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Picturesque Estates of Nassau County 1899

 Millionaires Have Been Buying and Planning

It is only of recent years that the titles Westbury Plain and Wheatley Hills have come to have a more than local Long Island significance, that Glen Cove and Roslyn have been more than village names. Settled in great part by conservative old Quaker families, who took root on the island soon after the Mayflower had landed her historic passengers on Plymouth Rock, all these localities for over two centuries were far removed from fashion and the touch of increasing wealth. Now the opposite may fairly be said of them. That part of Long island that has been renamed Nassau County is witnessing the dying out of Quakerdom and the planting of superb estates, not a few of them mighty arrays of acres, arranged after the English county park order, where the old homesteads and farms once stood.

The picture cannot be painted too forcibly, nor can too emphatic sentences be used to describe the change. The entire face of Nassau County is altering and in a marvelous manner. Multi-millionaires have been for half a score of years buying and planning. The Quaker farms have been metamorphosed into wide areas of park lands. There is no end to the building of very beautiful country mansions, each set on its own rise of ground, framed in lawns and landscape gardens. Roads are being spread with macadam, and, more than this, the new landowners, when they see a road that is a jarring note in the picture, get permission from the authorities, close that road up and, in its place, at their own expense, build a new highway. It is, in all completeness, a new dispensation, and the country is fast growing to be one great pleasure ground, from Hempstead to the Sound.

New Purchases Being Constantly Made

Each month sees new purchases, the older estates extending, swallowing yet other farms, and new members of the wealthy sets following their leaders and choosing some portion of this vicinity for country gentleman's life. It has gone far beyond the old fox hunting stage that brought the central plain of Long Island into fame some fifteen year ago. The pink coat is but one of the factors in this remarkable new development that does not seem to have reached its zenith yet.

Only this spring there has been added activity in all this region, further spreading out, further important acquisitions that prove beyond a question what the ultimate destiny will be in very great part. This summer again has witnessed more important movements. There is little beside these new estates left in quaint old Westbury now, the Westbury that but a few years ago was simple farmland, the Westbury of that famous Quaker, Elias Hicks. Nearly all the best land of Wheatley Hills has passed into these millionaires' hands. William C. Whitney has added still further to his holdings, and the "estate movement," now limited somewhat to this direction because the most pleasing bits of country side have already been bought, is spreading in other directions throughout the country. Very nearly all the fine shore front of Glen Cove has been secured and has been laid out in goodly sized tracts. There is an estate or two down by East Williston.

Perry Belmont's Lease of the Old Bryant Mansion

No less a celebrity of the world of fashion than Perry Belmont has finally come to Nassau County, he having leased the old William Cullen Bryant mansion, Cedarmere, at Roslyn. The rumor is that he will soon buy many acres here. Harbor Hill, now a thickly wooded highland only, with an observatory the sole building upon it, at Roslyn as well, has just been purchased, the buyer being, according to the best authorities, young Clarence Mackay, who married Miss Katharine Duer, though it is claimed by others that this is a secret purchase of the Vanderbilts. And last of all, General Lloyd Brice has acquired the hill at Roslyn, opposite the Bryant house, the Dewey cottage, owned by the sister of that famous clergyman, the Rev. Orville Dewey.

The sketch maps accompanying this article show in rough outline, yet comprehensively, how these estates fit into each other, how they are spreading over the farm lands and little by little absorbing the county. Beginning at the center of the flat plain where, surrounded by a clump of trees, there is set the house, polo field, stables and kennels of the Meadowbrook Hunt, they stretch far to the north, well over the center of the island. At Roslyn there is now a new spot of estate holdings upon the map. But a little further on the estates of Glen Cove stand out, every fresh purchase closing in the gaps.

At Westbury the movement started. Some of the estates here have been so long established that, with their finest of grassy lawns, their well completed buildings and their perfect roads, it would seem to be impossible to put further finishing touches upon them. Yet appearances deceive. The modern multi-millionaire of these estates seem never to have finished. The great estate at Westbury, that has no workmen toiling upon "improvements" somewhere upon its acres is rare. Beside this new parks are constantly being created and new buildings are rising, such as this summer the very notable house of Foxhall Keene. Even ten years of planning have not made Wheatley Hills and Westbury one-half of what they will eventually be.

Directly in the vicinity of the Hunt Club there has been little of this estate planting, the preference being for the uplands, a little further to the north. But even here in Meadowbrook Park, as this locality is called there is at least one estate of considerable size. This belongs to Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg, and is very nearly 200 acres in extent. There are several dwelling houses upon this that Mrs. Ladenburg leases, one of her tenants being Miss May Bird of hunting fame. Near neighbors of Mrs. Ladenburg are George Eustis, a property of fourteen acres, on which Mr. Eustis has recently built himself a new house, and Ralph N. Ellis, master of Meadow-brook hounds, with a place of thirty acres.

Within the Bounds of Westbury.

It is not until one has crossed the railroad track, however, and is well within the bounds of Westbury that he commences to drive past estates of note. Three roads, northwardly bound, make up Westbury's driveways to Wheatley Hills. Take the easterly of these, sometimes called Hitchcock's lane, and keep on until it crosses the old Jericho turnpike. Here the great estates have their commencement. Along here there stretch J.F.D. Lanier's, Robert Dudley Winthrop's, E.D. Morgan's and Whitney's, with Albert Stevens', Stanley Mortimer's and Foxhall Keene's up roads to the left of these, all gathered into one great bunch, joined together, with here and there a gap, clusters of old trees and ancient lawns, with an antique dwelling half-hidden, some homestead that lavishly offered money has not been able to buy.

Such a homestead is that of one of the Hicks families, kinsfolk of that Elias Hicks who proved such a force in Quakerdom, now occupied by Rachel, Robert and Isaac Hicks, surrounded by immense trees and superb box, a house over a century old, opposite Robert Dudley Winthrop's remarkable new mansion, brave on its hillock. Such a homestead, too, is that of John D. Hicks, the authority on Long Island birds. And yet another must be added to this list, the old Titus homestead, 200 years of age, but a short distance away, a tree sheltered dwelling of great quaintness with many interesting traditions hanging about it. British officers lodged here at the time of the Revolution, it is said, and sat by the yawning kitchen fireplace. The path to the kitchen doors is today paved with cobblestones and this is said to have been the work of the British soldiers. A further story relates that when these worthies left the heap of coffee grounds at the kitchen doors measured three feet in circumference and three in height.

But the Westbury of today has little heed of such old wives' tales and of antiquarian research. It concerns itself with its park lands, each month more beautiful, its mettlesome horses, its visiting from estate to estate and its never ceasing building. Hitchcock's is the first estate on what is called Hitchcock's lane. Extending to the right of this road driving toward Wheatley to the east for a distance of perhaps a quarter of a mile, it is not in comparison with the Morgan and the Whitney holdings a large estate, yet its meadows are widespread. Eighty to ninety acres is its extent and the horse rules it in all its entirety. This could scarcely be otherwise, given such an owner as Thomas Hitchcock, jr., once one of the greatest polo players of the country and still perfect horseman.

The Attractive Stables of the Hitchcock Estate

The low lying bunch of brownish stables to the cast are this estate's chief point of interest. To east and south broad meadows of turf stretch out. There is, too, a mile track, little used now and grass grown. Horses are yet schooled on it, however. Next to the Whitney stables these are probably the best stables in this great colony, though there are not the steeds in them that pranced here once upon a time. This was another Titus homestead and farm. Save for its interior the old house has been little altered and is a delightful residence of strange quaintness.

Well under the trees, with antique old white gate posts marking its entrance and with finely bred collies tumbling about inside is the Rawlins L. Cottonet place of nearly thirty acres, next door to Hitchcock's, now taken by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney. Here, again, is a house that is old and of memories that, too, has been left unchanged. There is little of especial interest about the Cottonet house, however, and the eye is attracted to the Lanier mansion just beyond, perched on a high hill, with a wonderful view to the south of Meadowbrook, Hempstead, Garden City, with even a sight of the sea beyond the beaches and of ocean liners on clear days.

This is the house that the Clarence Mackays have been occupying and still hold, though in common with the other city dwellers in Westbury and at Wheatley they are passing the summer at Newport. Thus is this land strangely deserted at this season of the year. It is the spring and the late fall that sees life on these estates and the roads never empty of traps and steeds. By degrees winter is growing to be a favorite time as well for these estates on Long Island. Already are people commencing to make them their chief homes. The Dudley Winthrops and Mr. Whitney officially spent much of the year here, and others are following their example.

A dignified mansion of white  pillared at the rear, with a broad lawn here, from which the ground sharply drops, this is the Lanier house. It has the colonial effect, sharply accentuated by graceful lines and this fine rear portico with an imposing pediment. Close red window curtains add to the picture. There are hedges of California prinet, American and Siberian arbor vitae and in the white vases on the portico's steps have been placed Russian fir. No other house on Long Island has such beautiful landscape gardening. At the side there is a wonderful terrace carpeted with turf, which was originally intended for a flower garden, and may be put to that use later. In front of the house the driveway is set in a square of daintily blooming bushes, roses of Sharon and perennial phlox, pink, white and very nearly blue.

Robert Dudley Winthrop's Mansion

Robert Dudley Winthrop's mansion and lands, second only tot he estates of Morgan and Whitney, adjoin the Lanier place and extend tot he boundaries of Morgan's. Here the Wheatley Hills begin, this estate lying just between Westbury and Wheatley. There are 250 acres in the Winthrop holdings, this in main one of the old Hicks' farms, and it reaches over to the Titus farm to the east. The Winthrop house is newly built and is a very beautiful mansion, of a peculiar shade of brown, touched with white, and with a highly decorative white portico. Close at hand and a feature of the landscape is a water tank and windmill. Away from this house the land gently slopes in all directions, and the buildings stand out vividly in the sunlight.

More especially is there keen interest in the Morgan and Whitney places, which now appear covering together a great portion of the Wheatley Hills, and not alone because of their size. The two extend over some 1,350 acres, very nearly as much ground as all of the other holders of estates in this immediate region possess. It is the features of these two places, their locations and the buildings upon them that have given them such enduring fame. Neither is complete as yet, though Morgan made his first purchase of ground as far back as 1888, being, in fact, the second man to purchase an estate near the Westbury plain. The first man of all was Charles Russell Hone, a portion of whose purchases still remain in the possession of his widow, Mrs. Josephine Hone. Mrs. Hone now holds seventy acres. Charles Russell Hone bought 120, paying $12,000 for them, or $100 an acre.

As Farm Lands These Estates Only Brought $50 an Acre

This, the first of these latter day estate sales, furnishes the opportunity to give many an interesting fact and figure regarding the prices the old farm lands have brought. When they were thought of as only farm lands $40 to $50 an acre was a good price for the old holders to receive. But when the millionaires began to come into the market and started in with the buying of lands right and left, values, naturally, went a-kiting. Mr. Morgan bought the Henry Post farm of 200 acres for $20,000, an average of $100 an acre. Some of his other land he got for much less, one piece in particular, forty to fifty acres of back cleared land, esteemed of little value, at $33 an acre. Three more farms that he purchased cost him less than $100 an acre on the average, and his highest price per acre is said to have been $100.

Mr. Whitney's land, on the other hand, came to him at a much higher figure. Certain pieces cost $250 an acre and the average he paid is stated on the best of authority to have been not less than $150 an acre. These two men, however, had their proverbial good fortune in this as well as in other affairs of the world. The prices of land at Westbury and at Wheatley have run very much higher than these figures. Two hundred dollars an acre has been quite a common price, and as high as $600 has been paid. Foxhall Keene paid this latter figure for an estate of twenty acres a year ago, an especially choice bit of land, however, and one that is going to lead itself admirably to landscape gardening effects.

The Roslyn sale of the Harbor Hill properly noted above, understood on the inside, as has been said, to have been purchased for Clarence Mackay, shows the same appreciation of values throughout the county. Harbor Hill, including about 200 acres of woodland of the Stephen S. Tabor estate and a farm of 120 acres, owned by Mary Jane Willets, sold at an average of $300 per acre, some of it as high as $300 an acre.

Six hundred and fifty acres comprise the estate of Mr. Morgan, 700 that of Mr. Whitney, the latter figure including 100 acres that William C. Whitney has just bought; a piece of land extending north to the East Norwich turnpike. The Morgan land has all of it been purchased for some time, Mr. Morgan having even sold a little of his holdings to Mr. Whitney.

To the east of the road on these Wheatley Hills stretches the Morgan estate, to the west that of Mr. Whitney. their boundaries and shape in general are shown on the accompanying sketch map. The Morgan house is on the very tip of the Wheatley Hills, the spot that is said to be the highest on Long island. Though far inland there is an admirable view of the Sound and to every quarter of the surrounding country. On clear days even the Connecticut shore can be seen.

William C. Whitney's New Racing Stable

Long before his stable was burned several months ago, Mr. Whitney had prepared plans for a new racing stable, which is, in many respects, the most wonderful stable in the world. It is now very close to completion, and an excellent idea is to be obtained of just how it will appear when finished. It is 850 feet long and 60 feet wide and in its center has a cross 100 feet square. Around it, a part and portion of the building, is a covered gallery, to serve as a winter track for the exercising of horses, with windows along its entire length, in effect an enclosed piazza, half a mile long. The foundation of this stable is of red brick and these brick walls come up to the windows of the inside track, making an excellent bit of color effect against the brown grey of the building and the blackish gabled roof.

This is, of course, close to the famous Whitney track, a mile in length, with its half mile straightaway. Gleason, the trainer, can be seen on it each morning, jogging the horses around. It is a superb stable of horses that Mr. Whitney has. They are much scattered now, owing to the lack of accommodation on the place. Some are in Mr. Morgan's stables, others elsewhere.

Seventy-five carpenters have been busy on this stable all the summer. There is much new road making here, and at least as many more workmen now on this. An old road has been closed up and Mr. Whitney and Mr. Morgan are building this new highway between their estates at their own expense. There is, too, on the Whitney estate a private golf course and a host of smaller buildings, one of the most picturesque and attractive of which is the engine house, built on the brow of one of the golf hills, its caves of red quite touching the ground, its entrance literally through the side hill.

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Website: The History
Article Name: Picturesque Estates of Nassau County 1899
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Eagle Aug 13, 1899
Time & Date Stamp:  


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