Monday, July 28, 2014

"The Old House" -- the residence of vampire Barnabas Collins in the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows.

Most fans of the show know that Seaview Terrace (also known as the Carey Mansion) in Newport, Rhode Island, served as the exterior of fictional Collinwood mansion. But few know about the history behind "The Old House"...........

Known by various names -- including "The Colonnades" and "Spratt House" -- the mansion came to the attention of the production staff probably because Lyndhurst, a much more famous house, stood nearby. The producers had no money, and could not afford to pay landowners a fee to photograph their mansions. So they "stole" shots (photographed mansions and locales from public streets) instead. The Hudson Valley north of New York City and Newport, Rhode Island, both have large numbers of 1800s-era Victorian mansions, and both were scouted by the show for possible stock footage shots. (Lyndhurst later served as Collinwood in the 1970 movie House of Dark Shadows and the 1971 movie Night of Dark Shadows.)

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What later became known as "The Old House" sat on an estate purchased in 1849 by Moses Hicks Grinnell, a grocer (Grinnell & Minturn), shipper, and insurance executive. His wife was Julia Irving, niece of author Washington Irving (daughter of Washington's brother, Pierre). While a number of trading villages had long been established on the east bank of the Hudson River, it wasn't until after the invention of the railroad in the 1840s and its push north up the Hudson Valley that wealthy individuals in New York City began turning to the Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, Irvington, Ossining, and Croton-on-Hudson areas to build large rural estates. The land was cheap and undeveloped, and had spectacular views of the Hudson River and its palisades.

Grinnell had suffered a breakdown due to overwork, and been ordered by his doctor to get away from New York City and the stress of business. Grinnell decided to buy about 38 acres of land adjacent to the northern boundary Irving's estate-home, Sunnyside. Sunnyside was named "Wolfert's Roost" before Irving renovated it, so Grinnell named his estate "Wolfert's Dell". Grinnell built a cut stone, two-story Victorian mansion with wraparound porch on the southern part of the estate, and moved into the house in the summer of 1851. Grinnell's home was less than a quarter-mile north of Sunnyside, and by mutual agreement there was no fence between the two properties. Grinnell landscaped the area between Wolfert's Dell and Sunnyside into a vast lawn dotted with strategically placed shade trees, and the gravel walkways on both estates connected to one another. It was common for the Grinnell grandchildren to play at Sunnyside, and for Irving's young relations to do the same at Wolfert's Dell.

Almost immediately after taking up residence at Wolfert's Dell, Grinnell began construction on a "guest house" -- a two-story, Neoclassical structure on the northern part of the estate. The "guest house" (it had no formal name, so that's what I'm calling it) was a two-story brick structure with a white stucco exterior. It wasn't big, just four rooms on each floor with a kitchen, servants' hall, and maid's bedroom in the basement. Window and door treatments were about the only adornment, and they were in a Neoclassical style. The mansion faced the Hudson, however, and had a bay on the first and second floors on the south side.

Grinnell finished the "guest house" in 1853 and his niece and her husband moved into it. Mary Russell Grinnell had marred Henry Holdrege, a New York City merchant and inventor. (Note the spelling of the Holdrege name, which many Web sites get wrong!) The couple's first child, George Ward Holdrege, was born in 1847 and later became a famous Nebraska cattleman and railroader (he was general manager for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad). The couple's second child was born in 1850, and Moses Grinnell allowed the growing family to live rent-free in the "guest house" as a means of taking the financial pressure off them.

Moses Grinnell didn't live long at Wolfert's Dell. Grinnell constructed a four-story, block-long mansion in New York City at 5th Avenue and 14th Street in 1846, and he returned to live there in the 1860. Grinnell was a backer of Abraham Lincoln (who dined at Grinnell's mansion on his way to Washington, D.C., for the inaugural), and spent the Civil War engaged in relief, fund-raising, and other efforts.

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Moses Grinnell and Henry Holdrege both died in 1877. James H. Banker, vice president of the Bank of New York, purchased the entire estate upon Grinnell's death. (Some Web sites claim that Edward S. Jaffray, the noted investment banker and stockbroker and founder of Piper Jaffray & Hopwood, purchased the southern part of the estate and the Wolfert's Dell mansion. This is not true.) Banker was another of those landowners who didn't live long, and he died in 1885. Banker's wife, Ellen, inherited the estate. Ellen Banker died in 1903, and her will stipulated that the estate was to be divided into five equal portions and given to her four blood-descendants and a foundling whom the Bankers had treated as an adopted daughter. There was some squabbling over the payments to the executors, but in time the property was put up for sale with John L. Travis, an Irvington realtor. According to court documents, both mansions were part of the estate still. The property then was owned by Russell Hopkins.

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In September 1907, Joseph Lawrence purchased the Banker property for $195,000 (about $5 million today), and transferred it to his son-in-law, Russell Hopkins. This purchase quickly got caught up in yet another lawsuit. Russell Hopkins' father, Dr. John Hopkins, was an Atlanta millionaire. He made his fortune selling patent medicines and "Anti-Kink", a hair straightener sold to African Americans. He plowed his profits into chemical manufacturing and then banking, and was fabulously wealthy. Russell, however, was a callow youth and a cad, and decidedly disliked in Atlanta society. In December 1905, Russell Hopkins met Vera Lawrence Siegrist, heir to the Listerine fortune. Dr. Joseph Lawrence, Vera's grandfather, had co-invented Listerine in 1879 with chemist Jordan Wheat Lambert. Lawrence sold his patent rights to the pharmaceutical company Lambert Pharmacal in 1885. Not only did he continue to receive large royalty payments, but the patent sale alone brought him an immense fortune. Vera's parents were dead, and she lived with her grandparents in St. Louis and Kansas City. The Lawrences began an extended stay in Atlanta just after Christmas 1905. When they moved to New York City in the spring of 1906, Russell followed. He bought a yacht there, and invited the Lawrences out on cruises quite often. Then, one day in October, he left the grandparents behind, got hold of Vera, sailed up the Hudson to Peekskill, and induced a Methodist paster to marry them on the boat. He was 22; she was just 15. The elopement estranged Vera from her family for a time, but they eventually relented.

It was just about six or seven months after his marriage that Russell Hopkins read a newspaper advertisement about the Banker property, inspected it, and was told it was for sale for $275,000. He refused to pay that amount. However, he did tell his father-in-law about it. In April, Dr. Joseph Lawrence purchased the property for $195,000 from another realtor. He deeded it to Russell five months later. Realtor John L. Travis was furious. He sued Lawrence's realtor, arguing that Hopkins had deprived him of his commission by asking Joseph Lawrence to buy the land for him. Travis won the suit in 1910 after a court found that Hopkins had engaged in deception to avoid paying the higher price and to deprive Travis of his commission.

The Hopkinses later had three daughters and a son. Russell Hopkins was a hunting enthusiast who doted on his kids, and he spent $25,000 ($635,000 today) to build an extensive private zoo on the estate. Among the animals he kept were polar bears, zebras, and a hippopotamus. He opened the zoo to the public, and extensively improved his property in numerous other ways. Among the changes Hopkins made was to add a portico to all four sides of the "guest house". The portico extended from the second floor cornice, and was supported by smooth, Grecian-style columns. A large, semi-circular set of steps was added to the west side of the portico, which led to the lawn. The Hopkinses renamed the estate Veruselle. (Vera + Russell, get it?) Wolfert's Dell got the new name of "The Arcades", while the newly renovated guest house was called "The Colonnades".

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Russell Hopkins was appointed U.S. consul in Panama, and spent most of the next decade there. He died in New York City on July 16, 1919, just a week after falling ill with pneumonia. Vera married John Daniell, son of the founder of John Daniell Sons (one of New York's oldest department stores), in 1925. She passed away in 1928, leaving behind Josephine (age 19), John (age 16), Susie (age 14), and Minnie (age 10).

Vera left behind a $7 million estate of her own, which included royalty income from the Listerine patent. It was discovered at the time of her death that Russell had left his wife a life-interest in his estate, which meant she owned it only so long as she lived and that it must pass to his children after her death. Russell's estate included $225,000; a mansion at 1045 Fifth Avenue in New York City; the Veruselle estate (which included both mansions); a house in Old Forge, New York; an oceanfront home in Palm Beach, Florida; and the yacht Sea Phantom. The four kids jointly inherited the Irvington estate, which by now was 54 acres in size.

The problem was that everyone and yet no one owned Veruselle. The two mansions and the estate were too expensive for just a single child to keep up, and yet the children could not agree to establish a maintenance fund jointly financed and administered by all four of them. So they decided to sell everything and keep the money.

On March 8, 1929, 17 acres of land and "The Colonnades" was sold for $105,000 ($1.4 million) to William R. Spratt, Jr. The remaining property was put up for sale, but no buyer was ever found. By 1941, "The Arcades" was in such ruin that it was valueless. The Hopkins kids (the youngest, Minnie, was now 23 years old) decided to abandon it. They'd not paid taxes to either the town of Tarrytown or Greenburg for three years, and were in arrears to the tune of $22,000 ($355,000). "The Arcades" and its 34 acres were sold at a tax sale in 1941. Someone torched "The Arcades" in 1963 and it was demolished in 1978.

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"The Colonnades" now began to be called "The Spratt House". Spratt was a very well known stockbroker and vice president of the investment firm Howe, Snow Co. He left the brokerage in 1932 and became a highly influential utilities underwriter. In 1935, Spratt was asked by the Securities and Exchange Commission to lead a major study of investment trusts. Hundreds of accountants worked under him, and his study was going to be the foundation of major new regulatory laws. Sadly, Spratt didn't live to see this. In June 1938, he had an operation, contracted pneumonia, and died suddenly in Washington, D.C., at the age of 47 on June 20, 1938.

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The Spratt estate passed into the hands of Anna Gould.

Anna Gould was the decidedly plain-looking daughter of railroad robber-baron Jay Gould. She was born in 1875, and in 1880 her father purchased Lyndhurst -- a 550-acre estate and manor house which abutted the Veruselle estate on the north. The Lyndhurst mansion was built in 1838 by New York City mayor William Paulding, Jr. Jay Gould died in 1892, leaving Anna a massive fortune estimated to be $72 million ($988 million). Anna married the destitute French nobleman, the Comte de Castellane, on March 14, 1895. She gained a title; he gained her money. Over the next decade, the Comte spent nearly $10 million ($138 million) living the life of the idle rich. He also fucked his way through more than 20 other nubile, beautiful young women. Appalled at her husband's largesse and tired of his infidelity, Anne Gould divorced him in 1906. Two years later, Anna married Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duc de Sagan. He was the Comte's cousin, but he also had a fortune of his own. Theirs was a happy marriage, but he died of a heart attack in Paris in 1937.

In May 1939, Anna Gould returned to the United States, announced she was taking up her American citizenship again, and purchased Lyndhurst (which by now had shrunk to just 67 acres). She later acquired "The Colonnades" and its 17 acres, although just when is not clear. She probably did so in late 1940 after the African American religious cult leader Father Divine purchased a 70-acre estate and house north of her property in October 1940. (The Duchess was not amused.) Gould installed her bodyguard, former detective agency founder Raymond C. Schindler, in "The Colonnades". Schindler died in 1959, and Gould passed on in 1961.

Gould left Lyndhurst to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but her heirs contested the will. Eventually, the will was upheld, and the "Spratt Estate" (as the land was now called) was sold off in the 1960s (the date is unclear) to the Robert Martin Corp., a large real estate development company which was at the time the largest landowner in the area. (The company also owned the old Wolfert's Dell property as well as Willowbrook, a former estate just east of Sunnyside.) My assumption is that the sale occurred in 1965, as the settlement between Gould's executors and the heirs occurred in the fall of 1964. But it could have been as late as 1967 or 1968, since some sources claim that the Dark Shadows staff worked with the Gould estate to get permission to film at "The Colonnades".

In the spring of 1966, "The Colonnades" was filmed by the Dark Shadows production team to represent the original Collinwood Estate mansion ("The Old House"). Permission was obtained to scout the mansion, and actor Jonathan Frid, in costume and makeup as Barnabas Collins, posed inside "The Colonnades" for photographs. These photos, however, were never used. Arsonists set "The Colonnades" afire in 1969 and it burned to the ground.

The Robert Martin Corp. was never able to develop the property. Local residents strongly opposed riverside development and the loss of open space, and black residents in the area demanded that the company partner with one of the local black-owned real estate development firms as a way of compensating the community for decades of racial discrimination.

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In 1974, the Unification Church obtained both "The Colonnades" and Wolfert's Dell properties for $1.35 million. By now, the estate totalled just 39 acres.

In 1998, the Unification Church tried to develop the land for single-family homes. When the National Trust got wind of it, they negotiated a deal whereby Westchester County purchased the land at full market value ($4.5 million) from the church, while the National Trust agreed to maintain the land for 99 years and make improvements. These improvements included conducting a cultural landscape survey of the property; stabilizing and preserving what remained of "The Colonnades" and "The Arcades" (as well as extant outbuildings and zoo structures, many of which were still in good condition); general clearing and debris removal; and restoration of the historic vistas of the river.

Almost nothing remains of "The Old House" today. A circular fountain a few yards east-southeast of the old front doors is still there, as are the foundations. The foundations of an old garage also exist nearby, and you can walk into the basement of this garage (where a summer kitchen and servants' quarters once existed). Some outbuildings and a few of the old zoo cages and exhibits also remain standing.


  1. It would be wonderful if some benevolent (and wealthy) interest(s) could restore and rebuild, respectively, Veruselle and "The Colonnades" to their original states. If the original blueprints no longer exist, perhaps photographs could be used for the rebuilding of "The Colonnades"/"Spratt House."

    Perhaps Russell Hopkins' original idea of a zoo could be revived as a means of deriving income for the properties, as well selling tickets to the public for a rebuilt mansion as "The Old House - Barnabas Collins' Mansion," which could bring in megabucks, especially during Halloween time. I think Lyndhurst is already used for tourism, as well shooting locations of films. And that would be another income-earner for "The Colonnades," use in film production.

    Since that site's most famous historical connection is its appearance in"Dark Shadows," why not officially enshrine the place and make some money off that aspect? Even with elements of the original foundation and the surviving fountain, a rebuilt mansion could still be a tourist draw.

  2. Hi Tim,
    Although I have never visited the site, I believe that the stone (concrete?) steps leading from the south side of the driveway, down to the level of the lawn still exist. These steps were located on the side of the driveway opposite the port cochiere.

    1. I've never been to the site, either. Just to the adjoining Sunnyside. I'd love to go see it, though... But it's private property.

    2. I think at one time some visitors to Lyndhurst sneaked over there and found "a collapsed basement," but the site has long since been cleaned up.

  3. This is a great article, thanks.I am sharing it with Dark Shadows fans. I have been searching for a few years (slackly I will admit) for interior pictures of the Spratt House.I can assure you from my friends visiting the area just this past summer that the area has not been cleared or cleaned up at all. Indeed, one woman and her son made headlines getting lost trying to find the house.... If anyone has interior pix my email is Thanks ! Mitch

  4. I loved this mansion since I saw it on the show when I was a kid! I have several photos of it from the show and internet! I also have some promo photos of actor, Jonathan Frid that were taken at the mansion in 1968! Thanks so much for all the valuable info on the mansion. I wish it was still around for people to enjoy!

    1. Had the house existed just one more year, they may have used the interior for House of Dark Shadows. Instead, those vandals burned it...

      The only interior photos of the house that I've seen are the ones with Jonathan Frid. I assume the family has some, that have never been released. I wonder if the Lyndhurst -- which is a National Park Service site now -- has any? Someone would have to talk to them.