The History of Cedarmere

Dedicated volunteers of The Friends of Cedarmere and its Board of Directors actively assist in the development, preservation, restoration and maintenance of the buildings, grounds and gardens, and seek funding from individuals, foundations, and government agencies to fulfill its mission.

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Cedarmere Museum and Grounds

CEDARMERE, the country home of prominent 19th-century poet, newspaper editor, and civic leader William Cullen Bryant, is a 7-acre site on the west side Bryant Avenue in the Village of Roslyn Harbor. The property has a pond, boathouse, house, mill, gardens, greenhouse, ice house, and a spectacular landscape designed by Bryant.  Here, Bryant sought sanctuary from the congestion and chaos of the city, where he could rest, work on his poetry, and spend time surrounded by nature.

 

Originally used as a settlement in the early 17th Century, Richard Kirk, a Quaker farmer, owned the property and, in 1787, built the original house. The property passed to William Hicks and, in 1836, to Joseph A. Moulton. William Cullen Bryant purchased the 40 acre property in 1843, naming it Cedarmere after the cedar trees which ringed the pond (or ‘mere‘ as it was then called). Throughout the 1840s and 1860s, Bryant purchased additional land and expanded the main house.

 

Further resources:

The Friends of Cedarmere has a research library with materials from William Cullen Bryant’s era as well as materials related to Bryant and others published after 1878.

Goddard, C.G. (1972). The early history of Roslyn Harbor, Long Island, New York [State] Author.
Hunt, H. (1999; 2000; 2003). Cedarmere. In Roslyn Landmark Society house tour guide (pp.85-95). Roslyn, NY: The Society. (Note: Only available at the Society’s archives).
Hunt, H. and L. (2016) William Cullen Bryant’s Cedarmere Estate: (Arcadia Publishing)
Note: Most are available through interlibrary loan from academic and public libraries.

The original house was a two and a half story clapboard structure with a kitchen wing.  Bryant altered the original house several times over the years, with the most extensive renovations taking place in 1860 – 1861, when it was enlarged to three and a half stories with an extensive kitchen wing.  Six years later, a gambrel roof, the current bay windows and latticework porch supports were added.

Main House

After Bryant’s death, the house passed to his younger daughter Julia, who in turn sold it to her sister’s son, Harold Godwin, in 1891.  During Godwin’s ownership, the house had a serious fire in November 1902 which destroyed the kitchen wing and everything above the first floor of the main house.  Godwin rebuilt it in 1903, keeping the same basic form as the old house but making several changes: re-design of the kitchen wing, addition of a Federal-style entryway, a metal and glass conservatory to the front of the house, and construction of a Great Room at the back. The house was refinished in stucco, and slate roofs were installed to make the building as fireproof as possible.

Godwin retained much of the old material on the first floor including the bay windows which date to Bryant’s ownership, and most of the woodwork in the parlor and the Library which dates to the original 1787 house.

Following Harold Godwin’s death in 1931, Cedarmere passed first to his wife and then his daughter Elizabeth Love Godwin, who bequeathed it to Nassau County in 1976.

A grant from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund was used by Nassau County for major renovations and painting of the House exterior in Fall, 2013. The Friends and the Roslyn Landmark Societhave contributed funds for additional interior and exterior renovations. In the first quarter of 2014 the interior was refinished and refreshed with funds provided by the Hagedorn Foundation in lieu of rent.  In 2015-2016, a County grant enabled the Friends to repair & restore the Ice House and other outbuildings, and to dust and do an inventory of Bryant’s 1,200 volumes of books. A professional conservator sampled 20 % of the books and gave the Friends guidance and cost estimates to restore, repair and conserve the collection which he described as “A significant 19th century library…”. In 2020 and 2021, the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District provided funds to restore and furnish the greenhouse.

Gothic Revival Mill

Bryant had the 19th century Mill built in 1862 to replace the 1770 original. Constructed in the Gothic Revival style, it stands near the reflecting pond. It is believed to be the only existing Gothic Revival style mill built as a partial residence

A brick basement gives way to a board-and-batten first floor, with a heavily decorated exterior. The slate-covered cross-gabled roof is adorned with decorated barge-boards and decorative

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finials, and is topped with a brick chimney. The windows are trimmed with decorative details, including arches of various shapes.

The Mill’s exterior underwent major restoration in 2013 under the supervision of the Roslyn Landmark Society, with funding from the Gerry Charitable Trust. In 2020, major funding was provided by the R.D.L. Gardiner Foundation and the Nassau County Environmental Bond Act to restore a working waterwheel to the building.