I have been thinking recently and at odd moments of this building.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I worked for an insurance company, fixing discrepancies between what the agents paid and what they should have paid. This building was owned by, and housed, an agency with whose monthly statements I spent a lot of time. One day my boss and I took a trip down Route 9 to meet with the agent.
WHETHER LOOKING TO CREATE YOUR DREAM ESTATE OR UNIQUE COMMERCIAL FACILITY THE HISTORIC PAYNE BARNS ARE A MUST SEE..."
All I really remembered of its history was that Eleanor Roosevelt had had something to do with it as a school for boys. Ms. McCord, the Esopus Town Clerk, kindly and speedily responded to my inquiry with fascinating historical information.
"The building which you refer to was part of the Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne Estate and was used to house the horses and chickens for the Colonel’s estate. The estate overlooks the Hudson River and consisted of 400 acres. I did research your reference to [the insurance agency you mentioned] and they did own the building on the south side of Rt. 9W in the 70’s and lost to foreclosure in 1976. This building is now for sale.
The main building on the estate overlooking the Hudson housed a school in 1937 under the Mission as a shelter for neglected Black Protestant boys, eight to twelve years of age, for whom there were no programs other than the State Training Schools. Twenty such boys [were] sent here to an experimental camp and the response was great so it was decided to operate an all-year school at West Park for such children. The name chosen for the school was Wiltwyck, the old Dutch name of Kingston.
Early in the history of the school the Agency helped to secure local legislation to end discrimination against Black children and then opened its doors to children without regard to race, color, or religion. Floyd Patterson, the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1960-1962, had been at this school; so the building in the city used by the school as a half-way house for boys returning to New York from West Park has been named for him.
In May, 1942, the Wiltwyck School for Boys was incorporated with the approval of the State Dept. of Social Welfare. As reorganized, it was administered by an interracial and nonsectarian Board of Directors. In 1953 the school began to care exclusively for emotionally disturbed children and the program was now reorganized to provide individual case work and direct therapy where needed. But the location of Wilwyck, eighty miles from New York City, added to the difficulty of recruiting and holding properly qualified staff so a search was begun for a new location. In 1962 the school site transferred to Yorktown Heights. The new campus was named for Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who took an active part in the leadership of the School after its reorganization in 1942 and served as Campaign Chairman of a Building and Development fund for the new campus.
This information is available in a book called the Town of Esopus Story and can be obtained from the Klyne Esopus Museum, P O Box 751, Port Ewen, New York 12466."
This, below, is the ceiling of the part of the building with the clock tower.
It's the original riding arena, and it was where the Wiltwyck boys played games that needed lots of room.
Our host and tour guide told us that the basketball hoops had still been in place when he'd bought the building.
The realtor's blurb: "...create a dream estate..." That insurance agent had a Dream. His insurance office was in the building (as was his and his wife's apartment, where the oval window is) and he had a vision of filling the whole place with shops and studios. It would be a huge quaintly styled shopping mall. In the mid-1970s, giant buildings filled with stores were a novel concept. His thinking was ahead of his time, and the dream didn't turn into reality. By the time we visited the place, the bankruptcy process had already begun: my inches-thick file was useless. The company would get a piece of whatever there was to be had, whether or not it balanced the account.
It is as close as I have come to being in one of the castles that so enchant me. It was only built in the last quarter of the 19th century, but to me it felt much older, its stone walls so thick, the windows so deep-set, the proportions so huge. It even had a kind of portcullis. While we walked through the building, our agent/host pointing out where he had planned to have this and that merchant or artist, I wanted to let the others go on ahead. I wanted to hang behind and wander around and smell the stone and the dust and dream of what it would have been like long before.
As we were preparing to leave, my boss said to the agent, "Well, Phil . . . at least you had The Dream for a while. And that's something a lot of people never have."
The building surely was one to inspire Dreams. It must be, still, although I have seen it only once since 1976. Twenty-some years later, Husband and I were in Esopus as wedding guests and I made him drive back and forth on Route 9 until I spied, down the hill from the road, a corner of the roof. The driveway was chained closed. I was on fire to get out of the car and unhook the chain so Husband could see the place (...so I could see it again), but I didn't do it.
The building still grabs my imagination. I can still feel it. If I won the lottery I might take up residence there. And I would keep the chain across the driveway.