The Judge Henry Hilton Era

On October 24, 1879, Woodlawn was purchased outright, after considerable negotiation, for the foreclosed mortgage balance of $14,900 by Judge Henry Hilton of New York City.   Hilton had spent a good deal of time in Saratoga Springs with A. T. Stewart and his wife, Cornelia (a cousin of Hilton’s wife, Ellen).   Following the death of Stewart in April 1876, and using the one-million dollar received for wrapping up Stewart’s financial affairs, Hilton not only purchased the original 60 acres of Woodlawn.  Hilton he acquired 19 additional parcels of land surrounding the original Woodlawn.  The size of Woodlawn had expanded to more than 1,100 acres by the late 1890’s.

Judge Hilton had been a commissioner of the Department of Parks in New York City (1870 – 1871) before which he was involved in the creation of Central Park which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux.  Hilton’s Woodlawn Park appears to have taken its landscape design cues from those renowned architects.

Woodlawn was officially christened in July 1880 with a wine bottle at its flag pole by Cornelia Clinch Stewart, the widow of A.T. Stewart.  Woodlawn was opened to the public as a park for pleasure driving several days each week.

In addition to the original Clinton Street entrance, by 1881 Hilton added two more  entrances: one was along North Broadway (now the service entrance to Skidmore College) and the other at the intersection of Third and State Streets.  Winding trails from all three entrances enabled the main mansion to be completely encircled by trails from those entrances.

The earliest map showing Woodlawn Park is that of Lawrence in 1881. It shows the earliest buildings, carriage paths and the three entrances.   Most of the paths shown on the 1881 map existed when Skidmore acquired Woodlawn in 1960.   The main part of the Skidmore College campus covers most of the early buildings and carriage trails shown on the 1881 Lawrence map.  More than 1,000 additional acres were added to Woodlawn after this map was created.

1881 Lawrence Map (detail)

The Broadway entrance is pictured in an early 1900’s postcard below.  A structure shown on the 1881 Lawrence map can be seen just inside this Broadway entrance.  The foundation stones of this (20 x 40 feet) structure were still in place until the College converted its location into a retention pond in 2007.

Broadway Entrance to Woodlawn (circa 1900)


Description of Third Street Entrance (Saratogian, July 22, 1880)

The entrances once had large statue-bedecked pillars that visually announced the splendor to follow.  The judge was quite fond of these statues and many others which dotted the premises.  Most of the statues were of Greek Gods and Goddesses.  However, Hilton also owned Hiawatha, which he purchased at auction in 1886, and the Drummer Boy, both famous sculptures by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  One sculpture was based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Hiawatha, which once stood between the Mansion and the building that Hilton named “Wayside Cottage”, was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as of 2001.  The statue had verses from Longfellow’s poem Hiawatha.  The name “Wayside Cottage” may have been inspired by Longfellow’s Tales of the Wayside Inn.

The terrain of Woodlawn as we know it today had been greatly altered by Hilton who leveled hills and created winding paths of deep chipped gravel throughout the woods and the lawns.  When the main part of Woodlawn was leveled and graded, many of the stones and rocks removed were used to create not only the graveled paths but also the stone wall that surrounds much of the property.

A Graveled Trail through the Woods of Woodlawn.

Although Hilton allowed the general public to visit the estate.  On certain occasions, he employed uniformed guards at the gates.  On these occasions, in order to enter the estate, one had to present a visitor’s pass signed by the Judge himself.

A complete map of Woodlawn was created in approximately 1895 showing its more than 1,100 acres of land.  It shows dozens of structures and more than 20 miles of trails.  The recently (2006) marked red, blue and green trails in the North Woods are original trails, as well as the unmarked trails on the parcel north of Miller (now Daniels) Road which are now used by hikers, joggers and others.

Woodlawn Park circa 1895

This 1895 map may be viewed more clearly (with pan, zoom and download capability) at: