I grew up in the neighborhood known as Idle Hour in Oakdale, NY. It was called that as the homes were built on the grounds of William K. Vanderbilt’s “Idle Hour” estate. Living in this neighborhood was magical. Just down Montauk Highway, across the street from my parent’s dry cleaning business in Oakdale, there also stood LaSalle Academy, the former Bourne (Singer Sewing Machine heir) estate. My sister had her wedding photos taken there. My experiences with these two wonderful estates, however, are another story. This is about Pepperidge Hall.
As a kid in Idle Hour, there were so many amazing places to discover – the Connetquot River, the small canals Vanderbilt had built throughout his estate, the quaint bridges that dotted the area, the Artist Colony, the Clock Tower, the Carriage House, the giant decorative vases that popped up along Shore Drive….But what my friend, Lydia, and I found during a bike ride down a wooded path one summer in 1970 is what has intrigued me for decades. The little-traveled path started at the end of Lincoln Drive and went all the way down to the Great South Bay. It was a great place for a picnic and beach glass collecting, a past time both Lydia and I were into during high school. On one beach glass excursion, we happened to see to the left of the path what looked like the outline of a circular driveway. Sure enough, there in the middle of the brush was a drive, the remains of a cement pond, crumbling brick walls and a few broken pieces of clay tiles. We could tell by the footprint of the drive and foundation walls that this had once been a grand estate. We went back to visit it often, but no one could tell us at the time what our discovery was.
It was just yesterday, 45 years later, that I finally connected the dots and realized it was the remains of Pepperidge Hall. An eccentric sugar magnate, Christopher Robert II, built the spectacular Jacobean style mansion in 1888 in a race with Vanderbilt and Bourne to see who could build the biggest and best mansion. Robert’s 1,000-acre estate bordered Vanderbilt’s to the east. At first, he commissioned Edward Ficken to build his Queen Anne lodge in 1882. After it burned down seven years later, Fickens designed and built the massive, rectangular Pepperidge Hall. A large inner courtyard with a 30′ by 50′ pool and fountain dominated the plan, and a 109-foot glass conversancy stood on the west side of the rectangle. Stepped gables, turrets, bay windows and numerous chimneys were showcased. Robert and his second wife (with whom he had a rocky relationship) didn’t live there long before he traded the estate for a Wall Street complex in 1896. Then in 1898, Robert was found shot to death. The circumstances were suspicious at best, but the coroner deemed it a suicide. Over the years, the mansion went through a number of owners, attempting to develop it into a hotel or retreat, but with no success. Several silent films utilized the mansion as a backdrop, including “Lady Slippers,” “To Hell With the Kaiser,” and “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” Neglected and vandalized, Pepperidge Hall was razed in 1940.
What I realize now, is that the narrow, winding road (only wide enough for one car) that we nicknamed “The English Road,” was actually part of the estate. Homestead Road houses several of Pepperidge Hall’s support buildings. The carriage house and stables were turned into homes decades ago. I remember the ice house and dairy, too. My British mother, sisters and I often walked this lovely stretch of road as we made our way from Vanderbilt Boulevard to Byron State Park. It took me quite a while to put two and two together, but I am so fortunate to have grown up in this neck of the woods. I’m saddened by the loss of such historic buildings, especially now that Idle Hour is under threat of demolition, but no matter what, these magical places, these cherished memories will remain with me forever.