May 27 2014

Was the “Bagatelle” Mansion in Half Hollow Hills Built by a Vanderbilt?

Leroy Douglas: "I wish you would show photos of the Vanderbilt estate in Wheatley Heights, now known as Madonna Heights School for Girls."

Leroy, this is a photo of the Bagatelle mansion located east of the Motor Parkway in Half Hollow Hills. From 1924 to 1953, it was the home of Dr. Herman Baruch, brother of FDR's advisor Bernard Baruch. The building and surrounding facilities are now the Madonna Heights campus offering "services to helping vulnerable adolescent girls, women and families".

A continuing mystery is who originally built the mansion often "known as Vanderbilt place."

Below are my research findings on the Bagatelle estate. Anyone have additional information?


Howard Kroplick


Herman Baruch (1872-1953)

Herman Baruch, the third Baruch brother was born in 1872 and was the only sibling of Bernard’s who did not directly follow him to Wall Street and the only one, other than Bernard, to achieve a college education. Graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, he worked as a doctor for a number of years. In large part based on the fame and influence of his famous brother, Herman embarked on a career as an ambassador, serving in Portugal and then Holland.

As seen in this 1941 Hagstrom map, purchased by Dr. Baruch in 1924, the "Bagatelle" estate was located east of the Motor Parkway and west of Burr's Lane.

According to my favorite co-author Al Velocci, the 255 acres of the Bagatelle Nurseries was purchased by Dr. Baruch from the Long Island Motor Parkway, Inc. in 1927 for $55,000 (equivalent of $750,000 today).

The seller and the original owner of the Bagatelle mansion remain a mystery as seen by the following links:

Wheatley Height/Dix Hills Inc. Civic Association:"Dr Baruch bought the "Castle" from the grandson of shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, and later sold it to an order of Catholic nuns. (Current site of Madonna Heights)".

Wikimapia: "Rumored to have been owned by WK Vanderbilt as a hide-away for his mistress c. 1910. French Manor on 225 acres. Later owned by Dr. Herman Baruch. Now part of the Madonna Heights Crisis Residence for Young Women".

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 3: 1872-1934- Half Hollow Hills Patch "On June 13, 1924, the Long-Islander announced that, "Dr. Baruch, of Manhattan, has purchased the Bronson property, also known as the Vanderbilt place, fronting the Motor Parkway."  According to the local legend, which was repeated by both of Herman Baruch's stepchildren, Willie K. Vanderbilt originally built this house, and some say he built it for his mistress.  The property is in very close proximity to the original path of the Long Island Motor Parkway, and Herman's stepson recalled that there were pieces of the parkway in the woods of the property so it is likely that at one time Willie K. did own the property.  Newspapers and historic maps revealed no proof to verify this, but a deed search has not yet been done in Riverhead. Though that would only prove that he owned the property, it does not conclusively determine if he developed and built the house or not".

The original mansion has been incorporated into the Madonna Heights campus.

The most comprehensive research on Dr. Baruch and Bagatelle was conducted by Claudia S. Fortunato in this six-part series for Half Hollow Hills Patch:

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 1: The Process

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 2:The saga continues

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 3: 1872-1934

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 4: 1935-1949

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 5: 1950-1954

Baruch & Bagatelle: Part 6: 1955-Present

Update: June 1, 2014

From Verne Dyson's book "Deer Park - Wyandanch History (1957)" courtesy of the Hathi Trust.

"Dr. Baruch purchased the estate of William K. Vanderbilt".


May 28 2014 Ken Harris 3:32 PM

Thanks for that most interesting piece of historical research.  As a Dix Hills resident for the last 45 years I really enjoyed seeing what was behind the little bits of local history that I had known about.


Jun 01 2014 Leroy Douglas 3:18 PM

Verne Dyson in his 1957, Deer Park Wyandanch Story said that Dr. Herman Baruch purchased “The Castle,” or “Bagetelle” from William K. Vanderbilt. Those of us who grew up in Wyandanch always assumed that the Vanderbilt mansion in Half Hollow Hills was built about the time Vanderbilt built his Long Island Motor Parkway there. We never knew the reason why he created this least understood Long Island Vanderbilt estate. My uncle, James Andrew McGinty, worked at the Bagetelle Nursery in the 1930’s. It should not be too difficult to find the deed of sale from Vanderbilt to Dr. Baruch in the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office in Riverhead. There may well be data on the origins of the mansion in the Huntington Town Building Department records. The Koster Blue Spruce was developed there by Peter Koster, who lived in Wyandanch.

Jun 01 2014 Leroy Douglas 4:59 PM

By the way, Dr. Herman Baruch, used 40 of his 900 acres to breed show or “sporting dogs” at his Marobar Kennels in what in the 1930s was described as Wyandanch. As the New York Times reported on March 5, 1933, S6: “Dr. Baruch long has been an admirer of the sporting dog and on the establishment are found Irish setters, English Springer spaniels and English setters. Practically all of the dogs are the dual type, that is, they can either take part in a field or a bench show and they are frequently used for hunting.” The March 5, 1933 Times story also ran the photos of three of Dr. Baruch’s sporting dogs. They included: Ch. Inveresk
Cashier, E nglish Springer Spaniel; Marobar Moonshine, Irish Setter and Colin of Fermanar, Irish Setter.

From Howard Kroplick

Neat stuff!

Jun 01 2014 Leroy Douglas 8:13 PM

I have just finished speaking with renowned author and researcher, Raymond E. Spinzia of New Hope, PA. Ray and Judith Spinzia have published several authoritative book on Long Island’s Prominent Families and Their Estates and Country Homes. He tells me that the Vanderbilts had nothing to do with the Bagatelle estate and mansion in Half Hollow Hills. His researches indicate that the mansion was built by a Mrs. D Brownsard ca 1910! The question you have posted on your blog has correctly brought into question the mistaken received wisdom of many, many decades that the Vanderbilts built the mansion and developed the estate. Obviously, they did not. I would still like to know more about Mrs. Brownsard and when Dr. Herman Benjamin Baruch bought the estate. Thanks again for your wonderful blog and for helping us to better understand this historical question.

From Howard Kroplick.

Excellent detective work. Note Verne Dyson’s book is available online.

Jun 01 2014 Leroy Douglas 9:29 PM

Thanks very much for posting the page from Dyson’s book on Deer Park and Wyandanch (1957). If the truth be told Dyson’s claim that Dr. Baruch bought Bagatelle from William K. Vanderbilt is what has mislead most students of this question fior all these years. As a youngster growing up, I also heard loose talk about Vanderbilt constructing the mansion off the LIMP as a hideaway. It will be interesting to check if Dyson’s 1926 sale date is also inaccurate. Many thanks for linking us to Claudia S. Fortunato’s fine articles on Baruch and Bagatelle. Another point. It was Dyson who claimed, without any evidence, that FDR had visited Herman Baruch and Bagatelle during World War II. Ms Fortunato mentioned this claim but wisely said it was undocumented.

Jun 02 2014 Kristin Kepplinger 6:21 PM

I work at SCO Family of Services, which operates the programs on the Madonna Heights campus. If you’re looking for more information or current photos, I’m sure my colleague Sharman Stein would be able to provide interested parties with the info and photos they seek and/or could put them in touch with someone who could answer additional questions. You can contact her at (718) 797-3068 ext. 316 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Hope this helps!

Jun 06 2014 al velocci 2:58 PM

This past week I received 3 phone calls from Motor Parkway buffs asking if I could contibute anything to the Vanderbilt-mistress-Bagatelle imbroglio. This is what I got. In June of 1909 the Long Island Motor Parkway purchased a 238 plus acre farm in the Half Hollow Hills section of Huntington Town from Charles M. Reve that stretched from the westside of Bagatelle Rd. to the eastside of Burr’s Lane.  The Parkway used only 11.718 acres of the Reve property for the Parkway’s R.O.W.. In 1910 the Parkway sold an 11 plus acre section of the Reve property , on both sides of Burr’s Lane, to a “D S Bronson”  The definitive “Country Homes and their Architects” published by SPLIA,  credits today’s Madonna Heights School to a” Mrs. D. Brownsard” and she called her home, Bagatelle.  c. 1910. Parkway enthusiasts know all to well that the William K. Vanderbilt Jr. name is often used inter-changeably with the Motor Parkway. Perhaps early on somebody decided to add a little spice to a mundane and routine real estate transaction. Al Velocci

Jun 30 2014 Sally A. Rodgers 8:01 PM

I Have been doing research regarding Madonna Heights - the information I have
from Our Community - Concerned Taxpayers of Wheately Heights/Dix Hills, Inc. Civic Ass’n. Bagatelle Rd. was named for the well-known Bagatelle Nursery in the early 20th Century He bought the castle from the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and later sold it to an order of Catholic Nuns (Current site - Madonna Heights -
I had heard it had turned into a retirement home for the nuns.  Any light you can shed on this history would be greatly appreciated.

Jul 16 2014 Sally A. Rodgers 4:09 PM

My research shows this property did belong to   VANDERBILT   AND SOLD IT
TO DR.  Baruch & family who in turn sold it to an order of nuns from the House
of The Good Shepherd - My question is how could they afford property in Dix
Hills and where did they get the money?

Jan 17 2015 Lillian Andrade 10:03 PM

It was a great privilege to attend Madonna Heights School (graduating Class of ‘66)  The Sisters (we called them MOTHERS) would go into NYC and downtown Brooklyn and would
stand outside the subways and get donations from the people traveling home from work.  Our Mothers made us the beautiful Christian women we are today! The Astor family were very generous to the Good Shepherd Sisters, fyi.  Sincerely, Lillian Andrade (LillyBud)

Aug 01 2015 Lori foorelli( Lorraine Davison 8:53 PM

There are such interesting information on this blog. I want to put some information together for my grandchildren. I think it’s so interesting to have been poor girl from Brooklyn , to have been raised with the good Shepard sisters,that took us to Madonna Heights ( before it was a schoo (1961-62) for day in the country. I got to romp on the grounds and swim In the pool of the rich and famous. Just like rich kids that went to boarding school.i would love any photos that can be share. Thanks Lori fiorelli .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)    1412 s.park ave Sanford fl 32771

Jul 18 2019 Nancy Graham 2:38 PM

My mother’s father was Charles Watkins who owned a lumber yard in Wyandanch.  Mom said his property backed up to Bernard Baruch’s property.  Looks like she got the wrong brother’s name.  As the lumber yard was on Merritt Avenue could the Baruch property have extended that far south?

Jul 19 2019 frank femenias 9:17 PM

Nancy - this is becoming more interesting. If Baruch’s property did indeed extend to 900 acres as commented by Leroy Douglas, I was able to fill a 730 acre lot, including the mansion, and roughly using Al Velocci’s constraints that stretch from the LIE to Merritt Ave, with 170 acres to spare. It is said that the largest property Motor Parkway Inc. purchased for building the parkway was 891 acres in Lake Ronkonkoma.

Jul 31 2019 Brian D McCarthy 7:24 PM

Here’s a 1915 map, courtesy of Historic Map Works. Merritt Ave ( underlined red ). Guess Mr. Watkins lumber yard was parallel with the LIRR main line.

I’ve noticed on some topographical maps that the RR spur that’s seen snaking north shows the spur very close to the LIMP. Fairly sure this spur was utilized by a brickyard, which was established prior to the construction of the LIMP.

Aug 01 2019 Brian D McCarthy 4:41 PM

Nancy - here’s a 1915 map ( Historic Map Works ) showing Merritt Ave ( underlined red ) . From what’s seen, I don’t think your grandfather’s lumber yard bordered the Baruch property ( which isn’t seen, but north of here ). Too far south as you questioned.

The RR spur seen looping north towards Main actually continued further north. The spur was utilized by The Wyandanch Brick and Terra Cotta Corp ( their property is shown on the 1941 Hagstrom above, bordering the LIMP on the west ). They were established in the late 1800’s. Been wondering about the relation of the LIMP and the RR spur? Was the spur cut back for the construction of the LIMP? I haven’t seen any records of a LIMP bridge over RR tracks here.

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