Peggy Mahoney, a docent and tour guide, walks into a turret-shaped room with large windows that offer an almost 360-degree panorama of pristine South Shore woods. "This was Happy's sleeping porch," she says, referring to the screened room where Hathaway Weekes Scully, the home's last private owner, used to nap on hot summer days.
Long Island's estates were once exclusive enclaves of the rich and famous, but a number still survive in their original condition for tourists to "ooh and ahh" at their grandeur. But compared to other preserved mansions -- the Coe Estate at Planting Fields Arboretum and State Historic Park in Oyster Bay, or Oheka in Cold Spring Hills -- the 26-room Scully mansion in Islip was built on a smaller scale.
"It's intimate as opposed to the grandiose Oheka," says Nadine Bouler, 44, of Islip, who was taking the 90-minute mansion tour with her daughter Olivia, 12.
ABOUT THE HOUSE
Though dwarfed by those Gold Coast mammoths, the Scully Mansion has its own unique details. For instance, part of the tour leads through the men's lavatory where Mahoney points out "original windows" from the mansion's years as a private home. "Very few pieces of original furnishings survive," she says. Walls, trim and flooring remain from the original home, as well as exterior details such as Juliet balconies.
The house was completed in 1918 for heiress Lousine Peters and her husband, Harold Weekes. It was "modeled after a chateau from the Loire Valley, except that chateau was much bigger and had a moat," Mahoney says. Grosvenor Atterbury, who designed Forest Hills Gardens and part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, served as the architect.
Happy, their only child, inherited the property and in the late 1960s donated it to the National Audubon Society as a wildlife sanctuary and nature center. The county bought the property eight years ago, and it is managed by the not-for-profit Seatuck Environmental Association.
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
Tours began last year, led by Seatuck volunteers, and usually draw about 10 or so, says Peter Walsh, education director.
Among the highlights is the room where Russian-born composer Alexander Nikolayevich Tcherepnin, a sometime guest, composed his first concerto at a piano. "He found it very peaceful and inspiring here," Mahoney says.
Tour-takers also see a number of surviving details from the mansion's luxurious past: a square window for ice deliveries, the spiral entrance staircase and the bell system that called the house's six servants.
Another room houses a cage full of quail hatchlings, which when grown are to be released into the woods to control ticks on the property. Only two of the estate's 70 acres were developed, Mahoney says. The woods are filled with wildlife, and on this day a deer roams near the parking lot. Foxes are also said to be lurking in the woods.
At the end of the house tour, visitors sit around a table in the mansion's breakfast room. As they drank fresh lemonade and munched homebaked cookies, they said they were impressed with the tour's window into the mansion's past.
Says Marilyn Hallam, 73, of Babylon: "It's a beautiful, unique place."
Behind-the-scenes tour at Scully Estate
WHEN | WHERE 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Suffolk County Environmental Center, 550 South Bay Ave., Islip
INFO 631-581-6908, seatuck.org