Craig House Sale Pending

Historic Beacon estate could change hands

By Jeff  Simms

The sale of the 64-acre Tioronda Estate, the historic property on the outskirts of Beacon that includes the former Craig House psychiatric center, could happen within the next month.

An offer has been accepted on the property, said Beacon-based broker Daniel Aubry. He declined to provide the sale price, although a six-page brochure prepared for potential buyers gave an asking price of $8 million.

Aubry also would not identify who made the bid, other than to say it was a group of investors “who already own a considerable amount of property in Beacon.” They are paying cash, he said.

Aubry described the investment group as “very experienced people” who have worked in Brooklyn in the past. The parcel was never placed in listing databases, he said, but instead advertised by word of mouth.

Craig House (photo by Kathy Steinberg)

The Dutchess County Real Property Tax Service Agency says the site has an assessed value of $2.55 million for the land and $550,000 for the structures. The estate of the late hedge fund manager and philanthropist Robert Wilson, which owns the property, pays about $122,000 in taxes each year — $11,000 to Dutchess County, $42,000 to the city, $67,000 to the school district and $1,750 to the Howland Library.

The 14,000-square-foot, neo-gothic mansion on the property was built in 1859 for Gen. Joseph Howland and his wife, Eliza. A 38-room extension was built in 1979. A gatekeeper’s home and a building that served as a church and school still stand, although a carriage house and a craft shop were torn down in 2011.

Photo by Kathy Steinberg

The parcel, which is located on Route 9D across from the University Settlement Camp, is roughly divided into upper and lower portions, Aubry said. Regarding the upper portion, where the mansion sits, “the thinking is that would be wonderful for a destination spa or high-end resort.”

The mansion will not be demolished, regardess of future development plans, Aubry added.

Good for What Ails You

In 1935, the editors of Fortune selected Craig House as one of the five best sanitariums in the country for nervous disorders. It was run by Clarence Jonathan Slocum, who had purchased it two decades earlier with a partner. They named it after Craig Hospital in Scotland, which allowed its patients to walk its grounds freely.

At Craig House, Fortune reported, “there are no locked doors, no barred windows in individual cottages scattered over the estate. There are several employees to each patient — almost 100 nurses, a score of men working on the grounds, six doctors, dozens of cooks, waitresses, chauffeurs, etc.” The estate had a golf course with a pro who gave lessons, along with swimming pools, six riding horses, tennis courts, a baseball field and a gym.

The article continued: “You get the atmosphere of an upper-class home, with Dr. Slocum and his wife in roles of host and hostess.” The doctor “detests psychoanalysis and will have none of it. His ‘practical psychotherapy’ consists simply in getting on friendly terms with the patient, visiting him daily to talk over his problems and giving him advice and encouragement.”

The lower portion of the property, which borders Fishkill Creek, will likely be developed into residential housing, he said. Beacon zoning regulations would allow about 22 single-family homes on the entire property, Aubry said, but he speculated that a new owner might ask for a variance.

“I don’t think 22 housing lots is a viable economic option,” he said. “They might want to get some more density in there.”

After Howland’s death in 1885, his widow donated the property for the care of the mentally ill. Part of the estate was purchased about 30 years later by two doctors who opened a psychiatric hospital specializing in addiction treatment, calling it Craig House.

Photo by Luke J. Spencer/Atlas Obscura

Luminaries such as Zelda Fitzgerald and, later, comedian Jackie Gleason spent time at Craig House. Frances Seymour, the wife of Henry Fonda and mother of Peter and Jane Fonda, committed suicide there in 1942. Rosemary Kennedy, the elder sister of President John F. Kennedy, spent years there after she was given a lobotomy in 1941. Marilyn Monroe was rumored to have stayed, as well.

The hospital closed in 1999. In 2003, Wilson purchased the property but never developed it. After suffering two strokes, he committed suicide in 2013 at age 87 and his estate has owned it since.

10 thoughts on “Craig House Sale Pending

  1. I’m extremely disappointed to read that they’re developing down by the Fishkill Creek. I wish that land was preserved as Dutchess County already has way too much development throughout. We don’t need any more single-family homes in Beacon, especially if it takes clear-cutting trees and open space to build. I hope the town doesn’t buckle on this one.

  2. Very fond memories. I was a resident of Beacon during my adolescence. My mother was a patient at Craig House. We four boys used to visit her afterschool and walk the grounds. (We also ate the concord grapes they grew, among other fresh fruits). We caught fish and frogs at the pond by the Fishkill Creek. It was a great place to grow up, we were never bored. To this day, I visit and walk through the property. I love the feeling I get in remembering my youth. It would be a shame to see the beautiful main house and property lost. If I had the money, I would have preserved this iconic place.

    • It would appear to me that this facility, although very famous to the area and beautiful to all, had special meaning to two individuals who posted comments here. Having grown up in Beacon for 20 years in the 1950s, I have heard of all the famous people who had come to Craig House. How has that benefited Beacon since it closed? This a perfect scenario for private business to invest in Beacon and have a mutual benefit for all. Everyone wins!

  3. I pray that this property is developed as something that contributes to Beacon and remains on the tax rolls.

  4. So a development group overpays for a property and then goes asks the town for a variance to bail them out. Residents of Beacon are asked to suffer over development so the “very experienced” developers can maintain their profit margin. If the variance is in line with the goals of the master plan, so be it. If not, I hope the Zoning Board of Appeals holds the line.

    • Yes indeed; and we need to hold the Zoning Board’s feet to the fire and not allow any variance which would go against the spirit of the Comprehensive Plan.

  5. There must not be any variance to welcome overdevelopment! It should remain on the tax rolls. The loss would be significant. A spa, a school, a retreat center, a training center, an art and education program all seem to be solid options. Overdeveloped residential, not. The open space should be incorporated into the new plan. No variances.

  6. The real estate agent selling this property recently said in a (paid for by himself) interview: “I’m at a stage in my life where my quality of life is more important to me than making money.”

    I hope that this quality of life can extend to the rest of the residents of the city of Beacon. We do not want overdevelopment. We want to preserve open spaces. We want to preserve beautiful historic places. The zoning board should not grant any variances to build high-density projects on this parcel.

  7. The 65 acres of Craig house property is approximately 20 percent wetlands (the lower portion has two significant ponds and the Fishkill Creek). The property would require additional roads (more stormwater run off) and easements for utilities. The property has a predominant slope from Route 9D to Fishkill Creek. Stormwater run off, septic fields and any surface contaminants will have no effective measures of mitigation before eventual infiltration to wetland areas. Beacon has not resolved its current infiltration issues. How can it take on more?

  8. I have some mixed feeling about this but I was not born in Beacon. My husband was. I lived in Glenham/Beacon for about 35 years. The property should be sold so new owners can preserve the beautiful buildings. If no one takes care of them, they will deteriorate. The town would benefit from residential taxes, businesses are great for employment but always looks for tax breaks.

    If they build 22 houses on two acres each and the rest of the property is used for some type of commercial use like a country club with a spa and high-end restaurant or there are many other possibilities. With only 22 homes, the tax revenue could be about $600,000 or more and the rest of the property would bring in more taxes depending on what it is used for.

    That is a lot more than $122,000 in taxes coming now. I wish the town that we currently live in had this opportunity. We really need something like this.