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A Brief History of Horace Greeley’s Farm

Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, and later a candidate for president of the United States, started to acquire property in Chappaqua for a summer home in 1852. He and his wife, Mary, bought 25 acres to start and later expanded their holdings to about 78 acres, located near the railroad station and including much of what is now the downtown village.

Mary had insisted upon three requisites for the property: “1. A peerless spring of pure, soft, living water; 2. A cascade or brawling brook; 3. Woods largely composed of evergreens.” The land in Chappaqua already contained the first two, and Greeley supplemented its mixed woods with a grove of evergreens, some of which still survive. The property was also extensive enough for Greeley to pursue his efforts at farming, although most of it was either a boggy lowland or a rocky, eroded hillside.

The Greeleys’ first home was the House in the Woods, a relatively small house located near the “brawling brook” at the southern boundary of the property. In 1864, the Greeleys moved to a bigger home, the present Horace Greeley House on King Street, and before their deaths in 1872 they built the even larger Side Hill House, near what is now the front entrance of the Robert E. Bell Middle School.

Greeley was by necessity a gentleman farmer. Although he lived within walking distance of the Chappaqua railroad station, the total trip to the downtown Tribune office took over two hours, so he couldn’t commute daily. Instead, he would come up on Friday night, spend Saturday here, and return to the city on Sunday to prepare the Monday issue. He nonetheless spent much time, effort, and money (especially money) trying to turn the land into a productive farm.

He made several improvements to the property. The remnants of the stone dam he erected on the brook can still be seen in Greeley Woods. His innovative concrete barn still exists as a residence. But his most ambitious project was also his least successful. He spent an estimated $50,000 (a huge sum in those days) in attempts to drain his marshy lowland and prevent it from periodically flooding. Not until more than a century later was that problem finally solved.

In 1872, Greeley ran unsuccessfully for president against incumbent Ulysses S. Grant. Mary Greeley died a week before the election, after a long illness. Greeley himself collapsed and died a few weeks later. The Chappaqua property was inherited by their daughters Ida and Gabrielle – the only survivors of their parents’ seven children. In the fall of 1873, they moved to the Side Hill House, which their parents hadn’t lived to occupy. Ida married Nicholas Smith in 1875 and moved away. She and her husband intended to renovate the House in the Woods and make it their own summer home, but during the renovation it burned and was never rebuilt. Ida herself died in 1882.

Meanwhile Gabrielle made Chappaqua her year-round home. She lived in the Side Hill House until 1890, when it, too, burned down. She moved temporarily to a small tenant house, located near present Town Hall. Then, in 1891 she married Episcopal minister Frank Clendenin, and they converted Greeley’s concrete barn into a home they called Rehoboth. It still exists as a residence, on Aldridge Road.

The Clendenins were very generous toward their community. They donated part of their property next to the railroad tracks for a new station, dedicated in 1902. They built the Episcopal Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1906, on four acres along South Greeley Avenue. In 1926, Gabrielle either donated or sold at a low price the 10-acre site for the Horace Greeley School – now the Robert E. Bell Middle school.

Dr. Clendenin died in 1930, and Gabrielle continued to live at Rehoboth until her own death in 1937. The remainder of the Greeley property was sold and subdivided in the mid-1950s. The largest single portion, along Bedford Road, became the site of Temple Beth-El.

 

This map will help you visualize the size of the Greeley Farm, and how much Chappaqua has changed since 1883. We suggest you look at it briefly before starting the walking tour. Your first stop is the “House on the Main Road,” now known as the Horace Greeley House and the home of the New Castle Historical Society.

Click here for Stop 1: The Greeley House