Old Mansions Of The Bronx
( Originally Published 1921 )
This article, which is a continuation of the same subject in the 1920 Manual, completes the history of these interesting old homesteads so far as the eastern half of the Bronx is concerned.
The Child Homestead
A QUIET and unobtrusive residence rears its three stories just west of busy McKinley Square, enclosing within its walls and surrounding garden one of the finest private collections of curios and antiques in the borough. Entering through the fancy doors once adorning the Comfort Mansion, two stately grandfather's clocks face the incoming guest, while swords, halberds, curious shields and Revolutionary muskets recall the God of War. Within the drawing-rooms are found a piano and a large organ ; an angelus and a fine double-melodeon; a Cecilian piano-player and an elaborate "Cavioli"—a wonderfully charming device resembling an upright piano in appearance and a miniature orchestrion in depth and extent of tone. A second piano on an upper floor was used for duets.
The picturesque garden is alive with surprises. Tall Ionic columns have been blended into a charming pergola, with a delightful rustic bridge as a setting. A large, elaborate cupola of dazzling white forms a most attractive summer-house, while a picturesque log cabin fairly exudes the aroma of the distant Adirondacks. Decoy ducks, a metal chanticleer and iron dogs are close to a well-stocked greenhouse, while a white statue of heroic size rises gracefully from the lawn, a tiny fountain playing over it.
And the atelier. Fancy a Grecian temple, with columns from the old Cauldwell Mansion, and you have some idea of its beauty. The interior is as a well-regulated studio should be—sky-lights, round window, dark room and cameras of all sizes and styles. A Canadian goat's head, of intense blackness and large proportions and crowned with immense horns, looks down as if recalling the day when it roamed at will through the wilds and woods of Lake Memphremagog.
Gracefully waving Mexican pampas grasses adorn the eastern wall, and when drawn aside reveal the prize of the collection—a fierce tiger in a jungle. Never fear, he is behind the bars. And a curious iron box with crated sides was declared to be, not a lobster cage nor an old-fashioned foot-warmer, but a veritable trap to catch old bachelors. Massive six-story apartments tower high above this secluded nook, which is the retreat of Mr. E. B. Child, and he delights to roam through its mysterious mazes when not engaged in active duties. This splendid estate, with its five miles of shaded driveways, fully justified the romantic name bestowed on it, that of "Rocklands."
The De Lancey Mansion
Among the delightful glades at the southern end of Bronx Park, east of the falls and near the lower end of Bronx Lake, may still be traced the grassy terraces that led up to the smooth plateau where once the old De Lancey Mansion looked down on the peaceful stream below. Close to the water's edge I can distinctly remember the rustic boathouse that was the pride of this famous estate. In Colonial days, a most familiar sight was the great De Lancey coach-and-four, with impressive outriders, on its regular trips to the distant St. Peter's Church in the village of Westchester.
Towering high above all surrounding foliage, the tall De Lancey Pine is still a most familiar land-mark for all the region, vividly recalling those strenuous days when American sharpshooters, stationed across its dense branches, took delight in picking off British officers across the Bronx. In the days of the Revolution the majority of the De Lanceys were loyal to the Crown. James, son of "Peter of the Mills," and commander of the Westchester Light Horse, lost all his vast estate by forfeiture as a result. Before Bronx Park was, the mills opposite the old De Lancey Mansion still formed a familiar object. Their foundation walls with their picturesque arches are still preserved as part of the park itself.
De Lancey's Mills was the former name of the present West Farms, and old Johnson's Tavern, opposite the De Lancey Pine, was once the noted hostelry where the mail stages between Boston and New York changed horses for the last time.
On the site of the present Peabody Home, in Revolutionary days stood the formidable De Lancey Block House, so thoroughly destroyed by Aaron Burr on that celebrated night attack in January, 1779, in which hand grenades played so important a part. This sharp encounter is known by the name of the "Battle of West Farms."
The Lorillard Mansion
Queen of them all and situated in the most charming location of the borough's most beautiful park stands, north of Pelham Parkway, the old Lorillard Mansion, a mass of solid stone. Nowhere do the glades of Bronx Park look lovelier than from its commanding upper windows. With its sixty-eight rooms it is the chief attraction of this delightful natural playground.
It was erected about 1850 by Pierre Lorillard, and stands today as the home of the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences, the large parlors being well filled with all sorts of objects, quaint and curious.
That portion of the extensive Lorillard domain west of the river boasts a splendid hemlock forest, declared to be without an equal anywhere. How fortunate that this family preserved so well the natural glories of their immense estate, so that in our day its magnificent trees and velvety lawns have been appropriately utilized as a Botanical Garden of 250 acres.
Below the mansion, winding driveways lead to the graceful old Lorillard stables, stone-built and solid, which resemble in their strikingly picturesque setting a chapel rather than a stable. To the south-west, across Pierre Lorillard's famous "Acre of Roses," now the beautiful "Old-fashioned Flower Garden," still rises high above the river's brim the substantial old Lorillard Snuff Mill, whose ancient wheels proved so wonderfully efficacious in producing the immense fortune of their owner. In mansion, mills and wonderfully glorious estate surely old Pierre Lorillard "builded better than he knew" !
The Dominick Lynch Mansion
Clason Point, once a woodland and remote from city habitations, but now known as "The Coney Island of the Bronx," can lay claim to one of the very best preserved old houses in the borough—the Dominick Lynch Mansion. From its immense, lofty piazza can be obtained a waterscape worthy of the brush of the most skillful artist. The commodious structure stands in an extensive estate purchased by Mr. Lynch in 1793. Of its builder it has been aptly said: "He was the only Irishman I ever heard of that brought money to America."
In the immense hall a handsome fireplace of white-grained carved Carrara marble is still almost as perfect as on the day it passed from the hands of the artisans. Not many feet from this elaborate mantel was celebrated the first service of the Roman Catholic Church ever held in Westchester County, Mr. Lynch being a most devout member of that faith. How many are there who realize that in this very mansion the committee for choosing the American flag held an important session before finally proceeding to distant Philadelphia?
Other buildings have sprung up around the Lynch home as a nucleus, and the whole estate is now the Clason Point Military Academy. The broad Clason Point Avenue has usurped the place of the narrow and shaded country road. Countless trolleys and legions of automobile dash past in never-ending pro-cession, carrying hundreds and thousands past the doors of the old mansion.
The Willett Residence
Clason Point was formerly well known to history as Cornell's Neck, from the name of the original owner and settler. Sarah Cornell married Thomas Willett, and from them was named that ancient abode once standing at the extremity of the point. A structure of quaintness and antiquity, this old Willett residence dated from 1693 and was noted as having been shelled by the men-of-war of Lord Howe's fleet, as they sailed past on their way to Throggs Neck in October, 1776.
This old relic of Colonial days is gone, with its wonderful fireplace of curiously shaped flat bricks. A portion is saved by being built into the more mod-ern Clason Point Inn, a familiar landmark to passing craft. Beneath the roof of the inn's porch will be found this interesting inscription:
"In the year 1643, Thomas Cornell Bought This Point of the Indians. His Title Was Confirmed by the Dutch Governor "Kieft" and He Settled Here. Part of This Building Is the House Constructed by Cornell. It Was Burned by the Indians the First Year He Came."
The Old Wilkins Mansion
Looking eastward from the extreme end of Clason Point the Wilkins Mansion on Screven's Point stands out in bold relief. John Soreven, after whom the point was named, was a great-nephew by marriage of Gouverneur Morris and a son-in-law of Gouverneur Morris Wilkins, son of the Rev. Isaac Wilkins, once rector of St. Peter's Church, Westchester. Screven was the owner of this beautiful neck of land.
A short distance above the old Wilkins Mansion, and situated as far from the madding crowd as possible, stands an ancient wooden building, the old Wilkins farmhouse, dating from about 1765, in whose kitchen is an immense fireplace with an antique Dutch oven in all its glory.
This abode is noted as possessing a mysterious secret chamber whose recesses gave shelter to three loyalist clergymen, the Rev. Messrs. Chandler, Coo-per and Samuel Seabury, another early rector of St. Peter's Church, when they were being sought far and wide by the Americans during the early days of the Revolutionary War. They had their food and drink lowered to them through a hidden trapdoor, and in time they successfully escaped under cover of darkness across the Sound to the shores of Long Island. Go up to the second story of the old building and search behind the chimney. You will find the mysterious hole in the floor. Remove the trapdoor and you will be gazing into Egyptian darkness be-low, the very spot where the three clergymen were so successfully hidden.
Although repeatedly surrounded and searched, this house with the secret chamber succeeded in guarding its secret. Over a century elapsed and some work-men, vigorously plying shovel and pick, came unexpectedly upon an underground passage which must have been the very one through which these three clergymen made their escape.
The Old Ferris Mansion, Zerega Point
To the east of Castle Hill Neck the wooded glades of Zerega's Point extend far into the waters of the Sound. Not far from St. Joseph's Asylum and close to Westchester Creek stands what is known as the oldest house in Bronx Borough, the ancient Ferris Mansion. Built in two sections, the wing is the older portion and dates from 1687.
In October, 1776, a shot from the direction of the water startled Mr. James Ferris and family one morning so that they could not finish their breakfast, and acquainted them with the fact that Sir William Howe's fleet was in the immediate vicinity of his residence.
The early name of this lovely region was "Grove Siah's" so styled from its Colonial owner, Josiah Hunt, whose father, Thomas Hunt, had received it in patent from Governor Nicholls.
The Zerega Residence and Lorillard Chalet
Further along towards the end of this point rises the stone-built "Island Hall," the beautiful residence of Augustus Zerega di Zerega, and strongly resembling the stately Zborowski Mansion in Claremont Park.
At the extreme tip of this neck stands a mansion owned by one of the branches of the Lorillard family which in summer is swept by delightful, refreshing breezes all the day long. Appropriately styled "All Breeze," it resembles a true Swiss chalet in architecture. The location is where once the old Hell Gate pilots dwelt.
Two wonderful things Throggs Neck can well boast of—possessing that important fortification known as Fort Schuyler, dating from about 1835; and having been the landing place for the British army on October 12, 1776, when they debarked at the shallow bay at the end of the point, and marched northward, only to be disastrously driven back at the Westchester causeway in the sharp but decisive conflict known as the "Lexington of Westchester."
One of the finest of this borough's residences may be seen this side of the fort, the old 'Bijah Hammond Mansion, styled by Walter Rutherford "That Palace at Westchester." Erected in 1800 this splendid old structure still stands as in days of yore, commanding a magnificent prospect of land and sea.
To the west, the solid Robert Mansion faces the setting sun, once owned by the celebrated founder of Robert College in the historic city of Constantinople.
Still further along, a graceful cedar of Lebanon, planted by Philip Livingston about 1790 and declared to be the finest of its kind in North America, adorns the lawn; it is the chief attraction of the handsome Van Schaick estate, whose mansion with its tall, stately columns can hardly be surpassed.
The adjoining estate contains the handsome mansion, built of stone, formerly owned by the late Collis P. Huntington, an enlarged and beautified edition of the old Havemeyer residence of earlier days. The glorious marine views from this house and grounds cannot be excelled.
The Ferris Mansion, Westchester Country Club One of the most picturesque residences of the charming grounds of the Westchester Country Club is the handsome Ferris Mansion, with its cheery and inviting sun-parlor. In the midst of attractive winding driveways it is apparently all unconscious of that October day in 1776 when the British fleet left its anchorage at Throggs Neck and sailed up the Sound to Pelham Bay. Training their guns on this conspicuous house, the red-coated man-of-war's men were about to begin their work of destruction when the lady of the house came suddenly out, and by walking bravely up and down the piazza saved the old abode from annihilation.
Through a strange coincidence General Howe selected for his headquarters this very house that his gunners had all but attempted to destroy. The interesting incident of his visit has been succinctly told in these words : "While the family was at breakfast on that October day the British troops disembarked and General Howe and his officers rode up to the house. Into the building rode the company, some of the men even attempting to ride up the stairs. The hoofmarks are still to be seen in the hall and on the staircase, although in places a hardwood floor has been laid over the old one."
The Pell Manor House
Pelham Bay Park's 1,700 acres never showed to such advantage as they did when the United States Naval Training Camp was in their very midst near the City Island Road. Just north of this popular spot an almost obliterated depression close to the Shore Road is pointed out as the very spot where once stood the ancient Pell Manor House, dating back to the time when Lord Pell purchased his 9,000-acre estate, which to this day bears his name. Within a short distance to the east an iron railing marks the spot where the great Pell Treaty Oak once dominated the scene and marked the place where Lord Pell bought his vast estate from the Indian saga-mores in the year 1654.
Hard by is the tiny Pell burying ground, the ancient headstones being enclosed by an iron railing bearing the noted emblem of the family, a "pelican gorged." A white marble slab proclaims to the world that this is to "mark the spot where lie buried the mortal re-mains of several of the descendants of JOHN PELL, the son of the REV. JOHN PELL, D. D., and nephew of THOMAS PELL, the first proprietor of the Lord-ship and Manor of Pelham."
The old Marshall Mansion, "Hawkswood" by name, a truly glorious residence with immense round columns, looks calmly down on the ever passing procession of automobiles and the stream of fishermen on their way to City Island, the "Pearl of the Sound." Ensconced among its beautifully shaded lawns, it can almost rival in appearance the old Lee Mansion in far away Arlington-on-the-Potomac.
Further north and still close to the edge of the Sound, the old Bartow Mansion still presents its massive Grecian front to the rising sun. It was erected about 1850, and has long been the summer home of the Crippled Children's Association. To the south just across City Island Road stands Glover's Rock, proclaiming this message to the world :
In Memory of the 550 Patriots, who, Led by Colonel John Glover, Held General Howe's Army in Check at the BATTLE OF PELL'S POINT October 18, 1776, Thus Aiding General Washington in His Retreat to White Plains.
"Fame Is the Perfume of Heroic Deeds."
The elaborate Iselin Mansion is a familiar land-mark on the lofty crest of beautiful Hunter's Island. and is one of the sights of the surrounding country. Standing on what has been declared to be the finest location on the whole length of Long Island Sound, it was erected as early as the year 1800. Small won-der then that Joseph Bonaparte came so near purchasing it for a residence before finally settling at Bordentown, New Jersey.
Long known as Henderson's Island from one of its early owners, Dr. Henderson, a surgeon in the British navy, its great rooms formerly contained one of the finest collections of oil paintings in the United States. During the summer months this mansion has been used by the Little Mothers' Association.
A winding roadway leads across Hunter's Island to the Twin Islands, on the easterly one of which stands the splendid Ogden Mansion, from which may be se-cured another view of waves and water scarcely equalled in the whole region. As a seat of one of Jacob A. Riis's many charities, no more beautiful lo-cation could possibly be selected.
Hunter's Island Inn
Almost opposite the two white marble gate-posts inscribed "Hunter's Island," and near the northern boundary of New York City, may be seen the old stone De Lancey Mansion, now known as the Hunter's Island Inn. On its wall once hung a splendid portrait of Caleb Heathcote, in Colonial days Lord of the Manor of Scarsdale. Its location is particularly well known to all motorists owing to the exceedingly sharp curve of the roadway at this point.
The tale is told of some early navigators who, while sailing through the neighboring waters, ran full head on a large flat rock. "Why, captain," burst out the indignant passengers, "you told us you knew every rock in the Sound." "So I do," was the ready reply, "and this here is one of the very worst !"
The Vincent-Halsey Mansion
Once a distinctively rural and remote community, and now one of the fastest growing sections of the borough, the old village of Eastchester is truly being resurrected. Indian arrow-heads, wolf-pits and rattlesnakes have at last given way to the bundle-bearing commuter and the suburban rows of houses.
Just below the old and historic St. Paul's Church—erected in 1765, and variously utilized as church, hospital, court of justice and now as church again—might have been seen until quite recently a truly Colonial gateway leading to the truly Colonial mansion of the Vincent-Halsey family.
On this beautiful estate were burned during the troubled days of the Revolutionary War the old bell, the old prayer-book and the revered bible belonging to St. Paul's Church.
In 1797 President John Adams left Philadelphia, then the capital of the nation, owing to the sudden outbreak of yellow fever, and made the Vincent-Halsey house his home. The old library became the seat of government of the United States. The following letter tells of some of that early President's troubles :
East Chester, 12th of October, 1797. To T. Pickering, Sec. of State.
Dear Sir : I arrived here last night with my family and I shall make this house my home until we can go to Philadelphia with safety. If you address your letters to me at East Chester and recommend them to the care of my son, Charles Adams, Esq., at New York, I shall get them without much loss of time, but if a mail could be made up for East Chester, they might come sooner.
With great regards, etc, John Adams.