Knollwood: The Estate and Its Owners

 

Knollwood 1

Knollwood with Garden Facade

“Knollwood”, one of architects ‘Hiss & Weekes’ most beautiful country-house commissions, was owned by a number of interesting personalities. It was built between 1906 and 1910 for Charles I. Hudson, a New York City stockbroker of the Gilded Age, at Muttontown on Long Island’s North Shore. The 60-room mansion had elements of Greek Revival, Italian Renaissance and Spanish styling with towering Ionic front columns with terraced garden and a dairy farm to satisfy his passion for raising Jersey cattle.

The house was palatially scaled and elegantly faced with smooth-dressed Indiana limestone, with design details borrowed from a variety of sources, including palaces and country estates by Palladio and Vignola built for Italian princes, and royal residences erected in France during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Inside, the house contained 30 rooms with paneling imported from England and marble fireplaces brought from Italy, as well as coffered Renaissance-style ceilings, much in evidence in the first-floor reception rooms.

Knollwood 2

Knollwood’s Interior

Viewed from the north, the most striking feature of “Knollwood” was its colossal entrance portico, balustraded across the top like the main block of the house and supported by four giant Ionic columns. In most other aspects, the north and south elevations were similar. At the ends of the two-and-a-half story main block of the house were single-story wings containing Palladian-style motifs such as arched French doors flanked by lower rectangular openings. Each of the wings, in turn, opened onto a deep loggia.

Knollwood 4

View from the North with Main Entrance Portico

Viewed from the south, the houses appeared to rest on a high basement, extending forward beneath the wide terrace at the back which overlooked the formal gardens. The terrace was reached from the gardens by grand staircases.

Knollwood 3

Landscape Design by Vitale & Geiffert

The formal gardens to the south of the house incorporated historical European precedents as well, especially in the grand scale and pronounced axiality. The landscape architect was Ferrucio Vitale. Like the great country houses of the British Isles and the villas of Northern Italy, the 150-acre estate devoted a large part of its land to commercial farming and pasturing. A stuccoed combination stable and garage building included space for 12 cars and apartments for chauffeurs, grooms, and gardeners. A poultry building and a hog house were also located on the estate, as well as an additional stable that housed farm horses, wagons, and implements. Accommodations included a boarding house for farm laborers, a cottage for the farm superintendent, and an additional cottage for agricultural workers. The presence in this farming complex of a large dairy barn for 140 head of cattle was not surprising in view of the fact that Charles Hudson took a lifelong interest in the breeding of fine Jersey cattle. A white-shingled guest cottage on the estate, designed in the Colonial Revival style, came with its own garage and stables.

Charles I. Hudson was successful and well-respected. He was elected to two terms as governor of the New York Stock Exchange. His tenure as head of C.I. Hudson & Company was not without its difficulties; the company was once sued by the brother of John D. Rockefeller and Hudson himself had his exchange seat suspended for a month following the assault of an exchange telephone operator.

Following Hudson’s death in 1921, Knollwood was sold to Gustavia Senff, widow of Charles H. Senff, director of the American Sugar Refining Company (later Domino Sugar). Mrs. Senff continued the philanthropy of her late husband, donating land in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills for Mount Tom State Park and erecting Senff Gate at the University of Virginia (she was a native Virginian).

Charles Senff McVeigh, an attorney and co-founder of the New York law firm of Morris and McVeigh, inherited Knollwood as trustee following the death of his aunt in 1927. Besides his law practice and philanthropic causes, McVeigh was an avid sportsman. He helped to establish the American Wildlife Institute which, in part, aired radio programs about land and wildlife conservation. McVeigh sold Knollwood to King Gustav S. Zog of Albania in 1951 for approximately $102.800.

Zog bought the estate to establish a kingdom-in-exile for himself, his family and 120 members of his royal entourage staffed by Albanian subjects. But the fact is that Zog never set foot on the estate and caused disdain among his Long Island neighbors by refusing to pay property taxes. Legend has it that the king bought the estate for a “bucket of diamonds and rubies” and Zog’s riches were hidden in the mansion. Vandals ravaged walls in the mansion searching for gems hidden by King Zog. The mansion fell into total ruin.

The estate’s final owner, Lansdell Christie, had a hand in many enterprises before World War II. Christie attended West Point and began his own marine transportation business. As a transportation office in North Africa during the war, he learned about extensive iron ore deposits in Liberia. Following the war, he made a fortune mining iron ore by securing concessions to mine ore in the region, seeing to it that Liberia benefited from the development as well. Progressive in terms of racial views, he befriended Liberia’s president William Tubman and helped to found the Afro-American Institute. Christie was also involved in Democratic politics. He was the largest single Democratic donor for the 1956 Stevenson campaign and a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.

By the time Lansdell Christie purchased Knollwood in 1955 from Zog’s parliament, the estate had suffered from years of neglect and vandalism. The terraced gardens were overgrown; the farm buildings were in disrepair. The local county works department of Oyster Bay pulled down the ruins of the home in 1959 for safety reasons. A garden pavillon remained for many years, progressively vandalized, until it was razed to its foundation, also for safety reasons. The most visible remains at the present time are the remnants of a double staircase to the old formal gardens, where traces of landscaping remain; some walkways disappearing under fallen litter and leaves, some columns, and the gate structure at the old entrance to the grounds. Seeing these remnants of this once magnificent mansions will certainly pique a hiker’s interest in the people who once lived there.

King Gustav S. Zog of the Albanians gets way too much credit and press for having owned the Knollwood Estate, the ruins of which are now part of the Muttontown Preserve in East Norwich with the gated entrance located on Jericho-Oyster Bay Road on Route 106.

All photos are from L.I. Country Houses and Their Architects, 1860-1940.

 

References:

Newsday Home Town

Wikipedia

The Freeholder, quarterly newsletter of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, Winter 2009

Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940

 

 

THE VILLAGE OF MILL NECK, NY – ONE OF THE PRICIEST PLACES IN THE U.S.

 

Old Grist Mill in Mill Neck

The name “Mill Neck” originated from the mill Henry Townsend built in 1661 with a grant from his fellow freeholders. The old saw mill at Mill Neck produced cut lumber in planks as well as turnings for balusters, columns and fence posts until few years before it was demolished in 1890.

The Village of Mill Neck, NY 11765 is located on the North Shore of Long Island in the Town of Oyster Bay. To live in Mill Neck, NY is to live in one of the most expensive addresses in the United States according to some exclusive magazine for the rich and the famous. Although I have my doubt to some extent. Forbes Magazine have listed Mill Neck as the third priciest address in the United States. Most likely because most of the wealthy homeowners are concentrated in that zip code.

I lived in Oyster Bay for 40 years and know the town and the surrounding areas very well. Mill Neck is right next to Oyster Bay and not all homes are in the million dollars price range. I know some friends who live in the area. Some are very wealthy and some are just ordinary folks.

The area that is called Mill Neck is a whole mix of areas. There are few streets very close to Oyster Bay which have a Mill Neck zip code and comparatively speaking have smaller houses on small property. Renville Ct. has a Mill Neck zip code but I will consider those as part of Oyster Bay. It is on the boundary of Oyster Bay and Mill Neck. Then there is the area called Mill Neck Estates which also have smaller lots and close to Bayville Bridge with mid-priced homes. The rest are all located in what I will call the real Mill Neck. These are the Mill Neck properties which get the most headlines as the most expensive homes in the United States having big mansions on huge properties.

Mill Neck is a lovely community with rolling hills and big properties. It overlooks Oyster Bay Harbor to the east, Mill Neck Bay to the north and Beaver Lake flows right in the middle toward the Mill Neck Bay. There is an ice skating rink near Beaver Lake. Shu Swamp Nature Preserve is close by near Francis Pond. Part of Mill Neck borders the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park – a 400 acres state park. There is also a horse farm in the area.

 

Mill Neck Manor

The Mill Neck Manor (Picture above) looks like an English Castle. When my older son went to school in England, I sent him a postcard of The Mill Neck Manor. “Guess where this is? It’s here at home,” I wrote him. The Mill Neck Manor is located on a big property with a 35-room Elizabethan Manor House completed in 1927 for Mr. & Mrs. Robert Dodge. The whole manor house was imported from England and reassembled in Mill Neck brick by brick.

Mill Neck Manor by oldlongisland.com

Part of the ground of Mill Neck Manor in back of the manor house by oldlongisland.com

 

Apple Festival

The Apple Festival at Mill Neck Manor located close to the long driveway to the manor house. On the left is the Apple Festival and on the right is the parking spaces for visitors. The place is huge.

Later, it was sold to the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf in 1947 after Mr. & Mrs. Dodge passed away. It is now called the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf where the annual Apple Festival is held every first weekend in October. The Village Hall is located on Frost Mill Rd. near the Mill Neck Manor.

 

Humes Japanese Garden.jpg

The John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is located in Mill Neck. It is probably the best kept secret in town. Very few people know it is there. It is open to the public. It used to be owned by John P. Humes, a former Ambassador to Japan who brought the idea of Japanese Garden to his Mill Neck home. Now the garden is a preservation project of the Garden Conservancy.

There used to be a railroad station in Mill Neck which catered to the wealthy residents of Mill Neck during the Gold Coast era. Long Island Railroad closed the Mill Neck train station a few years ago due to the fact that only one passenger took the train from Mill Neck station. Most residents of Mill Neck either take the train from nearby stations in Oyster Bay or Locust Valley which are so close by.

Until next time. Let’s keep exploring Long Island.

Rosalinda

Limited Time Deal for “The Wentworth Legacy” – One Week Only

Starting Wednesday, July 11, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. PDT and ends on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 12:00 a.m. PDT when it goes back to its regular price of $6.99. you can order the kindle copy of The Wentworth Legacy for $1.99 at Amazon.com. Click here to buy now.

The Wentworth Legacy

 

In 1927 while on a Grand Tour, Spencer A. Wentworth, a young scion of a wealthy old banking family of Long Island, New York Gold Coast, receives an urgent telegram to come home immediately. No explanation.

 Upon arriving home, he was handed a huge responsibility that he was not prepared for.

As the stock market begins to collapse, he is plagued with worries that the family will lose everything including Wentworth Hall, his ancestral home. Honoring his promise to preserve it, he is determined to save Wentworth Hall at any cost including the loss of the woman he loves.

It is a tale of responsibility, love, betrayal and suspense during the Gilded Age with a backdrop of a way of life long gone.

 

Take advantage of the Limited Time Offer. Get your copy today!

 

Until next time. Stop and smell the roses.

 

Rosalinda Morgan

 

Muttontown, NY and the Muttontown Preserve

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.

Nassau Hall

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.

Sandy, Pat and LM at Nassau Hall

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.
Chelsea 2

The Chelsea Mansion

 

Chelsea 3

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.

Chelsea 4

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.

Muttontown Preserve Ruin 2

From Flickr.com

Muttontown Preserve Ruin

From Yelp.com

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.

Sources:

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.

Rosalinda