Historic Structures

Rose Hill, Tivoli New York

Date added: March 8, 2010 Categories: New York House Mansion

John Watts de Peyster (1821-1906) purchased land at Snake point from Eugene Livingston, his wife's cousin, of the adjacent Teviot, In 1843, he had erected a large Tuscan Villa which he named Rose Hill. The Tuscan Villa was then popular for country estates. Flanking wings and a tower containing a library were added later. The estate also included flower gardens, stables and farm buildings. After de Peyster's death. Rose Hill became the Leake and Watts Orphan House. Dorothy Day, a leader of the Catholic Worker Movement, purchased Rose Hill in 1964. The Catholic Worker Movement operated Rose Hill as a farm until 1978. Rose Hill is one of twenty-one contiguous estates along the east bank of the Hudson from Stratsburg to Tivoli, New York.

John Watts de Peyster, for whom Rose Hill was constructed, was the heir of a prominent and wealthy family. His life was comprised of strenuous and unintellectual activity, offset by apparently severe psychosomatic illness. In his writing, de Peyster spoke of the great reserves of strength he experienced when his activities were successful contrasted with debilitating sickness when his fortunes spun downward. He thought that his life should be one of service to society. Consequently, he pursued activities that he believed necessary for the protection and preservation of society: firefighting and the militia.

John Watts de Peyster was born in New York City on March 9, 1821, the son of Mary Watts and Frederick de Peyster. His mother died on July 28, 1821. De Peyster was raised by his grandfather, John Watts, of New York until Watts' death in 1836. The young de Peyster was taught by a succession of tutors and in private schools. In 1834 he made his first European trip. Until he attained his majority, he was supervised by his father, Frederick de Peyster, who had since remarried.

In 1837 his father left public service. He had been a lawyer and had served as New York's Master in Chancery from 1820-1837, According to de Peyster, these years between his grandfather's death in 1836 and his marriage in 1841, were marred by rebellion against the unclear wishes of his father. These were also the years of de Peyster's active engagement in volunteer firefighting, brief attendance at Columbia University and an unaccompanied trip to Europe.

Little is known of de Peyster's relationship with his wife, Estelle, the daughter of John Swift Livingston. She was born on March 2, 1819 and was two years older than her husband. They were married in New York on March 2, 1841, a week before de Peyster's twentieth birthday. Their five children were: John Watts de Peyster, Jr., born December 2, 1841; Frederic de Peyster, born December 13, 1842; Estelle Livingston de Peyster, born June 7, 1844; Johnston Livingston de Peyster, born June 14, 1846, and Maria Livingston de Peyster, born July 7, 1852. De Peyster's biographer makes mention of Mrs. de Peyster's death but without the sentimental recollection accorded others de Peyster knew. She may have influenced de Peyster's choice of settling in the Hudson River Valley among the Livingstons. De Peyster did note his wife planted and cared for the ivy at St. Paul's Church in Tivoli.

De Peyster selected the name Rose Hill because his grandfather Watts had a summer home of the same name at the north end of Manhattan, which in turn was named after the Watts estate. Rose Hill, near Edinburgh. De Peyster never visited the Edinburgh house, nor used it or his grandfather's estate as a model for Rose Hill in Tivoli.

Wallace Bruce reported in his book The Hudson (1907) that General de Peyster has informed him that it was Rose Hill whose cellar saved it from the torch of British General Vaughn in 1777. One Hudson River Valley landowner, either a Tory or clever, told the British that they didn't want to burn his house. To convince his guests, the landowner entertained them liberally with wines from his cellar, and concluded by providing directions to Clermont, the Livingston estate. This is the only documented account where de Peyster claimed this distinction for Rose Hill. Usually the house cited is Green Hill, now known as the Pyres.

One of de Peyster's closest friends was William Pratt Wainwright (1818-1895). Like de Peyster, Wainwright also had married a Livingston, Cornelia Ridgely Tillotson (1830-1918), granddaughter of Thomas Tillotson (Washington's Surgeon-General for the Northern Armies) and his wife Margaret Livingston Tillotson, sister of the famous Chancellor Robert R. Livingston. Cornelia was a cousin by blood to both John Watts and Estelle Livingston de Peyster. Although older than de Peyster, Wainwright was the subordinate in rank. During de Peyster's frequent leaves, Wainwright often served as interim commander of their militia unit. As de Peyster once wrote, "Gentlemen of leisure, residing at our country estates. Colonel WAINWRIGHT and myself ..."