Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Crossways" The Stuyvesant Fish Cottage, Newport

When Marion Graves Anthon Fish a.k.a. "Mamie" decided she wanted a cottage in Newport, she wasn't thinking of a French chateau or a French Renaissance palace, but a colonial estate, American through and through. This was surprising because most cottages were based off of European castles and palaces, but Mamie, as always, loved knowing she was doing something no one else would do, so she commanded her husband Stuyvesant "Stuyvie" Fish to build them a Newport estate.

Mr. And Mrs. Fish Were One Of The Few Gilded Age Couples Happily Married, They Were Childhood Sweethearts

In the Spring of 1896, Stuyvesant began negotiations to purchase a large, elevated plot with views of both Bailey's Beach and Gooseberry Beach. Because  of Fish's shrewd negotiating, the plot had been acquired for only $11,000. But because of it's rocky topography (which no house could be built on) Fish had to acquire additional land. Unfortunately the owner of the land west of the property was asking a sum Fish felt was outrageous, so it took an additional 3 years of negotiations before the land was obtained.

 "Crossways" Was Built On A Large Hill Off Of Ocean Avenue Surrounded By Rocky Topography

Mamie brought in Newport architect Dudley Newton to build a large colonial mansion (which she had already named "Crossways") on a budget of $100,000. Despite the small budget, Newton was still able to deliver Mamie's dream house and the Fish promptly moved in. The original floor plan of "Crossways" was centered around a large hall, the biggest room being the drawing room and the smallest being the alcoves on either side of the vestibule.

              The Floor Plan Of "Crossways" After The Ballroom Addition Was Added In 1913

The interior of "Crossways" was designed for comfort, with the occasional entertaining. The decorating firm of Vernon, also Newport based, had designed the interior of "Crossways" as a comforting space, yet still able to hold large social functions, with the drawing room doubling as a ballroom.

        The Large Entrance Hall Would Also Be Used As A Banquet Hall For Large Social Dinners

                        The Dining Room Could Seat And Dine 75 People On Large Occasions

The Library Was Where Mr. Fish Conducted Business And Retreated From His Wife's Social Functions 

The Drawing Room Also Originally Doubled As A Ballroom And On The Floor Was Mrs. Fish's Famous Polar Bear Rug, Which She Brought To All Of Her Homes.

In 1913, with broadening social horizons, Mrs. Fish felt "Crossways" was just to small for her social position. To solve the problem, Mamie called in architect Joseph G. Williams to add a ballroom and servants wing at the back of the house. Upstairs additional servants bedrooms were added and more guests bedrooms were added.

       The Ballroom Addition, Added In 1913, Was The Scene Of Mrs. Fish's Annual Harvest Ball

With the new ballroom addition, Mrs. Fish could now have a place to hold her famous annual Harvest Ball. The Harvest Ball was in many ways equal to Mrs. Astor's annual Opera Ball or her annual Patriarch's Ball which started the New York City social season, because the Harvest Ball was what closed the Newport social season. Thus it went, Mrs. Astor's annual Patriarch's Ball opened the New York City social season, Mrs. Elbridge T Gerry's annual Art Ball closed the New York City social season, Mrs. Astor's annual Summer Ball opened the Newport social season and Mrs. Fish's annual Harvest Ball closed the Newport socials season.

  "Crossways" Being Set Up For Mrs. Fish's Harvest Ball, Held On The Lawn And In The Ballroom

With the home finally complete, Mamie was finally able to enjoy her Newport home and she gave several lavish parties during the social season. With every year, Mrs. Fish seemed to grow only more and more eccentric and her outrageous behavior was always reported by the latest gossip magazines. Once at the start of the new season Mamie greeted her guests with a "Well here you all are, older faces and younger clothes", another time Mamie, who had no trouble speaking her opinion, told her dinner guests that "Mrs. Roosevelt dresses on $300 a year and looks like it too!". Mamie seemed unable to use any self control. Once in Newport, Mamie decided to take her new automobile for a spin and while driving around in the city, ran over a man walking across the street. The poor man barely had time to get up before Mamie put her car in reverse and ran over him a second time. The going forward again she ran over the guy a third time, then drove off without even asking if he was okay.

                                Mamie In Later Years, Just As Witty And Sharp As Ever

Sooner or later Mamie's mouth was going to get her in trouble and eventually it did when she had a run on with railroad magnate E. H. Harriman.

    E. Harriman And Wife, Mary, Who Were One Of The Many Victims Of Mamie's Harsh Tongue

E. Harriman had worked with Stuyvesant Fish for many and they were good friends, so it was expected that he turned to Stuyvesant and Mamie and asked them to help him and his wife get excepted into society. It would have been very easy for Mamie to help them get into society. But instead of help them, Mamie flat out snubbed them into society. At a dinner party Mamie even had the nerve to go up to Mary and tell her that her husband only married her because of the way she looked. Mary came home in tears and told her husband everything Mamie had said. Edward launched a successful campaign to remove Stuyvesant Fish from his position of almost 30 years as President of the Illinois Central Railroad in revenge of Mamie's rude comments and snubbing.

Stuyvesant Fish Had President Of The Illinois Central Railroad For Almost 30 Years And Started When He Was 28 Years Old

By 1915 Mamie wasn't making rude comments or snubbing anymore, her mind was deteriorating, although she still was just as eccentric as she always had been. On her last day alive she spent the day wandering around "Glenclyffe" the Fish estate in Garrison, still bossing around Stuyvesant and the other servants, just as usual. When Mamie died, she was surrounded by Stuyvesant, her three children, and the servants who had served her so faithfully over the years (despite her eccentric requests and harsh punishments). Stuyvesant continued to live at their three homes until his death in 1923. Upon his death the home was sold to Mrs. Morris De Peyster. It was later on converted into condominiums. 

                               "Crossways" Today Nothing Remains Of The Original Interior 


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  2. I'm quite sure the picture of the lovely dark-haired young lady above, the one captioned as Mrs. E.H. Harriman, is actually a photo of her daughter, Mary Harriman Rumsey. I've seen the same photo on other websites described as depicting Mrs. Edward Harriman (even on some sites dedicated to Mrs. E.H. Harriman's personal charities), but I believe it's in fact a portrait of Mary Harriman Rumsey that was taken shortly after she was married, probably about 1911 or 1912. There are several versions of this photo floating around, with Mrs Rumsey shown at different angles but always wearing the exact same outfit, right down to the pearls.

    It's sort of a funny coincidence to me that the pic related to this particular story should show Mary Harriman Rumsey, though, because in the version of the story I read (the Fish snubbing story, that is), it was the Harriman's daughter who supposedly needed Mrs. Fish's help in entering Society, and who was treated so shabbily by Mrs. Fish. For several reasons, I don't believe either story myself. For one thing, neither of the elder Harrimans was much interested in Society, particularly Mr. Harriman. Although they were certainly not recluses, they didn't care very much about their perceived social position. And neither of them would have needed a hand up had they been inclined to seek a higher social status. The mythology of E.H Harriman paints him as a poor boy who rose from rags to riches, but in fact he came from a wealthy and well connected family. His uncle was a very wealthy banker whose children had married Dodges, Vanderbilts, Hursts and Havemeyers, and Edward Harriman's own sister was married to a Van Rensselaer. Likewise Mary Averell Harriman was the daughter of a rich banker and railroad president, a railroad in which both her future husband and Stuyvesant Fish were both directors. But she was always more interested in charity than social ranking. The same was true for the Harriman's daughter Mary. Although she was popular with the younger Society crowd after making her debut, she really had no interest in that sort of thing. She was interested in charity and social justice, and her early settlement work prompted her to found the Junior League in 1901. So it seems very unlikely that she would have sought the aid of Mrs, Fish in Society matters, especially as late as 1905 or 1906.

    But more importantly, I just don't believe any story that describes Mamie Fish as being deliberately cruel to someone, particularly to one of her friends who had sought her aid. Mrs. Fish was sharp-tongued and sarcastic, even caustic, but she wasn't generally mean for no reason. Despite her public reputation, the people who knew her best, including her servants, had genuinely nice things to say about her, and it wasn't until after her death that the depth of her largess was known. When it came to charity, it was said that anyone who asked for her help got it. It would have been out of character for her to do what these stories accuse her of. I do think, however, that Mamie probably got a kick out of having a reputation as, well, a bit of a bitch. That's my theory anyhow!

  3. This seems to be the general theme regarding Newport; the men died young and the women went crazy.

  4. I just found this blog. When I was in Officer Candidate School in 1964-1965, my wife and I lived in Crossways. We were married in December 64 and moved in just before New Year's Day. We rented the maid's quarters which had been turned into a efficiency apartment. On my salary, the rent must have been low. We loved it and it gave us a good start to our marriage that is at the 54 year mark right now!

  5. My dad was Capt.DeWitt C.Redgrave 3rd. C.O. of U.S S. Yosemite in 1968 and later C.O. of the Naval Destroyer School there at the Newport Naval Base. We lived in the bottom left apt. which I believe had been the grand ballroom, enormous it seemed to me at 7, The Destoyer School Graduation Ball was held there with luminarie entertainment like Lena Horn. I asked my mom who is 93 now how much the rent was in 68 and she said 350$ a month! A dollar was worth a lot more then!


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