Edgewater, located on the Hudson River in Barrytown, NY, was built in 1825, presumably by John R. Livingston, of the wealthy Hudson River Valley Livingstons, for his daughter, Margaret. In 1852, Robert and Susan Donaldson of North Carolina later purchased the estate. Patrons of architecture and art, the Donaldsons added a library by Alexander Jackson Davis and filled the home with fine American furnishings, family portraiture, and objets d’art.
Edgewater was empty when it was purchased by Richard Jenrette from Gore Vidal in 1969. Edgewater remains Mr. Jenrette’s private residence, and his desire to restore the estate and eventually turn it over to his foundation, Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, has led him on a collecting journey around the world. In a series of serendipitous events over the past 45 years many of the original Livingston and Donaldson objects have found their way back to Edgewater. Mr.Jenrette’s book, More Adventures With Old Houses: The Edgewater Experience, details the exciting odyssey of finding, acquiring and returning these objects to Edgewater.
The most recent piece of history to return to Edgewater is a pair of Duncan Phyfe rosewood card tables (see image above). The tables, decorated with gilded brass mounts and inlay, were recently discovered to be part of an 1822 commission by Phyfe for Robert Donaldson, who resided in Fayetteville, North Carolina at the time. The pair of tables was falsely attributed to a “Mrs. Bronson of South Carolina” until their Donaldson provenance came to light in mid-2013. Extensive research by Martha Willoughby of Christie’s revealed a connection between the style and design of the Phyfe tables and an 1822 invoice from Phyfe to Robert Donaldson.
After inheriting a substantial amount of money from his father and uncle, RobertDonaldson commissioned many pieces from Phyfe during the 1820s, which were later inherited by his daughter, Isabel Donaldson Bronson. The invoice, dated August 21, 1822, reveals the tables could possibly be a part of a larger commission, including a rosewood sofa, fourteen chairs, a center table, a pier table, and the card tables, which were priced at $100 for the pair (see image at right). Similarities in gilding and ornamentation connected the pair of card tables to the other pieces documented as made by Phyfe for Donaldson. However, there was another suite made by Phyfe for Donaldson in 1827 that included a Grecian couch and sofa which have brass mounts of rosette flanked by leafy stems that are similar to ones on these card tables. They could possibly be a part of that commission.
The 1822 commission, completed by Phyfe’s workshop in New York City, was en route to Fayetteville, NC via the Cape Fear River when the ship carrying it capsized, sending the entire suite of furniture to the riverbed. Donaldson family history recounts the furniture as having been recovered unscathed, a testimony to the master quality of craftsmanship that came out of Phyfe’s workshop.
Robert Donaldson moved to New York City in 1827, bringing this Phyfe suite of furniture to his new residence at 15 State Street. In 1852, Donaldson acquired Edgewater, again outfitting his house with his Duncan Phyfe collection. Edgewater remained in the Donaldson family for nearly 50 years until it was sold in 1902. Robert’s daughter, Isabel Donaldson Bronson, inherited the card tables and other family furnishings and moved with them to her new home in Summit, New Jersey. Finances compelled her to sell a sofa and two card tables, which was documented in her 1928 “Reminiscences”. The card tables were sold to John Morrison Curtis, an interior decorator in Summit, NJ. The tables later appeared in 1983 at William Doyle Galleries, accompanied by a letter from Curtis, detailing their production by Phyfe, their treacherous trip along the Cape Fear River, and their later inheritance by Isabel Donaldson Bronson. The majority of the remaining Donaldson furniture Isabel inherited was later passed down to her granddaughter, Mary Cromwell Allison, the last living Donaldson descendant. Mary Allison, desiring that the family items be returned to their home at Edgewater, bequeathed them to Mr. Jenrette.
Classical American Homes obtained the tables from the Christie’s sale of the Jack Warner (Westervelt) Collection last year. Upon learning of the tables’ Donaldson heritage, Bill Thompson, founding Director of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and partner of Richard Jenrette, made a generous donation to facilitate their return to Edgewater. We are thrilled to have yet another piece of Edgewater’s history back “home” — a reminder to visitors of the Donaldson era and a testament to Bill Thompson’s generosity and pivotal role in CAHPT’s founding. Read more about Edgewater in More Adventures With Old Houses: The Edgewater Experience and explore the history of Duncan Phyfe in The Metropolitan Museum‘s Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York – both available for purchase at our Shop online.