Sunday, May 22, 2011

Two "old house" stories (1 of 2)

The other day, a friend told me a story about about a man who fell in love with an enormous old house. So besotted was he by the prospect of picking up a palazzo for a proverbial "song" (not the house in the photo above) that he willingly sacrificed the affordable security of northern Westchester for a 30,000 square foot mansion with a mile long driveway and a ten thousand gallon oil tank. One day, my friend decided to pay a visit to his mansion loving pal. While stepping from his car, he spied a lone figure far away on the vast lawn, pushing a 38" lawn mower. At that moment, he knew the big old house lover was doomed.

This is the same house as the one above, but with an enormous addition dating from the 1920s. The house was called Edgewood, built originally for Frederick Jones in the 1890s, purchased and enlarged in 1903 by Harry Harkness Flagler. The image directly above shows the house after the second addition which, from an aesthetic standpoint anyway, was not a complete success. Edgewood might not have been beautiful, but it certainly was imposing. Flagler's father was Standard Oil partner and Florida railroad and hotel tycoon, Henry Morrison Flagler.

This view shows the Millbrook Hunt meeting on the terrace at Edgewood, probably during the mid-1920s. It is a scene enacted to this day - complete with all the period "bells and whistles" - albeit no longer in front of the Flagler house.

Here's the view those luxurious ladies and gentlemen above enjoyed on that morning so many years ago. It's the same view today, and the hunt is in many ways the same hunt too. When Harry Flagler died in the early 1950s, he left Edgewood to his widowed daughter, Mary Flagler Cary. She was a woman with a passion - nay, a fixation - on trees, and was never happy unless planting, pruning and/or moving enormous specimens all over either this or another nearby property. The Cary Institute for Ecosystems Studies, on the other property, was her gift to posterity. Edgewood was her gift to a nephew who wanted it like he wanted a hole in the head - and this in spite of a half million dollar trust established by his late aunt purely for the purpose of defraying the costs of maintenance and taxes. The nephew auctioned off the contents instead, tore the house down, held the land for a decade or so, then gave it to the Millbrook School to sell. Half a million bucks was big money in 1968. Let me see...what would I have done, had I inherited Edgewood and the funds to run it?

Here's a shot of a bricked path running down the north flank of the walled garden adjacent to the mansion. The 1920s were Edgewood's heydey. The estate grew in elaborateness and, not surprisingly, in the process it became a maintenance monster. Flagler liked to "do the thing handsomely," as they used to say - in the community, in his garden and in his private life. The clubhouse of the local Golf and Tennis club, located across the street from the main gate to Edgewood, was originally built for the wedding reception of Flagler's daughter Elizabeth to J. Andrews Harris III, then moved across the street after the reception. I suspect the enormous second addition to the house was built in anticipation of the Harris wedding. They probably needed the guestrooms.


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