July 1990

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The Chestnuts


Warren Hunting Smith

On the west branch of Keuka Lake was a wide area owned by the Rose family. Robert Selden Rose had moved from Virginia to Geneva where he bought the property now called Rose Hill, on Seneca Lake. Two of his sons settled in Yates County near Branchport, "Esperanza" being one of their houses. Their nephew Robert Selden Rose (son of Robert Lawson Rose of Allen's Hill) acquired a farm along the west branch, and built (about 1850) a stone mansion, plastered over, with Greek Revival interiors, called "The Chestnuts" after the trees nearby. They were afterwards killed by a blight.

He married Frances Cammann of Geneva, great-granddaughter of Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; they had six sons and a daughter. The eldest son moved to Geneva; the youngest son became a physician in Hartford, Connecticut. The remaining four stayed at "The Chestnuts"—and drank heavily. One married a farmer's daughter.

When the four expired at "The Chestnuts", the youngest son, Dr. John Rose, who had married a wealthy widow, took over the family house and remodelled it.

The original house had an entrance hall, with two parlors to the left, and a dining-room at the end of the hall. The Jack Roses made the two parlors into a long living-room with two fireplaces, and made a new dining-room in a wing, south of the house, with windows facing the lake on one side and a terraced garden on the other side. There were four bedrooms and a bath upstairs. A little guest house with bath was built at the back.

A barn painted green, was south of the house across a brook which, Dr. Rose said, ran only "on odd Thursdays in February." There was a boat-house on the shore. The farm had vineyards and woods; the farmer, Mr. Ingraham, lived in a farm-house on a side road.

The Jack Roses were hospitable and had many guests. Their oldest brother, O. J. C. Rose, and his wife came to "The Chestnuts" for Sunday lunch after church, and Mrs. Rose, on arriving, went straight to the lake and took a swim in her Sunday clothes with hat bobbing on the water.

My parents and I had a Sunday lunch there, too, but without taking a plunge.

Dr. Rose survived his wife, and took a house in Geneva, using "The Chestnuts" only in summers. Finally, in the 1930s, he sold "The Chestnuts" to Mrs. Waldo Hutchins and her daughter Margaret, who had lived on Main Street in Geneva in summer, and on Park Avenue in New York City in the winter.

They made the Roses' new dining-room into their living-room, adding a fireplace at the far end to which they brought a marble mantel-piece which had been in an ancestral house in New York. Their entertaining was even more lavish than that of the Roses, and their guests more numerous and distinguished.

Margaret Hutchins left "The Chestnuts" to her friend Norwin Hoffman, when she died in 1960; he sold it, but it was soon taken over by New York State for a park. The mansion was torn down, and, incredibly, the only vestige of the former occupants was the little guest-house.

1990, Warren Hunting Smith
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