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Posts Tagged ‘The Gold Coast’

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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Coe Hall

Camellia Greenhouse

Last week while roaming Barnes and Nobel, I stumbled upon what many people consider to be the “Great American Novel” on the summer reading table, The Great Gatsby.  I ended up purchasing The Great Gatsby wanting to re-read it from my high school days before the new movie comes out on Christmas Day.  Reading through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel made me want to go visit the Long Island Gold Coast and step back into the time of the “Roaring Twenties”.  So after a little research this morning, I came up with a list of seven mansions that were retreats of the rich and famous during the turn of the century to the 1930’s. From the Gugggenheims and Vanderbilts to the Pratts and Coes, the Gold Coast was the place to be for high society and notable Americans.  Despite the heat and oppressive humidity, I decided today the place to be for me was at William Robertson Coe’s mansion which was built in 1921 and is more commonly known as the Planting Fields Arboretum.

Here is a recap of my visit to a great 1920’s Gold Coast Estate and what to expect for those who want to revisit a decade where everyone wore a hat and many carried a flask during a time of prohibition and prosperity.

M.O. & M.E. Hoffman Visitor Center

The former Hay Barn of this 409-acre estate now houses the visitor center.  With so much property to explore this was a great place to get my bearings.  I found a model display of the property, so I could easily locate everything I wanted to see.  In addition, there was a nice display and short videos narrated  by Mr. Coe’s grandson Michael, that provided me with the history of the Coe Family and their estate.  One fun tidbit that I picked up from the video was that the gates at the main drive entrance was originally created in 1712 for the Carshalton Park Estate in England and Mr. Coe had them transplanted to his estate.  You can see these gates on the silver screen in the movie, Love Story and Sabrina.  The visitor center was also a great place to cool off since there was air conditioning, so I browsed the gift shop and decided to get a drink from the Garden Cafe’ before heading back out in the 86 degree humid weather.

The Visitor Center, formerly the Hay Barn.

A great place to start your tour of the estate.

History of the Coe Family

William Robertson Coe moved to the United States with his family at the age of 14 from England. At age 15 he worked as an office boy for an insurance broker in Philadelphia and in 1910 he became president of Johnson and Higgins Insurance Company and was involved in insuring the RMS Titanic.  Mr. Coe was married three times.  He lost his first wife who died on a cruise to England.  His second wife was Mai Rogers, who was the daughter to the Vice President of Standard Oil and builder of the Virgininan Railway.  It was Mai’s fortune that went into the estate.  William and Mai had three sons and a daughter.  Their passion for horticulture, specifically interest in rare species of plants and trees led to botanical bliss. Mai passed away in 1924 and Mr. Coe quietly married a divorcee from Texas, Caroline Graham Slaughter.  Mr. Coe passed away at the age of 85 from an asthma attack in 1955. Caroline stayed in the home until her passing in 1960.

Coe Hall Mansion

The style of this beautiful mansion is of an English 16th century Elizabethan country house and was decorated by an interior designer from Charles of London.  I toured the mansion for $3.50 and the sweetest widow was my personal tour guide.  The entrance was grand with Romanesque arches.  I particularly enjoyed exploring the den which was Mr. Coe’s study that had a safe hidden beyond the wood paneling and a hidden bar off to the side. The Reception room  which was decorated in a 18th century French style  was used by both the second and third Mrs. Coe to entertain their lady guest.  Taking in the grand fireplaces, chandeliers and artistically carved doors was wonderful, but seeing family pictures in the Great Hall where the Coe’s only daughter was married made me feel like I knew the family.

The Reception Room

The Dining Room

The Den

The Mud Room where the family would mount their horses.

 Exhibit

Cocktail Culture – The Glamorous Gold Coast Years from Prohibition to 1960 – This exhibit can be viewed until September 30, 2012.  Coe Hall was built in the same year that the Prohibition Amendment became law which was appealed in 1933.  Long Island was one of the most notorious routes that liquor was smuggled in by boat in then by road to New York City.  Mr. Coe stockpiled liquor in 1918 and 1919 and spent $35,349.72 which today would be slightly under a half a million dollars.  I really enjoyed this exhibit and didn’t realize Long Island’s history in the prohibition era.   The exhibit also had several dresses from the 1920s reflecting the flappers independence and the birth of the “cocktail dress” around 1935.  The “little black dress” made its debut when speakeasies became legal restaurants such as the 21 Club which still exist today in NYC.  There was a picture of the Coe’s daughter in front of the bar  of the 21 Club in the early 1930s.

Cocktail Culture Exhibit

Radio Bar

Planting Fields Arboretum 

Gardens 

Hydrangea

Lily

The Italian Blue Pool Garden  is surrounded by spring-blooming perennials and a darling Tea House sits at the end of the pool.

Italian Blue Pool Garden

Tea House

The Rose Arbor and Rose Garden contain over 600 Tea, shrub, and miniature roses.  The Children’s Playhouse is not to far from the Rose Garden.  The Green Garden features a circular pool and the Azalea Walks and  the Vista Path are nearby.

Rose Garden

The Playhouse

The Synoptic Garden displays over 500 types of tree and shrub with little signs arranged in alphabetical order by botanical name.  I saw a few chipmunks in the Synoptic garden.

Greenhouses

Main Greenhouse  The Main Green house orchids, cacti hibiscus, begonias and more.  Kids can be a plant detective and collect stamps at plant stations.

The Main Greenhouse

Plant Detective Children’s Activity Map

Hibiscus House

Cactus House

Camellia Greenhouse – This is the largest collection of camellias under glass in the Northeast.

Camellia Greenhouse

Woodlands

There are over 200 acres of woodland at Planting Fields, with miles of walking trails through the woods.

Information needed to plan your visit

Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park is located at 1395 Planting Fields Road in Oyster Bay, New York.

  • Grounds are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except December 25.
  • A $8 per car from April 1st to Labor day, 7 days a week and weekends only from September 10th thru October 31st. Admission free during winter season.
  • Mansion Tours are an hour-long and are offered twice daily at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m from April 1 – September 30.
 $3.50 Tour Fee for Non-Members / Members and all children under 12 are FREE .  THe guided tour focuses on the work of the servants during the 1920s.  The tour will lead visitors through the servants living quarters, kitchen areas, the flower room, and wine vaults.
  • The Main Greenhouse and Camellia Greenhouse are open year round from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The Visitor Center is open April 1st thru October 31st 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m daily.
 November 1st thru March 31st, Friday, Saturday and Sunday only.
11:00 a.m. – 4: 30 p.m.

While in Oyster Bay, you might also like to check out Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the “Summer White House” to the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. Another site to explore is The Raynham Hall Museum which was once used as British headquarters during the American Revolution and was home to the Townsend family.  Robert Townsend was the first link in a chain of agents in the Culper Spy Ring.

If you are hungry check out Canterbury Ales Oyster Bar & Grill and then afterwards walk down to Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park to take in views of the Long Island Sound.

Are you ready for a day trip to explore the Gold Coast?

Stay tune for future post on other mansions like the Eagle’s Nest, Oheka Castle, Old Westbury Gardens, Mill Neck Manor, Condrie Hall and Falaise.

If you enjoyed this post, you also might like 12 Long Island Family Day Trips to Experience in 2012 and Touring the Top Five Presidential Homes.

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