York, NY – It was an opportunity that Kate Wilcox Rodwell couldn’t pass up. And she recently received her use-variance approval needed from the Town of York to pursue it.
In 2015, after 32 years at The Hillcrest Estate, Bob and Liz Wilcox had decided it was time to start a new chapter in their life. They had raised their three children Megan, Ben and Kate and started a farming business at The Hillcrest Estate after inheriting it in 1983. It was time for them to move to a smaller property, with a smaller house.
Since Kate was a child, she had dreamed of renovating the entire mansion and grounds at The Hillcrest Estate. “Most kids wanted to be doctors or teachers – I wanted to restore a property that had brought me so much joy. Growing up at Hillcrest, the mansion’s ballroom was like a big playroom full of antiques where I could dribble my basketball and roller-skate” says Kate.
The Hillcrests Estate’s 9,500 square foot mansion, which includes a ballroom and 11 bedrooms was built in the late 1800s during the “Country Place Era” when well-to-do families who often lived in impressive homes in urban areas, sought rural locations for seasonal homes to escape the unhealthy conditions found in cities during warm weather months. A prominent buffalo socialite, Frances Metcalfe Wolcott financed the building of the mansion and extensive landscaping features which included an in-ground pool, tennis courts laid by A.J. Spalding, tiered terrace and a reflecting pool. She hosted a variety of events and entertained numerous historical figures at Hillcrest, including 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.
Kate’s mom, Liz Wilcox, received numerous inquiries over the years from family and friends to host weddings and events. “She was never trying to turn The Hillcrest Estate into a business– but when she’d see how excited people were about potentially having their event at Hillcrest, she wanted to be involved”, Kate says. “When I was a kid, I’d peek through the big chestnut doors separating the living quarters from the ballroom during events just to catch a glimpse of the guests.”
But with age came the realization of how challenging maintaining and restoring the property would be. “We only lived in a quarter of the home, but it was still a lot of work to maintain. Then add taking care of the grounds and the other homes on the property, raising a family, and running a farm, and you’ve got a recipe for exhaustion. I watched my family pour all their energy into this place just to keep it afloat, and I began to think that I’d never have the means necessary to restore it to its former glory” says Kate.
After graduating from York Central School, Kate attended SUNY Oswego and developed a passion for marketing and client services through numerous internships and jobs. Her last assignment due prior to graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing was her honors thesis. Most students completed research papers and studies, but Kate completed a business plan for running an event venue at The Hillcrest Estate. “I never gave up on the idea that one day I was going to find a way to restore Hillcrest” Kate says.
In 2011 Kate moved to Rochester where she met her now husband Matthew Rodwell. In the summer of 2015, her mother, Liz, asked Kate to come home to help set-up for an August wedding she was hosting. Liz was adamant that the mansions’ ballroom and terraces had never looked so beautiful and that Kate had to see it.
“That trip home was when I decided I had to save and preserve my family’s homestead.” Kate says. “My mom had told me they planned on moving and I couldn’t live with the thought that my future family wouldn’t experience the magic of Hillcrest. Now was the time to turn my dream into a reality.”
Kate and Matt moved to the property last year and have been busy renovating all the homes on the property and restoring the grounds. Phase 1 of the mansion renovations include new landscaping, the addition of a bridal lounge, new restrooms, utility upgrades, a new roof and improving accessibility.
“The Hillcrest Estate is not just our family’s business, it’s also our family’s home. We care deeply for this property and are very excited to share it with the community and bring our vision to life over the next several years” says Kate.
The Hillcrest Estate will be hosting several events this fall to celebrate the re-opening and announcements are forthcoming.
ABOUT THE HILLCREST ESTATE
The Hillcrest Estate is a unique, elegant and versatile venue located between Rochester and Buffalo N.Y., available for weddings, special occasions, community and corporate events. Hillcrest’s grand ballroom and outdoor terraces provide vintage charm and natural beauty that is ideal for any occasion. Hillcrest is a women-owned and family-operated business. Learn more by visiting TheHillcrestEstate.com, calling Kate at 585.356.7164, or by following them on Facebook or Instagram.