Historic Site & Park
History of Carnwath Farms
In 1850, William Henry Willis constructed an Italianate three story mansion overlooking the majestic Hudson River, the Carnwath manor and the 200+acre estate was named Carnwath Farms, after Carnwath Manor in Scotland. It is said that William Willis was fascinated by the mysterious and strange stories he had heard about Carnwath. Willis was a retired hardware merchant from New York City. The Willis family later became related to the Reese and Mesier families. He sold the estate after the Civil War when his son died of tuberculosis in the manor, and then built Obercreek.
General George Barclay was the second resident of the estate, and used it as his summer/country home. Barclay was a general for the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1870 Mr. Francis Robert Rives who married the daughter of General Barclay, Matilda, purchased Carnwath Farms. Rives was the son of William C. Rives, US Senator and Ambassador to France. The formal Italianate appearance was changed to a less formal look which was preferred by late19th century architects. The east servant’s wing, large rounded additions, and south wing kitchen were added.
In 1873, the impressive three story French style Carriage House, and romantic style Ice House were constructed by Francis Rives as well. Rives operated Carnwath as a gentleman’s farm also building a large cow barn, and horse/hay barn (No longer standing) that were operated by Rives himself and the over 100 farmhands. In 1891, Francis Robert Rives died leaving his $3 million Carnwath Estate to his son Reginald. Reginald was president of the Coaching Club, a society formed by horsemen in 1875 to promote coaching as a gentleman’s sport, and compiled the book, “The Coaching Club, Its History and Activities.” He served as secretary-treasurer of the National Horse Show from 1925 to 1934 and was a prominent judge of harness horses in this country and abroad. For nine years he was whip of the public coach “Pioneer” and he once said that he was never more than forty-five seconds late on the 21-mile trip from New York City to Ardsley, N. Y.
In 1914 the property was purchased by a New York attorney named Isaac Untermeyer who was famous for defending William Boss Tweed.
In 1925 the Order of the Brothers of Hermits of Saint Augustine, a Catholic friary, purchased the property (known as Mother of the Good Counsel Novitiate) and built the administration building in 1927 as a dormitory, chapel, and living/eating area. The large present Chapel was built in 1950 and the Frances Reese Cultural Center in 1958.
In 1984, the Order of the Brothers of Hermits sold 99.7 acres (what is now left of the original 200+ acre Carnwath) to Greystone House Incorporated, later Greystone Programs Incorporated. Greystone specialized in severely handicapped individuals.
The Town of Wappinger purchased the property in 1999 for the purpose of preserving green space and the rich history of Wappinger. It became open to the public in 2000 as the “Greystone Estate” a public park.
In 2002-2007, a master plan was put together by an Advisory Committee to come up with future uses for the estate.
In 2003, the Town of Wappinger officially dedicated the “Greystone Estate” which included tours of the Carnwath Manor, Chapel, Dormitory, and Carriage House; and renaming the property to its original name, “Carnwath Farms”.
In 2005, the Town of Wappinger officially dedicated the dormitory building of Carnwath Farms as the Frances Reese Cultural Center and welcomed its first tenant, the Sports Museum of Dutchess County. The luncheon raised over $30,000 for the restoration of the Carnwath Manor and hosted Hillary Clinton as its guest of honor.