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The Legacy of Belle Crest: From Clockmakers to Tennis Champions

Barons of Broadway #8

In our eighth installment of the Barons of Broadway series, we embark on the captivating history of Belle Crest, a distinguished summer estate situated at 609 North Broadway, next to the Jewett family’s Water Crest estate. Constructed in 1906 by Walter Davies, the affluent president of America’s largest clock manufacturer, the Ansonia Clock Company, Belle Crest later became the cherished abode of the illustrious Chapman family.

Photo showing the large size of Belle Crest. the original small conservatory has been expanded to a two-floor glassed-in sun room. Compare the size of the trees with those in the postcard below.

The Rise and Fall of the Ansonia Clock Company

The tale of Belle Crest intertwines with the narrative of the Ansonia Clock Company, a beacon of innovation and craftsmanship in clockmaking. Established in Connecticut circa 1851, the company’s fortunes soared as it embraced partnerships and technological advancements. Collaborating with Anson Phelps’ brass company, the Ansonia Clock Company had early success. 

In 1878, the company reorganized, hiring Henry Davies, a noted Brooklyn clockmaker, as President. In 1886, the company made 228 different types of clocks and had sales offices in New York, Chicago, and London. Their ornate figure clocks became extremely popular among businessmen as decorations for their Victorian homes. For reasons unknown, the company went into a steep downturn in the 1920s. The company sold the Brooklyn factory and then, in 1929 a Russian firm bought the company.

The size of the Ansonia Clock Company factory indicates its manufacturing prowess

The Davies Brothers

Belle Crest

Walter D. Davies, born in England in 1850, arrived in America in 1868. In 1875, Walter resided in Brooklyn in the home of his elder brother, Henry J. Davies, who was ten years his senior. Henry, listed as a clock merchant in the 1875 census, was far more than a mere storekeeper. In fact, he was renowned as a clockmaker, inventor, and designer of clock cases, likely trained in England. As Henry assumed the role of a founding partner and design specialist for Ansonia, Walter became supervisor of the plant. Walter directly experienced a fire that destroyed the company’s first Brooklyn factory. Following Henry’s retirement, Walter ascended to the presidency during the company’s halcyon days.

A postcard of Belle Crest soon after it was built. The conservatory is a small addition to the south end. Curiously, the chimneys seem to be absent from this photo. Davies is misspelled in the legend. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Walter Davies acquired a parcel of the George Green estate, formerly a large Upper Nyack farm, in 1906. Named Belle Crest, the estate stood adjacent to its neighbor, Water Crest. M.W. & H. DeBaun, Nyack’s most renowned carpenters and builders at the time, completed the project for a sum of $40,000, or $1.6M today when adjusted for inflation. Hobart A. Walker, a noted residential and institutional architect of New York City, designed the building in what the Nyack Evening Journal dubbed the “American Style”.

The house measured 62 x 50 feet, built of mountain stone on the first floor and wood framing the second and third floor. The west side featured a semi-circular driveway and a porte cochere. A lengthy veranda ran along the entire east (river) side. A glassed-in conservatory graced the south side, while mahogany, quartered oak, and beech outfitted the spacious and airy rooms.

View of Belle Crest today.

Life at Belle Crest

Walter and Mary Davies, who had no children, took residence at Belle Crest in 1907. At least three servants managed the household. The household staff made headlines in August 1909 when their coachman rescued the niece of Mr. Davies’s cook, who had fallen into the river behind the house. Unfortunately, the coachman drowned during the rescue of the young woman. Neighbors telephoned the Davies, who were away on vacation in the Adirondacks.

In 1911, famed early pilot Harry Atwood, on the last leg of his Chicago to New York City flight, made an emergency landing in a field owned by the Davies just across from their house. Stranded in Upper Nyack while awaiting a replacement part, Atwood dined at the Davies estate. Displaying remarkable courage, he took off the next day during inclement weather, likely passing just south of the Davies house before heading downriver to New York City.

Harry Atwood and his biplane shown before taking off in a field across from the Belle Crest.

Walter Davies did not enjoy Belle Crest for long. In 1913, he suffered a fatal heart attack in Norwood, NJ, at age 62, while driving to New York on business.

Mary Davies, a Famous Lawsuit, and a Cuban Connection

Mary Davies continued to reside at Belle Crest until her death in 1925. During part of this period, Charlotte Rodriquez served as Mary’s unpaid live-in companion, while her husband, Restituto, acted as an unpaid accountant and financial advisor. At the time of her death, Mary’s estate was valued at $700,000. The Rodriquez family claimed that Mary had promised to leave her estate to them, but they were excluded from her will. They filed a lawsuit and were awarded a pecuniary settlement of $25,000 in court. Upon appeal, the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the estate. This case is often cited in New York State contract law.

The Chapmans at Belle Crest

In 1926, George Lewis Chapman and Augusta Bradley Chapman, both from well-known Nyack families, purchased Belle Crest. Prior to this, they resided at River Hook just ‘up the street’. George, the son of Charles A. Chapman of Nyack, one of the founders of Nyack National Bank, began his career at the bank as a teller. Like his father, George was a sportsman, participating in golf tournaments at the Nyack Country Club. George passed away at Belle Crest in 1935.

View from North Broadway looking south to the Nyack Country Clubhouse, formerly the Maxwell estate. The tennis courts are in the foreground. In the upper left background is the building that now houses the Nyack Field Club.

George’s wife, Augusta Bradley Chapman, was equally well-known in Nyack. She was the daughter of Stephen R. Bradley, III, a prominent businessman in late 19th and early 20th century Nyack. Augusta was a standout lawn tennis player at the Nyack Country Club, winning numerous state and regional championships, including the national women’s doubles championship in 1915. Augusta passed away in 1949.

Upper Nyack Tennis Club

Augusta was instrumental in establishing the Upper Nyack Tennis Club, allowing the club to utilize courts across Broadway from Belle Crest. Deeded to the club in 1956 by her daughter Marion, who married family neighbor Richard W. D. Jewett, the club continues to operate at the same location. Marion, born in 1899, was herself a local tennis star in the 1920s, serving as the first President of the Upper Nyack Tennis Club and being an active member of the Nyack Field Club and the Nyack Garden Club. She passed away in Nyack in 1978. 

The Upper Nyack Tennis Club has remained through all the years thanks to the bequest of Marion Jewett

Belle Crest After the Chapmans

The south side of Belle Crest today.

As the executor of the estate, Marion Jewett sold Belle Crest to the Keenen family in 1950. The property then changed hands to the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, headquartered in New York City, and became known as Hudson House. Operating as a conference center until 1985, Nyack College once attempted to acquire the building for its graduate students. Presently, the house is privately owned and subdivided into apartments. 

An image taken from the driveway showing the modern addition to the north side of the house.

Alterations to Belle Crest include the conversion of the original southern conservatory into a two-level glassed-in porch and the addition of a wing on the north side of the building. Homes were also constructed along the Hudson River below Belle Crest, accessed by a driveway that descends along a brook at the foot of Lexow Ave. 

Stone wall in front of Belle Crest. The south end of the stone wall is numbered 617 N. Broadway. A lane leads to a number of modern riverside houses built below Belle Crest.

Belle Crest Today

Like many of the Upper Nyack estates, a high stone wall, akin to the neighboring Jewett wall, obscures much of the estate from view from the sidewalk. Nonetheless, the grandeur of the home and a glimpse of the south-facing conservatory serve as poignant reminders of a bygone era when Walter Davies, the wealthy president of the Ansonia Clock Company, savored the scenic vistas at his summer retreat on the Hudson River.

#1 The Magnificent Saga Of Larchdell

#2 Revisiting Underclyffe–A Lost, Gilded Age Mansion

#3 The Adriance Era At Underclyffe Manor

#4 The Flying Dutchman Lands at Underclyffe Manor

#5 The Saga of Rivercliff”s Storied Resdents

#6 The Winding Saga of River Hook

#7 Unveiling Water Crest

Mike Hays is a 38-year resident of the Nyacks. He worked for McGraw-Hill Education in New York City for many years. Hays serves as President of the Historical Society of the Nyacks, and Vice-President of the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center. Married to Bernie Richey, he enjoys cycling and winters in Florida. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

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