Villa Am Meer, Chapter 10

A tour of the Benedict Estate in Harrison, New York

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

First of all, if you’ve been following from Chapter 9, I should let you know that I received my appellate brief from the National Archives this week. More on that in the next chapter, but first… I must tell you about my phone conversation this morning.

I received a comment on my blog this week from someone named Rosanna who lives in Harrison, New York. She mentioned that she’d happened upon my blog after researching the Benedict family. It turns out, Elena Duke Benedict’s home is for sale in Harrison, and Rosanna, her husband, and her parents just toured the property this week. She wanted to know more about the family who had lived there, and… jackpot… she found my blog.

It turns out, Rosanna and her family have three young children and are thinking about moving. They found the Benedict property intriguing, mostly because of the price… a mere $999,000. She said that any other property in Harrison with 6,000 square feet on 3.85 acres would go for at least four times as much. They wanted to know why it was such a good deal.

First, click this link to view a satellite photo of the property on Google Maps.

4400 Purchase Street, Harrison, New York

A satellite view of the Benedict Estate from Google Maps

As you can see, it’s a grand old estate, built in 1925, with a caretaker’s cottage, greenhouse, and tennis court. It has 10 bedrooms and 6 baths, a living room with a fireplace, a den, porch, formal dining room (with fireplace), sunroom, butler’s pantry, breakfast room, kitchen, and of course, a staff kitchen.

Truly, a grand old estate.

So, why the low price? Rosanna filled me in.

First of all, it seems the Benedicts encountered two strokes of incredibly bad luck when it comes to “location, location, location.”

If you go back to the Google Maps link and zoom out a bit (upper left corner, minus button), you’ll notice that I-684 goes right through the northwest side of their property. Prior to 1964, Rosanna mentioned that this was the quietest, most beautiful spot in town. However, in 1964 construction began on the new bypass, which took motorists from Armonk (headquarters of IBM) to Harrison right through the Benedict property. Rosanna mentioned that the noise from I-684 was very noticeable. Strike one.

Now, if you zoom out a bit more, you’ll notice another whammy to the Benedict’s quiet rural neighborhood. Just to the right of the Benedict’s property, along the New York-Connecticut border, lies the Westchester County Airport. Built during World War II, the airport originally served as a home base for an Air National Guard Unit so they could guard nearby Rye Lake, a major source of drinking water for New York City. In 1947, the airport began offering regular passenger service, and now serves seven major airlines, the largest being Jet Blue. According to Rosanna’s husband, the airport was so close to the estate, “it felt like the helicopters were blowing my hair.” Bummer. Strike two.

However, the ultimate blow came from the realtor showing the house. Strike three? Radon. Strike four? Asbestos. Strike five? Termites. No wonder Sothebys’ listing says the home is being sold “as is.”

But despite the strikes against it, Rosanna was fascinated by the house and its vintage charm. “”Walking around, you could almost picture it in the 50s and 60s, with teenagers running around from room to room.”

She said everything was still in tact, as if the family had just picked up and left. There were high school yearbooks left behind, photos on the walls, and three shelves full of antique, leather bound magazines. Rosanna mentioned that her father was a professor of Italian literature and stumbled across an Italian magazine cover and article, which had been framed and hung on the wall. Mr. Edward Benedict was featured on the cover, and had written the article himself… in fluent Italian. “His Italian was very good,” her father said.

I wanted to know more about the photos on the wall. Rosanna told me there was a photo of Elena and Edward, taken during the 1930s or 40s. She also said there was a funny picture of Elena, sitting in a wheelchair, laughing, with one of her grandsons (or great grandsons) vaulting over the top of her.

What I wouldn’t give to see those photos.

Outside, to the right of the house, Rosanna mentioned there was a small circular drive and grassy area, with six small statues of polo jockeys. Each of the jockeys had the name of a Benedict daughter on it. According to the realtor, this is where the girls would tie their horses whenever they went riding.

Now, why in the world would the family leave those statues behind? Or the photos? Or the Italian magazine article? What the heck?

Rosanna mentioned that all the proceeds from the sale of the house and its contents were going to charity. All of it. I asked Rosanna if Ms. Benedict had been living in the house right up until her death last spring. She said she had not; that she’d been living in a nursing home at the time of her death. The house had actually been on the market since April of 2009.

I wish I had known the house was for sale when I was in New York last month. At the risk of sounding like a stalker, I sure would have loved to have seen it. For whatever reason, I’ve become completely enamored with Elena Duke Benedict and her incredible life story. She seems to me a classy lady who rode a fast moving roller coaster through life… from rags to riches and back again. I don’t even know what she looks like, but I like her. And I miss her. And I hope she has found peace.

View all the photos

Next chapter

7 Comments

  1. I used to be part of the Pinelli’s family. I have spent a lot of time at the Villa am Meer. Parties there were lots of fun! I know the family very well, I met Elena Duke Benedict couple of times, she was a very nice woman. Everyone misses her greatly. Everybody that knows this place is heart broken, I know I am:(

  2. Joy, I stumbled upon your blog when I got this morning’s Sarasota History Alive! newsletter. I work for the Florida Bureau of Historic Perservation and would like you to contact me about recording Villa Am Meer with the Florida Master Site File. If this is something you are interested in doing, please let me know. Good luck with your research, I look forward to your future entries!

  3. Shannon, I’m not familiar with the “Florida Master Site File,” but I will contact you and we can discuss.

  4. I was at a party at her house in Purchase, NY. It was kind of a family reunion. I remeber how nice it was and how big it seemed to me. She had musicians playing and excellent food served. It was outside in the back of the house on the terrace. I was only about 12 at the time so I don’t remember too much about it. My grandmother was her cousin and played with her when they were kids. She and most of the people in my family called her Nel or Aunt Nel. My grandmother told us stories about Elana and had some old pictures of Nel and her together. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away in March 2004.

  5. The youngest granddaughter |

    Elena Duke Benedict is my grandmother. I wish you could understand how amazing she was, and how this house was her home for some 60 years until she was physically removed against her will. The house’s value has not depreciated in value at all, rather there are some legal matters that are not only despicable, but that have been wrenched from our families hands… and it is those people now in control that are in a rush to sell my grandmothers house for their own personal gain. I encourage you all to do some research into the injustice that was the last years of my grandmothers life, and that have now carried on past her death. I’m sure you will all be shocked and hopefully, if more people can see the truth, these people will be stopped. Finally.

  6. I have enjoyed the blog, I had the pleasure of touring the house with Elena Benedict Smith a few years ago and have a friend that was a long time caretaker of the estate. She told be some interesting stories about her grandparents and the history of the estate. It has alot of hidden treasures on the grounds.

    Steve

  7. I remember Mrs. Benedict telling me a story that the house used to be where the airport is and that they moved the original house to where it is now. Anyone who’s been to the house knows there are several additions. I don’t know what year the house was moved, maybe when they wanted to have commercial airline and extended the runway. By the way, the Jockey statues used to be at the Benedict farm on Route 312, in Brewster, they were moved to Purchase street around 1995.

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