Updated May 3, 2008
Mackay Stories, p.20
Memories of the youngest daughter of Peter and Julia Letson. 
Her dad, Peter, was the head dairyman for Clarence Mackay, 1914-1938
Feb 6, 2008

Dear Bill, 
     Here are some reminiscences from my mother, Martha Letson Kaufman.  She is now 91.  These memories are in no particular order but provide a few historic footnotes for you concerning life on the Mackay Estate at Harbor Hill during the early 20th Century. 
(Sadly, Martha passed away at the end of March 2008)
    I was born on the Mackay Estate at our home on October 27, 1916.  I was the baby and am the only survivor of five children born to Julia and Peter Letson. My sisters and brothers were Sarah, Fred, Elsie and Eddie Bill.  I attended Roslyn High School but a lot of those details have slipped away because I was very worried about my mom at that time. She was ill and passed away in 1933.

     My dad was the dairyman, who with two helpers, was responsible for the big barn and all the pastures surrounded by split rail fencing. The herd of cows was Golden Guernseys.  I remember there was a prize bull that my brother Fred said was worth $75,000.  It had its own separate barn and pasture.
Above: Our home - the dairyman's cottage on the East Drive.  Today this house still stands at 42 Elm Street.
Photos are displayed courtesy of Robert King, author of numerous books detailing grand country estates of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.
Below: The dairy barn was adjacent to our house.  Dad didn't have far to go to get to work.
    I remember when it snowed, we kids would take the bottom rail out of the fence and sled down the hill under the fence from one pasture to the next.  Part of dad's job was to separate the cream, churn the butter and make buttermilk, and then to deliver it to the kitchen every day.  I often went with him.  I remember at least two cooks.  One cooked French cuisine and the other cooked more American style food.  When Mr. Mackay was not on the estate, a chauffeur would pick up the dairy products each day and drive them to the Mackay home in New York City.

     Mr. Mackay felt it was important to be an active part of the Roslyn community.  I recall that each year on the 4th of July he opened up the estate so that everyone in Roslyn could come see the fireworks display at Harbor Hill in celebration of the nation's birthday.  I also remember the party Mr. Mackay threw for Charles Lindbergh with Paul Whiteman's orchestra.  I even recall peeking through the dining room windows after dark to see fancy gold dining room furniture.

     Sometimes I got to accompany a night watchman on his rounds inside the big house.  I remember the suits of armor on platforms in the hallways and on the staircase, and that the night watchman had several places where he had to turn a key in a lock as a report to the insurance company that he had been there.

     I never saw Irving Berlin on the estate but William Mackay (John William Mackay III, Clarence's son) lived across the road and he wasn't snooty at all.  I also remember that Mr. Mackay (Clarence) loved to walk on the grounds of the estate with his dogs.  As my mother was ailing with her brain tumor, she would often sit outside in the yard and whenever Mr. Mackay was walking by he would stop and talk - he was very kind and friendly.

     I remember Lee Murtaugh working with my dad.  He was one of Dad's helpers.  And I remember huge maple trees all over the estate.  It was a beautiful place to grow up.   
Click here for a link to more on the Murtaughs.
   Bill, I hope my mother's recollections provide a little glimpse into how things used to be at Harbor Hill.
                                                           Betsy Waterman      Ocala, Florida
Click on milk bottle for larger view of this Roslyn relic.