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The Gilbert Hatfield House Part II: Mistakes and Legacy

July 6, 2017

A couple of days ago I wrote an obituary for the Gilbert Hatfield House on Hall Avenue. In the first 24 hours alone it was read almost four hundred times. Clearly, it spoke to something we know to be true: the historical landmarks of our past, in White Plains and elsewhere, are rapidly disappearing, often without our even noticing. “It’s sad; a shame; I did not know, but now I feel profound grief” were among the first reactions. Later came words of appreciation for my collecting the history and telling the story.  And then new information emerged; information that made my heart break.

I had begun researching the history of the Hatfield house on a lark; I had recently discovered that one of my ancestors had willed property to Gilbert. Gilbert’s son and grandson are buried in the cemetery at the White Plains Presbyterian Church where I am the pastor. I had put together all the usual clues of a historical mystery and followed them as best I could with old maps, genealogies, and on foot – walking the neighborhood and woods where I thought the house should be. The house at 1649 did not quite look right, but then again the last photo I had of the Hatfield House was from 1975 after a small fire had damaged part of the porch and roof. The granite outcropping behind the house was the best candidate I had found for Mucklestone Rock. The house sat on property that had once been part of Klugg Farm in 1893. Not everything added up – the house didn’t quite look right – but it was plausible, and was rumored to be from the eighteenth century.  Then the fire on Monday called forth the obituary.

Through the post, however, I met a man who has lived on Hall Avenue most of his life, and his wife showed me that their house is perched on the actual Mucklestone Rock. They remembered a different home, two doors down from them, that they had always known as “The Hatfield House.”  And then more neighbors wrote me. 

It seems the Hatfield House was destroyed not by neglect or suspicious fire but by a real estate developer in 2012. According to google.maps, the house stood at 636 Hall Avenue. An elderly Italian couple were living in the house until 2011, and when they passed on it was left to their children.  It’s unclear whether the family knew of the house’s historical significance.  The house was later sold to a developer who divided the property into multiple lots. Had the house been protected as a local landmark, it might still be with us today.  But in 2012, White Plains had not yet passed The Historic Preservation Law nor established the Historic Preservation Commission.

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So, for the record, above is the photo of the 1770s Hatfield House published by John Rosch in 1937, and below is an architect’s drawing of the house that I believe was prepared as part of the application to demolish. Notice the stone walls.

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Google.Earth has a wonderful feature that allows us to go back in time and look at satellite photos from prior years. Here’s the Hatfield House (at the center of the photo) in 2007. This is clearly the house photographed by Renoda Hoffman in 1975.

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And while Google Maps now drops down on an image of the property already cleared by the builder, the last time a camera-car took images for the “street view” function was in 2012. Here are the final images of the Hatfield House before it was torn down. 

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Above: Approaching from the south. This was a substantial property with a stone wall on the South end. This wall extends well into the rolling hills above Silver Lake. There is a bar-gate for animals nearly due east in the woods.

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The porch was enclosed sometime after 1975. The house looks to be in pretty good shape.

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A sunny side view from Hall Avenue. The house faced the driveway, not the street.

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From the north side, at the back of the house. Notice the natural rock and stone wall.

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Here’s the same wall today, now overgrown, and from a slightly different angle,
but the historic home has been torn down.  

Hopefully this will be the last historic home lost in this way. We have the opportunity, dare I say the responsibility, now to protect those that remain. 

Today, the City of White Plains has a Historic Preservation Commission that is actively creating an index of local landmarks and historic districts. Residents in historic homes or neighborhoods can apply to be recognized by the commission, using a simple form on the city’s website. Landmark status provides a level of protection for properties, potential grant opportunities for restoration, and tax breaks for the increase in home value due to restoration. I sit on the commission, and we would welcome the opportunity to talk with White Plains homeowners of historic properties.  Let’s let the Hatfield House’s legacy be our commitment to preserve historic sites that have shaped us into the community that we are and are becoming.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2017 10:49 pm

    Nicely done

  2. July 7, 2017 9:51 am

    Wow! I don’t remember that house when I searched back then but you can always change a blog. I found a lot of contradictions in my research. Debated over 5 years whether to publish. But you found the real Mucklestone Rock! Renoda Hoffman’s books often had things that did not make sense (contradictions) and her pictures had no captions. As for the Gilbert Hatfield that the hill was named after, are you sure of your dates of his life or where he was buried? Renoda writes of a Gilbert who is brother to Abraham (b. 1720) who owned the Hatfield Tavern in “It Happened in old White Plains.” Abraham died in 1975. He was a Tory and WP was much divided on Independence issue. Gilbert was on other side. Patrick Rafferty has a 3 vol. set of books on “Cemeteries of Westchester” that has a section on the Hatfield Burial Plot (formerly on S. Broadway) that was moved to WP Rural Cemetery saying Gilbert born in 1746 was first buried there. But this Gilbert died in 1829. Remember, the first Grace Church was in the S Broadway grounds. It is weird to me that both brothers died in same yr. But, there are just too many Hatfield’s. Rafferty though mentions Thomas Hatfield of Holland, grandfather to Abraham (b. 1720). It is also weird that his brother Gilbert would be born in 1746 unless there was a different mother. But, what do I know? You might want to check out these books. WP Library has copies of Rafferty’s books. He works at Westchester Historical Society where I met him at the Elmsford Library. The Chatterton House was the only house on Battle Hill where family hid during battle. It is pictured on cover of Renoda’s book “It Happened in Old WP.” I published my book hoping to save old properties but more and more are doomed. Most of Good Counsel is marked for redevelopment and Soundview Manor is in such bad condition so city might have no choice but to allow developer to take it down. A Developer wants to take down the building where B Altman was first located and the old Alexander’s building (Pavillion) is being taken down.

  3. July 7, 2017 10:09 am

    I relooked at John Rosch’s book and he writes that Gilbert Hatfield was Abraham Hatfield’s son. That makes sense but have you researched Daniel Hatfield? His house is on Lake St and it has a sign on it.

    • July 7, 2017 10:26 am

      Erik got here first. 🙂 Thanks Erik. I count at least three Gilberts. Those who owned property on the Hill were Thomas>Gilbert>Daniel>Gilbert. It is this last Gilbert who is buried at the Presbyterian Church. Then of course there is the Gilbert, son of Abraham the Tory Innkeeper. (Although who knows where they would have ended up a year later. Many came around). I wonder if anyone has clearly established WHICH Gilbert signed to loyalty statement that came out of Hatfield’s Tavern. Without checking, I suspect it was Abraham’s son. He was very fond of him

  4. July 7, 2017 10:49 am

    It is all too complicated to me. I am glad that I didn’t go into family histories cause I really can’t comprehend any of it!

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  1. The Gilbert Hatfield House: An Obituary | revgeary

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