Owners and Residents of the Jay Estate in Rye
1745 - 1783
Peter Jay, French Huguenot Merchant and Gentleman Moves to Rye
Peter Jay is the only son of French Huguenot emigrant, Auguste Jay, and Anna Maricka Bayard. A successful merchant, he marries Mary Van Cortlandt. The Van Cortlandts are some of the largest enslavers in New York. To escape the ongoing threat of a smallpox epidemic in New York City that has killed one of his children and blinded two others, Peter Jay leases then buys 250 acres of land and its messuages (dwelling house, outbuildings, orchards and more) in Rye on March 26, 1745 from John Budd 4th. The Jay family holdings in Rye eventually grow to over 400 acres and include Pine Island, Henn Island and Marees Neck.
Peter’s infant son John Jay is 3 months old when the family moves to Westchester in 1746. It is likely that Peter adds on to an existing farmhouse bought of the Budds which is surrounded by barns and gardens. He enslaves as many as 9 people to manage the plantation and to help care for three children, two of whom are blind. Known names of these servants are Old Mary, Zilpha, Plato and Peter. Several may be interred on the Jay farm in “the old burying ground.”
As a prominent member of the small Rye community, Peter also secures the charter for Christ’s Church where the family worships.
The 3/4 mile view to the Long Island Sound through the open meadow is one that would have existed during John Jay’s boyhood. John returns to the family estate frequently as a refuge throughout his life. As a young student at Kings College, he returns to Rye by horseback fortnightly to be with his parents, brothers and sisters. When the Stamp Act compels him and many other lawyers to strike in defiance of British law, he lives in Rye from 1765 to 1766, and immerses himself in re-reading the classics.
During the Revolutionary War, John Jay’s parents, siblings and servants leave Rye and move to Fishkill for safety while John Jay is “beyond seas.” Both of John Jay’s parents die before he returns home.
1784 - 1813
"Blind Peter" Jay and John Jay Manage the Family Seat Together
Upon Peter Jay’s death, his vast estate is passed down to his sons in severalty. Through primogeniture, “Blind Peter” takes on the majority of the Rye home’s stewardship with assistance from his younger brother John who owns a portion of the land. (“I am the owner of one undivided half part of a lot of land containing by estimation seventy acres, in the township of Rye adjacent to the farm of Peter Jay and occupied by him.” – John Jay, October 1, 1798)
Living with John Jay’s brother Peter at Rye are his wife Mary Duycinck, her niece Euphemia “Effy”, a brother Augustus, an older sister Eve and her son Peter Jay Munro, a sister Anna Maricka (also blind) and several enslaved people including Hannah, Dinah, Caesar, Sylvia and Pete. Another brother Frederick “Fady” shares the home.
The “Family Seat” in Rye is where John comes to celebrate America’s new independence with his family upon his return from France in 1784 having helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ends war with Great Britain. According to friend and fellow peacemaker John Adams, “Our worthy friend, Mr. Jay returns to his country like a bee to his hive, with both legs loaded with merit and honor.”
John, his wife Sarah “Sally” van Brugh Livingston and their children also pass considerable time in Rye during the summer months and holidays. John Jay engages the assistance of Captain Samuel Lyons as early as 1784 to help manage the Rye farm.
Notable visitors to the home include Yale President Timothy Dwight IV
Being with family at his home is of the utmost importance to Jay as evidenced in a letter to his father-in-law, William Livingston, Governor of New Jersey.
“Having never from choice, and seldom from necessity (except during the war) been absent from Rye and Christmas, I purpose to take Peter with me and to pass that day and a few succeeding ones there.” – December 22, 1788.
While Jay travels, Sarah frequently stays with his family in Rye for company finding the fresh air improves here frail health and constitution. Sadly, Sarah Livingston Jay dies on May 28, 1802, just a few short months after having joined John at their retirement home in Bedford in December 1801. Their two youngest children William and Sarah Louisa are 12 and 10 at the time of her death.
John Jay establishes the Jay Family Burying Ground during this period. This appears to be different from an “old burying ground” on the property that was likely set aside for enslaved servants. Ancestral remains of the Jays and Sarah’s, are moved from two vaults at St. Mark’s on the Bowery and re-interred in Rye on October 28, 1807.
1813 - 1822
John Jay Inherits Entire Property After the Death of his Oldest Brother.
“Blind Peter” dies in 1813 and John Jay inherits the remainder of the Rye estate outright. He asks his son Peter Augustus Jay to help maintain the farm while Blind Peter’s widow, Mary and her enslaved servants – Sylvia, Peter and Caesar still live there.
Notable visitors to the Rye home include James Fenimore Cooper who draws ideas for his characters from the Jay household and also uses the waterfront setting for his first successful novel The Spy (1821). He gives the Jay home its name “The Locusts.”
Ironically a storm known as the great Great September Gale topples the old locust trees behind the main house just before Cooper’s tale is published. Peter Augustus Jay, having received the land from his father on September 16, 1822, replants elm trees in place of the locusts – the elms survive well into the 20th century before succumbing to Dutch elm disease.
1822 - 1836
John Jay Formally Deeds the Ancestral Homestead to Peter Augustus Jay.
On September 16, 1822, John Jay formally deeds the property to Peter Augustus Jay. Peter Augustus has already been making his own strategic purchase of land adjacent to the ancestral homestead.
Father and son confer on plantings and changes to the landscape. Dry laid stone ha-ha walls in a Palladian design are installed to frame the meadows and viewway. Peter Augustus and his wife Mary Rutherfurd Clarkson discuss enhancements to the gardens together and plant the “finest” selection of vegetables. In 1833, Mary Rutherfurd surprises her husband by having a rough summer house built near the water.
They have paid servants who help maintain the buildings and grounds and entertain large groups of friends and family. Known servants on the property include Caesar Valentine, a man enslaved by Peter’s aunt and uncle and manumitted in 1824. As of 1830 there are 5 African Americans, 3 women and two men, living on the site, all free. New research has shown that Caesar had a son in 1807 also named Caesar Valentine. Is one of the women on the census his wife?
Notable visitors to the home include artist Samuel F. B. Morse
1836 - 1843
Peter Augustus Jay Commissions the Current Greek Revival Mansion.
Like many other Westchester homes barraged by both British fire and battered by New England troops during the war, “The Locusts,” was badly damaged. In fall of 1836, Peter Augustus contracts to take it down and have the current Greek Revival mansion built – the new structure is completed in 1838. His wife Mary Rutherfurd Clarkson is equally involved in the planning. The couple have 8 children.
The builder, Edwin Bishop salvages structural elements – doors, chestnut timbers, shutters and hardware from “The Locusts” to incorporate into the new house. The rear veranda facing Long Island Sound is made the exact same length of the porch of the first home where John Jay celebrated the end of the Revolutionary War.
The 1838 Drawing Room has Minard Lafever and Asher Benjamin inspired details with gold leafed cornices and floor to ceiling windows. Countless elm trees enhance the grounds at this time. An area of the mansion is designated Caesar’s pantry. The estate is managed by Giles Green and his family.
Sadly, like Sarah Livingston Jay before her, Mary Rutherfurd Clarkson Jay does not live long enough to enjoy the home and gardens she and her husband have planned. Following a trip recommended to improve her health, she dies on the island of Funchal in Madeira on Christmas Eve, 1838.
Despite this great tragedy, Peter Augustus Jay and his children enjoy their country retreat throughout the seasons. A bedroom overlooking the front drive is set aside for Sarah Livingston Jay’s sister Judith Watkins.
Caesar stays at the property and is left a lifetime stipend in Peter Augustus Jay’s will.
In 1841, reference is made to an an old burying ground for servants where there are “graves with no recording stone so that even their names have perished & they are twice dead.”
1843 - 1891
Dr. John Clarkson Jay, NYYC Co-Founder and Conchologist
Peter Augustus Jay dies in 1843 and his son John Clarkson Jay a noted conchologist inherits the Rye estate. He and his wife Laura Prime reconfigure the mansion’s circular center hall staircase; he fills one space with his vast mollusk collection and library and calls it “The Shell Room.” He builds a small cottage on “Cherry Hill” facing the Sound in 1849 according to plans provided by Alexander Jackson Davis – the cottage resembles New York Yacht Club’s Station 10 built for his friend and fellow yachtsman, John Cox Stevens, in 1844.
Caesar Valentine, dies in 1847 and is buried somewhere on the Jay farm.
John Clarkson Jay renames the estate “Alansten” sometime before 1858. The family occupies the house during the Civil War. After the war, John Foshay leases some of the land from the Jays but also helps manage it. When their eldest son Rev. Peter Augustus Jay dies in 1875, John Clarkson and Laura Prime Jay invite his widow Julia Post and 4 children to live with them and their three single daughters, Cornelia, Alice and Sarah.
Dr. Jay’s 4 grandchildren – Pierre, Mary, Laura and John – will be the last generation of Jays to live at the estate.
1891 - 1904
John Clarskon Jay, Jr. and Pierre Jay Manage the Jay Estate
The property stays in the Jay family through 1904, 159 years of continuous ownership. After Dr. Jay’s death, the property is rented and offered for sale between 1891 and 1904. Notable lessees include Junius Spencer Morgan II, James Talcott and Mr. and Mrs. David Percy Morgan (Edith Parsons Morgan is the daughter of next door neighbor John E. Parsons)
JC Jay’s granddaughter, landscape architect Mary Rutherfurd Jay redesigns some portion of the gardens and creates the 100 foot long arbor trained with grapes and roses that visually and physically connects the core home area with a path through the meadows to the Sound.
September 1904 - July 1905
Henry Ives Cobb, Architect and John Jay Realty Co. Plan to Subdivide the Estate
Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb purchases the 450 acre estate anonymously as part of a syndicate with James J. Fine and George Lowerre – they named their partnership the John Jay Realty Co. Cobb plans to keep the mansion as his own country home and develop the surrounding land for “handsome houses” but his residency is brief.
1905 - 1911
Warner La Montagnie Van Norden and Grace Talcott Purchase and Expand the Jay Estate.
Warner La Montagnie Van Norden and his wife Grace Talcott hire architect, Franke A. Rooke, to make renovations to their new country abode. They spend time there with their young son John. As is the practice of other Gilded Age couples, the two arrange to have intricate wood paneling imported from Europe and installed. A Library replaces what was once a first floor bedroom and a Reception Room is also configured. A new pantry with enameled brick walls and mosaic tile floors is added as well as a billiards room and gymnasium on the lower level.
Rooke, architect of the Claremont Riding Academy, also designs a new Classical Revival Carriage House and Zebra Barn for the Van Nordens in 1906-7. The couple import and house rare Grevy zebras and other exotic animals in these structures, again a practice not atypical of their era or social stature. They have kennels and raise prize French bulldogs.
1911 - 1935
Edgar Palmer Buys the Jay Estate.
Princeton philanthropist Edgar Palmer and his wife Zilph Hayes buy the Jay estate and enjoy its water access. Both avid sailors, the Palmers own a constellation of yachts throughout their life including 2 famous three-masted schooners, each named Guinevere (and each donated for patrol duty in World Wars I and II). Zilph is the first flag member (female member) of American Yacht Club across the harbor where husband Edgar becomes Commodore. She and her brother James Hayes race Sonder class boats.
The Palmers create a veritable family compound contracting architect Aymar Embury II to build homes for Zilph’s two siblings, James Hayes and Helen Hayes Watson. The 1917 Indoor Tennis House is believed to have been constructed during Palmer’s ownership. Brinley and Holbrook surveys point to a reconfiguration of the grounds including the addition of apple and peach orchards along with numerous vegetable gardens and more formal parterre plantings. The grounds are beautifully maintained by John Connor. The Van Norden kennels are maintained and adapted for new breeds including chow-chows.
Palmer uses the meadow as an airstrip during frequent trips to Princeton, New Jersey while he oversees several capital projects there including the construction of Palmer Stadium named for his father and Palmer Square.
The Van Norden Carriage House is rehabilitated into a Garage and Harvey E. Thomas is the family’s chauffeur.
The name Alansten is again used for the property. Edgar and Zilph’s daughter Zilph is born in 1912 and shares an interest in photography with her father. A servant’s room is remodeled as a darkroom with a zinc sink for processing negatives.
1935 - 1966
Zilph Palmer Receives Jay Estate from Her Father.
Zilph Palmer receives the Jay Estate from her father in 1935. She marries Walter B. Devereux in 1940; he is a Princeton graduate like her father and brother. Their wedding reception takes place at the Jay Estate. They have exquisite gardens maintained by their gardener John Ryan. Flowers from the gardens are frequently used for the National Horse Show of which Devereux is President.
A swimming pool is constructed in the middle room of the sunken gardens in 1947. The AJ Davis cottage which has succumbed to the ravages of carpenter bees is taken down and replaced with a pool house in 1958.
Zilph Palmer Donates Buildings and 23 Acres to United Methodist Church.
Zilph Palmer Devereux donates a 23 acre upland parcel of her Rye estate to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church.
An additional 120 acres of wooded meadowlands and salt marshes with frontage on Long Island Sound is donated to Westchester County in 1967. It is initially suggested that the conservancy be named the Devereux Reservation but the land is eventually dedicated as Marshlands Park in 1972. It is Mrs. Devereux’ intention that these two parcels of land never be developed.