• Friday , 15 December 2017

Custer House Far From Its Last Stand

There’s an inherent pride in making history and still being around to talk about it. There’s no greater bridge between past and present than our listings in Bronxville’s Lawrence Park, the raison d’être of our firm’s founding at the turn of the last century.

Few properties speak to the provenance of Houlihan Lawrence like Laurentia, the second Lawrence Park home of General George Custer’s widow, Elizabeth “Libby” Custer. Beyond its architectural significance, the iconic home is a postcard landmark and a testament to lifelong friendship.

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Early view of Laurentia as seen from Park Avenue, one of the hilltop’s iconic yellow brick thoroughfares.

Mrs. Custer (neé Bacon) had known Sarah Lawrence since childhood. A native of Monroe, Michigan like the Lawrences, she was a seminary Valedictorian from a well-heeled family who didn’t take fondly to the idea of their daughter becoming an army wife on the American frontier. After her husband’s now legendary demise at Little Bighorn, Custer embarked upon a successful literary career that ultimately recovered her husband’s verdict in the court of public opinion, penning the books Boots and Saddles and Following the Guidon.

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As William Lawrence began luring America’s most influential creative minds north of New York City, many from his personal social circle as one of the wealthiest men in America, it was only natural Custer would near the top of his list. Custer would become a two-time Lawrence Park home buyer. Her first residence, 20 Park Avenue, was inspired by the forts where she and her husband had resided in the American frontier, with a decorative parapet on one of its two turrets. Her penchant for entertaining however soon necessitated additional square footage, and in 1902 she upsized here to 6 Chestnut Avenue, which she named in honor of her dear friends.

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Designed by fellow Monroe native William Bates and considered by many to be his finest work, the Shingle Style home crests one of the neighborhood’s most dramatic overlooks, a site that like all on the hilltop was carefully selected by Lawrence himself. Rather curiously, she rarely lived in it for more than weeks at a time, renting it out as she traveled and typically living at Lawrence’s Hotel Gramatan while guests stayed in her own home. (She was known to winter at the Lawrence’s Osceola Gramatan Inn in Florida). Custer was civically active in Bronxville and was a major advocate to establish Lawrence Hospital, where she later served as a board member. She even took to the stage during the now famous 1909 fundraising pageant for the cause reenacting the creation of Westchester County, attended by then-New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes and hundreds of others.

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Laurentia today is perhaps more breathtaking than ever. The home’s structural integrity and meticulous architectural details have withstood the test of time, resplendent after careful restoration and blended carefully with modern necessities. Nearly 7,000 square feet of interior are accented with window seats, coffered ceilings, intricate millwork and six period fireplaces, showcasing artistry and careful detailing rarely seen in more modern constructs. Terraced patios, an outdoor kitchen and garaging for three cars sit surrounded by garden pathways on the home’s .62 acre lot, an unparalleled balance of amenities all walking distance from Bronxville Village and train service to Manhattan.

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A home of such history and provenance also carries pleasant surprise and the occasional bit of whimsy. The home’s original dumbwaiter has been retrofitted as a secret espresso bar. And most sacred of all, Laurentia‘s library boast original copies of Libby Custer’s books, which will pass to the next custodians of its legacy.

See more of 6 Chestnut Avenue

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