by Elaine Marranzano
In the winter of 1934, John Hutchinson emerged from a two-story, stone cottage in Tarrytown. To his left were the nuns of Marymount. Ahead on the hill, he could see the red gabled roof of the big house, a massive, far more elaborate version of his own dwelling. Behind him, bisected by the Old Putnam County Railroad, were sheep meadows and corn fields. Though very near, the clackety-clak of the old train likely did little to disturb life inside the cottage. Its stone walls – a masterpiece of masonry – were two feet thick, cool in the summer, cozy in the winter, besides “Old Put” ran its last in 1929. Perhaps “Hutch” drew a quick breath of cold air as he headed out the door. Today would be a busy day, but then again, they all were if you managed an estate along Wilson Park Drive.
At the far north end sat Kykuit, the Rockefeller home. Next door was Rockefeller’s good friend, Worcester Warner who made his fortune from the manufacture of telescopes. Warner’s neighbor, two doors to the south, was Charles C. Brace, MD, a transplant from Colorado. Brace moved east seeking a more desirable location for his Denver Chemical Company, makers of Antiphlogistine, a warm salve for the reliefof aches, sprains and chest colds. Sales of the poultice made Brace far wealthier than his modest upbringing could have foretold. The profits funded the construction in 1906 of “Braceholme,” the 12,000-square-foot mansion Hutchinson could see from his doorstep.
Hutchinson was the caretaker of the Brace estate. He oversaw everything – the enormous greenhouse, the 10,000-square foot carriage house, the fields and the orchards. All employees answered to him. Children on the estate remember him as being a “dour Scottsman” and their sworn enemy. Likely he put up with no nonsense.
On this day, as he hurried on his way, Hutch may have stopped in at the carriage house to greet John Hunter who lived on the second floor with his wife and cared for the horses. The carriage house was divided – horses on one side – automobiles on the other. In the middle was a large turntable to position the cars for parking. Perhaps Brace was hedging his bets as to which mode of transport would prevail, so he decided to have both. This was a turning point in history and it must have been a little sad for Hunter to watch this transition knowing he was headed for obsolescence. He spent his time polishing the brass on the carriages and treating the leather harnesses to keep them in tip top shape. Perhaps he was looking forward to a good Christmas snow so he could hitch-up the team and take the Brace children for a sleigh ride all the way down Main Street to the Tarrytown train station. He liked that.
Today, the whole estate was abuzz with preparations for the annual Brace family Christmas party. Soon guests would arrive by car or horse-drawn sleigh and Hutch had one final thing to do.
For nearly six months out of the year, a fire was kept burning day and night in the mansion’s central fireplace. Open on four sides, the fireplace was big enough to stand in and its’ chimney could accommodate a full-grown man, and sometimes did. Brace’s grown son enjoyed dressing-up like Santa Clause and emerging from the chimney to delight his own children.
The laying of the Yule log in the colossal fireplace was a firmly-adhered-to Christmas tradition at Braceholme. Hutch was out on this day to the fetch the massive log, specially selected for the occasion. It took several helpers to carry it into the house where it was laid with reverence and ceremony.
Hutch may have stayed for the party since the Braces considered “the help” to be part of the family or perhaps he just went back to the caretaker’s cottage, which was a fine place to live. Solidly built, the cottage outlasted even Braceholme itself. The mansion was demolished in 1986 when the land was sold to a developer. The cottage, a few stone walls and parts of the apple orchard are all that remain of the Brace estate. And soon the cottage will be gone, too.
For five years, historic preservationists have to tried to stop Toll Brothers, Inc. from demolishing the cottage. It occupies one of the building lots that Toll owns along Wilson Park Drive. The developer has been eager to rid itself of the troublesome cottage so it can get on with building a new house. Those who would see the cottage preserved tried to buy the property, but the economics of the $1.1 million asking price was problematic. Toll also declined pleas to subdivide the lot so the cottage could be sold separately. The Tarrytown Planning Board did what it could. The courts intervened, but time and tactics have run out.
The paperwork from 1975 stating that the cottage was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places was “not found” by Toll’s predecessor and not seen again until 2014 when preservationists discovered it. But it was too late. The subdivision plans had already been approved with no provision for conserving the cottage. Now there is no going back.
Toll Brothers can demolish the cottage. It’s their right. And when the wrecking ball smashes into those stone walls, another tangible reminder of Tarrytown’s golden era will be dust in the wind.