31 Yellow Cote Road, Oyster Bay Cove, Nassau County, New York
This house is best associated with...
Benjamin Van Doren Hedges II
"Ben" Van Doren Hedges II, Olympian & Vice-President of Big Brothers of America
Mildred grew up in the heart of Patrician society in Washington, the daughter of a General and a society beauty, Adele, whose grandmother was a sister of First Lady Dolley Madison (1768-1849). Soon after marrying Walter (who was fifteen years her senior), Mildred was voted "the most beautiful woman in America," but she was far more than just a pretty face: In 1915, she took herself to Europe as a war correspondent while volunteering for the Red Cross. She was held captive in Serbia by Bulgarian soldiers and survived "a hailstorm of bullets" in Petrograd. France awarded her the Croix-de-Guerre.
Finding their Feet
Soon after their marriage, family business saw the Farwells relocate to the XIT Ranch in Texas made up of 3-million acres that Walter was preparing to subdivide. The Farwells were immediately popular with the cowboys and their "hospitality became legendary".
However, by end of the first decade of the 20th century, they were craving the society and sophistication they had both been used to and began to pass their winters in London, England. Again, they immediately became favorites (their popularity whether with the rich or poor was always a recurring theme) and were introduced at court to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. In 1913, they purchased a large Georgian townhouse in London at 13 Grosvenor Square, just a few doors down from the Philadelphians Anthony and Rita Drexel. From here, "their receptions of the winter were marked with unusual splendor". As for their summer living arrangements, in 1915 the Washington Post reported they, "were about to transfer themselves from Chicago to a new home on Long Island".
The Long Wait for Long Island
Their plan to decamp from Chicago to New York in 1915 did not materialize immediately. It was that Spring that Mildred "startled her friends" by announcing her plans to go to the Front as a war correspondent and Red Cross volunteer (click here to read of her exploits). Walter too, "in spite of being over age and being able to see with only one eye (lost in a game of racquets at Yale), slipped under the tent into the war," considering himself, "very fortunate to have done so" having been itching for America to get involved since the start.
Hostilities in Europe concluded in November 1918. However, Captain Walter Farwell was maintained as a part of the reserve for the Army of Occupation in Luxembourg and was not discharged until June, 1919. The Farwells now returned to America, "to occupy for the first time a house which they had built four years before, the... place called Mallow".
Building "The Most Perfect Country Home in America"
In 1912, Walter purchased an 85-acre farm at Oyster Bay for $60,000 from the elderly Mrs Catherine Baylis, plus an adjoining 22-acres from Janett Lloyd. These farms formed the nucleus of the Farwell estate on Long Island. The date usually given for the construction of their mansion is "circa 1918," with the odd reference made to its completion in 1920. But, it would appear from all contemporary accounts that it was in fact built in 1915 and it was only the interior decor - led by Mildred herself - that completed it in 1920.
The architect behind their new home was William Welles Bosworth (1869-1966). Born in Ohio, he had taught himself Georgian architecture in London and after graduating from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris joined Carrère & Hastings in New York. In 1907, he was chosen by John D. Rockefeller to lay out the gardens at Kykuit and Mallow was one of his several domestic commissions in New York before Rockefeller placed him in charge of the restoration project in France to rejuvenate the Palais de Versailles, Fontainebleau etc.
The Farwell's 26-room house was set on the highest point of a largely wooded estate that Walter expanded to 138-acres. The mansion was set apart from others built during the same period by virtue of it being given an air of genuine antiquity: the handmade bricks used in its construction came from the ruin of Grove Hill, a plantation house in Virginia built for General James Breckinridge (1763-1833), a great friend of Thomas Jefferson.
No Ordinary Interior
Both architect and client were "frankly inspired" by the Duke of Northumberland's Adam-designed London bolthole, Syon House, though this is perhaps most noticeable in reference to its graceful interior. According to the archives of Mildred's friend, the great designer Ruby Ross Wood, Mallow's interior was entirely conceived by Mildred herself. The two may have exchanged ideas, but Ruby told her protégé Billy Baldwin that even the famous "Brown Room" is entirely attributable to the multi-talented Mildred.
The first of Mallow's two standout rooms is the magnificent two-story (since reduced to one) octagonal library with carved-oak paneling and bookcases that swung around. By the 1930s, Walter's eyesight had all but gone. The library was always kept exactly as he left it so that by memory he could still direct people to the books that he wished to have read to him. The second room for which the house was famous is "the Brown Room" fantastically lacquered in Coromandel wood that has influenced many others like it since and was particularly admired by the previously mentioned Billy Baldwin.
The original staircase at Mallow (since stripped out and sold) was an original 18th-century one retrofitted, "from the home of Lord Lytton," Knebworth House. Certainly in 1927, the 2nd Earl of Lytton came back from India and sold many treasures from his ancestral home to the Anderson Galleries in New York. These included several suits of armor among those that still line the Grand Staircase at Knebworth today; so, presumably, Mallow's elegant staircase came from another part of the English mansion at about the same time.
The paintings at Mallow included a copy by Charles B. King of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Mildred's great-grandfather, Richard Cutts (1771-1845), the brother-in-law of First Lady Dolley Madison. Another 18th century portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds hung in the Library between a pair of typically large Georgian gilt mirrors that hung over an equally large pair of console tables, both which had once adorned an old London townhouse.
"Mallow" and the Emerald Isle
On first glance, within and without, the Farwell's house was entirely English. But, Mildred bought the antique marble mantels and "much of the furniture" in Dublin. This may not seem of any great importance, but they also gave their otherwise distinctly English house, a distinctly Irish name: "Mallow" is a town with a castle in County Cork in Ireland with no apparent hint of an affinity to Walter, Mildred, nor their estate.
At the end of a long and seemingly fruitless search attempting to link the Farwells or their estate to Mallow in Ireland, I didn't find an answer, but I found a Long Islander with a direct link to Mallow which might do as food for thought until someone else does a better job! One Sir John Jephson inherited Mallow Castle in 1607. It was passed down through his family to "the rakish" Colonel William Jephson whose grand-daughter, Laura, was born at Mallow Castle but like him was also married at New York, to the brother-in-law of Clement Clarke Moore, author of "Twas' the Night Before Christmas". She remained in New York and died in 1903, on Long Island, 25 miles south of Syosset.
Unlike other couples of their era and class, the Farwells did not keep multiple houses. They enjoyed travelling and travelled frequently though how long they held onto 13 Grosvenor Square in London is unclear. But, certainly in America after the war and up until their deaths they kept just one home: Mallow. Mildred maintained a keen interest in raising money for Women and the American Red Cross. In 1933, to great fanfare, she opened Mallow to the public for the first time on hosting a Fashion Show & Fete in aid of the Oyster Bay Visiting Nurse Relief Fund, attracting "movie stars and other artists".
Mildred died in 1941. As she would have liked it, only a small paragraph reported her death and it barely hinted at her achievements. Walter died at Mallow two years later and his funeral with a "simple" service took place in the Living Room of the home he adored.
Not Quite Fit for a King
Walter had left Mallow to his wife's nephew, the Olympian Ben Van Doren Hedges II, who after a couple of years sold it to another native of Chicago who'd made the move to New York, Charles G. Cushing (1890-1958). He was a dashing, investment banker romantically linked to a string of actresses and who mixed in the same circles as Wallis Simpson etc.
In 1942, the Duke of Windsor approached Cushing to form a company that would drill for oil on the Duke's ranch in Texas, partnering up with Elisha Walker (1879-1950), of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Walker kept a summer home at Syosset and it was likely while all three were up there that the Duke and Duchess admired Mallow. Spotting an investment opportunity and encouraged by his friend, Mrs George Baker, Cushing purchased the estate with the idea of then offering it to the Duke and Duchess, for a tidy profit. The pseudo-Royals declined to buy the house and most likely never got wind of the ruse as they all remained on friendly terms and Cushing even joined them on a motor tour around Europe in 1956.
Cushing never lived at the house, but he did rename it "Baywood" which was the original name Bosworth had given to it on his architectural plans. Having failed to interest the Windsors, Cushing put it on the market and two prospective buyers came to the fore: the Russian government who wanted mansions in the area as retreats for their diplomats, such as at Norwich House; and, an organization of parents from Cold Spring Harbor.
East Woods School
In 1948, Cushing sold up to the parents for $70,000 to create East Woods School, but not before he had sold off all but 14-acres of the land for development and arranged to auction off the mansion's furnishings and fittings. That said, Cushing, Mrs Baker and others in the community did make several purchases at the auction on behalf of the school to preserve some of the original key features such as the staircase and the marble busts that sat in the niches of the hallway. Architect Everett Post then made the necessary, and largely sympathetic, changes to convert Mallow from mansion to school. Unfortunately they saw the two story octagonal library cut down in half and the large cross-shaped pool at the rear of the house filled in. The school still goes strong, proud of its history.
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