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 May 2013. 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 Guggenheim 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 I would visit 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 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 estate, so I could quickly locate everything I wanted to see. Also, there was a beautiful 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 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.
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 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 of the Vice President of Standard Oil and builder of the Virginian 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 died 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 an English 16th century Elizabethan country house 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. Both the second and third Mrs. Coe to entertain their lady guest used the reception room decorated in an 18th-century French style. Taking in the grand fireplaces, chandeliers and artistically carved doors were beautiful, but seeing family pictures in the Great Hall where the Coe’s only daughter was married made me feel like I knew the family.
Cocktail Culture – The Glamorous Gold Coast Years from Prohibition to 1960 - This exhibit can be viewed until September 30, 2012. Built during the same year that the Prohibition Amendment became law (appealed in 1933), Coe Hall became part of history. Long Island was one of the most famous 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 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 flapper’s 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.
Planting Fields Arboretum
Surrounded by spring-blooming perennials is The Italian Blue Pool Garden is a darling Tea House sits at the end of the pool.
The Rose Arbor and Rose Garden contain over 600 Tea, shrub, and miniature roses. The Children’s Playhouse is not too far from the Rose Garden. The Green Garden features a circular pool and the Azalea Walks, and the Vista Path are nearby.
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.
Main Greenhouse The Main Greenhouse was vivid in color from the orchids, cacti hibiscus, begonias and more. Kids can be a plant detective and collect stamps at plant stations.
Camellia Greenhouse – This is the largest collection of camellias under glass in the Northeast.
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, seven days a week and weekends only from September 10th thru October 31st. Admission free during the 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.
Are you ready for a day trip to explore the Gold Coast?
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