The Estate and Environs
The Farm and Later Artist Colony
Down a winding lane from the mansion, at the foot of today's Idle Hour Boulevard, the Vanderbilts located their sixteen acre farm complex. Built at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars by William Bason and Sons of Sayville, according to plans by architect Isaac H. Green, also of that village, it was Vanderbilt's answer to the competition posed by the splendid farm on Mr. Cutting's estate in Great River. The Suffolk County News of that day reported that a million and a half bricks were used in its construction.
One entered the area through an archway connected to a tall water tower. A large clock on its north face was wound weekly by Mr. Terry, the Sayville jeweler. The major focus of the farm, the nine story brick buttressed tower was topped with a battlement-like parapet. The stock barn to the southwest contained a fine herd of fifty Alderney cows and bulls. The creamery was located to the west of the arch. To the east of the tower was the barn where the farm horses were housed, and another archway leading into the compound's narrow streets. To the south were the poultry barns, the piggeries, with a large wallow adjacent, the duckhouse, the calving house, dog kennels, an eagle house, a forge, a house for the farm superintendent (pictured on the title page), and various storage areas.
The three hundred eighty five foot long poultry house, the finest on Long Island, was a favorite project of the Vanderbilts. Its stock of peacocks, pheasants, chickens, and eagles were frequent prize winners at agricultural shows. In 1893 the Vanderbilt farm's exhibit of Chinese pheasants and peacocks at the Islip Pigeon and Poultry Show attracted great attention. Four incubators hatched twelve hundred fifty eggs at a time, enabling three thousand chickens to be raised annually. If the Vanderbilts were entertaining guests, thirty or forty broilers would be ordered daily from the farm. When these orders came in, the ringing of the bell in the tower would summon all hands from the fields to pluck the chickens.
In 1926, with the Vanderbilt family leaving Idle Hour, the farm area was purchased by Lucy Sawyer Pritchard Thompson, and her son, William III. Lucy Thompson, an artist herself, represented several New York artists at her studio in Manhattan. Turning the farm area into a living and studio area for artists enabled her to combine two of her interests - art and real estate. The exteriors of the small quaint structures, some barely seven feet tall, were maintained, with their original appearance and charm. Charming, also, are the names of the streets -- Princess Gate, Featherbed Lane, Tower Mews, Golden Horn, Frog Lane.
Art exhibitions and a theatre group's presentations were part of the planned activities. The Tally Ho Inn, with a bar and restaurant, was open to residents and to the public. There was a communal garden area. Bronco Charlie Miller, the Pony Express rider, built a cabin on Frog Lane. The notices of street fairs, art exhibits, gallery shows, fancy dress parties and dinners indicate the flurry of activities available to the residents and their friends.
Those residing in the colony in its first years included Nell Zimmerly Bryan, interior decorator; Dirk Malsch, sculptor; Harry Allen Weston, artist; Frederick L. Packer, landscape artist; Carl Nordell, artist; Lynn Morgan, artist; Ernest Albert, artist; George Elmer Brown, artist; Edwin Forrest Murdoch, lawyer and painter; Myron Van Brunt, illustrator of children's books; Roman Bonet Sintas, artist. More recently, artists included Jim Dine, Bibi McManus, and Tom Prentiss. The water tower, named the "Clock Tower" for its large clock, was home to musicians Claude Gonvierre and Gary Towlen.
Today, the reputation of the Artist Colony continues to attract people of creativity who enjoy the uniqueness of living in this century-old legend with its old world European atmosphere. Most residences are low, one story brick structures, with gabled roofs and windows set in segmental arched openings. Aided by the historic designation received in the seventies, the residents maintain their enclave with respect for its past; they seek to perpetuate the quiet sense of its past history.
Visit the Vanderbilt Tea House.