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Mill Neck Manor, formerly known as Sefton Manor.

Mill Neck Manor, formerly known as           Sefton Manor.

Keeping up with the elegance and luxury of the Gilded Age that now may be assigned to the Great Gatsby, Mill Neck Manor is one of the remaining historic estates on the North Shore of Long Island.  Once known as Sefton Manor, this granite Tudor Revival mansion overlooks the water of the Long Island Sound on eighty-six acres.  The majestic estate was the home of cosmetic heiress, Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge and her second husband Robert Leftwich Dodge.

In 1949, Mrs. Dodge sold her estate to the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf, the founding organization for Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf.  The Manor House became a residential school for the Deaf and then a day elementary school. In 2001, a new Deaf Education Center was built which left the Manor House vacant and it is now used for events, Designer Showcases and monthly tours.

Since re-reading the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” in anticipation of the Christmas release of the new movie based on the novel, I have embarked on a Gold Coast tour and was thrilled when I secured tickets for the once a month tour of Mill Neck Manor.  I enjoyed touring the Mansion that cost two million dollars back in 1923 and was impressed by many of the unique features and the formal gardens.  I was equally impressed with the life of Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge upon learning that it was her success as the company president of the Harriet Hubbard Ayer Corporation that financed Sefton Manor.  Below is a synopsis of my delightful afternoon at Mill Neck Manor.

The Manor House and Formal Gardens

Upon entering the home I walk through one of the most remarkable feature, the solid oak doors that are over 400 years old and were studded with iron detail.  After passing through the grand entrance the tour group convened in the Great Hall and learned about the history of the three-story residence.  The mansion did not have any original furniture of the Dodge family and many rooms were empty.  The vacant rooms allowed visitors to focus on the beauty of the engraved wood walls, ornate ceilings and the leaded stain glass-windows, depicting scenes from five Shakespearean plays overlooking the main stair landing.

The main entrance doors are 400 to 500 years old.

The main entrance doors are 400 to 500 years old.

Stained glass windows depicting scenes from five Shakespearean plays.

Stained glass windows depicting scenes from five Shakespearean plays.

Fireplace from Europe.

Fireplace from Europe.

Ceiling on the third floor.  No two ceilings in the manor are alike.

Ceiling on the third floor. No two ceilings in the home are alike.

The mansion consists of 34 rooms, 16 bathrooms and two elevators.  The Great Hall is on the main floor with a parlor to the right and the kitchen to the left.  Also on the first floor were fireplaces imported from Europe from the 16th and 17th century.  On the second floor was the bedroom of the Dodge’s only child, Mary.  This room served as an exhibit for  the Harriet Hubbard Ayer Cosmetic Company and had several original advertising pieces displayed on the walls.  The third floor rooms were for the servants.

Original Advertisement

Original Advertisement

Harriet Hubbard Ayer collection

Harriet Hubbard Ayer collection

In 1902, Harriet Hubbard published"Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book of Heath & Beauty".

Harriet’s life was beset by tragedy and triumphs and it is documented in her biography written by her youngest daughter.

After checking out a room that featured a two-way mirror and two vaults that were hidden in the paneling walls that were constructed from the last wood of the Sherwood Forest,  I ventured out to the formal gardens.  The sunken gardens can be approached through a pair of bronze gates that were designed in Paris and are named the Gate of Sun and the Gate of Moon.  Three Limestone Temples framed the gardens that were originally arranged in the form of a sundial radiating from the Venetian fountain that is centrally located.  Small water pools give the gardens tranquility.

Gates to the formal garden.

Gates to the formal garden.

One of the three temples.

One of the three temples.

Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge

Lillian Sefton was from Washington, D.C. and was a singer and actress before marring her first husband Vincent Benjamin Thomas.  Miss Sefton had appeared in a production with the daughter of Harriet Hubbard Ayer.  Harriet Hubbard Ayer had started a cosmetic company in 1886 to sell her cosmetic cream.  Ayer ended up losing control of her company to her business partner, but regained control through the courts.  Unfortunately, the bad publicity caused sales to crash.  Four years after Ayer’s death Benjamin Thomas purchased the company in 1907 for his wife when the beauty business was taking off.   Although Mr. Thomas was the president, it was Lillian that ran the company.  She became president after his death in 1918 making her the highest paid female executive in America earning $100,000 per year in 1937. Lillian remarried in 1925 to American Artist, Robert Leftwich Dodge whose works appear on the walls of the Library of Congress.  Mr. Dodge died in 1940 and Lillian sold the company in 1947 to Lever Brothers for $5,500,000, a low price considering the company had been grossing between six and eight million dollars annually.

Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge

Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge

What you need to know to tour the Mansion

Tours are held once a month and can be booked on-line.  Each tour consist of a group of twenty-five and the admission fee is $25 for adults.  The tour is approximately an hour and a half.  Upon the conclusion of the tour, tea and scones are served.  If you enjoy touring historical homes, I highly recommend making a visit to Mill Neck Manor, but do so in the spring or fall because the house of course does not have air-conditon and it is very warm during July and August.

The Manor House

Mill Neck Manor is faced with brown Westchester granite and trimmed in tawny limestone.

Have you visited the Gold Coast?  What is your favorite historical home tour?

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