Memories of Ailsa Farms
For the children of the Hobart family, life at Ailsa Farms in the early years of this century must have been near idyllic. From the first Christmas in 1902, shortly after Jennie Hobart, the family matriarch and widow of Garret A. Hobart, 24th vice president of the United States, purchased the property, the house worked its magic on the family.
The house on the hill in the country was a weekend retreat from their spacious, elegant city residence, Carroll Hall. It was to Ailsa Farms that the young children in the family were taken to escape the heat of the city during the summer. Loaded into horse-drawn carriages and accompanied by their nurses, these young children, by the end of World War I, had a wonderful house to explore and spacious grounds on which to play.
Elizabeth Hobart Kingsbury, the daughter of Garret Hobart, Jr., was just a young child when she moved into the manor house with her family after the war.
"Dinners were sometimes formal
and always very special"
"By this time, the renovations had been completed, and the house seemed, to my five-year-old eyes, enormous," she recalls. "We three children lived on the main floor and our parents and grandmother lived on the floor above. Many happy hours of my childhood were spent in the playroom, a large room on the help's floor. It was here that we kept our doll houses, electric trains, a piano, and later a sewing machine."
Because the family was wealthy, they had many servants including a cook, kitchen maid, houseman, two chauffeurs, a laundress and assistant laundress, a waitress/parlor maid, butler, and one or two chambermaids. The 250-acre estate also housed a farmer, who lived in a cottage near the barn with his family. In addition to homegrown fruits and vegetables, the farm included pigs, chickens, sheep, cows, and several horses for riding and others that were work animals.
But it was the house that fascinated the young Elizabeth. "The house, though large, was a wonderful place to live," she remembers. "As children, we found all sorts of exciting hiding places, one of the favorites being in the trunk room in the basement where the trunks were stacked to the ceiling on racks and we could climb up and hide behind them."
She also recalls hiding in the organ loft over the circular staircase in the front hall. "This was particularly exciting because we could go there when the family was having parties and we were able to listen to all kinds of fascinating conversations. Of course, one blast of the organ and I'm sure we would have been deafened for life."
The organ used to stand in the upstairs hall. "We had music rolls for the organ, which my father used to love to play, adjusting the various stops and pedals to create marvelous crescendos, tremolos, and flute solos."
On Sunday afternoons, friends and visitors were encouraged to stop by and often stayed for dinner. Parties were held year-round for the holidays, and Mrs. Kingsbury recalls a special "fancy-dress" event complete with orchestra held on the roof terrace where instructors were on hand to teach the guests the latest dance steps.
Dinners were sometimes formal and always very special. "They were held in the upstairs dining room. The table sparkled with the most lovely Venetian glass in soft pastel shades, and often we used my grandmother's handsome set of Faberge Russian enamel, which pattern had been designed for the czar," Mrs. Kingsbury says.
Outdoor activities kept the children busy in the winter. "I remember a wondrous moonlit night after a heavy snow when we were allowed to go coasting down the road from the house almost to the gates at the main road. It was fast and thrilling and unbelievably beautiful. On the north side of the house we used to go tobogganing down the steep hill, across a field, generally coming to a halt in the middle of a brook." The children also went ice skating on
Gaede's Pond, just across the road from the main house.
As a member of the local gentry, Mrs. Kingsbury made her debut into society at Ailsa Farms in 1931, and was married there four years later. Her sister, Katherine Grey Hobart Hand, and her family had a house on the estate, as did their brother Garret Hobart III, who lived there with his wife and two sons Garret IV and Alfred Loomis Hobart.
Garret Hobart IV, Mrs. Kingsbury's nephew, who was born in 1935, also has happy memories of the house. "Some of my earliest memories are right here in this house," he says. "We used to come and visit quite often and every Christmas until my grandmother died in 1941. We would come here for the holidays and stay for a week. We rode up and down the elevator to the roof and scared my grandparents. They were afraid we'd fall off the roof. But we were just typical kids."
He remembers a big barn and garage and believes there was still some farming activity. "The grounds were beautifully landscaped and there was a tennis court. The hedges were elegant and clipped into decorative shapes. It was really beautiful," he recalls.
By Barbara E. Martin, William Paterson University