Discovering the Story of the Humes Property

When the North Shore Land Alliance acquired the 28- acre Schmidlapp-Humes estate in 2015 and the adjacent 7-acre John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in 2017, the land was protected for its significant ecological value. While historical sites are a small part of the Land Alliance’s mission, acquiring undeveloped land has been our primary objective. As the Land Alliance began to develop a management plan for the property, we recognized that the history of the structures was as important a part of the property’s story as the history of the land.

Those historic and elegant buildings and gardens, while neglected, spoke to us. Time and time again we wondered what this property had been like when it was cared for and loved. While we’d heard stories and Discovering the Story of the Humes Property Conservation News – Fall/Winter 2018 11 found documentation about some of its owners, there were information gaps and conflicting attributions. It became crystal clear that further research was needed.

This spring, the Land Alliance applied for and was awarded a $66,500 grant from the Gerry Charitable Trust and a $9,750 grant from the Preservation League of New York State for just this purpose. Through these generous grants, the Land Alliance was able to hire highly regarded historic consultants to conduct detailed research and document the evolution of land use, ownership, structures and gardens at the Humes property.

As with much research, studies conducted to date have answered some of our questions and led us to ask others. Findings so far include:

  • According to an 1859 map, a portion of the property was once a farm owned by Mrs. J. Baker. She was actually Jemima Baker, wife of the ship captain Simeon Baker. The Simeon Baker papers at the New York Public Library include Jemima’s farm logs, payments to workers and even directions for farming cranberries on the land.
  • A footnote on a 1906 map referred to “Rumpus, John and his island was in the Shu Swamp.” Could this be how Rumpus house got its name?
  • In 1924 Carl and Frances Schmidlapp acquired the estate through four land transactions over three years, the first of which was from Peter Cooper Bryce (a great grandson of Peter Cooper and son of Lloyd Bryce) who owned what is now the Nassau County Museum of Art.
  • Peabody, Wilson and Brown remodeled the white colonial the first time for Peter Cooper Bryce and his wife, Angelica Schuyler Brown and the Schmidlapps brought the firm back to do a second remodel.
  • Ellen Biddle Shipman and Ferruccio Vitale both designed the formal garden behind Rumpus House. And, plans from the Innocenti and Webel archives illustrate a third design by the firm. Our goal is to have the first round of research completed and documented by the end of this year. The findings will help the Land Alliance make informed decisions about the future of the property as well as tell a better story about the events and individuals who shaped this valuable natural and cultural resource. Stay tuned for more to come.