The rich history of wealthy Long Island families taking their lead from the British when it came to building their grand estates will be examined in an all-day conference Nov. 3 at one of those properties, Coe Hall, in at Planting Fields State Historic Park in Oyster Bay.
Called “Bold and British,” tickets are $75 and include a lunch in the mansion's grand dining room and a tour of the house. Past event attendees have ranged from architecture, design and museum professionals to amateur old house enthusiasts.
“There’s a 300-year tradition on Long Island of people reconfiguring themselves as quasi-aristocrats, particularly on the Gold Coast at the turn of the century,” says TR Revella-Hamilton, president of the Manhattan-based American Country House Foundation, which organizes this all-day convention annually at various historic sites to support preservation efforts.
Revella-Hamilton says interest in these types of English country homes continues today, as evidenced by the popularity on Long Island and elsewhere of "Downton Abbey," a British television series set in the early 20th century that centers around a family living in an Edwardian country house.
In turn-of-the century Long Island, rich families had similar visions, Revella-Hamilton adds. “They were trying to recreate the British countryside and many families that lived around Westbury and Oyster Bay would eventually have some sort of British aristocrat connection,” he says. The main characteristics of the homes were that they were very large and elaborate - but they were used for entertaining guests – and only for a few months of the year.
Other examples of these houses around Long Island include Old Westbury Gardens, Sands Point Preserve's Hempstead House, The Childs Frick Estate (now the Nassau County Museum of Art) in Roslyn Harbor, Mill Neck Manor (Sefton Manor) and Caumsett (Marshall Fields Estate) in Lloyd Neck.
“They were designed for entertaining adults and were primarily used during a couple of weeks in spring, a month of two in the summer and then in September and October because of horse-related sports,” Revella-Hamilton says. Fox hunting was also a fall activity the families enjoyed. Come wintertime, Revella-Hamilton notes, the families lived in Manhattan.
In the 1970s and '80s a lot of the houses were given as gifts to the state, Revella-Hamilton explains, so that the properties wouldn’t be demolished or developed. Nonprofit foundations were established to keep up with maintenance.
The site of this year's convention, Coe Hall, was completed in 1921 and owned by William Robertson Coe, a railroad and insurance executive born in Kingswinford, Staffordshire, England. It remained the home of the Coe family until 1949 when it became a state park. The Planting Fields Foundation, Revella-Hamilton says, aims to keep the site functioning as a “premier public garden and Gold Coast estate.”
Attendees will hear from a range of architecture experts and authors speaking to various niches of English country estate design, upkeep and the lifestyles of those who once inhabited them.
“Bold and British”
WHEN|WHERE 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 3 at Coe Hall, 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay
INFO 516-922-9210, countryhouseconference18.eventbrite.com