In several of our recent posts, we’ve talked about various NY Metro-area mansions and estates that have been abandoned or just flat-out vanished. Fortunately, though, not all of the Gilded Age and Gold Coast estates have been lost forever, and nowadays, you can even visit some yourself! In particular, one spectacular mansion to check out is Coe Hall, located at the lovely Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island.
About Planting Fields Arboretum
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the Planting Fields Arboretum is located in Oyster Bay, NY. The name “Planting Fields” originated from the Matinecock Indians, who valued the land and soil for its ability to support crops.
The original property was purchased in 1913 by William Robertson Coe, who made his money in the insurance and railroad industries. Adjoining properties were later purchased by Coe, bringing the estate to its current 409 acres. There was a house already built on the property, which Coe planned to renovate, but it caught on fire before renovations could be completed. The current Coe Hall was built in the prior home’s place, using the old house’s foundation.
Much of the landscaping was designed by the Olmsted Brothers (whom you may recall from our last post on Newark’s Branch Brook Park), and additional gardens and greenhouses were added throughout the years. One garden that was of particular interest during our visit was the dahlia garden! We visited in mid-October, and the dahlias were a bit past their prime, but we’ve never seen such a stunning collection of dahlias in one place before.
Being an arboretum, there are also A LOT of trees, some of which are incredibly rare. At the southwestern end of the property, there are approximately 200 acres of native forest, and you can enjoy a hike along the five miles of trails that wind through the forest. Or you can just spend time admiring the exterior of Coe Hall and the Italian garden and pool.
In 1949, Coe sold the estate to New York State for $1, and in return, the state had to guarantee that it would maintain the estate, keep it open to the public, and use it for educational purposes. In the ’50s and ’60s, Planting Fields housed a college of science and engineering through the State University of New York (SUNY) system, but this closed in 1968. Soon after, in the early ’70s, the Planting Fields Arboretum opened to the public as a state historic park.
Which is why, dear readers, you can visit this fantastic place today! I recommend that you use this map during you visit to find all the various gardens and natural areas you can explore outdoors. And you can use this map to get a better sense of all the major attractions you can enjoy at the Planting Fields Arboretum.
With 409 acres available for exploration, you can certainly fill an entire day with a visit here. And most of your exploring can be done outdoors, too, if you’re concerned about COVID. However, if you’re comfortable masking up and moving indoors, we highly recommend scheduling a tour to see the interior of Coe Hall! Tours are limited to 10 people, so you may want to book your tour in advance to reserve your spot.
Inside Coe Hall
Though there are several buildings at Planting Fields Arboretum, Coe Hall, is by far the largest, consisting of 65 rooms and approximately 26,000 square feet of space. Designed by a firm called Walker & Gillette, construction began in 1918 and was completed in 1922.
Though Coe bequeathed the mansion and grounds to New York State, he did not pass on the furnishings or other contents of the house, so much of what you see inside isn’t original to the estate. Some items did find their way back to Coe Hall over time, but staff has otherwise used old photos and invoices to source antiques from the same era and style to help recreate what Coe Hall would have looked like once it was completed.
We began our tour in the den, where we were able to admire some of the mansion’s spectacular woodwork, all of which was carved onsite. Though the den was originally intended to be an office for Mr. Coe, it turns out the Coes didn’t actually spend all that much time at their estate, or at least not enough time for him to do any work here. Interestingly, the Coes spent a lot of their time out west on a ranch in Cody, WY that was previously owned by Buffalo Bill (and which is now owned by Bill Gates, randomly enough.)
In the family dining room, more of the intricate woodwork can be seen, as well as a hand-painted mural by Robert Winthrop Chanler depicting scenes from the American West. Mr. Coe was actually born in England, but he had a particular interest in America’s expansion to the West and was known to collect documents and items related to pioneer settlers. This mural’s buffalo imagery shows a typical American West scene that would have appealed to Mr. Coe, and it is close to 100 years old (though still in excellent condition).
We visited Coe Hall on a special tour offered by the New York Adventure Club, so we were next able to access the basement, which isn’t typically part of the normal tour. And since Coe Hall was built on the prior house’s foundation, much of the basement is actually original to the former home.
Here we saw the old refrigeration units and a wine cellar that was disguised as a vault during that pesky Prohibition era. We also caught a glimpse of the massive furnace. The house used to be heated with coal but has since been converted to gas. Can you imagine the heating bill for a 65-room house??? Incidentally, A/C was never installed, so you might want to keep this in mind if you plan to visit in the middle of, say, August.
We headed back upstairs to the main floor and worked our way through some of the reception rooms and other spaces used for entertaining visitors and guests. More of the gorgeous woodwork can be seen throughout, and there are fabulous nooks and crannies to take a peek at as you walk the hallways.
Before our tour concluded, we were able to visit the second floor to see the Coes’ bedrooms, as well as their bathrooms and some of the guest rooms. Mr. Coe’s bathroom had recently been renovated with a grant, and most of it was reproduced from old photos. We particularly liked the scale that was actually built into the floor and wall (it was surprisingly accurate, too!)
There was also this bizarre little contraption that our guide mentioned was meant to be sort of similar to a sauna. It was called a “radiant heat bath”, and you would sit inside it with only your head sticking out of the top and the heat from the bulbs would make you sweat! It was designed by John Kellogg (of the Kellogg cereal company!), who was apparently quite the inventor in his time. Who knew?
The last stop on our tour was Mrs. Coe’s bedroom, which I think is my favorite room in the whole house. The walls are all covered with a stunning hand-painted mural that will really just take your breath away. Interestingly, it’s actually a reproduction of the original mural, also designed by Robert Winthrop Chanler. Mai Coe, the second Mrs. Coe, who was married to Mr. Coe when he bought the estate, had the original mural painted in her bedroom.
Mai died in the ’20s, though, and Caroline, the third Mrs. Coe, didn’t like it, so she had the wall panels ripped out and replaced with wood paneling. When the house was eventually restored to its original style using old photographs, artist Polly Wood-Holland spent many weeks painstakingly recreating the magnificent murals on the original plaster walls. The end result is nothing short of spectacular.
Sadly, all good things come to an end, and our tour wrapped up. We look forward to getting back to Planting Fields Arboretum this summer to do some more exploring, especially on those forest trails, and we hope you will have an opportunity to visit as well!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Planting Fields Arboretum: 1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay, NY 11771
When to Go
- The Planting Fields Arboretum is open daily year-round (except Christmas) from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
- Check their website for the most up-to-date tour days and times for Coe Hall
Tips for Visiting
- To get more out of your visit, consider signing up for a tour or attending a special event.
- Tours inside Coe Hall are limited to 10 guests per tour, so you may want to book your tour in advance to reserve your spot. You can review the COVID protocols for the tour here.
- The grounds and greenhouses are free to visit, but there are fees for tours and special events. There is also a parking fee of $8 between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You can use a card at the self-pay kiosk or pay cash if you have the exact amount.
- If you can’t visit Coe Hall in person, check out their virtual tour instead!