Maizefield

75 West Market Street, Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York

Built 1795-97, for Brigadier-General David Van Ness (1745-1818) and his wife, Cornelia Heermance (1751-1829). Confusingly, Maizefield is just as frequently referred to as "Maizeland," but when it was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places it was listed as the former. It was home to the first Town Supervisor of Red Hook and has hosted at least one U.S. President, Chester A. Arthur. It was once famous for its flock of Silesian Merino sheep and the first Bassett Hound ("Nemours") to be introduced to America lived in the kennels here. Since then it has been home to an award-winning cinematographer whose films were instrumental in the establishment of Canyonlands National Park; and, today, it is the home of a "legendary" soprano....

This house is best associated with...

David Van Ness

Brigadier-General David Van Ness, of Dutchess County, New York

1745-1818

Stephen I. Brinckerhoff

Stephen I. Brinckerhoff, of Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York

1793-1882

Tobias Teller

Tobias Teller, of Clinton & Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York

1772-1854

William Chamberlain

William Chamberlain, of "Maizefield" Red Hook, Dutchess Co., New York

1800-1875

William Lawrence Chamberlain

William L. Chamberlain, of "Maizefield" Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York

1832-1880

Theodore Timpson

Captain Theodore Timpson, of "Maizefield" Dutchess Co., New York

1831-1899

Lawrence Timpson

Captain Lawrence Timpson, of "Maizefield" & Appleton Manor, Oxfordshire

1865-1937

Charles Eggert

Conservationist, Film-Maker & Photographer, of "Maizefield" New York

b.c.1919

Elizabeth Blair

Mrs "Betty" (Blair) Eggert, of "Maizefield" Dutchess Co., New York

1919-1987

David Van Ness was known as "the General" but he was also a prominent merchant, a State Senator, and in 1813 the first Town Supervisor of Red Hook which by then had incorporated the hamlet previously known as Hardscrabble, where Maizefield stood. His elder brother, Peter, built Lindenwald at nearby Kinderhook (now better associated with President Martin Van Buren) and his nephew built the equally impressive Van Ness House in Washington D.C. From 1789, the General began buying up the land that would go on to constitute his 364-acre estate. The house itself was laid out on a center hall plan off from which are four main reception rooms noted for their stately 10-foot ceilings.

The General was an uncle of William P. Van Ness who acted as Aaron Burr's second in the famous duel which saw Alexander Hamilton killed in 1804. An unsubstantiated story exists that Burr hid here for a period after the event. That may or may not be true, but it is generally thought that Burr hid out Lindenwald, William's farm at Kinderhook. 

Brinckerhoffs, Smiths, and Tellers

In 1815, the General sold his house and moved to Troy in Rensselaer County where he died three years later. The new owner was Stephen I. Brinckerhoff (1793-1882) of Fishkill. His beautiful young wife, Margaret Platt Smith (1800-1818), died in their new home while giving birth to their only daughter and her body was laid to rest at her childhood home, "Lithgow". Heartbroken, Brinckerhoff sold the house to one Arthur Smith of New York City - possibly a relation of his wife - who sold it on in 1825 to Tobias Teller (1772-1854).

Tobias Teller was a native of Clinton, Dutchess County, who'd become successful running a store with his brother, John, and it is for their family that Teller Hill was given its name on the Post Road in Hyde Park. Tobias lived here with his wife Paulina (1790-1861) and their three children until 1841 when he sold up to William Chamberlain (1800-1875).

The Chamberlains of "Maizefield" and/or "Maizeland"

William Chamberlain was a native of Vermont who had been successful in New York City as a wholesale importer of tropical fruits. His wife, Amelia Ann Lawrence, died in 1838 and by the following year (1839) he was listed in Red Hook as a Member of the Chamber of Commerce. He would later become known as the founding President of Red Hook's First National Bank. In 1841, he purchased "the brick house" from Tobias Teller and in 1849 employed Alexander Jackson Davis to design a Gothic-Revival cottage on the estate.

It is William who is thought to have named the estate "Maizefield"/"Maizeland" for the fields to the north and west of the house. In 1866, he imported a flock of Silesian Merino sheep from Germany to graze on the estate that was then comprised of 550-acres. His flock became quite famous and were both bred and exhibited. They were tended to by the estate superintendent, John Gottlobb Heyne (1831-1883), and John's brother, Carl. John had brought them over from Germany himself, from his father's farm, who was a breeder. 

Chamberlain died in 1875 and was succeeded at Maizefield by his eldest son, William Lawrence Chamberlain. He had been a banker in New York City but retired in order to manage the estate and continued breeding and exhibiting the Merino sheep. He also started the Maizeland Kennels, maintaining a pack of Bassett Hounds imported from England for hunting. He lived here with his wife, Mary Bradhurst Remington, their four children, and six live-in servants. Two of their daughters would marry two of the Chanler brothers ("the Astor Orphans") of nearby Rokeby, one of whom, Lewis, was Governor of New York. William L. Chamberlain only outlived his father by five years (1880) and in 1882 "Maizeland" was advertised for sale and bought that year by the Timpsons.

The Timpsons

Maizefield was bought by Mary, the wife of Captain Theodore Timpson (1831-1899). They maintained the house as a summer home and in August, 1884, U.S. President Chester A. Arthur, "quietly spent the afternoon" here with the Timpson family. In 1900, after her husband died, Mrs Timpson gave the house to their son, Lawrence Timpson, as a wedding present on the occasion of his marriage to Kitty Livingston who grew up at Clermont. By 1924, they had purchased Appleton Manor in England and three years later (1927) sold Maizefield to Mrs and Mrs Leon Shelley. Little is known of the Shelleys except that it was them who removed the west wing during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Restored to Period by Charles & Betty Eggert

It is unclear when Mrs Leon Shelley died, but by the early 1960s the house was standing empty and falling into an increasingly bad state of repair. It was about then that Charles and Betty Eggert purchased the house and undertook a major restoration project that saw it returned to how it was intended to look during the period in which it was built.

Charles Eggert was a conservationist, film-maker and photographer of some celebrity. He made a name for himself in 1955 with the Eggert-Hatch River Expedition that took him and six others on an epic 719-mile journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers resulting in the documentary, Danger River. His wife, Mrs Betty Blair Eggert (1919-1987) was a native of Ohio and was the sister of "Banana George" Blair a water-skiing pioneer known for barefoot water-skiing and his trademark yellow "banana" wetsuits! During Betty's time at Maizefield, she played an important role in local historic preservation. She was a director of the Dutchess County Landmarks Association and a Curator at Clermont. In 1976, she saw Maizefield added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

On a visit from the Dutchess County Historical Society in 1965, the secretary wrote: "Maizefield gives one the feeling of warmth and of gracious living, perhaps for the most part, because of the warmth of its present owners (the Eggerts)". 

Bethany Beardslee-Winham and Maizeland Today

Betty outlived her husband and when the home became too large for her she sold it to David Hessney sometime in the early 1980s. During his tenure, he converted the servant's quarters on the third floor into two separate apartments. He created one further apartment on the ground floor too, which involved converting the Library into a kitchen.

In 1999, Maizefield was purchased by the noted Soprano Bethany Beardslee (b.1925), widow of Godfrey Winham: "It was cheap because taxes were high and it needed restoration, and of course it was a beast to heat. It had a grand French entryway with a formal staircase... I couldn't pass up this opportunity to at last have the entryway I'd always dreamed of. We sold the house in Rhinecliff and I moved into Maizeland - where I will live out my life". She undid the work done by the Hessneys and has restored it back to its original layout. It is a cherished property in Red Hook, but it remains a private home. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 19/06/2020 and last updated on 22/07/2020.
Image Courtesy of Daniel Case, Wiki Commons; Yearbooks of the Dutchess County Historical Society; I Sang the Unsingable: My Life in Twentieth-Century Music (2017) by Bethany Beardslee & Minna Proctor; Dutch; The American Book of the Dog - The Origin, Development, Special Characteristics, Utility, Breeding, Training, Points of Judging, Diseases, and Kennel Management of all Breeds of Dogs (Read Books Ltd, 2017); 

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