Monday, April 16, 2012

'Wheatly'

A shot of the rear of 'Wheatly', the E.D. Morgan III estate designed by McKim, Mead & White between 1890-1900 in Old Westbury. Click HERE for more on 'Wheatly' (be sure to scroll past today's post). Photo from the Elizabeth Morgan Jay Etnier Hollins archives.

27 comments:

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

I...

The Ancient said...

It would be interesting to know just how much guidance Morgan gave to MM&W regarding the design of Wheatly. (For example, he seems to have been very specific about Beacon Rock. It's hard to believe he would have been less assertive here.)

The Down East Dilettante said...

yes please

The Down East Dilettante said...

Ancient, whatever the degree of guidance, it is clear that Morgan was an imaginative patron. One house of such originality and high design quality can be luck, but two would indicate that architect and patron enjoyed an unusual degree of inspired collaboration.

The Ancient said...

Dilettante --

Exactly.

(Has anyone reading this ever looked at MM&W's office papers? Are there letters from clients in the files discussing design issues?)

The Down East Dilettante said...

Client correspondence between MM&W and clients exists, and is frequently referenced in books, but I happen never to have seen anything quoted in print for this house. I think the New York Historical Society has the great holding of office records--though if I remember correctly, Lawrence White gave away a lot of material to relevant clients and destroyed more, so it is by no means complete.

aarchibuff said...

The various images of Oheka from the link are fantastic.

Zach said...

The following excerpts are from 'Recollections for my Family' written by ED Morgan and published in 1938:

"As Newport was distinctly a summer home I felt the need of a permanent home which must be nearer New York, available for my city and business affairs."

"The more I thought about the locality the more I liked it, so I obtained an option on the hill (Wheatly Hill) and a number of farms totaling about 666 acres. It was the most easily recognized piece of land on Long Island, for the hill was bare for a while except for the two old cherry trees standing east and west from one another about sixty yards apart, and those we could see plainly from the transatlantic steamers."

"The final plans for the house were the result of many talks between Mrs. Morgan, Mr. McKim, and me, always advised by Mr. McKim and carried out by him. The result has been a most comfortable home, for which the family have great affection. All of the designing of the grounds was done by Mrs. Morgan and me, quite slowly and quite substantially; so it almost has been the work of a lifetime, which naturally makes it very dear to us, and it will be hard to leave it for good. I feel quite like Edgar A. Guest - "It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home."

"In November and December of 1890 we were much occupied in the finishing up of Wheatly, Mr. McKim having insisted on getting his commission only it its being lived in before the 1st of January, 1891. Much to my regret it was not finished, and Mr. McKim would allow no modifications on my part. As the work was progressing slowly we came to the conclusion that the only way to finish it was to move in, which we did on January 17. 1891, although it was quite incomplete."

Zach said...

Continued...

"The first few months at Wheatly were very instructive in the way of house building. In the first place our plan had been to have only open fires in the house, but when we moved in, the large hall, dining room and living room fireplaces drew such drafts through the house that it seemed impossible to keep it warm. In despair I asked Mr. McKim to come down. We put him in front of the library fire and noticed what we expected. First he put his hand up to his head more or less, to keep down the locks of hair that were lifted by the breeze, and then he began putting his hand out at the back of the chair, and finally he got up and said, "Terrific draft here. This must be stopped." Much research developed the fact that it could not be stopped if we only had open fires, so we had to put in furnaces, hot air, steam, and hot water, to warm the draft. Thus from open fires we made the radical change to what is called central heating, and now we have oil burners. I was, however, prepared for the change, because at the time of Edwin's christening big wood fires were built in all the fireplaces, but the crackling of the old chestnut wood kept me in such a state of terror lest the house would burn up that I made up my mind then that those fireplaces must be changed to soft-coal-burning grates. We have them still, all made from a very attractive model I found in Newport."

"When we moved into the house there was only the main building, with two wings and their links. From there we built the room which is now called the playroom, or ballroom, the lodge, the chapel, and the buildings containing the squash court, reservoir, etc. The reservoir was a pool about seventy feet long, twelve feet deep, and fifteen feet wide, originally intended as a swimming pool, but the water, which was pumped from a depth of four hundred and thirty-five feet, was so cold it was impossible to use it. Once during a weekend part when all the young people had been playing tennis on a very hot morning, one young man said, "Mr. Morgan, wouldn't it be nice to have a swim?" I agreed with him, but said the water would be too cold. He answered, "But there is a thermometer here that says seventy-three on it", upon which I replied, "That means a bath for all the men." having obtained bathing clothes or substitutes for all, we lined up at the end of the pool and with a "One, two three," we all dove in. I don't know when I ever had such a shock. It seemed that the sun had warmed up only a few inches of the surface, for when I afterward took the temperature of the water deep down it was fifty degrees."

"During the building of Wheatly Mr. McKim made the remark, "I deplore the absence of trees here." This remark I never forgot, and began to repair that deficiency by moving some which seemed quite large. They proved to be the first large trees that Mr. Hicks moved and from which, with his education on the subject, he gained much skill and business. Having found them to be successful I went farther with Mr. Hicks and eventually moved all the trees that were needed on the immediate crest of the hill to rectify Mr. McKim's strong feeling about their absence. When they were all placed and in leaf I had a photograph taken and sent to Mr. McKim, but alas he had too nearly crossed the Great Divide to appreciate the photographs. Mr. McKim always showed much interest in Wheatly, at the time he was made a member of the Royal Society of Architects; the plans of Wheatly together with more important buildings were submitted as examples of his work."

The Ancient said...

Thanks, Zach. That's wonderful to read.

Kellsboro Jack said...

Zach, thanks for providing that.

To the side point Ancient raised and its come up before - has there been any attempt to publish a definitive book on MM&W's private residences? There are a few books that selectively take on the firm's broad output but I'd love to see a well researched offering. Delving into the correspondence between the firm principals and client. One would think that's well in the 'wheel house' of Acanthus Press.

A significant aside - a lovely Detroit offering, which escaped "renovation fever", that is offered for peanuts ($445k) ... if only dis-assembly and transport were cheat and reliable.

As quipped by a broker:

"I'm shocked at the asking price. I know it hasn't flown off the market, but the roof alone would be $225,000 to replace. The foundation would be nearly that to replace," he said.

http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/article/20120414/BUSINESS/120413005/Photos-Historic-Detroit-mansion-back-market-after-36-years?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

The Down East Dilettante said...

Zach, brilliant of you to find these bits from the Morgan memoirs, and fascinating reading

Zach said...

I'd like to thank the family of Elizabeth Morgan Jay Etnier Hollins for providing me with the section from Morgan's book on Wheatly... it doesn't seem there are many copies floating around outside the hands of the Morgan family.

Zach said...

When Morgan says McKim had "too nearly crossed the Great Divide to appreciate the photographs" he had sent him I assume he is referencing McKim's stint in a sanitarium the year before his death in 1909?

If so that would mean it took Morgan nearly 20 years to plant the hillside at Wheatly.

The Down East Dilettante said...

It was a big hillside.

Zach said...

Some more from Mr. Morgan:

"The big playroom has given a great deal of pleasure. In the early days we had the Christmas tree there, to which we invited all the children from the school, about forty, all the children of our employees on the place, and with our own children to help hand out the presents it was great fun. We have had various entertainments, private theatricals of a very amateur variety, many dances. For several charitable entertainments we have lent the room, so that the receipts for tickets were clear of any overhead expenses. Also on various occasions we have lent the room for parties to the young people in the neighborhood, who formed a sort of New Year's Eve association, and then there were numberless holiday parties. The wedding receptions for our two daughters who had been married at our own little chapel were held in the "Big Room", as well as a reception after a triple christening, when three grandchildren arrived within two weeks of each other. At the coming-out party of our granddaughter Besty Jay all the electric lights went out suddenly, which seemed dreadful for a moment, but with the light from candles which we produced hurriedly from our neighbors and elsewhere, it proved to be almost an attraction, except for the fact I had to put in a new electric-light plant afterward. Sybil Jay's coming-out party was also held there in the spring of 1932."

Zach said...

Continued...

"For some time after we went to live in Wheatly I found the care of lamps to be a serious and unsatisfactory arrangement. Examination into the matter proved that the least number of lamps needed was sixty-five within the house. In consequence of this my mind turned toward electric lighting and I secured a great deal of information on the subject, but in all cases found it to be too expensive. Later on I met Mr. W.C. Whitney when riding one day and asked him if he had thought anything about electric lighting, whereon he told me his house was full of literature on that subject but that he had done nothing, on account of the high expense, so I suggested that we get up a company which would supply light to our neighborhood. He responded at once, saying that if I would take charge of it he would take as many lights as I would suggest. That was enough for me and I went ahead. To my surprise I found that in all that neighborhood I could get but five people to take electricity, Mr. W.C. Whitney, Mr. Clarence Mackay, Mr. Dudley Winthrop, Mr. Foxhall Keene, and myself. I do not propose to go into the history of the lighting company but merely to state that we were successful in getting the plant under way without the help of any middleman, but after the Interstate Commerce Commission had come into being we could charge but 6 per cent on our investment. I was the president, with the exception of a few months, until we sold out, which we did because politics were beginning to form a very important item in our policy and we were determined to buy no favors, so that after establishing electric lighting across the Island at that point we sold out and the name was changed from the Nassau Power and Light Company to the Long Island Lighting Company, which I understand has made a great deal of money and is now a very valuable company."

Zach said...

And finally:

"When I bought Wheatly the necessity for water did not play much of a part in my mind, but I very soon found out its importance, for there was no water on Wheatly for a large establishment except what could be obtained from very deep wells, four hundred feet and more deep. I had various experiences in getting water. Realizing I knew nothing of the subject, I made all my contracts, "No water, no money." Although I dug nine wells, only two of them were useful. A man named Galliene had a system which was entirely successful in keeping the water clear of the quicksand."

The Down East Dilettante said...

No! Not finally! More! More!

Really terrific stuff--wonderful insights to the place and times. Marvelous of the family to allow you to share this with us.

Anonymous said...

Geez...you don't realize the stress of owning an estate until you read this....we take everything like heat, water and electricity for granted these days.

Zach said...

Ok not finally...here's the rest...

Speaking on discovering Wheatly Hill:

"I became acquainted with it originally from hunting. One of the best drags we had was laid directly over those hills all along from Neucassel on the south to and over Wheatly Hill, then east beyond Jericho and south beyond Hicksville."

"Wheatly Hill had at the foot, on the northwest side, a small so-called village which went by the name of "Wheatly," composed of about five houses, and as it was Wheatly Hill upon which I built I assumed the name for my place in 1889, having bought most of the land of the village. It has always carried the same name, being spelled as I have described in some of the deeds, part of which went back to the Indians. The discouraging feature is that since my purchase of Wheatly Hill the whole vicinity has been called Wheatley Hills, much to my disappointment, and even the names of Wheatley Stables and Wheatley Kennels were taken for establishments in the vicinity, and the newspapers at times quote some of my neighbors as leaving Wheatly to make visits."

Zach said...

"This seems an appropriate time to call attention to the fact that while the Meadow Brook Club, as I have explained, started the sporting life in that part of the country, I think I can truthfully say that the building of Wheatly, the pioneer house in that section, started what is now known as the Wheatly Hills district, at the present moment on of the most delightful and usable suburbs in any part of the United States. I say this not because there are not many other beautiful ones, but because I think that in connection with its nearness to New York City, the possible simplicity of the life there, the sport of all kinds, and its beauty are sufficient to make any remark about its qualities a truthful one."

"In the early days at Wheatly we made a great deal of the Fourth of July and arranged our plans with the hopes of suiting everybody. In the morning, with the house full of guests, I provided an unlimited number of the largest size of cannon crackers, with which they were to disport themselves in the yard. This they did by blowing up utensils that they borrowed from the kitchen, wash-boilers, cans, etc., which of course made terrific noise. Katherine never enjoyed this very much on account of the noise, and as in those days Jasper was very much under her thumb he did not see the amusing side of the morning performance. Nevertheless he rebelled and said he wanted to see the firecrackers. Lisbeth was good enough to take him near to watch the performance. At the end of half an hour she asked, "How do you like it, Jappy?" and he replied, "When is Happy New Year?"."

wooded bliss said...

Fabulous Zach, thanks a lot. Makes me think of the water tower atop Wheatley road above Cedar Swamp. Brookville always prided itself on that so clean wonderful water. And the reference to the school children must reference the old Wheatley School that sat accross from Huttfield. The Morgans were neighbors in thier own right and it seems rather down to earth one's at that.

Zach said...

"At lunch time we had a picnic, which was generally held under the oak tree on the hill back of Mr. Burrill's place, and this was varied by all sorts of outdoor games. As it was generally pleasant weather - in fact I don't remember a rainy "Fourth" - the children amused themselves by riding on the hay-carts bringing in the hay, and this they enjoyed until time to go into the house, where they played games in the Big Room. After that came a large dinner party and after that came the fireworks, the most appropriate event of the day. This was done by giving a certain sum to fireworks manufacturers, who provided a definite program including all the most spectacular fire displays, and to this the neighbors were invited and to the dance afterward in the Big Room. Altogether it made quite an interesting event. These were very happy days and the impression was that everybody had a good time. I sometimes think I should like to see them again, but when I think of the anxiety I had over the blazing rocket-sticks coming back and going through the greenhouse glass, and the intense moments of waiting to hear the cry of "Fire," I am inclined to think that the present arrangement of no fireworks is the more soothing."

Anonymous said...

Simply spectacular. The thrill is to keep coming back this evening, finding that you've added more. Profound thanks to you and your sources for such a rare, humanizing portrait of my personal favorite of the OLI estates.

The view linked below, the clock tower, the chapel, all beyond belief, otherworldly. And now with the human sound of the worried master, concerned over this and that.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-6UvWcVlMD54/Tp__8QUSOaI/AAAAAAAAIQw/TQRM4ZIEUDc/s1600/Wheatly%2BEnlarged%2B6.jpg

-Flo

The Down East Dilettante said...

I always had Anonymous Flo picked as a person of taste and discrimination, now it's confirmed beyond doubt.

And yes, what she said.

Zach said...

To illustrate Morgan's frustration with the name Wheatly being misused by the press, I came across this tag for a photograph of J.E. Aldred in the Library of Congress:

"Summary: Photograph shows John Edward Aldred and his wife at Henry Payne Whitney's country estate, Wheatley, for the annual meeting of the Meadowbrook Steeplechase Association."

How many things are wrong with that one sentence?