Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Residence for Henry Ward Beecher

In 1876, preacher and American celebrity, Henry Ward Beecher began plans for a summer home.  The home was to be the embodiment of his ideals and was to sit amongst a lavish garden containing specimens of every flower and vegetable he could grow in the climate.  Early plans on the home were reported to be started by renowned New York architect Richard Morris Hunt but by 1877, Beecher was visiting Syracuse to inspect the work of an up and coming architect named Joseph Lyman Silsbee.   
Beecher's summer home had a commanding view of the Hudson River Valley from a hilltop on the edge of town of Peekskill, N.Y.  Though it was reported that Beecher personally oversaw all of the details of the work, Silsbee was responsible for the overall design as well as the design of all of the interiors and custom furnishings.  Firms from Syracuse and Ithaca were brought in to execute the wood work. 
Scant images of this home exist but illustrations from a construction journal of the period depict a Stick Style structure with a granite base, brick upper stories, and elaborate wood framing and trim.  The home was completed in 1878 and Beecher boasted that no paint was used on the interior.  All of the walls, mantels and woodwork were carried out in cherry with elaborately printed papers being used to cover the remaining walls and ceilings.  This is the earliest evidence of Silsbee's work on a total design and trademark elements like the Queen Anne detailing seen in the mantel pieces would set the tone for later work in this vein. The interiors were not at all unlike those that he did for George and Rebecca Barnes, previously featured in this blog.
The home underwent major renovations in the 1920's by owner, William McFadden.  Except for a small portion at the rear of the home, the entire residence now has the appearance of a Jacobean Estate.   The portions of the building that do exist depict a carefully detailed home with accents of glazed brick and fine masonry work as well as elaborate wood trim and and a variety of shingles.  Due to the notoriety of the owner, the home was given a lot of attention at the time of its original construction and the press featured descriptions of the building and compliments to the architect in newspapers in Boston, New York and across New York State.  


reginamia said...

good story; great illustrations!

Unknown said...

Hello Chris,

Can you tell me the source for the interior views of the Henry Ward Beecher house in Peekskill?

Wayne Mason

Chris said...

Wayne, the interior shots are from Builder & Woodworker, Vol. XXVI No. 2,
February, 1890: plates 14-16. There is also a not so good image of the library in the Brooklyn Eagle, April 29, 1932. I have never seen photos of the interiors but imagine they were great.

Unknown said...

Thanks Chris. My interest is focused on the interior decorators Leissner & Louis. They ran an advertisement in 1878 which mentions an article from the Christian Union describing Henry Ward Beecher's new house at Peekskill. If you can find that article it could give a more complete description of Beecher's house. Beecher edited the Christian Union so the article is probably a vanity piece.


Anonymous said...


The article describing Beecher's house appeared in The Christian Union, 26 June 1878, pp.531-32. It contains detailed descriptions of the interiors and the grounds. A scan can be accessed at Hathi Trust. An article about Beecher's new house ran in the Brooklyn Eagle, 29 Dec 1878, which can be accessed at It is a brief article and not as rich in detail.

Where did you find a copy of Feb 1890 Builder & Woodworker?

Wayne Mason

Chris said...


The copies of the Builder and Woodworker that I saw were on microfilm at the Chicago Public Library. I don't know if any other copies exist in other collections or not.

Hope this helps.


Petee716 said...

Hi Chris,
I have information that indicates the house was built by the carpentry firm of Richard Wickham of Albany. Can you confirm this?

Chris said...

I believe that you are correct about Wickham. In Howell's History of Albany, Wickham's bio mentions that he worked on the home. My assumption is that he did the general carpentry as all of the interior woodwork, carving, and furnishings were manufactured by Dickison & Moore of Syracuse.