by Shannon Butler

We continue our look at Mansions along the Albany Post Road corridor this week with a house that has a fascinating history with some equally fascinating characters. Just outside the City of Beacon on Route 9D is a fabulous old Gothic Mansion that has served as a residence and a retreat for the mentally ill. Though it has a somewhat ominous look about it, there was a time when this mansion saw brighter days and hopefully it has a brighter future ahead of it.

The mansion’s first use was as a home which was designed by Frederick Clarke Withers for Joseph Howland and his wife Eliza. Joseph was born in 1834, the son of Samuel Howland who had made his fortune as one of the founding members of the shipping firm, Howland and Aspinwall. This firm made its wealth in the trade with China in the 1830’s and 40’s. Joseph was apparently considering going to seminary but never did, instead he was educated at home and at the age of 21, he married Eliza Newton Woolsey in New York City. After a trip through Europe, the two decided on living on a country farm up the Hudson River, a very fashionable way of showing off one’s wealth in the mid-19th century. The house was completed by 1861, and Eliza wrote to her sister that she and Joseph were just getting settled into their new home and organizing the books in their new library, “to be sure, there is no carpet down, and we have no tables and chairs, but it already has a very habitable look, and we feel quite at home in the presence of our old book-friends.” Later, in 1873 they would hire Joseph’s brother-in-law, the famous Richard Morris Hunt to design a music room with install a massive pipe organ worth around $25,000.

This was all just in time for Joseph to head off to fight in the Civil War. His wish to serve his country confused many of his friends and relatives, including his Uncle Edward who wrote “I did not think you possessed the physical endurance needed for such a post.” Joseph enlisted and served with the 16th New York Volunteers and it did not take long for his wife Eliza to discover that she could not be in their big new house alone. She soon followed the regiment down to Washington and helped in the soldier’s hospitals with her sisters. Joseph was wounded at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill.  He finished out the war as a brevet Brigadier General, helping the cause from the sidelines.

After the war, Joseph was a man of many interests. He was a part of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. He served briefly as the Treasurer for the State of New York. He also served on the board of managers in the newly built Hudson River State Hospital, which is interesting, considering the future of his home. Sadly, Joseph died on March 31st 1886 while visiting France and Eliza decided that, like during the war, she could not be alone at Tioronda without him. She never returned to the house. She rented it out by the turn of the 20th century. By 1906, Mrs. Thaw, the mother of Harry K. Thaw (who murdered Stanford White), was looking to rent the house to be near her son who was at Mattewan State Hospital, newspapers of the day said she considered Tioronda as a possible choice. By 1907, contents of Howland’s library were put up for auction which included rare Americana, early printed books, and autographed letters.

In 1911, Eliza deeded the entire estate, which included 234 acres, the mansion, and several outbuildings, to the University Settlement. She wished that it would be used to create one of the finest boy’s camps in the country. This continued for a few years when in September 1915, the creation of the Craig House as a resting cure hospital was mentioned in the Poughkeepsie Journal. The three founders of the organization were Dr. Clarence J. Slocum, Dr. Robert Lamb, and Edwin J. Webb. Eliza died on July 3rd, 1917 and she and Joseph never had any children. It quickly became the place for the wealthy to send their mentally ill relatives. A few of the most famous names to have spent time here were Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of the famed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was sent here in the 1930s. In 1941, Rosemary Kennedy, the sister of John F. Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy as the request of her father, that left her mental capacity severely diminished, she was then sent off to live at the Craig House for several years. In April of 1950, Henry Fonda’s wife Frances Seymour committed suicide in her room at the Craig House, leaving a note for her doctors that read “Sorry, but this is the best way out.”

Dr. Clarence Slocum had mostly overseen the operations at the hospital until his death in 1950 when his son Jonathon took over. Jonathon expanded operations in 1978 when he added a two story wing to the south of the main mansion. When he retired in 1984, the hospital slowly began its decline, along with newer medications that were becoming available and the desire to put an end to institutionalization, the Craig House would slowly seize its operations. Over the years it has attracted many lovers of abandoned architecture and talk of possible improvements but nothing yet has become of it. The link below shows the plans for a possible spa opening in 2023, we will all have to wait and see!