Stokes Residence
Greenwich, CT

Stokes Residence
Stokes Residence

Undated photo showing the finished home and grounds

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Stone Masons
Stone Masons

Masons at work, circa 1905

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Plaisance
Plaisance

Pleached trees form a tight canopy for shade, circa 1926

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Stokes Residence
Stokes Residence

Undated photo showing the finished home and grounds

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Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

The story of Khakum Wood1 begins with Mr. Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes2, a practicing New York architect with a distinguished family fortune in mining and banking. His residential estate commissions in Newport, Rhode Island as well as Darien, Connecticut convinced him that he might try making one for his own family. In 1900, he and his wife Edith Minturn Stokes purchased approximately 180 acres of land off of Round Hill Road corresponding with the W. A. Husted farm. Mr. Stokes soon wrote to the Olmsted Brothers firm seeking their assistance with idea for improving the grounds.

The first stage of work involved the design of the Stokes residence in concert with the landscape from 1904 through 1908. Stokes's plan called for a Tudor revival manor home featuring genuine Telford stone quarried in England for walls and the driveway. The Olmsted Brothers recommended that the family site it near Round Hill Road atop the ridgeline so as to best command views down over the woods and towards the open ponds. The landscape architects further refined the concept through grading studies for the driveway profile and grounds surrounding the house as well as details for retaining walls and drainage structures. Suggestions for planting beds, pruning of trees, and other landscape treatments began to give the home a sense of belonging and order over the scattered trees and fallow farmland.

In 1910, Mr. Stokes added to the plan with an addition featuring the circa 1597 High-Low House, that had been dismantled in Suffield, England and shipped to the site in some 688 separate crates. The idea had appealed to him after seeing the home mentioned in an issue of English Country Life; he procured additional timbers from an English shipwreck to make sure that he had enough. The enterprising carpenters and masons took another two years to fully rebuild the half-timbered structure to its original form.

The Mr. and Mrs. Stokes used the premises chiefly as a summer residence, choosing to live in their primary home on 229 Madison Avenue in New York for most of the year. Yet Mr. Stokes was not done thinking about the Olmsteds and landscape architecture. In 1919, he accepted the nomination by the Municipal Art Society to fundraise for the restoration of Central Park which was beginning to fall into disrepair. Stokes located a copy of the original Greensward plan by Vaux and F.L. Olmsted and used it to advocate for not spoiling the original vision with new elements or structures within the park. As a gifted writer, Stokes also collected and published a series of Olmsted's papers pertaining to the design of the park as part of his six-volume The Iconography of Manhattan Island4 published between 1915 and 19283.

 

The Stokes family began selling off land for the Khakum Wood development concept in 1925, but retained approximately 20 acres around their estate. The following year, Mr. Stokes wrote to the Olmsted firm again to ask for their assistance with developing a new residence to be located on Long Island Sound at Indian Harbor. The landscape architects provided some general guidance on grading the rocky site to make it suitable for a summer home. The project concluded in 1928, and it marked the end of three decades of fruitful collaboration.

The fortunes of Isaac Newton Stokes Phelps and his wife fell with the Great Depression in 1929. Poor investments in real estate, combined with remaining expenses from publishing The Iconography of Manhattan Island, put the Stokes under financial stress. They began selling off property and assets to stay afloat. Edith soon suffered a series of strokes and was left paralyzed and mute. She looked nothing like the young beauty who had inspired the form for Daniel Chester French's The Republic at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. To keep her spirits up, Mr. Stokes wheeled her around Central Park and often read to her by her bedside3.

When Edith passed away in June of 1937, Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes downsized to a  two-room apartment at the corner of Madison Avenue and 70th Street. He resigned or retired from most of his civic assignments and duties including Mayor La Guardia's Municipal Arts Commission. His final years were spent learning to live modestly after a lifetime of designing luxurious homes. The 40-cent breakfast at Schrafft's lunchroom earned a special mention as he wrote his memoirs. Both he and his beloved High-Low House exited the world in 1944, the former of natural causes; and the latter as a casualty of the Khakum Wood development.

 

Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes is remembered as a renaissance man, blessed with a gift for architecture, history, and philanthropic works. His advocacy for tenement housing reforms made as large a mark on New York city as did his buildings or his support for the city's cultural organizations. Edith Minturn Stokes, as a social critic and reformer, left a legacy as President of the New York Kindergarten Association and its advocacy for early childhood education.

Historic Plans & Images

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02924-19_49425616236_o

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02924-79_26839256058_o

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02924-19_49425616236_o

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Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

 

Project Data and Further Reading

Job # 2924 (1903 -1912)
Job #7696 (1926-1928)

The original Stokes residence and landscape in Khakum Wood were demolished in 1944 and remain only of historical interest. Their second residence at Indian Harbor remains extant5
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This neighborhood is CLOSED for public visits because the Khakum Wood Road, Khakum Drive, and Konittekock Road are private and managed by the Khakum Wood Association. Please respect the privacy of the residents and do not visit unless you are an invited guest.


Scans of Original Plans and Documents (Round Hill Road)
Scans of Original Plans and Documents (Indian Harbor)

1: Olmsted Legacy Trail: Khakum Wood
2: Wikimedia Commons: Mr. and Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes by John Signer Sargent
3: City Journal:
The Ghost of Monsieur Stokes

4: I.N. Phelps Stokes: The Iconography of Manhattan Island, Volume 3 (1918)
5: Stamford Advocate:  1928 waterfront Tudor in Indian Harbor, built, and rebuilt by Phelps Stokes