SPLIA Event at Mill Neck Manor
On a snow-covered Sunday in early January, Mill Neck Manor opened its 500-year-old doors as the location for a Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) event. Our beloved historic Mill Neck Manor (once known as Sefton Manor) served as an ideal location for the event, “Beyond Gatsby: The Fabled Gardens of Long Island’s Gold Coast,” which was a lecture presented by Landscape Architect and Historian CeCe Haydock.
SPLIA’s description of the event reminds us that beginning around the turn of the century and through the 1920s, Long Island’s North Shore was a favorite retreat for the rich and famous. Along with grand houses, they built elaborate gardens, hiring such notable landscape architects like the Olmsted Brothers, Beatrix Ferrand and Ellen Biddle Shipman. Haydock’s illustrated presentation explored several important commissions to reveal the gardens as they were originally designed and built, their history and present condition.
Sefton Manor was built in 1923 for Lillian Sefton-Dodge and her husband Robert Leftwich Dodge in the Tudor revival style and features fine Westchester granite and limestone trim. The formal gardens (sundial gardens) were designed by Charles Wellford Leavitt. The Sefton Manor gardens are beautifully described in a 1934 New York Times article announcing a garden party to benefit the North Country Community Hospital:
“The sundial gardens on this estate, which follow Old World garden design, are unlike anything else in this country, both from the floral and the architectural point of view. They are laid out on a plan based upon the signs of the zodiac, with classic temples symbolizing Morning, Evening and Midday. A Venetian fountain and a mirror-like canal add to the atmosphere of quiet beauty. This garden has never before been opened to the public.”
This particular garden party drew in more than 1,800 guests and boasted elegantly decorated tea tables that sat underneath bright umbrellas on the stone terrace. Debutantes and subdebutantes, dressed in picturesque costumes, strolled across the lawn selling cigarettes, wildflowers and sweets. Guests wandered along the brookside or through the beautifully colored gardens with music playing in the background.
The three temples are still visible to visitors and the gardens are used by students for school events to this day. The Manor House and gardens are open for scheduled visitors one Sunday at month. Our 2017 tour schedule is posted, make your reservation today!