A few months ago in early 2010 I was cleaning out June (Magill) and Peter Leavitt’s house in Woodstock CT when I found documents and pictures that belonged to Leland Magill, my mother’s father and my grandfather. [June (90) and Peter (97) now live with me, their eldest son, and my wife Becki.] I had never seen these materials before and have known very little about my grandfather’s life before the 1940s, although my mother has often reminisced about her childhood at Milton Gardens.
The vague picture I developed of Milton Gardens was that it was a place in Rye NY where grandfather built homes and where my mother lived in the 1920s before the stock market crash of October,1929, leading to the onset of the Great Depression. From brief discussions over the years I was left with the impression that all was immediately lost shortly after the crash; but this was not the case at all.
The Magills lived at Milton Gardens until some time in 1935 or 36 when grandfather Leland was able to get an architectural position with the Veterans Administration in Washington DC. In the five or six years following the crash, it has now become clear that grandfather went through a very difficult five or six years trying the sell the houses that he had built and rented at Milton Gardens, as well as at other locations surrounding Milton Gardens and in nearby towns like Greenwich CT. It must have been a wrenching experience. I never fully comprehended the length of time of this decline until I saw the documentation now published at this site.
There is evidence that Leland Magill sold some of his houses – for example, the house on lot 5/6 to the St. Claires, the house on lot 9/10 to the Fendlers, the house on lot 17/18 to the Adamsons, the house on lot 16 to the Glenzings, and the house on lot 4. I also found a newspaper clipping in these records of the sale of a house in Greenwich in 1934. No doubt, he lost many of the remaining houses he owned through bank forclosures although I have no documentation to that effect. So the crash of 1929 led to a more protracted decline in grandfather’s business and wealth. In retrospect, I don’t think that grandfather ever fully recovered from this experience.
Over the last few months after becoming more aware of the nature and pride of Milton Gardens, I started to wonder why my parents had never taken us (my three brothers, my sister, and I) to visit Milton Gardens. Afterall we had lived nearly all of our youthful lives in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in Rowayton CT, just a 25-minute drive away, and I had gone to Playland in Rye on a number of occassions.
Then just a week ago 75 years after my mother left Milton Gardens, I realized that there is nothing now holding me back from visiting Milton Gardens myself to see what grandfather had accomplished. So I took a day off from work on Monday, June 28th, and Becki and I drove to Rye NY with camera in hand to see Milton Gardens for ourselves (the name “Milton Gardens” was not used after the 1930s).
I have always charished the time I spent with grandfather when I visited his and grandmother’s home in Mclean VA in the late 1940s and 50s. He was a special guy to me because of his friendly and jovial demeanor. He would put me on his Tennessee Walker, Sparta, and I would be off for a hour or so in the front field fantisizing about cowboy heros of the 40s and the 50s. As an example of his demeanor, I recall the simple jesture of him asking me if I felt like going down Old Dominion Drive to the new Dairy Queen for a treat. Of course I was game for that. So then grandfather asked grandmother Helen (June, Kate, and Lois’ mom) to join us. As we were hopping into grandfather’s Woody station wagon, grandmother said that she would only agree to go if he promised not to drive over 25 miles per hour. As grandmother entered the front seat of the woody to sit in the middle, grandfather gave me a wink with a rye smile over the top of the car, and said “of course my dear.”
In examining the newly discovered 9×12 photographs of the houses at Milton Gardens and others, it became clear to me that he owned many more homes than just those at Milton Gardens. These were impressive homes with unique architecture and interior design, and their novel organization within the block called Milton Gardens. So Becki and I took the two an a half hour drive from Woodstock CT to Rye NY and exited the thruway at Playland Parkway. Then, it hit me that we were almost there, and I had no idea what to expect.
We quickly arrived at Milton Gardens and identified the Magill house on lot 19/20; this was an exilerating experience from the start for both of us. Rather than describe what I saw, I think the pictures taken of the sixteen houses grandfather built at Milton Gardens during our visit on Monday speak for themselves.
During our stroll around Milton Gardens on June 28th we were fortunate to met Judy Koblentz while passing her house on lot 3. We introduced ourselves and I mentioned that my grandfather had built her house. She then said that her house was built in 1917 and I said “That’s right!”. Judy was kind enough to invite us in to see the inside of her house and we entered the homey scene depicted in the 1922 photograph shown below. We greatly appreciated our tour inside Judy’s home which she purchased in 1979.
1. Grandfather Leland around 1960.
2. Judy Koblentz’s living room in 1922 or before (Judy has lived in the house on lot 3 since 1979; we believe that Judy’s house was the first house built at Milton Gardens). Judy gratiously invited us into this living room durinng our stroll around Milton Gardens on June 28th.
3. Me on grandfather’s Tennessee Walker Sparta at the Mclean house around 1950.
4. Mclean House on Old Dominion Drive where Leland and Helen Magill lived until about 1962 when the house was sold to Roger Mudd. This house was restored by Leland during those years while working for the Veterans Administration.
John Christopher Leavitt
515 Route 197
Woodstock CT 06281