Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York
This house is best associated with...
Lewis Howard Livingston Jr.
Lewis Howard Livingston Jr., of Rhinebeck, New York; died unmarried
Ernest Howard Crosby
Ernest H. Crosby, Member of the New York State Assembly, Reformer & Author
Robert Clermont Livingston Timpson
Robert C.L. Timpson, of New York City & Southampton, Long Island
Robert's son - Mrs Montgomery's father - Judge Robert Robert Livingston (1718-1775) married Margaret Beekman (1724-1800), the sole heiress of Colonel Henry Beekman (1687-1775), and through that marriage the Livingston family came into the possession of the vast Beekman estates along the east bank of the Hudson River in Dutchess County.
The Livingston children - Mrs Montgomery and her nine surviving siblings - were all given parcels of the Beekman land and they all built homes along the same sixteen mile stretch of the Hudson River, just south of the Livingston family home, Clermont Manor.
General and Mrs Montgomery (1773-c.1779)
Having been passed over for promotion in the British Army, Captain Richard Montgomery sold out for £1,500. Determined to pursue his passion for farming he wrote: "As a man with little money cuts but a bad figure in this country among Peers, Nabobs etc., I have cast my eye on America where my pride and poverty will be much more at their ease".
Montgomery bought a farm north of New York City in 1772, but after his marriage to Janet the following year, "laid out a considerable amount of money in building a dwelling house and mills" on 618-acres of the former Beekman patent gifted to his wife. The bricks were fired from clay taken from a field just south of the house called "Brick Lot".
Janet never remarried, but she continued to build the estate as they had planned. It was Janet who lined the driveway - scattering the seeds herself - with the locust trees still seen there today, those having been her husband's favorite variety of tree. There was also supposed to be the "Montgomery Willow" planted by the General before he went off to war. Certainly by the 1930s it no longer existed, only a sickly offshoot that was cut down.
Rhinebeck House leased to Lady Kitty Duer, then Morgan Lewis (c.1779-1804)
Mrs Montgomery remained at the house only for a few more years before building Montgomery Place in 1802 where she would live out the rest of her days. But long before then, from about 1779, she rented the house to Congressman William Duer (1743-1789) and his wife (who was also a first cousin of Mrs Montgomery's father) Lady Kitty Duer (1755-1826). At this time, the house was known as "Rhinebeck House".
From 1795 to 1804, Mrs Montgomery rented Rhinebeck House to her brother-in-law, Morgan Lewis (1754-1844), up until he was appointed Governor of New York. After that, she sold the estate to her sister, Joanna Livingston (1759-1827), who was married to their cousin, Peter Robert Livingston (1766-1847), Speaker of the New York State of Assembly.
The Livingstons lived there for 25 years, but a fire in 1828 gutted the original house. It is almost a certainty that the walls of the house survived the fire and were incorporated into the rebuild. Certainly, the new brick structure - with five bays laid out in a center hall plan - followed the original configuration of the Montgomery house, standing on the same foundations. It was a single-story structure, as seen in an old photograph circa 1855.
It was Peter Livingston who named the estate "Grasmere" for the village in England's Lake District. His new home that enjoyed a magnificent view over the Hudson River and and Catskill Mountains beyond closely resembled the lake and hills of the English village.
In 1861, Lewis Livingston transformed the Federal villa into a Second Empire mansion. He added not just one but two stories to the house, covered it with a mansard roof, and put up a tower on the north east corner. He also acquired a further 280-acres, bringing the estate up to 898-acres. Lewis carried on some business in Rhinebeck, but predominantly farmed quietly on the estate for the remainder of his days, living with his wife, Julia, and their two sons.
Schieffelins, Crosbys & McCabes (1894-1954)
Lewis left the estate to his only surviving son, Lewis Howard Livingston Jr. (1846-1893). An inveterate traveller, he died suddenly at Rome in Italy, leaving Grasmere to his first cousin, Mrs Margaret Lee. She put it up for sale and the following year (1894) it was purchased by Mrs Schieffelin of New York City. There were several other similar houses on the market at that time, but she chose Grasmere for its beautiful mature trees.
The recently widowed Mrs Sarah Minerva Schieffelin (1834-1921) purchased the house for her daughter, Fanny. Fanny's scholastic and yet politically prickly husband, Ernest Howard Crosby (1856-1907), had once again stirred up New York society with his socialist leanings. Mrs Schieffelin hoped that by installing him on a country estate he would keep out of trouble and concentrate on his poetry, saving them further embarrassment.
Crosby had started his professional life with high moral ideals, but rather than becoming a champion for the poor, he became rather self-indulgent and self-serving. He had no interest in the running of Grasmere and cared even less for the needs of the local farmers. It was his wife who ran the farm, and it was her money that maintained them while he whiled away his hours writing in a cabin in the woods.
Mrs Crosby enlarged the house to 33-rooms by adding the west wing, with the hope of one day adding an east wing too. She removed the heavy Second Empire elements by taking down the tower and the mansard roof. She also replaced the wooden front piazza with the marble one seen today. She made one large entrance hall by knocking down the walls between three receptions rooms, and did the same to two more to enlarge the parlor.
When the Crosbys first moved in, the farmer had made use of all available space and there was rye planted right up to the front and back doors! Fanny laid new lawns and added rows of shrubbery, flowerbeds, walkways and balustrades. She built a pair of gatehouses in "Lake District style" and one-by-one replaced the old wooden barns with stone counterparts made from the old walls that had once separated the fields. The main stone barn - still used today - was at the time said to be the largest of its kind in the country.
Fanny left Grasmere to their son, Maunsell Schieffelin Crosby (1887-1931), an avid ornithologist and enthusiastic, if not altogether savvy, farmer. He lived there with his wife, Elizabeth Coolidge (1889-1962) and their daughters. He continued his mother's work growing crops on the farm and running the dairy. He raised Jersey, Brown Swiss and Holstein Friesian cattle, and kept hogs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. They grew apples, pears, potatoes, beans, and other crops, while continuing to upgrade the outbuildings.
Despite the outward success of the farm, Maunsell Crosby didn't invest in the necessary improvements and when he died there was little money left for his daughter, Helen Elizabeth Crosby (1911-1995). In 1954, the year after she divorced her husband, Lewis McCabe (1906-1990), she had to admit defeat and sold up to a relative, Louise Clews...
Maunsell's sister, Margaret Eleanor Crosby (1884-1963), had married William Charles Arcedeckne Vanneck (1883-1969), 5th Baron Huntingfield, of Heveningham Hall, Suffolk. William's younger brother, Captain Hon. Andrew Nicholas Armstrong Vanneck (1890-1965), purchased Heveningham Hall from his brother and in 1930 married the American heiress, Louise Hollingsworth Morris Clews (1904-1970). Louise had grown up at Château de la Napoule, daughter of the sculptor-cum-playboy Henry Clews Jr. (1876-1937).
Mrs Timpson once told that she frequently (and clearly quite fearlessly!) came across a ghost in the house. In describing it and where she had these encounters, local historian DeWitt Gurnell surmised that the specter was Lewis Howard Livingston (1814-1886) making himself known again. As proof of further evidence, it later came about that some twenty years before Mrs Timpson had talked of her experiences, Maunsell Schieffelin Crosby (1887-1931) had also reported exactly the same ghostly encounter.
Grasmere into the 21st Century
Grasmere remains unconverted, but the old barn is available to hire for events. In 2010, Chelsea Clinton held her rehearsal dinner here on the eve of her wedding that was held at nearby Astor Courts.
You May Also Like...
Be the first to connect to this house. Connect to record your link to this house. or just to show you love it! Connect to Grasmere →