History


In 1860, approximately sixty settlers were granted title to land in an area called Manhasset. The rolling terrain, later to become Strathmore-Vanderbilt, was part of the vast Spreckel’s estate belonging to a wealthy farmer in the sugar business.

Records indicate that title was conveyed in 1906 to William Chester. This property was indeed extensive and can best be described by present day markers. It was bounded on the North by Northern Boulevard, on the East by Searingtown Road, on the South by Powerhouse Road and the West by Lakeville Road.

Chester promptly subdivided the property by selling it for use as country estate to people whose names appeared prominently on the society lists of New York City. Among these new settlers were names like Whitney, Payson, Paley, Starlem, Kelly and Bull. It marked the beginning of an elegant period that featured weekend country leisure. Riding and entertaining were favored activities. And the homes were all well-staffed by domestic help from abroad.

In 1914, Chester sold the remaining part of his holdings – a French Chateau – to an ice cream and candy entrepreneur, Louis Sherry. Mr. Sherry was enamored by the well-balanced architecture and proceeded to redecorate the house to resemble the Petite Trianon, a cottage of Marie Antoinette at Versailles. A forty-foot waterfall splashed in the courtyard.

The formal garden, replete with aromatic boxwood and rare foliage provided opportunities for relaxing evening walks. A complete library – paneling and books – was purchased in France and installed next to the foyer of the house.

On Mr. Sherry’s death in 1923 the house with 700 acres was sold to Frank Munsey, owner of the New York Sun, The Baltimore Sun, and a bank, the Munsey Trust Company. He was also an art connoisseur and the patron of the arts. Mr. Munsey was critical of Mr. Sherry’s architect and undertook a grandiose remodeling that lasted two years and cost two-and-a-half-million dollars. The forty foot waterfall was ordered removed because, legend has it; he was afraid someone might climb on top of it and shoot him while he was sleeping.

Mr. Munsey extended the house with two wings of pink brick and imported stone trim around the arched windows. He added an octagonal tower. To achieve his idea of a true Louise XV chateau, he imported French marble fireplaces and mantles, brass fixtures for the windows and doors, and commissioned a hand-painted mural for the ceiling of the Marie Antoinette dining room. Unfortunately, Mr. Munsey never formally occupied the house. He died a bachelor and his entire estate was left to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Graham Fair Vanderbilt, a scion of the Vanderbilt family and fortune offered to purchase the house with 100 acres from the Metropolitan Museum. For a decade, the property provided a gracious setting for lawn parties and social festivities to which New York’s top “400” eagerly responded. The property was ultimately inherited by Consuelo Vanderbilt, whose interests were focused abroad. She sold the house and the 100 acres to architect/builder, William Levitt, who was gaining prominence in developing various “Strathmore” communities in Manhasset. He named the new acquisition Strathmore Vanderbilt.

His plans for Strathmore Vanderbilt centered around the presence of the French Chateau at the end of the long and winding tree-lined drive. He conceived the idea of an association of property owners who would share in its continued maintenance and who in turn would benefit from its facilities, its elegance, and its convenient location. His decision to maintain the structure as a resource to be enjoyed by future generations is a testimonial as much to his talent as an architect as it is to his talent as visionary.