Some forty miles from New York, there is a place called Rosemary Farm (or Roland Conklin Estate), a Long Island estate of several hundred acres where beautiful things have been happening somewhere in history. There were hills and lakes and woods and sea to begin with, and on the place Mr. Roland Ray Conklin found a little preRevolutionary farm house, clinging to the highway.
Born in Illinois, he operated one of the largest realty firms in Kansas City and moved the business to New York in 1893.
In 1907 just enough modern comfort was added to this farm house to make a living place for his family, while Mr. Conklin built the long red brick residence which tops the loveliest of his hills, commanding the wondrous Cold Spring Harbor. Directly opposite were the beguiling involutions of Oyster Bay, while to the right a great sweep of the waters of the Sound met the Connecticut Hills weaving into a pictoresque blue horizon. From the living rooms and the terrace the pageant of the sunset crowned every single day, while the great cedars watched the Open-Air Theatre set within a cleft between the house and the sea.
While Roland Ray Conklin operated one of the largest realty firms in the area, his wife Mary MacFadden, an opera singer, performed for their friends and family in their own outdoor amphitheater.
Across the bridge, some of the greatest performers of their generation walked: French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, actors John and Ethel Barrymore, Tyrone Powers, Helen Hayes and the entire 300 piece John Phillips Sousa Orchestra.
The moat was once filled with water, and hidden inside were jets which would send water cascading up in the air, hiding the island that served as the stage from the rest of the 4,000 seat amphitheater between scenes. The moat was fed by a waterfall to the side of the stage, and the view was beautiful, not only of the stage, but of Long Island Sound further down the hill.
This wasn’t a theater built by a city, a corporation or as a business, it was a labor of love, built by a man for his wife, at the bottom of the hill from their house. It was built for their community and for the artists.
When Mary MacFadden died in 1924, the estate was abandoned and eventually purchased by the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in 1930. In 1990 the estate was destroyed by a fire and only a few structures still remain on the property.
Today the stage is silent, shadows fall like the rest of the amphitheater, overgrown with vegetation, grown taller than a person. The statues are gone, much of the stone which was used to build it is fallen from it’s original form, and now is just rubble. But the atmosphere is still there, when the brightest stars to be seen were on the ground and not in the sky.
Images from web – Google Research