1916 From the Archives

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The Coe family was based in New York City, which a hundred years ago, was the financial, social, artistic and intellectual center of American life, more so than today. On weekends, away from their busy lives in the city, they entertained friends at Coe Hall and the Italian Garden, specifically located close to the house was where Mrs. Coe could serve tea to her guests. The garden was designed to be used as an outside room with everyone wearing their finest tea clothes and enjoying the magnificent displays of flowers, with roses in June being a particular highlight. Mrs. Coe, beautifully dressed, posed for her photo near the garden gates (photo right). Wealthy women who were interested in gardening—and it was a fashionable female pursuit – would visit and be entertained in each other’s gardens. It was these activities that partly prompted the creation of clubs, which led to the founding, in 1913, of The Garden Club of America. By 1938, there were over 2,000 garden clubs in the U.S. Many important garden architects and writers were women, including Beatrice Ferrand, who built gardens on Long Island, and was Edith Wharton’s niece. She did not work at Planting Fields, instead, in the 1920s the Coes hired the Olmsted Brothers firm to design and oversee the landscape here, including modifications to the Italian Garden, for which they designed a planting plan in 1920.


Mr. Coe’s passion for gardening led him to compete in many flower shows where he exhibited specimens grown in his greenhouse. On November 10th, 1916 the New York Herald reported that W.R. Coe won “nearly half the prizes” having won twenty blue ribbons at the Oyster Bay Chrysanthemum Show. The second highest winner only had seven blue ribbons. Upset came the very next day when it was discovered that thieves broke in and stole winning blooms. W.R. Coe’s, E.F. Whitney’s, and J. Stuart Blackton’s were among those whose exhibits were stolen.


Mr. Coe was at Planting Fields in mid-June to admire the several thousand new rhododendrons that were coming into flower. Other improvements to the landscape at Planting Fields included the purchase of 5,000 red pines, and 2,000 oak seedlings, with several hundred dollars additionally, spent on peach trees, grape vines, Magnolias and maple trees. He kept a close watch on the improvements to his other properties. The Irma Lake Lodge running expenses were $9,803, expenses of their New York City residence were $812, and the Oyster Bay expenses were $64,135 for a combined total of $74,751 or $1,661,146 in today’s dollars.


In early spring in 1916 Mr. Coe became ill. Correspondence between him and Robert indicates that he was sick for three months. He wrote that his eczema was acting up and that he was going for electrical treatments for what doctors thought was a nervous system relapse. His illness upset plans to visit the boys at school, and he hoped to recover so that the family could spend the summer as they usually did in the mountains of Wyoming. Mr. Coe’s letters reveal his great concern for his children, as they had their own health scares at St. Paul’s school; in fact, two of Robert’s classmates had died from Mastoiditis and a third was now ill with the same condition. In 1916, there was a series of outbreaks that, due to modern medicine, are no longer life threatening. Over the course of that year, there was an epidemic of Mumps, Measles, Chicken Pox, Mastoiditis, and one of the boys at St. Paul’s was sent to the hospital as the school infirmary was at full capacity. In March Robert wrote to this father “It is impossible to receive proper care”. He had been released from the infirmary, before being fully recovered from his head cold.


Later in the year, Robert wrote his father that he had passed the College Board examination in history while William had not. In one letter Mr. Coe wrote William “I am sorry indeed to note that in your mid-term examinations you only stood 68 out of 90, but am glad you appreciate how rottenly you did, I am spending a lot of money on your education, and I do not propose to sit by and see it wasted. Unless this improves when you are home for the Christmas holiday there will be no hockey games, theaters, or moving picture shows. You will be “grounded” at Oyster Bay, and I will write Dr. Drury to forbid hockey at school”. William did not write to his father nearly as often as Robert; however, he did make sure to send letters after improving in his studies and excelling at track stating that he completed the hundred yard dash in 11 4/5 seconds, with the world record being 9 3/5 at the time. In March four seats were purchased for “Pom Pom” at Cohan’s Broadway theater. William wrote Mr. Coe for permission to invite Jamee Jennings and her Governess, along with Robert.


For leisure William and Robert also traveled to Chicago to spend time with other family members, during which they stayed at a hotel with cousins Marion, Rowland, and Aunt Maude. William wrote to Mr. Coe asking for $5 pocket money stating “I am completely broke”. The boys were required to keep a log of spending on meals, taxis, and other miscellaneous expenditures. Mr. Coe admonished the boys stating “you certainly were extravagant in your spending. I think $4.85 for a magazine in Chicago was beyond all reason. The next time you go away, I will not give you so much money. I think it is about time you boys learnt the value of money”.


Mr. Coe had a year full of highs and lows with his race horses. Mustard won a race and lost by a nose at Belmont. His horses did not do well at Piping Rock; however, horses Hauberk and White Hackle became the stars of the year, and of the media. White Hackle had been purchased by Mr. Coe, from John E. Madden, for $25,000 or $555,555 in today’s money. Those in the racing world at the time felt that Mr. Coe paid too much for a horse that would not live up to his buying price. Mr. Coe first ran his horse at Saratoga, and at three years old White Hackle raced in several big stakes. Newspaper articles began to report impressive winnings. A jolt came in June of 1916 when White Hackle died in his stall from Pneumonia. The horse had been ailing for a few days having contracted a cough that had been prevalent at Belmont for several weeks. The illness developed into congestion of the lungs, which caused the sudden death. White Hackle had just won a six-furlong race at Belmont Park in the beginning of June and was valued at $20,000.


The 1916 ledgers and correspondence in the archives indicate that the superintendent’s house was being built, along with continued work on the farm buildings. In April, barn buildings that were being worked on near the White Cottage burnt down, and Mr. Coe expressed he was glad the cottage itself did not catch fire. The erection of the stables was taken on by Elliot & Brown Company and while in the midst of the work, Mr. Coe paid an extra $12,668 to change to fireproof construction along with $7,972 to change from shingle to slate. All of these changes cost $20,640 or about $458,666 in today’s dollars. The work at Planting Fields was part of the overall plan which took many years, but which eventually fulfilled the Coe’s ambition to make the estate the great showplace it is today.


In other business endeavors, Mr. Coe was elected Chairman of the Virginian Railway and a member of the board of the Scandinavian Trust Company newly formed that year, and one of the seven chosen as directors. The company became one of the largest institutions organized to meet the increased financial responsibilities of New York City, and which developed as a result of World War I.



9:00 am - 5:00 pm daily

$8 per car until Nov, 18th


Self-Guided Visits to Coe Hall

11:30 am - 3:30 pm  3/27 – 10/2 daily

October Weekends only

$5 Non-Members

Members & Children under 12 are free

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