Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Pelham's Most Magnificent Wedding Gift: The Bolton Priory

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Virtually everyone in Pelham knows The Bolton Priory located 0n Priory Lane in the Village of Pelham Manor. The lovely home built by the Reverend Robert Bolton in 1838 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the many interesting stories associated with the home involves the fact that it was given as a wedding gift in 1892 to Miss Daisy Stevens on the day that she married Mr. Frederick H. Allen. An interesting article about the gift of the home appeared in the July 31, 1892 issue of The New York Times and is reproduced below:






Two generations ago few rich Americans followed the English custom of erecting solid, lasting manor houses to stand as family monuments and homes for their descendants.

The Rev. Robert Bolton, in 1830 the well-to-do rector of the parish of East Chester, was an exception to the rule. He built himself an ideal English mansion on the border line between the towns of New-Rochelle and Pelham and called it the Bolton Priory. The mansion stands today a conspicuous landmark in Westchester County and is one of the most interesting homesteads in the country.

Public attention was called to the Bolton Priory last Thursday, when the Duchess de Dino presented the mansion as a wedding gift to her daughter, Miss Daisy Stevens, who on that day became the wife of Frederick H. Allen. The Duchess de Dino purchased the property six years ago, not long before her divorce from Frederic Stevens, paying for it $100,000.

The Rev. Robert Bolton was intimately acquainted with Washington Irving, and upon one of his frequent visits at Sunnyside in the Spring of 1838 he told the author of 'Sleepy Hollow' that he intended building himself a home that would last for generations.

Irving advised that the homestead be made typically English, and suggested the idea of putting the date up in the front wall. He said also that while making some repairs at the Sleepy Hollow Church many of the old yellow bricks had been thrown aside which could be had for the carting. The rector followed the advice of the author, and the Rev. C. W. Bolton, son of the rector, went to the church and carted home some of the bricks. Thus the material of the seventeenth century entered into this building of the nineteenth.

The Bolton Priory, as completed fifty-three years ago, stands nearly intact to-day in the midst of a fine old park of trees a short distance back from the road. It is approached by a winding carriage drive. The spot is isolated and romantic. From the roadway through the trees and bushes can be caught glimpses of the stone mansion, looking strikingly like an English rectory with the walls overgrown with ivy.

The house was originally 115 feet deep and half that in width, but several years after it was completed a projection was added to the rear.

Over the arched doorway is the date '1838,' set in the yellow bricks from the Sleepy Hollow Church. The front door, to carry out the English ideas of the Rev. Mr. Bolton, is of heavy, solid oak, completely covered with a studding of great bolt heads. A ponderous iron knocker, brought over from Venice, hangs upon the door. Even the scutcheon around the keyhole was imported. Upon it is engraved the date, 'M. D., 1557.'

Graystone was used in the construction of the house. The mortar being unpainted gives to the building an appearance of very great age. To the right of the doorway rises a high tower, from the top of which the country can be seen for ten miles around.

The interior of the Priory is more curious than the exterior. Passing through the door, one enters a wide, dark hall, opening from the left of which is the library. The members of the Bolton family were all artists of considerable talent. The dining room gives evidence of this. The carved frescoing, representing 'The Battle of the Chariots,' was the work of the Rev. William J. Bolton of Bath, England. The elaborately-carved mantelpiece was also wrought by the Bath rector. On the mantelpiece there stood for years a bust of George Whitefield in black porcelain.

The walls are covered with rare old paintings, among them being an original portrait of John Bunyan, once in the possession of Whitefield. The portrait was given by Whitefield to the Rev. Cornelius Winter, who bequeathed it to William Jay of Bath, grandfather of Robert Bolton.

On the sides of this portrait are two ancient paintings bought originally for their frames. They were discovered in an old English shop in Reading, Berkshire, and purchased for 2s 6d. When William J. Bolton cleaned the canvas, one proved to be a rare Gainsborough and the other a portrait of a French lady.

Among a hundred curious things found in the dining room are the cap worn by the last Doge of Venice, a framed panel from the coach in which George Washington made his last tour of the States, four Elizabethan chairs with high, carved backs topped with crowns; six huge volumes of Macklin's Bible, and a copy of Eliot's Indian Testament, one of the first works written and printed in the United States. The volume was printed in the United States. The volume was printed by Samuel Green in 1661, at Cambridge, Mass. There are also a rare collection of autographs, the oldest of which is that of Henry VII, and the original edition of Piranesi, once belonging to Napoleon and bearing his signature.

The rich stained-glass windows of the library, as also of other rooms in the house, were made by John Bolton, son of the builder.

In the parlor are more treasures of art. Over the door leading from the library is a 'wool picture' of 'Peter Repenting.' The picture was made by Charles W. Bolton from wool sheared by himself from his own sheep. The method of making the picture was a family secret. This is the only 'wool picture' in America, and there are only two in England. The chairs in the parlor were brought over from the Louvre.

The armory is the next room south. Portraits line the walls. There is one of Charles I., supposed to have been painted by Stuart, and others of Henrietta, of the Pretender, and of Falstaff. Standing by the doorway are two complete suits of Venetian armor. In the armory is an armchair bearing the date 1639, purchased at Dorchester, in Oxfordshire, by the Rev. Charles W. Bolton. The Trustees of Harvard College made repeated efforts to get this relic for a President's chair, but the Boltons refused to part with it. Valuable pieces of old armor and weapons hang on the walls.

In the armory is a huge fireplace, 6 feet high and 10 feet long, with chimney-corner seats inside. In days gone by, the Bolton family used to observe the twelve nights of misrule. The yule log used to be drawn in by a donkey ridden by the rector.

When the priory was erected, it was not intended to be turned to a purpose which subsequently made it widely known. A few years after it was finished a young ladies seminary was opened in the building, the rear extension being used as the schoolroom. In the west wing was the studio where the artist family worked with their pupils. With the death of the Bolton sisters several years ago, the school was discontinued, and Bolton Priory has been used for many seasons past as a Summer residence.

Through the instrumentality of the Rev. Robert Bolton a parish was organized in Pelham, and the cornerstone of the Gothic church standing on the Priory grounds was laid April 28, 1843. The church was the first building devoted to religious worship and instruction erected in the town of Pelham. The incorporation bears the date of Sept. 25, 1843, with Richard Morris and Henry Grenzebach as Wardens, and Grace Roosevelt, George F. Mills, John J. Bolton, William J. Bolton, Peter V. King, Jacob Le Roy, Cornelius W. Bolton, and Robert Bolton, Jr., as Vestrymen.

The Rev. Robert Bolton was the first rector and remained such until 1852, when he resigned. The Rev. C. W. Bolton and the Rev. Alexander Shiras were later rectors of Christ Church, Pelham. There is a Schuyler vault at the church. The Schuylers have spent many Summers at Bolton Priory.

The old house will undergo considerable alteration previous to its occupancy next Fall by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen."

Source: A Priory For The Bride - Mrs. Frederick H. Allen's Gift From Her Mother, N.Y. Times, Jul. 31, 1892, p. 11.

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