About The Hillcrest Estate
The Hillcrest Estate is located on 120 acres of land roughly 3 miles west of the village of York, New York, a small farming community located 30 miles south of Rochester and 50 miles east of Buffalo. The main house, a 32-room mansion with 5 fireplaces and a ballroom, is informally known as “the mansion in the woods” for its location is set back on the property with surrounding farm fields and wooded areas. The property features include a winding driveway, reflecting pool, ballroom filled with historic antiques, covered veranda, tiered terrace, carriage ride loop and numerous picturesque locations. The ballroom and grounds are available for a variety of events, including weddings, private parties, gatherings and business meetings.
Did you know?
The Hillcrest Estate has entertained numerous guests and hosted a variety of events since it's completion in 1899. Past visitors who have stayed at the estate include Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Mark Twain, Ethel Barrymore and Karl Bitter, a famous sculptor whose 1903 plaster molding of the Louisiana Purchase remains on display in the ballroom.
The Hillcrest Estate was developed during the period known as “the Country Place Era” of the 1880s-1930s. This is a period in which well-to-do families who often lived in impressive homes located in urban areas, sought rural locations for seasonal homes to escape unhealthy conditions often found in cities during the warm weather months such as hot weather, disease, germs, pollution, over-crowding, etc. Favored places were at the seashore, in the mountains, on a lake or in a rural area with picturesque surroundings. As railroads were the chief means of transportation during this era, these more-remote locations were quite accessible. The Hillcrest Estate and our next door neighbor, Linwood Gardens, are located right down the road from the former railroad depot at the intersection of Federal Rd. and Craig Rd. named Craig’s Station.
Williams Lansing was the architect for the expansion of The Hillcrest Estate in the late 1890s. He was the son of Bleeker B. and Sophia E. Williams Lansing, one of Buffalo’s oldest families, born October 1, 1860 at the home of his grandfather, E. P. Williams, on Court Street on the future site of Shea's Theater. He designed some of Buffalo’s most important buildings, including Lafayette Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, Canisius College and the 74th Regiment Armory.
Charley Morrow was the head stonemason and Rob MacDowell was the head carpenter for the mansion. Charley Morrow’s stonework involved raw, uncut field stones about the size of a human head that were beautifully fitted no more than a finger’s width of cement between them. This type of arrangement is rare in the U.S.
Of international renown, Rochester’s Ellwanger and Barry Nursery Company (est. 1840s) installed extensive landscaping/plantings on the property. They were the largest nursery in the U.S. during the last quarter of the 19th century, headquartered on Mt Hope Ave. and comprising 600 acres at its peak, which includes present-day Highland Park & the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School campus. In addition, A.G Spalding laid down the clay for a tennis court at the property, portions of which still remain.
The main home was originally occupied by the Boyd family. Robert Boyd (1828-1870) was killed in a runaway accident in Des Moines, Iowa. Eliza McCracken (1837-1912) was Robert’s wife and was born in York, New York and married Robert in 1856. In 1821, John Cameron purchased the land and owned it up until the late 1800s. His wife was Catherine McDougall Cameron and they had three children, Willard M., Neil J. and Charles Raymond Cameron. Willard married Jean Copeland and Neil married Mrs. Elizabeth McDougall, widow of Peter. Both brothers lived in the Linwood-York area their entire lives. Charles received a full scholarship to Cornell University, and graduated in 1898 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. He was a teacher in Zamboanga, in the Philippines, which had been newly acquired by the U.S. as a result of the Spanish-American War. He later served in the military, joined the United States Foreign Service, and was a U.S. Consul.
Around 1897, John Cameron sold the home to Dr. Frank (Francis) Metcalf of Buffalo. Dr. Metcalf was a surgeon in the U.S. Army. Frances Metcalf Wolcott, his sister, was a Buffalo socialite well connected in the Buffalo Theatre District and wife of United States Senator Edward Wolcott of Colorado. She took possession of the property soon after her brother purchased it and by 1899 a large stone addition was added onto the main house along with a servants quarters in the back, stables, a huge dairy barn and creamery and extensive grounds laid out and landscaped.
Frances Metcalf was known for “collecting celebrities” and entertained and hosted many guests, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Mark Twain, David Hochstein, famous actress Ethel Barrymore and the Belmonts (including millionaire August Belmont and his bride to be Eleanor Robson the actress) of New York. Another guest of Hillcrest was Karl Bitter, an eminent sculptor who did a life-size sculpture of the Louisiana Purchase and presented it as a gift to Mrs. Metcalf Wolcott. The plaster molding, completed in 1903, still remains in the main house ballroom.
In the 1920s, Lyman M. Bass, only son of Mrs. Frances Metcalf Wolcott by her former marriage to Lyman K. Bass, took over the estate. Lyman K. Bass was an American Politician and U.S. Representative from New York. In 1865, Bass ran against Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President of the U.S.) and was narrowly elected District Attorney of Erie County. Bass and Cleveland were friends and law partners. In 1974 President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Bass to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. He was confirmed by the Senate but declined the position. After moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1877, Bass worked on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway case regarding the right of way through the Arkansas Canon on the route from Denver to Leadville. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was won due to Bass’ argument. Lyman K. Bass died in May of 1889.
Lyman M. Bass (former U.S. District Attorney for Western NY) and his wife, Mrs. Bass, formerly Grace Holland of Buffalo, continued to entertain as lavishly as his mother, Mrs. Frances Metcalf Wolcott. After Mrs. Frances Metcalf Wolcott died, the days of lavish entertaining died along with her. Thereafter, the Bass family returned to Hillcrest during the summers. In 1949 Lyman M. Bass sold the estate to Mrs. Florence Haher of Rochester. She provided rooms to paying guests who wished to enjoy the quiet beauty of the country. At that time, there were 27 rooms and 5 fireplaces. Other features on the estate included a swimming pool, tennis court, formal flower gardens, barns, stables and 25 acres of lawn and woodland.
After the death of Mrs. Haher, the estate was sold to Michael Schibetta of Caledonia. He used the home as a residence and also rented it out. In the 1970s, Michael Schibetta sold the home to William Fritz who used the estate for farming and as a residence. William Fritz also collected antiques, almost all of which still reside on the estate. Upon his death in 1984, William bequeathed the estate to his nephew Robert Wilcox.
Robert and Elizabeth Wilcox raised their children Megan, Benjamin and Kate in the main house. Over the past 35 years Robert has farmed the land and Elizabeth has hosted numerous events in the ballroom and on the grounds. The estate is now run by Kate Wilcox Rodwell and her husband Matthew Rodwell. Kate and Matthew are in the midst of extensive property renovations to preserve and restore The Hillcrest Estate's unique character.