three lots, a four-acre historic site in Beacon, NY, had been part of Wodenethe, the first experimental botanical garden in the country established in 1841. The first visionary who had the eye for this property was Robert Donaldson*, the famous developer of Blithewood Estate in Red Hook, NY; he was an important patron of the Newburgh/Beacon based legendary landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing*. Donaldson first bought the land of 22 and 22/100 acres in 1834 from Joseph Byrnes, whose father had purchased 274 acres from Isaac DePeyster Teller in 1792. Donaldson sold the property to Alexander Robertson Rodgers, a New York City banker who was the grandson of Rev. John Rodgers*. John Rodgers was the first American Doctor of Divinity of the Revolutionary Army and a friend and chaplain of George Washington; he was also a founding member of the Society of Cincinnati and the first pastor of the Wall Street Presbyterian Church. Alexander R. Rodgers was the first cousin of Mary Walsh James and Catharine Walsh, the mother and famous “Aunt Kate” of novelist Henry James (1843-1916), philosopher and psychologist William James, and diarist Alice James. The Walsh, James, and Dr. Rumsey, who lived on the other side of South Avenue from Alexander R. Rodgers, were lifetime friends. The banks Rodgers owned were hit hard by the 1939 Recession; his property in Fishkill Landing was ordered to be auctioned off by the court; eventually, it went to the neighbor, Samuel Whittemore, who, a year later became Andrew Jackson Downing’s brother-in-law. Whittemore received another riverfront estate, as the wedding present, from his father-in-law, John Peter DeWindt*, who owned an enormous estatethe in Dutchess County and developed the steamboats business in Fishkill-on-the-Hudson. John Peter DeWindt was married to John Adams’s granddaughter. In 1841, when Whittemore decided to find a new owner for his property famous for its distant-river-views, Andrew Jackson Downing brought his friend Henry Winthrop Sargent* to the site. As a retiring banker who aspired to be the best horticulturist and garden designer, Sargent established the country’s first experimental botanical garden.
Downing and Sargent had used the 25-acre Wodenethe to nurture their British protégé Calvert Vaux*. Recruited from London in 1850 by Downing, Vaux was an essential architect of the second half of the 19th century, famous for his partnership with Frederick Law Olmsted* in developing the Greensward Plan for Central Park and Prospect Park. In 1853, after Downing’s tragic death in a steamboat accident, Calvert Vaux completed Sargent’s vision by redesigning the Wodenethe Mansion. In 1919, in the wake of industrialization and railway expansion in Beacon, the Wodenethe estate and the 100-acre Tioronda estate, whose landscape Sargent also designed, were annexed into the 365-acre Craig House Sanitarium. Environmental psychiatrist Clarence Jonathan Slocum* established this high-end mental health clinic; the sanitarium’s illustrious patients included Zelda Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Rosemary Kennedy, Frances Ford Seymour, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Gleason. After the FDA’s approval of psychiatric drugs shuttered many mental clinics, Wodenethe was sold and destroyed in 1953 to give way to a 20-house development. The site of Chrystie House today is the only remaining ground of Wodenethe. A dozen of two, three-hundred-year-old oaks and other specimen trees are still standing.