A Family History

Caramoor, the enchanting estate tucked away in Katonah, New York, was the country estate created by Walter T. and Lucie Bigelow Rosen to express their passion for music and the arts. To understand the many components that make the estate so exceptional one has to learn about its founders, their love for each other, and their passion for music, the arts, and all things beautiful.

Caramoor, the enchanting estate tucked away in Katonah, New York, was the country estate created by Walter T. and Lucie Bigelow Rosen to express their passion for music and the arts. To understand the many components that make the estate so exceptional one has to learn about its founders, their love for each other, and their passion for music, the arts, and all things beautiful.

couple
Walter Rosen and Lucie Bigelow Dodge, July 1914

Walter Tower Rosen, a successful international banker, musician, and art collector, met Lucie Bigelow Dodge in July 1914, at her parents’ summer home in Saint Anne de Bellevue, Québec, Canada. Lucie, also a gifted musician, came from a prominent New York family. It was love at first sight for Walter, 39, and Lucie, 24; they married just six weeks after meeting.

Walter Rosen
Walter T. Rosen as a child.

Walter Rosen was born in Berlin, Germany in 1875. To pursue the family banking business, his parents, Max Tower Rosen and Flora Thalmann Rosen, moved their family to New York City when Walter was 10 years old. Walter was a very intelligent young man, entering Harvard at 16 and graduating in three years. Soon after, Walter received his law degree from New York Law. After graduating, Walter Rosen started his own law firm. Shortly after founding the firm, Walter decided to join the family business — the international banking firm of Ladenburg, Thalmann and Co. — as a partner; he later became the senior partner. Walter was a specialist in railroads, serving on several boards, and for many years was the Chairman of the Board of the Mexican National Railways.

Walter T. Rosen

By the time Walter was in his thirties, he was successful, well-traveled, wealthy, sophisticated, fluent in several languages, and a lover of music and the arts. He was a very talented musician and even considered a career as a professional pianist at one point. Throughout his life, Walter Rosen remained devoted to the arts and was a patron of several cultural institutions. He was a charter member of the Society of Friends of Music in New York City, founded in 1913, and was a director of Stage Society later known as the Theater Guild. However, his biggest contribution to the arts and music, in particular, was the creation of the Walter and Lucie Rosen Foundation, now Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts.

Lucie Bigelow Dodge was born in 1890 to a socially prominent New York family. Her maternal grandfather, John Bigelow was an author, editor and co-owner of the New York Evening Post and Minister to France under President Abraham Lincoln. Later in his long life, Mr. Bigelow was one of the co-founders of the New York Public Library. Lucie’s paternal grandfather was Charles Cleveland Dodge, a General during the American Civil War, and later a partner in Dodge Phelps Company. In 1902, Lucie’s mother, Flora, decided to divorce her husband, Charles S. Dodge, and moved with her two children, Lucie and Johnny, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota— one of the few states at the time granting divorces. Flora had fallen in love with Lionel Guest, an English subject several years her junior, who was the fourth son of the 1st Baron of Wimborne and through his mother, Lady Cornelia Spencer-Churchill, a first cousin to Winston Churchill.

In 1905, shortly after the divorce was granted, Flora married Guest and the family moved to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the island of Montreal, Canada, where Lionel had settled. Lucie enrolled at the Royal Victoria College and at the Royal Conservatory studying the violin. She later enrolled at McGill University studying French, German, the classics as well as modeling [sculpture]. Flora started a working farm, raising cows, chickens and ducks, as well as vegetables, and the family made time to work on the farm—work Lucie enjoyed. In addition, Flora authored books and wrote articles to be published in Canadian magazines.

Lucie soon followed in her mother’s footsteps and by the time she turned seventeen she was writing articles and being paid for her work. In 1907 Lucie was very busy in Montreal attending theater, opera, dance performances, and museums. She become a big hockey fan, attending most of the games on the newly built arena. Lucie and her brother would spend most of the summers with her grandfather either at his New York City residence at Gramercy Park or at the “Squirrels,” his estate in Highland Falls, NY, where Lucie would type her late grandmother’s journals. These vacations were a welcome rest from Lucie’s daily life, as living with her mother became increasingly difficult. In January 1908 the family made a trip to New York during the debutante season to present Lucie to New York society, where her Grandfather Bigelow was then known as the “Grand Old Man.” Eighteen-year-old Lucie had a marvelous time attending many debutante parties including Mrs. C. Vanderbilt’s dance party, Mrs. Jack Astor’s ball and many more.

In 1911 the family moved to London, keeping the house in Ste Anne-de-Bellevue as a summer home. Lucie was 21 years of age. Lucie’s mother was a very controlling woman and could not understand her daughter’s fierce independent streak, and the relationship between mother and daughter became very strained. Distressed, Lucie ran away from home in 1913, renting a room in a rooming house in the West End while trying to find a job to support herself. Her mother alerted Scotland Yard and a week later she was found. It made news on both sides of the Atlantic and the front page of The New York Times. As a condition of her returning to her mother, Lucie stipulated that she wanted to sail at once to New York and live with her beloved aunt Grace Bigelow. Her mother agreed and Lucie soon sailed for New York.

In the summer of 1914, with some trepidation, Lucie ventured to visit her mother and stepfather at their summer home. Johnny Dodge had invited Walter Rosen, an acquaintance of his, to drive to Canada to spend the weekend at the family’s summer home in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. Walter and Lucie met in July 1914 and it was love at the first sight. He was 39 and she was 24. Six weeks later they were married in New York City.

lucie
Lucie B. Dodge, circa 1908

Remarkably, Walter and Lucie shared the same interests, especially music and the arts, and had a loving, happy life together. They honeymooned in Oyster Bay at the Rosen’s family homestead and settled in New York City in the townhouse Walter had been sharing with his brother, Felix. In 1915 a son was born, Walter Bigelow Rosen (young Walter) and two years later a daughter, Anne Bigelow Rosen. That same year the Rosens moved to a newly restored townhouse at 35 West 54th Street, a residence they maintained throughout their lives. Soon they started hosting soirées for their vast number of friends, many of whom were in the art world: sculptors, painters, authors, directors, actors and of course composers and musicians. They loved to entertain and enjoyed dressing up in costume, many of which are still in the Caramoor collection.

Lucie was an unconventional woman and was very interested in anything new the art world had to offer, be it fashion, dance, visual arts or music. In the late 1920s the Rosens met a young Soviet scientist named Leon Theremin, who had caused a stir in Europe before arriving in New York. He had invented one of the first electronic instruments, called the theremin. Lucie Rosen was mesmerized by the unusual instrument. She became Theremin’s pupil and an accomplished thereminist in her own right, performing throughout the tri-state area and on three European tours.

The Rosens traveled often to Europe where Walter had many friends and business associates, but they treasured Venice, where they spent every September at the Grand Hotel in an apartment facing the Grand Canal and equipped with a Steinway piano. Walter was an avid collector and every summer he would embark on shopping sprees throughout Europe. One summer he met an art and antique dealer called Adolph Loewi, and this long-lasting relationship intensified Walter’s passion for collecting. Through Loewi, Walter acquired most of the collection at the Rosen House, from architectural elements, doors, ceilings, windows and of course entire period rooms, to sculptures, paintings, tapestries and furniture, spanning many centuries and countries.

In the summer of 1928 while in France, the Rosens decided that time had come to purchase an estate near New York City where they could visit on weekends and spend the summers. Upon their return, Walter mentioned this to his former law partner Charles Hoyt, to which Mr. Hoyt replied his late mother’s estate in Katonah — a hamlet in the town of Bedford — was for sale and encouraged the Rosens to take a look. The estate, “Caramoor,” was named after his mother, Caroline Moore Hoyt. Charles Hoyt, a collector like Walter, knew of his love for all things Italian and thought it would be a perfect fit. The Hoyt estate was over 100 acres, and included an arts and crafts house, which did not suit the Rosens, but they absolutely loved the gardens. Soon after purchasing the estate, the Rosens began to enjoy country life, playing tennis, horseback riding, reading, listening to and creating music and entertaining friends.

Lucie and Walter’s son, “Young” Walter, graduated from Harvard University, followed by Yale Law School. Shortly after graduating from law school, Germany was at war with the rest of Europe and he felt compelled to participate in the war efforts. He volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force, before the US involvement, and was stationed in England upon completing his training. On August 16, 1944, returning to England from a successful mission over Germany, his plane crashed and Walter died two days later of his wounds. He is buried at Harrogate, Yorkshire, England.

Anne and Walter B. Rosen

It was then that his parents decided to go ahead with the idea to bequeath Caramoor after their deaths as a center for music and the arts in memory of their son. Like most of the great houses of Europe, the Rosens already had the practice of opening Caramoor to anyone who would ask to see the house and collection, and in 1946 the first public concert took place in the Music Room. Also to celebrate their son’s life, the Rosens decided to create the Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music at Harvard. After many years of arduous work, Walter Rosen was able to see it come to fruition just a few months before he died. The first appointed professor was the composer Randall Thompson. Chaya Czernowin, professor of composition, currently holds the post.

Just before his death, Walter Rosen was looking into having a new, larger theater built on the estate, a task he wasn’t able to accomplish. Lucie Rosen made it her mission to see her late husband’s wish carried out, and in 1958 the Venetian Theater was inaugurated with a performance by the contralto Marian Anderson. Even though in great pain from a terrible car accident just a couple of months prior, Lucie personally greeted all in the audience, a practice she continued throughout her life. Under her leadership, the Music Festival flourished and she continued to be a major force in the intellectual life in New York City, maintaining a keen interest in the arts and artists. Lucie Bigelow Rosen died in 1968 at her residence in Manhattan.

The Rosens’ daughter Anne was for many years on the Board of Trustees at Caramoor and when her mother died she was instrumental in getting her parents’ country home opened to the public. She brought in curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to catalogue all the objects in the collection and was influential in the construction of the New Wing to accommodate three period rooms and important objects from the Rosens’ townhouse. Anne Stern died in Maine in 2009 at the age of 92.