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History of Hartford Hall

Formerly called “BUENA VISTA FARMS,” this gracious Tudor-style home now called “Hartford Hall” was the residence of John and Pauline Hartford.  Completed in 1932, this two-story mansion is situated on land that serves as the campus of Westchester Community College, a part of the State University of New York.  The original Hartford property was comprised of three hundred and sixty acres.  Hartford Hall has been designated a National Historic Preservation Site.

At the time of the Hartford’s residency, many other buildings dotted the estate, some of which still exist.  Three greenhouses, a dairy, a magnificent polo ring with second-story viewing box and stables, turkey and chicken coops (fowl was not raised for commercial use but as gifts), a blacksmith’s shop, a boat house and cottages for staff were part of the complex.  Fine horses and vintage cars provided a diversion as did the Hartford’s fine private golf course.

The house was occupied in summer and at holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  The Hartfords did little entertaining with the exception of family gatherings.  Household staff consisted of a butler, two chauffeurs, cook, waitresses and chamber-maids.  Estate staff consisted of Mr. Hartford’s personal caddy, five greenhousemen, two stable-men, five dairy people and gardeners.  Over one thousand bushels of apples were used at the house and distributed as gifts and most produce used in the Hartford kitchens was home-grown as well.

The Hartfords’ city residence was an eight-room suite at the Plaza Hotel.  The couple shunned publicity, living very private lives.  They shared a deep interest in philanthropy.

Mr. Hartford died in 1948. He was 74 years old.  His wife “Polly”, died at the Plaza in her 79th year.

The couple had no children.  Through the generosity of the Hartfords and the Hartford Foundation, provision was made to enable the County of Westchester to acquire Buena Vista Farms at minimal cost.  Much of the furniture had been left to Louise McKelvey and the house had been willed to Huntington Hartford who, in turn, arranged for its use by Yale College for a time.

Unlike many millionaires of the period, John A. Hartford, used local craftsmen to fashion the detailed ceilings and paneled walls and floors of his country home.

The large carved front door of Hartford Hall opens onto the first-floor hall, distinguished by the symmetry of the paneling.  No doorknobs are seen in this area although concealed closets line the passage.  Doors are opened by pressing hidden latches in the panels, allowing perfectly aligned doors to swing wide.

Planned for comfort and warmth as well as beauty, Hartford Hall is unlike many oppressive mansions of the Depression era which were austere and cold.  Cheerful chintzes and light-filled rooms reflected the character of the Hartford family.

THE LIBRARY:  A graciously proportioned room, paneled in polished poplar, the library invites reading and discussion before the handsome mantel.  Bookcases boast leather and gold Florentine bindings which conceal a hidden door with a secret press latch, behind which stands a Chinese lacquered bar.  Please note, in the bar, an exquisite “basket” chandelier.

THE LIVING ROOM: A domed ceiling with hand-embossed plaster reliefs rises above the carved oak-paneled walls of the living room.  Fine brass fixtures glow on the walls and the carved mantel suggests Robsjohn Gibbings.  Some original furnishings may be seen here in this room now used as the President’s office.  A terrace reached through pairs of leaded French doors commands a sweeping view of the grounds and catches summer breezes.  The flagstone floor and wood framed screens lend a rustic feeling and a charming fountain provides tranquility.

THE PROJECTION ROOM: This small chamber with fine open timbers under the domed ceiling served as a small motion picture theater for the Hartfords.  Private screenings of the latest productions were shown here for the family.

THE SOLARIUM:  Presently in use as a large office, this was the setting for afternoon tea amid a profusion of flowers from the greenhouses.  There are built-in recesses in the smooth stone walls for growing plants.  Three ornate iron chandeliers originally hung from the high ceilings.  Windows open onto the terrace providing a clear view of White Plains in good weather. Large mirrored doors at each end of the solarium reflect the surroundings on the solarium side but are one-way viewers from the rooms behind them.

THE BREAKFAST ROOM: The breakfast room, like the library, has a view of the solarium through the one-way glass and also faces the terrace and the great vistas beyond.  The family enjoyed informal dining here.  Hand-painted yellow walls display scenes evoking the four seasons in warm and woodsy figurations.  The animal and nature settings are captivating.  Faux marble has been carefully executed on the room’s mantel and original sconces grace the walls.  Camouflaged doors lead to the formal dining room and the pantry.

THE DINING ROOM:  It is this room with its press latches that was rumored to have true secret paneling.  Linen closets exist behind the dark rich walls but no other mystery has been revealed as yet.  The marble fireplace and beautiful sconces are original and the oil painting above the fireplace was owned by the Hartfords.  The ceiling fixture is a college adaptation required for practical reasons.  Many a charming candle-lit dinner must have been served here.  The condition of the walls is excellent.  The Westchester Community College Board of Trustees meets here in this splendidly detailed room.

THE HALL:  Running the length of the house, the walls conceal a large guest closet, telephone room, power room, flower arranging closet and clothing closet.  The chandelier is original. 

THE JOHN AND PAULINE HARTFORD ROOM-WESTCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY: The John and Pauline Hartford bedroom, Mr. Hartford’s dressing room and closets, his blue tiled bathroom and Mrs. Hartford’s pink tiled bathroom are included in the area which was also once used by the Westchester Historical Society.

THE MASTER BEDROOM:  Notable for its airiness and light, this intimate chamber has hand made glass doors to a balcony and beautiful corner windows offering a breathtaking view of the property.  Wedgewood mantel and Wedgewood sconces reflect the delicate taste of the original residents of the room.  A cove ceiling lends further softness to the room.

MRS. HARTFORD’S DRESSING ROOM:  This area offers the most elaborate ceiling in the house.  The design was reportedly taken from the Auboussin carpet that covered the floor. Octagonal in shape, the room contains a personal vault within a closet.  A wardrobe room adjoins the closets for gowns, shoes, hats, cedar storage and a wall of drawers with original keys in place for each drawer.  The original shelving may be seen.

MRS. HARTFORD’S BATHROOM:  Pink tiled with gold plated fixtures, marble sink and hand blown glass soap dishes, the room remains in fine condition.  There are built in scales, hand cut full-length mirrors, extremely modern for the time.  Huge closets in the bathrooms held linens.

The remaining bedroom, all with different colored baths (purple, green, yellow) reflect the original decor of the house.  Ceilings are lower than in the master suite and are comfortable rather than heroic in size.

The upstairs hallway has a reading nook in a bow window and a cedar closet.  The classic hand painted wallpaper of Grecian-Roman scenes remains preserved.