to worship services in the mornings. She didn't want anything interfering with this vista. Sarah likely didn't care, she lived in Buffalo after all.

In 1892 Sarah sold her undeveloped property to Walter George Oakman Sr. (1845-1922), a contemporary to the Betts brothers, and he built a summer cottage.

The home's architecture was in the Colonial Revival style with some Folk Victorian or Queen Anne influence. It was a two-story structure with hipped roof and dormers. it had symmetrical side-flanking chimneys and windows with shutters. Its most decorative feature was its full-width one-story porch which even extended beyond each end of the home and was decorated with gable ends and fretwork. Interestingly, the rear of this house faced northeast, almost directly at Mocomanto, rather than across the pond or toward the ocean.

Walter G. Oakman Sr. was described as a "railroad man" due to his involvement with just about any and all railroad companies that existed in his lifetime. Ultimately he also became the Chairman of the board of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York as well as other notable board appointments. Sadly though, when he married his wife, Eliza "Bessie" Conkling in 1879, her father, a New York senator, did not attend the ceremony of his only child, or give her away. The New York Times reported, "It is understood that he was opposed to his daughter marrying Mr. Oakman, who is a worthy gentleman, but possessing no great wealth." How shallow and ultimately short-sighted, for he did quite well for himself and his family. Perhaps his fortune even eventually rivaled the Senator's!

Walter and Bessie had two daughters and a son together. Their son, Walter Jr., was wounded twice during the World War, awarding him a Distinguished Service Order for gallantry.

In 1904 the property was acquired by Alvin W. Krech (1858-1928) who supposedly gave the premises its name, "Hedge Rows," and whose family continued to own the home for the next 51 years. A self-made man, Alvin William Krech was born in Missouri and began his career working for a flour mill but ultimately became a well-known figure in the banking and railroad industry as well as a supporter of the New York Metropolitan Opera and Philharmonic Society. He died suddenly in 1928 of a heart attack while at work. At that time he was the Chairman of the Board of the Equitable Trust Company.

The Krech family must have witnessed Hedge Rows' demise. As this post stated earlier, the home no longer exists but it isn't known exactly why. According to aerial views available online, it disappeared sometime between 1941-1954. I'm guessing from fire rather than a storm or neglect. Time will tell.

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