Stony Ford history

This is a summary of the ongoing historical research project of our home, Stony Ford.

Entertaining, horses and luminous characters dot the past of Stony Ford.  

We haven't found much about this time in Stony Ford's history. Only that a hotelier named Lewis J. Sutton had a road house and mile track. The advert in the local paper is very funny. Mr. Sutton was also the owner of the mare Katy Darling who gave birth to the famed Edsall’s Hamiltonian on September 22nd 1852, which adds to the Hamiltonian famous lineage.

I assume the house was a much more simple version of the house because Charles Backman 'does much to improve the place'. 

"The BAR has been stocked with choice Liquors and Cigars, and I {fl}atter myself the other accommodations of the House are not surpassed by any other Hotel in this section." - Advert from the news paper May 1, 1863

Owner: Lewis J. Sutton
Years active: 1850(?) – 1864
Use: Inn and Track

The Excelsior House

Luxury Horses and Famous Guests

In 1864 Charles Backman purchased the house and expanded it. I suspect it was over 11,000 sq ft, making it more than double the size it is today. Some features have been removed that Backman had added, and we would like to restore it back to the 1864 version of the house. Backman was clearly a man of good taste and we appreciate his refined and elegant aesthetic.

Backman was a liqueur merchant from Brooklyn, he was a bachelor and seemed to be a very private person. His interest was in breeding horses – the best horses. During my research, I’ve found most of the information about the house because of Backman’s fame and prestigious guest list. There were a few books and newspaper articles that have given us clues as to what the 700 acre mansion and horse farm looked like.

The house and farm, Stony Ford, were made famous because of its famous guests like Ulysses S. Grant who smoked his last cigar here (in our bedroom, which is the old smoking room!). Some of the guests included Jay Gould, W.C. Whitney, Dean Sage, to name a few. Horses were sold to the who's-who of the Gilded Age like the Vanderbilts and Livingston Family. 

I will need to create another page to fully capture all of the information we have from Backman's time at Stony Ford. He seems an interesting man and I suspect he flew under the radar for a few reasons. I'm not sure if history will confirm or deny my suspicions – I'll most likely need to find a few historical experts to collaborate with to decode the information. I wonder if this house was used for the Underground Railroad. There is so much good data to decode, I hope to share this personal project one day. It's fit for a movie if my hunches are correct. 

Owner: Charles Backman
Years active: 1864 – 1900
Use: Horse Farm

“Conversation stopped at an hour to give guests time to dress for the seven o'clock dinner, because it was well known what a martinet of punctuality Mr. Backman was at his table. The sherry was of the richest vintage, the dry champagne was served in thin goblets, and the brandy, the very gold of earth's fruitage, put you in good humor with yourself and all the world.”

— Hamilton Busbey
Recollections of men and horses, 1907

A Luxurious Update & Some Drama

In 1900, Charles Backman dies and the property is sold to J. Howard Ford. Ford was Director of the U.S. Rubber Company. He owned several houses, including a place to stay in near by Goshen, just in case he didn't feel like the riding back to Stony Ford after a long day at the track. One newspaper article mentions how Ford intended to raise cattle for the beef, but not for public sale. He was only going to offer it at a private sale to those summering at their private estates in Tuxedo Park. The wealthy residents have tired of the beef shipped by the packing houses in the west. Ford was just solving a major problem with luxe living – finding good beef. 

Ford is responsible for updating Stony Ford to a modern house. He added all the radiators, indoor plumbing and maybe the most important, the bathrooms which are still here today. Before radiators, heating could be very dirty and there was lots of soot and smoke in the rooms. The coal burning furnace installed by Ford was still in use until the 1990s. 

We have a picture of the house from the Ford years. He adds the awnings and massive wrap around porch. 

In his personal life, Ford was a business man. There was a bit of drama in the NY Times around 1912. The title of the Article is 'J. Howard Ford Sues for Divorce'. Cause his wife was having an affair. Oh snap! Here's the thing: when Ford goes to England to catch her in the act, he gets mistaken for a check forger and abductor and is held by the British authorities. The best part of the article is that after Ford gets out of his 'night in jail' he promptly goes to the Ritz hotel to "get a little sleep". It says that Mrs. Ford lives in the Philippines, while Mr. Ford who is a member of the Union League and NY Yacht Clubs, is a guest at the Plaza Hotel. 

Owner: j. howard Ford
Years active: 1900 – 1915
Use: Private Residence

The Estate Sale of the Century 

This is when things start to go downhill for Stony Ford. Louis Titus buys Stony Ford after Fords' death and almost immediately files for bankruptcy. All of the contents go on auction and the house is for sale.

It's the end of an era. 

Stony Ford's glamour past is now over, and harder times are coming. Maintaining a house this size takes a lot of resources: financial, emotional and in organization of planning. 

Owner: Titus
Years active: 1915 – ?
Use: Private Residence

Moooove Over, Horses

America was changing and so was Stony Ford. A dairy farmer named Silas Thomas purchased Stony Ford and modified the house greatly. We don't quite know why the summer kitchen and wing was removed. I have to spend more time with newspapers and historical town documents. 

As a lover of historic homes, I will say that the most change that possibly took away from the house was done during this time. I do think it might have been out of need. It was the 30s and there was a massive recession. People just tried to make ends meet. I guess, it's a miracle Stony Ford made it through this time period at all. So many large houses saw their demise. 

With the wing and the summer kitchen removed, the square footage of the house was about what it is today, 5,200. I suspect in Backman's and J. Howard Ford's time it was over 11,000. 

Hopefully I have time to dig into this time period a bit more for some answers. I'll update this section accordingly. 

Owner: Silas Thomas
Years active: 1930s
Use: Private Residence and Dairy Farm

A Destination in the Country

It's 1953 and enter Les and Fred, "the bachelors" or so they were called by the neighbors. Leslie Rheinfeld and Fred Waller, a brilliant couple from Manhattan, took on Stony Ford as a country retreat. Fred was an airline attendant for Eastern Airlines and all around "jack of all trades", and Les was a costume designer for the Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. Fred's routes on the airlines took him around the world, absorbing cusines and cultures galore, that he brought back and shared while entertaining at Stony Ford. Les would dress the actors and actress appearing on the Ed Sullivan show, and it was said if Les liked you, you could keep your outfit. Because of this there were numerous celebrities visiting for the weekend, like Ethel Merman and rumored Marilyn Monroe. Our neighbor Wayne, was Les' nephew, who is full of fantastical stories of his uncle (Les) and Fred.

Fred was the handyman and who kept the house going. He also had a full sized pipe organ installed and it was said you could hear him down the road on Sundays. The couple added their personality and elbow grease to Stony Ford. I credit them with bringing this house back from the edge of seriously run down. Once a house turns a corner, there's a lot of discussion if it is worth it. We know Les and Fred found this house in dismal condition, and put a lot of dollars, time and energy into a very tasteful renovation. We value the work they did to this day. 

Leslie Rhinefeld & Fred Waller 
Years active: 1953 – 2007
Use: Private Residence

The Passion Project

After living in NYC for 13 years, we were at a point where we wanted NYC to need us, more than we needed it. The city that used to be full of wonder on every corner was changing. The small businesses were closing and were promptly being replaced by banks. NYC used to have this great grit mixed with the glimmer of possibility and that glimmer was fading for us. After living in a very 'shady' building for 4 years, we were sick of the instability of landlords and wanted something more permeant. (Our building had floors shut down for human trafficking and an S&M parlor.) We looked at two options: buying an apartment or buying an old home outside of the city. Here's what we learned, at that time you really needed to spend 1.5 million on an apartment to live well in the city. What does living well mean? Good location, big enough for a home office and amenities like laundry in unit. Frankly, we wanted a retirement plan. Who wants to be 75 and carrying laundry up a fourth floor walk up? Not us. We began looking upstate at old homes to see what we could get for our budget. We wanted a fixer upper because we are handy and knew we wanted it to look like our unique aesthetic. Of course, I had been stalking all the old home websites for the past three years during my lunch hour and looked at Stony Ford several  times. I called the realtor for an appointment and we came to see the house. We walked in the front door, into the grand hallway and looked at each other. We knew this was it. Time passed: 30 seconds. We didn't see all the work: the painted over wall paper, massive square footage or dated kitchen. We saw a house that needed us, and we need it. 

Here we are – many years later and still moving through our slow renovation. We decided to live in the house for a bit before beginning big projects. The house slowly revealed itself to us and we became better renovators. We work our way through one room at a time. A house like this is an education, and for myself a deep dive into design and history. Seeing how to combine what came before us with our story. 

Living here has been great for us. We're about an hour from an international airport and 60 miles from the George Washington Bridge, and a commuter train 5 miles from the house. I'm not sure why this area isn't more popular with NYC ex-pats. We'll keep it our secret for now. 

Owners: William & Susan Brinson
Years active: 2013 – Present
Use: Private Residence