Muttontown is an incorporated upscale village in northern Oyster Bay Township with a total area of 6.1 square miles and family income is one of Long Island’s highest. The area borders Brookville to the south and west, East Norwich to the north and Syosset to the east. It does not have its own post office and residents of Muttontown have 5 different zip codes – 11791 (Syosset), 11753 (Jericho), 11732 (East Norwich), 11771 (Oyster Bay) and 11545 (Glen Head). Based on the zip codes, Muttontown also has 4 different school districts – Jericho, Syosset, Locust Valley and East Norwich-Oyster Bay. From 382 people residing there in 1950, the population has grown to 3,497 in 2010 census.
Muttontown traces its name to the early English and Dutch settlers in mid 1600s who found the rolling hills ideal for the thousands of sheep that grazed there, providing mutton and wool. The first mention of Muttontown in town records occurred just after 1750, identifying it as a “former great sheep district” between Wolver Hollow (later called Brookville) and Syosset.
Around 1900, wealthy families from New York City established large homes in Muttontown as part of Gold Coast fever. There are three mansions worth mentioning when talking about Muttontown.
Delano & Aldrich, the prominent architect of the ‘20s made his first commission in this area. His first commission is the Christie House on Muttontown Rd. whose exterior wall was modeled after Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. This mansion is now called Nassau Hall owned by Nassau County. Nassau Hall was built by Delano & Aldrich for the Winthrop family and was known originally as the Egerton L. Winthrop Jr. House or Muttontown Meadows. The estate was purchased in 1950 by Lansdell Christie who had made a fortune mining iron ore in Liberia and called the place Christie House. His widow, Helen Christie sold the house and its 183 acres to Nassau County in 1969.
It is now the home of Nassau Parks Conservancy. At some point, I was on the board of Nassau Parks Conservancy when I had the Nassau Hall Rose Garden Restoration as one of my projects.
Here I was with the baseball cap with two of my volunteers. As you can see from the photo, the garden was overgrown with brambles and such and it was a big challenge when we started the project. We were able to restore three beds on the parterre when there was a reorganization of the Conservancy and the volunteers gave up the cause. We had no funding. I was buying supplies – soil, compost, fertilizer and roses to fill up the empty spot out of my own pocket. It was overwhelming. We were able to save some of the old roses.
While we were restoring the garden at Nassau Hall, the curator took me on a tour of the ground and pointed a wonderful huge statue hidden behind some trees as we walked down the driveway. The place was neglected for years. We walked around the property toward the pine grove. He told me Mr. Winthrop was a big collector of pine trees and Nassau Hall has one of the biggest collection of various species of pine trees in the country. We walked to an area where they still have the chicken coop, the gazebo which the Boy Scout was trying to repair and other neglected gardens in the premises. I could imagine the beauty of the place in its heyday. It’s sad to see a beautiful place not maintained properly. Nassau Country does not have the fund to restore the place.
The Chelsea Mansion
Looking across from the front of the mansion.
Nearby is another mansion located on the beautiful Muttontown Preserve. Chelsea Mansion with a French Normandy style architecture was built for Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Moore in 1924. Mr. Benjamin Moore’s great, great grandfather was the author, Clement Clark Moore, who wrote the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, otherwise known as “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”. Chelsea Mansion was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. One special feature of this property is the moat around the mansion, an Oriental influence favored by Mrs. Moore after a trip to China on her honeymoon in 1921. Chelsea is also owned by Nassau County and used now for various charity fundraising events and concerts in the summer. Locust Valley Garden Club moved our meeting place to Chelsea Mansion while I was president and our meeting place, Bailey House at Bailey Arboretum in Lattingtown was undergoing extensive renovation.
The parlor where the Locust Valley Garden Club met.
Benjamin Moore was the first mayor of the village of Muttontown (1931-1938). Mr. Moore’s died in 1938, and 17 years later Mrs. Moore married Robert McKay, a life-long friend. Mr. McKay died in 1958. In 1964, Mrs. Alexandra Moore McKay began donating portion of the property to Nassau County and over a period of 10 years, nearly 100 acres were donated to the County.
The county at various times purchased a total of about 430 acres from Christie for the preserve. With this acquisitions plus the Christie House, Nassau County created the 550-acre Muttontown Preserve which is open to the public. Muttontown Preserve is one of the most beautiful preserves in Long Island. An Equestrian Center for those who love horseback riding can also be found on its premises and is accessible at Route 106 entrance. During the early part of the 20th century, this area was a horse country. Fox hunting used to be a favorite pastime by the upper class. For people who love nature, there are miles of nature trails where you can go on foot or ride your horse.
Another mansion was Knollwood, a 60-room mansion erected by Wall Street tycoon Charles I. Hudson in 1906-1907. It had elements of Greek Revival, Italian Renaissance and Spanish styling, with towering Ionic front columns. It is part of the Muttontown Preserve. It was sold in 1951 to King Zog I of Albania. King Zog never lived in it. He was supposed to rule his kingdom while on exile at Muttontown. He sold the place in 1955 to Lansdell K. Christie. The mansion was razed by Christie in 1959 after extensive vandalism. You can still see some of the ruins of the mansion.
Because of the way village boundaries were drawn when Muttontown was incorporated in 1931, the landmark Brookville Reformed Church, completed in 1734 and historically linked with Brookville, found itself situated a short way into Muttontown, at Brookville and Wheatley Roads, where Brookville, Upper Brookville and Muttontown converged.
One of the mansions in Muttontown found its way into my book, ‘The Wentworth Legacy”. It became my inspiration to write a book about the North Shore. I was invited to tea at one of the big estates in Muttontown after I got married. The owner is a friend of my husband and he and his wife wanted to meet me. It was a big treat for me and I remembered all the details of the house when I was given a tour of the first floor and the garden. The place was located at the highest point in Muttontown and there was a long, winding drive to reach the mansion. It was quite impressive.
Hometown Long Island by Newsday; Long Island Country Houses and Their Architects, 1860-1940, edited by Robert MacKay, Anthony Baker and Carol A. Traynor; Wikipaedia and various conversations with the curator of both Nassau Hall and Chelsea Mansion.
Until next time. Let’s keep on exploring.