This is a sad story about opulence, suicide, and ghosts, so I thought I’d tell you about Pepperidge Hall. It’s called “Idle Hour” in the city of Oakdale, New York. I grew up there. “Idle Hour” was the name given to the estate of William K. Vanderbilt. The homes were built on the grounds of the estate.
Living in this neighborhood was a dream come true. Across the street from my parents’ dry-cleaning business in Oakdale, there was LaSalle Academy, the former home of Bourne, the owner of the Singer sewing machine. My sister had her wedding photos taken there, so I went there to see them. These two beautiful homes aren’t the only thing I’ve had to deal with, though. Is this going to tell you about Pepperidge Hall?
Vanished Gilded Age Mansion
So many wonderful places to explore as an Idle Hour kid, from the Connetquot River to the quaint bridges Vanderbilt built throughout his estate to the Artist Colony and Clock Tower to the Carriage House and the giant decorative vase that popped up along Shore Drive…
The Pepperidge Hall
During a bike ride through the woods one summer, Lydia and I found something interesting. At the end of Lincoln Drive, there was a little-known trail that went all the way to the Great South Bay. People who were into beach glass collecting during high school could have a picnic there. Somewhere along the path, we saw what looked like the outline of a round driveway. Sure enough, there was a drive in the middle of the woods. There was also a cement pond, crumbling brick walls, and a few broken pieces of clay tiles in the middle. A drive and foundation walls made it clear that this was once a very big house. Every time we went back, no one could tell us anything about what we found.
Forty-five years later, I was able to connect the dots and figure out that it was the ruins of Pepperidge Hall. It was built by Christopher Robert II, a sugar magnate, millionaire, and descendent of William the Conqueror, in 1888 in a race with Vanderbilt and Bourne to see who could build the biggest and best mansion. It was built in the Jacobean style.
After the death of his first wife, Robert went on a trip to Europe and bought a lot of furniture and art. Afterwards, Robert bought 1,000 acres on the Great South Bay. He married his second wife, a rich woman with whom he had a rough time of it.
Vanderbilt’s 1,000-acre estate was on the east side of the 1,000-acre estate. The two men socialized together, but at times it looked like they were competing with each other, even over hunting dogs. In 1882, Robert hired Edward Ficken to build his Queen Anne lodge, and he did it. After it burned down seven years later, Fickens designed and built Pepperidge Hall, which is a huge, square building. One of the main parts of the plan was the large inner courtyard, which had a 30ft by 50ft pool and a fountain. A 109-foot glass conversation was on the west side. Stepped gables, turrets, bay windows, a lot of chimneys, stables, a dairy, and a carriage house were all on display.
He only lived there a short time before he made the questionable trade of his opulent Long Island home for a Wall Street complex in 1896. In 1898, Robert was found dead. At best, the coroner thought it was a suicide.
A lot of people have tried to turn the mansion into a hotel, a retreat, or even a silkworm farm over the years, but they didn’t work. The mansion was used in several silent movies, including Lady Slippers, To Hell With the Kaiser, and Dead Men Tell No Tales. Later, a group of metaphysicians bought the house.
Tales began to spread that the ghost of a moody Christopher Robert was walking the halls. Eventually, though, the expensive furniture was sold off and the property was split up. When Robert bought the house it cost him $1,500,000. It was worth only $20,000. Nature had taken over and was now in charge of the world. They had broken down. In the 18 bedrooms, mold and vines had spread. Robert still walked the halls, wailing about how he had failed. When Pepperidge Hall was neglected and vandalized, it was destroyed in 1940. It was once one of the three most opulent homes on the South Shore’s Gold Coast.
I now know that the narrow, winding road (only wide enough for one car) we called “The English Road” was part of the estate. Many of Pepperidge Hall’s support buildings are on Homestead Road. They turned the carriage house and stable into homes a long time ago. Remember the ice house and dairy? As we made our way from Vanderbilt Boulevard to Byron State Park, my British mother, sisters, and I would often walk along this beautiful stretch of road, which was full of trees. Putting two and two together took me a long time, but I’m so grateful to have grown up in this area.
I’m saddened by the loss of these old buildings, especially now that the Idle Hour mansion is in danger of being demolished. But no matter what, these magical places and cherished memories will stay with me for a long time.