As the RMS Olympic continued toward the New York Harbor, Spencer Wentworth crossed the huge hall with luxurious carpeting and splendidly decorated for the first-class passenger. He aimed toward the door leading to the outside deck, where he would join some first-class passengers enjoying the last few nautical miles of the voyage. As the ship entered the New York harbor, the fog was low but not as thick as the fog that enveloped London when he left his London home to come back to New York. Spencer could barely see the outline of the Statue of Liberty. He still could not hear the pulse of this great city from across the water.
Half an hour before sunrise, New York, the most garish of the Atlantic ports, was beautiful as seen in the distance from the waters of the harbor with the fine mist softening the outlines of the new modern tall buildings. No city port in the world could compare to New York Harbor against the magnificent backdrop of the new towering superstructures that dominated the landscape. It was an impressive sight to behold as you enter the harbor.
The foghorn whistled, and he knew they finally arrived. He would be in Meadow Brook soon.
Meadow Brook! Yes, Meadow Brook and Wentworth Hall, his childhood home.
Spencer sighed with relief that they made it to New York unscathed despite the one-night storm across the sea. He was glad to be returning home to Wentworth Hall, the 40-room mansion on more than 500-acre estate built by his grandfather. He could not wait to know what was so urgent that their family’s lawyer, Alistair Prescott, summoned him to come home.
Alistair Prescott, their family’s attorney, began his career at a small law firm but rose to prominence when he opened his law firm. During the Gilded Age, he became counsel to famous business magnates living on huge estates on Long Island North Shore. These businessmen owned palatial residences propelled by the tremendous fortunes earned in railroads, shipping, steel, oil, and coal. Alistair Prescott also represented some of the old money, names who occupied pages of the Social Register like the Wentworths. Alistair Prescott lived nearby in a 20-room brick house on a 100-acre spread in Cove Meadow named “The Lilac Walk,” appropriately named for all the lilacs grown along the driveway.
The New York harbor was busy more than ever with the bustling sound and activities as when Spencer left home three years ago. New York was still beastly loud and fast. New York, the least smoky of big cities, was beginning to stir up, suddenly awake. The water was opalescent under a gray sky, cool and dim, slightly ruffled by the wind that followed the ships from the sea. A few streamers of smoke flew above the city. The body of water was large, so the rising skyline did not appear to be towering above one as when they looked up close by from the street. The impression was of long buildings stretching down to the water’s edge 0n every side and countless low black wharves and piers. But as you get closer, they grew and grew until they seemed to soar up into heaven. Tugs, steamers, ferry boats, and sailing boats scattered near the harbor as the RMS Olympic entered the harbor with the brilliant maneuver of a skilled captain of an ocean liner. A New York Port Authority tugboat came out to join them and guided the RMS Olympic safely to its berth. Amidst the beauty of the majestic building and the silver expanse of the water, the city seemed like a fairyland until you looked down at the water closely, and instantly you knew that New York was real and dirty with all kinds of debris floating by.
New York was noisy and frantic like all big cities. The noise, bustle, and frantic pace of everything made Spencer realize that New York was quite different than the other cities he had visited in Europe. This frenetic activity made New York vibrant and appealing to the best and brightest of the world and contributed to it being the financial and intellectual capital of the United States. From the rich diversity of its inhabitants and the new immigrants coming from Europe contributing to its vitality, New York would set the pace for American and global change. In New York, everything seemed possible through modern thinking emancipated from Victorian restrictions by the “war to end all wars.” The population changed with new immigrants coming in, and of vast importance, the economic boom. Along with these catalysts was the arrival of modern technology that brought about the bicycle, Model T, radio, electricity, electric appliances, motion pictures, and towering skyscrapers.
Spencer took the Grand Staircase to the lower deck, where several passengers were streaming to get off the ship to be reunited with welcoming friends and relatives. He went down the gangway alongside those passengers on the first class. Once they stepped onto the dockside, they headed towards Immigration, where Spencer joined a long line of passengers. As he came out of Immigration with so many passengers milling around, he wound his way toward the crowd looking for Paul Conley, his family chauffeur. With a multitude of people around, it took him a while to find Paul, who had been waiting for him outside the custom section of the terminal.
Paul Conley was dressed in his chauffeur’s uniform of khaki with black trim and his chauffeur’s hat complete with white gloves. He had a few wrinkle lines on his forehead, but his facial expression was the same. Paul looked almost the same as Spencer remembered him. He was still the most cheerful man he knew.
“Hello, Mr. Spencer.” Paul saw him and greeted him, always with his first name. When he was a young lad, Paul used to address him Master Spencer.
Paul Conley was an older man, now in his fifties, and had been in service with the family as far as Spencer could remember. He was of Irish descent and spoke with his Irish brogue, which was endearing. He and his wife were the oldest members of his family’s downstairs staff. His wife was the cook, and they lived in the chauffeur’s cottage on the Wentworth estate in Meadow Brook.
“Hello, Paul,” Spencer greeted the chauffeur, and they shook hands. “How are you? How’s everything at home?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Spencer. How are you? Everything is fine at home. The cook can’t wait to serve you your favorite dessert.”
“The chocolate soufflé! Mrs. Conley made it so perfectly. I can almost smell and taste it now. I’m glad to be back.”
“She knows you like it so much, so she made it today for your homecoming. We missed you, Mr. Spencer. You’re away too long.”
“I know. It seems ages, and I was ready to come home anyway when I got the telegram from Mr. Prescott.”
A boat steward in his white uniform was coming in their direction with a couple of Louis Vuitton trunks with SAW initials on them. Paul saw him pushing a trolley with a couple of trunks. Pointing to the boat steward coming their way, Paul asked, “Mr. Spencer, are those your trunks?”
Spencer turned around and saw the boat steward with a couple of trunks. He looked at the trunks and saw his initials on them. SAW for Spencer Ashforth Wentworth. “A” stands for Ashforth, his mother’s maiden name, and his middle name. He wanted to make sure they were his. With so many Louis Vuitton trunks on board the ship, you never knew which one was yours.
He nodded. “Yes, they are mine,” he said to Paul.
Spencer motioned to the boat steward.
“You may leave them here,” Spencer said.
The steward was about to place the trunks next to Spencer. He looked at Paul and said, “I can take them to your car, sir, if you want. Where are you parked?”
“Over there.” Paul pointed to a parked Green Model “A” Town Car. They all walked together to the waiting car. Paul and the boat steward put the Louis Vuitton trunks on the rear of the car.
Spencer took some money from his pocket and gave the boat steward a tip.
“Thank you, sir,” the boat steward said.
“Good day, sir.”
“Good day, and thank you.”
Spencer hopped on the passenger seat in the back of the car, and Paul took his driver’s seat. Spencer could smell the newness of the car.
“How long have you driven this car?” he asked Paul.
“Just a month, Mr. Spencer. It just came out of the factory. Your father was one of the few lucky ones to purchase it. Ford just introduced it in February.”
“Great looking car.”
“It is, and it drives beautifully.”
They drove through New York City. They had only gone few blocks from the terminal, and already the city was teeming with activity. All around them, people moved fast and heedless of the traffic. Men darted in and out hurriedly across intersections, dodging oncoming cars and carriages. A man entered a coffee house with a newspaper tucked under his arm, and they could smell coffee roasting and biscuits baking from the street. Another man came out of the coffee house eating his sandwich as he walked briskly toward his destination. A woman wearing a fancy hat and carrying a shopping bag came out of a store and walked fast. Spencer kept reminding himself that this was New York, his hometown where everyone was in a hurry.
As they drove their way up Tenth Avenue, they saw vast freight yards and factories that lined the street and the frenzied activities around them. Teams of horses drew huge rolls of paper to printers’ shops or bales of cotton and wool to textile mills. They passed slaughterhouses with their malodorous smell as well as soap factories with their dizzying fragrance. Delivery men were loading their wagon with newly made home furnishings. They heard the men shouting orders to one another in various accents like a bubbling Babylonian in the Bible. Despite their bustling activities, New York was nothing like London. It was still young, a new city where every street and building spoke of speed and modern ways. It was the city of the future and a city of commerce. The new buildings, with their soaring architecture, bespoke of progress and ambitious goals.
Ahead of them, a wagon laden with building materials moved so slowly, heading for uptown where most construction was going on. They heard more cursing and yelling from drivers as they fought their way through Eight Avenue into midtown. Slowly, the factories had now given way to neat, well-kept shops and huge houses. New mansions were sprouting everywhere. Spencer’s family owned one of these big mansions on Fifth Avenue. The house stood back from the avenue and was approached by wide steps leading to an iron-grilled entrance. Spencer was not going to his home in the city but going straight to Meadow Brook. His family wanted him home at Wentworth Hall in Meadow Brook.
They drove to the Queensborough Bridge, which was built just over ten years ago, into Long Island under a light shower. Spencer caught a glimpse of the Steinway Piano Factory sign. They passed wagons carrying newly minted pianos from Steinway Piano Factory for delivery to Long Island customers with newfound money. Paul slowed down and then picked up speed when they reached Frederick Floyd Parkway, the road leading to Long Island.
As the green Model “A” Town Car roared up the Frederick Floyd Parkway, the rain had stopped, and the sun began to filter through the gray clouds. Paul, the Wentworth chauffeur for some twenty-plus years, knew the road like the palm of his hand, anticipating the bumps and twists, slowing when necessary and picking up speed when there was a clear stretch of road before them. Spencer gazed dully at the surrounding landscape. His mind turned to the telegram he received from his family’s attorney. Why did the attorney want him home? What was so pressing that he had to come home immediately? The answer, he would soon find out. Alistair Prescott did not explain. Spencer was intrigued, and the timing was right. He was getting tired of London and was wanting to go home anyway.
Paul drove quickly along the parkway, and after an hour, they were already well beyond Mineola and headed toward Westbury and making good time. The traffic now was relatively light. Spencer settled back in his seat and closed his eyes. In an hour, he would be home in Meadow Brook. They passed Westbury into Jericho, past the Meadow Brook Country Club, where his parents and other family members went fox hunting or enjoyed watching the polo matches.
Meadow Brook was a wealthy village in the town of Oyster Bay. It was located between Jericho to the south and Oyster Bay to the north. In the last century, Meadow Brook was a farm and woodland backwater. Still, it changed drastically as wealthy millionaires built immense estates in and around Meadow Brook with sweeping vistas and a whole cadre of servants to maintain the high standard of living. By the mid-1920s, there were so many huge estates in Meadow Brook, a part of what would become the North Shore Gold Coast. The North Shore is the area along Long Island’s northern coast, bordering Long Island Sound, where the terrain is hilly and the beaches more rocky than the flat land and sandy beaches of the South Shore. The South Shore is the area along Long Island’s Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
A couple of miles further north, they entered an imposing gate, one of the largest set of eighteenth-century iron gates in Long Island. This one-of-a-kind gate was imported from England when the senior George Wentworth, Spencer’s grandfather, built his house here surrounded by over 500 acres of a rolling landscape. Since England encountered hard times after World War I, some of these national treasures of England found their way onto American soil into the hands of wealthy Americans amidst some protests from the British. Skilled artisans superbly crafted the intricate design of the magnificent gate. There was no mistake about it. The gate had a big “W” on top, with the beginning and end of the letter turning in a curlicue like the swirling curve of an unfurling fern frond.
They entered the gatehouse, a brick building with an arch opening in the center acting as porte cochere. There were four mullioned windows on either side of the arch. The arch had a keystone at the center on top, which gave it an elegant look. On the roof in the center of the building were a cupola and a widow’s walk with a railing around it. There were two chimneypieces on both ends of the roof. A trio of dormer windows with the eaves looking like eyebrows stared at you as you arrived. A molding of egg and dart design graced the eaves. There were some plantings of shrubs and trees on both sides of the driveway leading to the gatehouse.
They continued the two-mile drive, with the road twisting and turning like an enchanted ribbon as they went along. They passed long meadows with grass swaying in the wind. Some trees, oak, maples, hemlock, elm, and pine trees, were scattered about in the distance. They passed a colonnade of trees whose branches nodded and intertwined with one another and formed a canopy and darkened the drive. Then the drive opened up to a clearing. They drove through rows of pleached hornbeam trees shorn to perfection as they neared the house leading to the cobbled courtyard of Wentworth Hall.
“Mr. Spencer?” Paul slowed the car and glanced at the mirror.
“Yes, Paul. What is it?”
“I just realized you hadn’t seen the house with the new extension. The house that you knew had tripled in size.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“You’ll love it. Your grandfather extended the house right after you left for England. He had in mind a large and impressive estate just like those you see in England. Since the house sits on the highest elevation on the estate, it looks magnificent. The architect made it look like it had been there all the time. I mean, the addition blends in beautifully with the original house. You’d think it was always there. He added indoor tennis & swimming pavilion, several holes of golf on the property, a U-shaped carriage house for his five Rolls Royces, and enlarged the gardens.”
“Really? Leave it to Grandfather.”
“He hired Delano & Aldrich, the New York architects, to do the extensive renovation and extension to the original house. They did a wonderful job.”
“What happened with Warren & Wetmore, who built the house in 1904?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Spencer. But Delano & Aldrich are designing plenty of houses around the area, and I guess your grandfather liked him. I heard Delano and Aldrich was also commissioned by Mr. Egerton Winthrop Jr. down the road to building a house modeled after Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.”
“Well, I guess that says something,” Spencer said.
“There has been so much construction lately. All the new millionaires are moving in and building huge houses. Further down the road, there is a French Normandy-style home built for Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Moore just after you left. I understand this one has a moat around the mansion.”
“A moat? What for? Did they think the Vikings will invade them?” Spencer said with a smile on his face. Paul was amused.
Spencer thought for a moment about this new information from Paul. His grandfather wanted to keep up with the Joneses, although he didn’t have to. His family had been here before all of them. After all, his grandfather was a member of the Sons of the Revolution. Not many people could say that. Maybe he liked Delano & Aldrich better than Warren & Wetmore with that grandiose design of which they were well known. That includes the chapel at Greenwood Cemetery, where most of the notables, including his deceased ancestors, were buried, which reminded them that his architectural-designed structure would be the last thing they would be in before they went to their grave. Warren & Wetmore’s designs were too ornate, and Delano & Aldrich’s designs were something new, and blending the two designs was quite refreshing.
Paul started saying, “You know, your grandfather always thought of you. He always talked about you when I drove him to the city. He thought you’d love the house since you love England very much. He even hired the best landscape architect, Umberto Innocenti, to design the ground to complement the house. Trees, hedges, and ponds were arranged to develop walking paths. Various gardens were installed and planted with blooming flowers and shrubs to provide color at all seasons. The result is fabulous. Since the house is so far from the main entrance and sits on top of a hill surrounded by a vast tract of rolling land, it looks magnificent.”
“I can’t wait to get to see it.”
“We’re just a few hundred yards away.”
Spencer looked out at the surrounding vista and felt a pang of anguish as he thought of his grandfather. He was sad that he missed his funeral. How he wished he was home during his dying days. He wondered what he thought when he added the extension. The old house was grand enough as it was. Why add more to it? Paul just mentioned his grandfather said he would like the new home. What does that mean? He didn’t see any reason why not.
There were many regions where there were a lot of great estates. Many significant cities had great estates like Philadelphia’s Main Line, Pittsburgh’s North Side, Boston’s own North Shore, New York’s Westchester County, and the Hudson Valley, Fairfield County in Connecticut, Chicago’s North Shore, and the list goes on. But Long Island was definitely where the concentration of them was, especially on the North Shore. East End resort areas and part of the South Shore in Long Island also boasted some magnificent estates. Long Island’s natural beauty, its pristine shoreline and ocean beaches, proximity and easy access to New York City, and its suitability for yachting and other recreational pursuits made it the perfect place for the leisure class. These areas were the pinnacle of grandeur in all styles of architecture and the surrounding acreage with its beautiful gardens that only money could buy.
One only had to look in the Social Register and be amazed at how many of them owned magnificent homes on Long Island and another home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. They owned large estates on Long Island, which they called places. Some had palaces in Newport called cottages, duplexes on Fifth Avenue, which they simply called houses. They also lived on the better streets of America’s larger cities and the more affluent of these cities’ suburbs. The Astors, the Hearsts, the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, and many others, had built palatial homes on Long Island. Though Newport was probably the most famous gathering place of the American rich, Long Island possessed the greatest and most exciting assortment of houses designed for the rich and the super-rich. Here was the playground for the very rich where they indulged in fox hunting and polo games at the Meadow Brook Country Club, yachting, fishing, aviation, golf, tennis, and duck shooting.
As they rounded the bend, Spencer saw the outline of the house perched on top of a hill. They were almost near the house. As they approached, he saw the magnificent brick structure, a lovely Georgian-style mansion peeking from another wrought iron gate flanked on both sides with a brick pillar topped by a round ball and high yew hedges flanking the gate. He could see the brick façade with its fluid lines and classical pr oportions that gave it such perfect balance. Two pairs of magnificent reeded columns of the Corinthian order capitals flanked an archway of the handsome portico with wide marble front steps. Several chimneypieces were protruding from the rooftop of the central building and many more from the adjacent wings. The house, with its symmetrical design, had an identical wing on both sides. Few steps to the portico lead to the central entrance hall. There were numerous tall shining windows, looking out onto fine green lawns and gardens.
They reached the cobbled courtyard of Wentworth Hall. The car drew to a halt in front of the steps leading up to the massive front doors. Spencer looked up at the three-story center block of the house flanked by two large wings. The whole house was rendered in brick and roofed with slate. He peeked through the car window and spoke to Paul.
“Good Lord, I know what you mean. I feel like I haven’t left England.” He laughed.
“That’s it, sir. The inside is as grand as the outside. Your grandfather said it’s like an English country estate.”
“Well, it sure looks like one.”