Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gilded Age Poster Child

E. D. Morgan - Harvard College - Class of 1877

***Most of the gold highlighted hyperlinks are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle dating from 1886 to 1901.***

Sportsman E. D. Morgan was the grandson of New York's Civil War governor and a distant relation of  J. P. Morgan.  Because of the early death of his father, Edwin Denison Morgan the Third inherited a fortune valved at $12million when his Grandfather died(February 14, 1883). In a codicil to the will Morgan was to receive an extra $250,000.00 for every "lawful issue"(he had five).

What timing! Young, good looking, RICH(no taxes), Harvard graduate(1877) and newly married(1880) during the glory days of the Gilded Age. 
"The old garden of Gov. E. D. Morgan, 37th Street and Fifth Avenue. Purchased by the late Mr. Samuel P. Avery, Sr., and three neighbors to preserve it, and maintained by them until very recently." - Valentines 1919.

He probably inherited his grandfathers New York City home at Thirty-seventh and Fifth Avenue after the death of his grandmother(date unknown). His main focus early on seemed to be yachting and horses(Meadowbrook Hunt/Polo Clubs). He later went on to build two memorable homes "Beacon Rock"(1888 - link to earlier post) in Newport, RI and "Wheatly" in the area of Old Westbury, NY starting around 1890, both designed by  McKim, Mead & White.  

Starting around 1887 Morgan began buying parcels of land

To create the plateau on which the complex sat, massive stone fortifications were constructed to the north and east. On the south crest of the hill stood the 200-foot long Colonial shingled residence. To the north, across an open courtyard from the house, stood a water tower and nearby stable. 
Architectural Record, 1895
"Wheatly" was  created over a 10-year period(1890-1900)
The property was one of the areas first, transforming Old Westbury(Wheatley Hills) from a rural farming community into one of Long Island's largest and complete estates. 
The highest hill of the seven that made up the area know as Wheatley Hills
Atop the highest hill, for which the area and house was named, "Wheatly" offered panoramic views of the 700-acre estate and the distant waters of Long Island Sound. 
Architectural Record, 1895
In early views of "Wheatly" you can see the hill's change from a bare landscape to a wooded knoll thanks to the work of Hicks Nurseries known for relocating full-grown trees
"Wheatly" - E. D. Morgan Estate - Library of Congress

Fellow neighbors W.C. Whitney(original location), Mr. Clarence Mackay("Harbor Hill"), Mr. Dudley Winthrop("Groton Farms") and  Mr. Foxhall Keene("Rosemary Hall") joined Morgan in starting the Rosyln Power and Electric Company bringing electricity  to the area for the first time.  Morgan also worked with neighbor W. C. Whitney in changing the path of a road that cut through their property.

***From Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 30, 1894***

"During the long term of building of this house it was a wonderful revelation to the quiet members of the old community(***Quaker***) who had never dreamed of such creations in the way of size and number of buildings necessary for such princely living. Some of the farms, previous to their purchase by Mr. Morgan had been owned by successive generations of one family for over two centuries. Long Island farmers pride themselves on their capacious well built barns, but when the one at Wheatly began to grow to the extent 250 feet by 60 and a coach house was added 200 by 40 feet, then even from the undemonstrative came exclamations of surprise and wonder.
The next project to demand attention was the water tower, its tank having a 40,000 gallon capacity. Drilling for the first well necessatated the investigation of 400 feet below the earth's surface. a second attempt probed 322 feet and only a limited quantity of water could be found and still there had to be another search, trusting that a Mosses might be found to smite some undiscovered rock for an unfailing supply. The house, as a home and exponent of individual taste, is an interesting study. While there is no conspicuous embellishment, provision for comfort has been wisely planned at royal expense. The hospitality of its owner is made evident by the number of guest rooms and their perfect appointments, while whatever represents the every day needs of a family has received the most careful thought and consideration.

The library is the center where beauty of grace and richness of detail make it a dividing line between the austere simplicity, which is a marked feature of the main hall and dining-room, the later having, however, in its quaint old time corner cupboards delightful bits of color in rare old china. Equally quaint sideboards, with their fine array of glass and silver, are in pleasing contrast to the dark wood of floor and ceiling. On entering either of these rooms one is instantly impressed with the size of the fireplaces. Swinging above the cavernous spaces are wide frills of sail cloth, these, and the floors planked like the deck of a ship with tarred seams, suggest the sailor traits of the owner. The massive andirons in the dining-room fireplace assume a new interest when one learns they were designed by Mr. Morgan. The wood work of doors, wainscoting and ceiling in this room is of a rich olive color, exquisitely polished, and simulates wood centuries old. 

In keeping with the rush bottomed, straight backed chairs and exposed beams of the ceiling are plain wooden receptacles for the fire logs, a rude revival of primitive days, recalling Charles Kingsley's descriptions in "Hereward".  Through the library windows, from south, east and west, a flood of sunshine streams into the room, luxuriously and uplostered chairs and divans invite to comfortable reading, while two desks proclaim its home use and individual tastes. On one are framed photographs of five Edwin Morgans, the war governor's father preceding him, the governor followed by Dr. Morgan, the banker yachtsman by the sweet face of his own little lad. The collection of books in the library is an exceptionally fine one, begun by Governor Morgan and greatly added to by Dr. Morgan, father of its present owner. The books are supplemented by an equally fine collection of rare old engravings, each worthy of careful study. A room interesting to the visitor and of importance to its owner - but hiding away out of thoroughfares and unobtrusive in size and 
location, has been reserved for the practical routine of Mr. Morgan's life as pertaining to the great tract of land and its immediate interest. Here he meets those in his employ and arranges all business of the estate; here also he has made a place where memories of his student life will keep him long in touch with the youth he has by no means left far behind. A drafting desk and designers implements show that the yachtsman has ideas of his own. Facing this desk are the framed letters of Lincoln and his secretary, according such honor to the governor as his decedents may well proudly cherish; photographs of Harvard classmates and the well worn chair of the student, hold posts of honor and are loyally remembered. Illustrations of the hunt, in old English prints, give evidence that Mr. Morgan interests for water sport have not dulled those for the land. 

After leaving the rooms, large and small, where each is severely plain, one is surprised and delighted with the unexpected warmth and color of the two halls and stairways leading to the upper rooms. The background of dark and heavy woodwork left behind makes these seem like the lace frills of the velvet gown of a duchess. The long windows at the half landing let in through their many small panes untainted sunlight that is reflected in a warm glow on the sumptuous crimson of the richly papered walls and carpeted floor. The stairway is painted white and its graceful spirals and newel posts are marvels of beauty in artistic designing. The lavatories include every modern appointment which the present day of grace provides for those who can emulate the old Greeks and Romans. The charm of the whole house is that in its construction and furnishings more than one good type has been harmoniously blended and adapted with a fine finesse to its present use."

E. D. Morgan 1901
Over time the courtyard was enclosed on three sides with additions in the style of the original house. 
"Wheatly" - E. D. Morgan Estate - Library of Congress

"Wheatly" - E. D. Morgan Estate - Library of Congress
On the west side a two-story gate lodge with central entrance archway was added, as well as wing extensions containing a ballroom and  schoolroom for the Morgan children. On the north side flanking wings from the existing water tower, one holding a playroom/squash court and private chapel(Episcopalian - never consecrated), the other an indoor swimming pool and servants' quarters were added. 
"Wheatly"-  E. D. Morgan Estate - Library of Congress - no columned collaboration DFP :)
A continuous one story columned arcade along the west and north sides of the courtyard connected the additions to the main house. A labyrinth of underground tunnels also connected the house to the indoor pool, servants' quarters, chapel, and squash court. 
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the open fourth side of the courtyard, beyond a low wall enclosing the service court a long formal walled garden and greenhouse, the garden divided into two sections centered on a rectangular pool and circular fountain. The walls of the conservatory were wired and lined with charcoal and moss for vines, ferns and orchids. The basement was designed for mushroom culture. The walled garden featured geometric beds of grass, flowers, and WELL-clipped ornamentals, all enclosed by a wall of thick privet. The head gardener had over a dozen men working under him and these with the carpenters, masons, plumbers, farmers, laborers and stablemen brings the number of employees to over fifty. 
"Wheatly" - E. D. Morgan Estate - Library of Congress
Major portions of the house, including its central block, were demolished in the early 1950s. Click HERE to see remains at For more on "Wheatly" visit

E. D. Morgan 1917
Above photo from the privately printed book for the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of graduation - Harvard College - class of 1877.  Click HERE to read Mr. Morgan's words as he reflected on his life's accomplishments.

In my Google based research for this post I found a interesting bit of information relating to a name change for Edwin Denison Morgan -

"Mary Brewer Penniman, daughter of George H. Penniman; she d. at Newport, Aug. 8, 1886, without issue. His name was Alfred Waterman Morgan, changed to Edwin Denison Morgan (on his father's death at his grandfather's request)." 

I don't know the circumstances for her death but I did find a article stating that Morgan would be sailing to Europe(after her funeral) and sell his racing stable in Hempstead "in which Mrs. Morgan chiefly delighted". This was from September 5th 1886. Did Morgan have a presence in the area before "Wheatly"? Or did he changed his mind and continue adding to the existing property after meeting his second wife?  

If he lived at 886 Fifth Avenue, his grandfathers New York City home it wouldn't have been for long. It was mentioned as being the new club house for The Saint Nicholas Society  in 1889 - arguably NYC's first 400 - really 300  

I've also seen Morgan's estate called "Wheatlands". It was noted at, the story being told by the 2nd Mrs. Morgan, that the "e" was purposely taken out of Wheatley when naming the home.

Further would it be common at the time to have a photo of your secretary(male) on your desk???


  1. Thank you for this, HPHS.

    P.S. Now I know what's *really* wrong with my house in the country. It lacks a room specially designed to grow mushrooms.

  2. HPHS -
    Wonderful pics & new info on Wheatly! I guess the quakers were amazed that it takes a village to do it up right. (And love that map).

  3. Fantastic post! As an architect I am familiar with the house and some of the photos. But I did not know the story behind the house....nor have I seen all of the wonderful photos and plans you posted. Thanks for sharing. Jennifer

  4. You can find a one volume book combining the four originals published in 1977.

  5. In one of the J.P. Morgan biographies - I can't now recall which one - Pierpont's sister Sarah spoke of E.D. Morgan as being a distant relative of her husband's (George Hale Morgan). Apparently she and her immediate family didn't consider E.D. to be a relative of theirs. Too distant I suppose.