Saturday, November 9, 2013

Some memories from E.D. Morgan III...


Some excerpts from Edwin D. Morgan III's memoir Recollections for my Family about his estate 'Wheatly' in Old Westbury designed by McKim, Mead & White between 1890-1900, published in 1938 (I had previously posted this in the comments last year)...

"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."


"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."

5 comments:

The Down East Dilettante said...

Wonderful, isn't it? And makes all the clearer why this house was such a success

Tyngsboro said...

As usual "Dilettante" provides a marvelous observation ~ could anyone have said it any better ?

Anonymous said...

Following the legalities of Jericho House in the prior post, here you have a big drafty wooden house and the architect corrects the issue by having the homeowner install a completely new and expensive central heating system, including furnaces, hot water piping and forced steam ducts to warm the house and eliminate the drafts? Sounds to me that here was the house with the real cause for a lawsuit. Wheatly is however so beautiful as an architectural composition but even here, nothing is always perfect.
NYarch

Peter Doane said...

I like the way you linked the pictures to the appropriate passage of the text Zack. I'm also glad you posted the excerpt in the main body of the website (rather than in the comments), but I understand why you delayed.

Daniel Fitz said...

Edwin Denison Morgan III had a grandson whose name was Temple Emmet Morgan. Temple became a Benedictine Monk, as did I, and I knew him well while I was with him in the monastery. In the passage from his memoirs Mr Morgan mentions "Edwin's christening". This Edwin was Temple's father. Temple's mother was Elizabeth Winthrop Emmet Morgan who died when Temple was 11 years old. Temple told many stories of visiting his grandfather's estate on Long island. This is the first time I have seen pictures of it. The family history is fascinating.