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George Crocker

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Sacramento, Sacramento County, California
Death: December 04, 1909 (53)
at his residence, 1 East 64th Street, New York City, New York (Cancer)
Place of Burial: Oakland, Alameda County, California
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Crocker and Mary Ann Crocker
Husband of Emma Crocker
Brother of Charles Frederick Crocker; Harriet Valentine "Hattie" Alexander and William Henry Crocker

Managed by: Glen Woodford Balzer
Last Updated:

About George Crocker

George Crocker had come from California. He was born in Sacramento, on February 10, 1856, the youngest of four children of Charles Crocker, a railroad pioneer on the West Coast with Stanford and Huntington. The father died in 1888, and left an estate of $30,000,000. At this time son George was living in San Francisco and was, according to the New York Times, "one of the most reckless young men about town when reckless young men thereabouts were common." George was left $6,000,000, but he was not to come into it until "after the space of five years continuously he shall abstain from the use of spirituous, vinous, and malt liquors to the extent that he shall not during this period have been intoxicated. “George continued his accustomed way of life for the next three years. Then he announced to the executors of his father's estate that he was ready to start his probation. He first went to a sanitarium, and then he took over an unsuccessful ranch near Promontory, Utah. By the end of his probation he had turned the ranch into a valuable property, gained the confidence of the executors and the family, and came into his inheritance.

He moved to New York City and opened an office. His main endeavors were directed to running and expanding many of the businesses in which his father had invested, including banks, railroads, and chemical, sugar, gas, coal, iron, and land companies, he was listed as a capitalist in Who's Who in America. In this vocation, Crocker was successful, for by 1909, he was valued at between ten and twenty million dollars.

In 1894, soon after coming to New York, Crocker married Emma (Hanchette) Rutherford. She was a California widow with three grown children. At their wedding, she was given away by her father, Lewis J. Hanchette. George's brother, C. Frederick Crocker, served as best man. The couple bought a villa in Newport and a town house in New York City at 1 East 64th Street. Mrs. Crocker became a well-known hostess, entertaining lavishly. She moved in the same set as Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs and Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont. The Crockers decided that they should have a country seat outside New York. George had been to the Ramapo Valley a number of times before July 1901. He looked at the Darling property, then for sale, and liked it very much. Crocker could see a mansion on the hill to the east of the River. He called it the finest site for a residence in the country. The Ramsey Journal, hearing rumors of the possible purchase, wrote: "The coming of such a man would mean much to our town."

Crocker did buy the Darling estate in November 1901, and he soon had E. Carpenter going through New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, buying high-quality horses and cows. Toward the end of December, Carpenter returned from Albany with ten Jerseys. Early the next year he acquired the well-known trotter King Muscovite. By September 1902, several of Crocker's horses had won premiums at the Hohokus Fair. In the spring of 1903, four thousand trout were brought from Plymouth, Massachusetts, for the pond on the property. Bass were added. By the following spring the old Darling racetrack had been put into usable shape for the exercising of Crocker's string of horses. By 1909, there were sixty head of fine Jersey cattle on the estate and a large number of work and carriage horses. There were sheep, chickens, and a kennel. Vines were planted and vegetables were raised. In the spring of 1909, a truck was purchased to bring the farm products to the city.

However, the major effort of Crocker was put into the building of the mansion. It was to be the most magnificent the valley had yet seen. Some people have said that Mr. Crocker, not being accepted in all the social circles that he wished, was determined to express his wealth and taste through this structure. The site was 185 feet above the old Darling home, "situated on the brow of a hill, which slopes off abruptly at the rear, while in front as far as the eye can reach, stretches the historic plains of the beautiful valley of the Ramapo, and in the dim distance can be seen the clove at Suffern. On the left side are the mountains which seem near at hand, but are in reality over a mile distant. At the foot of these silent sentinels, stretches the broad meadows with the rippling waters of the Ramapo river winding in and out."

For his architect Crocker chose James Brite, who had worked for the leading firm of McKim, Mead, and White. Brite decided to model Darlington after Pramshill in Hampshire, England, one of the finest examples of Jacobean architecture whose original sections were built between 1605 and 1612.

Workers began to arrive in the spring of 1902. Many of these were Italians "with their little dress suit cases." They were to build the roads, winding ones from the valley to the site of the residence and one across the river into the mountains to the site of a new large reservoir. These workers were "domiciled in a 'hotel' which Mr. Carpenter jokingly says was built and filled with guests in two days." The work was under the direction of Theodore Shuart of Ramsey.

In April 1903, the workers began the excavations for the foundations of the mansion, but it was another year before construction would be in full swing. Many of the farmers in the area were employed in carting materials from the railroad station to the building site. In May 1904, James Ramsey was transporting steel beams. In the same month a large number of masons were at work.

It was not until 1907, that the mansion was completed and furnished. Much time was expended on the extensive amount of stone and wood carving that was done. "No private house in the United States, perhaps, is so rich in carving wrought by hand out of solid wood. Many varieties of wood contribute to the rich, somber beauty and solidity of the whole." Many of the fireplaces were elaborately carved stone, some inlaid with marble. The ceiling of the library was painted in great detail in the style of the Italian Renaissance. The furnishings contained many objects of art from Europe, yet it also was supplied with the latest mechanical conveniences.

The three-story building had some seventy-five rooms. Its outer surface was of Harvard brick and Indiana limestone. On the first floor was the great hall, one of the outstanding rooms in the country. It had balconies on the inside second floor, a vast fireplace, an aeolian organ, silver chandeliers, and windows that over looked the valley. The house was heated by steam, there were elevators and a switchboard. The rooms were furnished with paintings, tapestries, bronzes, rare plants, and expensive furniture.

Beyond the main building there were a number of other structures. The most impressive were the greenhouses, three large buildings plus thirteen others. In all there was 16,000 feet of glass. Here palms, rare plants, vines, fruit trees, melons, and other foods and flowers were raised. Martin Henion of Darlington, was the builder. A two-story house was constructed for the head gardener. He was Edmund Daches, who had been with the Dormers. There were terraces and an extended parkway together with a pond and fountain between the greenhouses and the mansion. In front of the mansion were other terraces and extensive flower beds. There also was an outdoor gazebo, a gatehouse, a coach stable, garage, and many animal houses, workshops, and dairy facilities. The old factory and mill were still used for cutting and storing silage. A new bridge was built across the Ramapo. There were bathhouses at the deep swimming hole of the river. Nine single houses and four double houses existed for employees.

Across the river and into the mountains was a reservoir formed by a stone dam. The lake covered 11 1/2 acres and contained an estimated 100,000,000 gallons of water. The trunk pipe was six inches in diameter and carried the water under the Ramapo River and up to the property with enough pressure to supply all the rooms and run the fountain. Smaller pipes were laid throughout the grounds with nozzles for watering purposes. As much of the natural vegetation was preserved as possible, and special trees and shrubs were added to the grounds and driveways. It was estimated that the buildings, landscaping, and furnishing of the estate cost approximately $2,000,000.

Until the mansion was finished Crocker used the old Darling residence, which had been refurbished. For transportation Crocker had the most advanced French automobile imported from Paris in 1902. Early the next year he had a special shed built at the Suffern station for his private railroad car.

However, before much progress had been made on the mansion, Mrs. Crocker became ill with cancer and died in July 1904. As a memorial George built St. John's, a small church in early Norman style, in Ramsey dedicated to his wife, Emma. It cost $14,000. The Carpenters gave the land and Mrs. Crocker's children gave the organ. It was completed in June 1906. George Crocker continued to finish the mansion. He contributed to the Christmas parties and to the Fourth of July celebrations. In 1908, he was a large donor to the Reformed church for an organ. Then he, too, got cancer. Although already quite sick, he gave a particularly effective fireworks display on July 4, 1909. Costing several hundred dollars, it featured rockets that lighted up the Ramapo hills and a final piece of some 20,000 firecrackers. Cheers went up for Mr. Crocker.

Then on December 4, 1909, George Crocker died. Proceeds from the sale of his New York City and Darlington homes went to the George Crocker Special Research Fund given to Columbia University for the search for the cause, prevention and cure of cancer. When examining the Darlington mansion, one of the things found were 60,000 custom-made cigars with Crocker's monogram stored in a large humidor. They were worth between $20,000 and $30,000.

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George Crocker's Timeline

1856
February 10, 1856
Sacramento, Sacramento County, California
1909
December 4, 1909
Age 53
New York City, New York
????
Oakland, Alameda County, California