The Cottager: Friendly Thistlewood neighbors caused a stir

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When the bachelor Frederick Schermerhorn died in March 1919, he left the widow who summered across the street from his Lenox estate, Pinecroft, a sum of $750,000.

Hannah Minthorne Tompkins Lydig, was originally poised to inherit Pinecoft and $500,000. Schermerhorn changed his will in 1918, following the death of his good friend, David W. Lydig, who bequeathed his entire estate to his wife.

Schermerhorn wrote in the will's codicil that he felt the maintenance of two estates and the eventual disposal of one of the two would be too much of an expense.

Mrs. Lydig was more than a neighbor and "my lifelong and dearest friend" as described by Schemerhorn in his will. It was rumored the two were lovers and planned to marry.

At the time, he was 74, and the widow, whom it was said he planned to marry that fall, was 75.

"When efforts were made at the time to reach Mrs. Lydig in relation to the report, she sent out word from her palatial villa the she was ill and preferred 'not to answer any questions'," a Berkshire Eagle article reported.

However, various accounts state that up until the time of her death in December 1930, Mrs. Lydig's Lenox friends often admired her exquisitely cut diamond solitaire, which she continued to wear on her "engagement" finger.

The Lydigs were longtime friends of Schemerhorn, each man naming the other executor of his will. Prior to building their estate, Thistlewood, across the street from Pinecroft, the Lydigs would rent a villa in Lenox and spend countless hours visiting their dear friend.

In 1888, the city of New York condemned a number of old-family estates along the Bronx River and took hundreds of acres for what was to become the Bronx Park, known today as the Bronx Zoo. David Lydig was paid $234,860 for his family's estate, often referred to as West Farms, which was originally purchased by his grandfather of the same name.

It was also that year that David Lydig and his wife, Hannah Minthorne Tompkins Lydig, purchased the "White Cottage" opposite Pinecroft. The "White Cottage" would be short lived, as the couple would soon hire Rotch and Tilden to build them a two-story Colonial Revival house in its place.

In July 1890, the Lydigs would open their new Lenox Cottage for the first time. A New York Times social column detailed the house on July 5: "The finest cottage completed this season is that of David W. Lydig. ... The carving on the exterior is exceptionally fine, especially that over the windows of the second story, which consists of gracefully-entwined leaves."

It goes on to describe the house, noting a winding stairway with wainscoting, made of hardwood, inlaid with a diamond pattern and finished in white ivory. The second floor boasted five bedrooms.

"All of the rooms on the first floor can be thrown together into one vast room, so that the house is especially convenient for large gatherings," the writer noted.

In 1931, the Berkshire Eagle detailed the long relationship of Hannah and Frederick, which seems to have naturally developed over the years and come to fruition following the death of David Lydig in 1917: "Over the trails of his charming sylvan forest Mr. Schemerhorn and Mrs. Lydig rode horseback in their younger days. Often they were accompanied by Mr. Lydig. They were often together on lake drives. They were generally among the guests at the smart and exclusive parties and luncheons."

Hannah Lydig would continue to summer in Lenox until her health prevented it. She stayed in New York in 1929 and 1930. She was 86 at the time of her death in 1930.

The house was rented out for the next six years until it was purchased in 1936 by John James Robinson, president of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Co. It would pass between several owners before it was sold in 1957 to W.E.D. Stokes Jr. In 1990, it was sold to Steven Rufo and his partner Dan Dempsey, who put in the 13 acre estate's pool and pool house and did extensive indoor restoration work before selling it in 2002. In 2003 it was acquired by Boston financier Lee Munder and his wife.

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Recently, I was invited to visit Thistlewood by Dan Alden of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty, which has the house listed at $4,250,000.

As we entered the house through where the porte-coch re once stood, it was immediately apparent that the house, as I had been told, had been redesigned throughout.

"The prior owners did a lot of modernizing," Alden said as we toured the house, which has its own server room to control the computerized house and a backup generator.

But not all of the house's history has been stripped from it. In the main hallway and along the stairwell, the diamond inlaid wainscoting still exists. And the flow of the first floor continues to keep the flow of one room unfolding into the next: a formal dining room, living room, private study, gourmet kitchen and a naturally lit conservatory.

"This house was definitely built to entertain," Alden said as we entered the kitchen, which now has a pizza oven, double ranges and dishwashers.

On the second floor, the original five bedrooms have been converted into two bedroom suites and a private library leading into the master suite, which also has two walk-in closets and a 20-foot by 17-foot bathroom.

A third floor, once the servants quarters, has four children's bedrooms and an office.

The carriage house, with its dark brown woods, was remodeled, as well. It includes a great room with a pool table and kitchenette, a full kitchen, two guest suites and two bedrooms.

"Today it would be perfect for a diplomat or someone traveling with a large number of people," Alden said. "It's a mix of that old estate charm with the modern conveniences of today. It's a world class property in a class all by itself."


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