Historic Site & Park
Wappinger's Historical Society
History of Carnwath Farms
In 1850, architect George Post and landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing were commissioned to construct a three story Italianate style mansion and estate overlooking the majestic Hudson River on 200 acres for William Henry and Lydia Willis. Willis was a retired hardware merchant from New York City, and related to the Mesier family of nearby Wappingers Falls. He sold the estate shortly after its construction in 1855, when his son died of tuberculosis in the manor, and then built Obercreek.
In 1855, the estate was sold to New York banker, George Barclay, who died there on July 28, 1869. His only daughter, Matilda Antonia Barclay married New York attorney Francis Robert Rives. Rives was Secretary of the American Legation at London under ambassador Edward Everett during the William Henry Harrison administration. It was the Barclay/Rives family who selected the name "Carnwath" for the estate as Mr. Barclay's wife, Louise Ann, and daughter, Matilda, were direct decedents of James I, King of Scotland and much of the family lived in the Village of Carnwath in Scotland. By 1870, Francis and Matilda and their family fully moved into Carnwath as their primary residence. The formal Italianate appearance of the Manor was changed to a less formal, Georgian style 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. The Carriage House's French design was influenced by Francis's father, William Cabell Rives, being the Ambassador to France under President Andrew Jackson. Francis Rives was a member of both the prominent New York City Knickerbocker Club and the Coaching Club. He also served on the board of directors of several Wappinger based clubs and organizations such as the Grinnell Public Library, Zion Episcopal Church, Wappingers Falls Rural Cemetery, and others. In 1891, Francis Robert Rives died leaving his $3 million Carnwath Estate to his son Reginald.
Reginald Rives quickly assumed a number of social and political positions following his father's death. He was elected Wappinger Town Supervisor in 1899, appointed as a Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff as well as being the president of the Coaching Club, a society formed by horsemen in 1875 to promote coaching as a gentleman’s sport. Reginald 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. During his time owning Carnwath, Reginald and his wife were often featured within the social columns of daily news papers throughout the northeast. Their travels and current gossip covered the press along side their friends the Astor's and Vanderbilt's.
Following a very public divorce, Reginald sold his family's ancestral estate in 1914 and moved to Reno, Nevada before commissioning Reginald D. Johnson to design and build "Casa del Sueno" (Dream House) in Montecito, California in 1916. In 1914, Carnwath was purchased by New York attorney Isaac Untermeyer who was famous for defending corrupt City of New York Mayor and head of the Tammany Hall party, William Boss Tweed. Untermyer purchased the property to avoid the media following the Tweed corruption trial.
In 1925, the Order of the Brothers of Hermits of Saint Augustine, a Catholic friary, purchased the property then known as Mother of the Good Counsel Novitiate. There, young men on the road to priesthood devoted their life to God and religion. The brothers moved into the existing structures on the Carnwath estate but also built the administration building in 1927 as a dormitory, chapel, and living/eating area. The large present Chapel was built in 1950 and the dormitory in 1958. Priests from all across the nation came to live, study, and worship at the Novitiate. In addition to their religious duties, the brothers also enjoyed playing basketball in the Carriage House and sleigh riding down the sloping hills of the property.
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. Greystone dedicated the site as the Susanze Maguire Pavilion and housed and treated severely handicapped individuals. A number of modifications were made to the property to service Greystone's needs during their ownership
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 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.
The Town has set the goal that Carnwath Farms HSP & the Reese Cultural Center will be the area’s premier location for the arts, culture, and antiquities. A walk through this park, will leave you impressed with magnificent breathtaking sweeping views of the Hudson River and her surrounding valley.