One of my favorite things about living on the east coast is the history that accompanies the landscape. I particularly enjoy house tours and set out this month to take in the splendor of the holidays at Westbrook Estate. This 68-room mansion is now known as the Manor House at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum on the south shore of Long Island. Dating back to 1886, this Queen Anne-style mansion sits on hundreds of acres made for nature lovers along the Connetquot River. The property was the summer home of William and Olivia Bayard Cutting. According to our tour guide, Mrs. Cutting didn’t like the word mansion. She referred to the estate as a cottage, but let me tell you as I wandered room to room on our holiday tour, a “cottage” was the last thing to cross my mind. I was more taken back by the beauty of the different wooden floors, the Tiffany windows and the stories of the family, than the holiday decorations and Christmas trees in practically every room, Our tour guide was knowledgeable about the history of both the family and the home. Below are some of my favorite gems that I picked up for this holiday house tour.
The Bayard Cutting Family
William Bayard Cutting was born in 1850 and was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother passed away during his brother’s childbirth. William was college educated and received his master’s degree, and in 1872 he was admitted to the bar. However, he did not practice law. His fortune came from the sugar beet industry. He also built railroads and a ferry business along the waterfront of New York City. William married Olivia Peyton Murray, and they had four children, two sons, and two daughters. The oldest son, also named William grew up to be Secretary to the US embassy, but he had tuberculosis like his father and died in his early thirties. Justine Bayard Ward, the oldest daughter, was a musical educator who developed the Ward Method, a system for teaching music to children. She lived until the age of ninety. The third son, Bronson also had tuberculosis, but despite his illness was a successful newspaper publisher and a United States Senator. Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash which leads to the implementation of FAA guidelines that we know today. The youngest, known as “Little Olivia” cared for Mrs. Bayard Cutting until her death in 1949. She donated the Bayard Cutting Arboretum to the Long Island State Park Region and personally handed the keys to Robert Moses.
History of the Estate
Architect Charles C. Haight designed the Westbrook Estate; the Westbrook Estate was completed in 1886. Four years later an annex was built that contained a billiard room, an organ, guest rooms for visitors and a smoking lounge. The addition has remained closed since the death of Mr. Bayard Cutting and is not open during the tour. There was something special about each room of the main house. After meeting at the main entrance, we started the tour in the library. Believe it or not, a discovery during renovations revealed, the bookshelves had been covered up for some time
We ventured into the dining room which had a fireplace from France and it pre-dates Columbus. The tapestry on the wall in the dining room are 340 years old. There was a staged dinner table, and there was a photograph to the left of the table that captured the family at the same table.
We passed through the kitchen that contained the original stove and a built in cupboard. The breakfast room was located on the other side of the kitchen and had a beautiful horseshoe shaped table which provided everyone a magnificent view of the great lawn and the Connetquot River.
Upstairs we first toured the servants quarters where 14 servants resided including a woman by the name of Miss Halpern. Miss Halpern had been hurt on the job and sadly became confined to a wheelchair. The family kept her on and had an elevator installed in the home so she could get around.
Next, we toured the family’s quarters, and each bedroom was grand in their right. Some rooms had some items that gave it a personal touch. For instance, Justine’s bedroom had a piano, and some of her dresses displayed. Mr. Bayard Cutting’s shoes were on the floor next to his valet in his room.
Each room had a different wooden floor, and there was no shortage of beautiful Tiffany glass windows. Mr. Bayard Cutting’s neighbor was Louis Tiffany in New York City. He had a Tiffany lamp that rested on his desk in his bedroom.
Unlike many of the other gold coast mansions on Long Island, the Bayard Cutting Arboretum does not have any formal gardens. The grounds take on a more naturalistic feel, and there are several paths to explore. Make sure you check out the Beech tree that sits on the central lawn. It is gigantic, and the branches reach down to the ground creating a private room with benches. Also on the property is the Carriage House. One interesting fact that I learned about the land was that in 1895, Cutting and his brother had a golf course installed at Westbrook and it was the first private golf course in the United States. It no longer exists today.
Hidden Oaks Cafe
The Hidden Oaks Cafe is on the first floor of the manor house and offers light lunches that include sandwiches, quiches, soups pies and other deserts. They also serve a “Victorian Tea” complete with finger sandwiches, scones and fresh pots of tea. The Victorian Tea does require reservations.
When Olivia James deeded Westbrook to the Long Island State Commission, she envisioned two purposes for future generations which were:
- “That Westbrook shall be an oasis of beauty and quiet, and that it shall be a source of pleasure, rest, and refreshment to those who delight in outdoor beauty.
- That it shall serve to bring about a greater appreciation and understanding, on the part of both the general public and of those professionally concerned with landscape design of the value and importance of informal planting, and shall thus be an influence in preserving the amenities of our native landscape.”
I felt a genuine connection to the Bayard Cutting family as I toured the estate and I am grateful that generations later, I was a recipient of their vision. It truly is a beautiful place to experience the peace and serenity that families of the gilded age once enjoyed.