Recently we came across this listing showing the Austin Corbin Estate (500 acres) at 2 Croydon Brook Road in Newport, New Hampshire is for sale–for a mere $4.9 million.
Price Update (as of July 28, 2017): a huge price reduction $3.4 million despite the listing saying that $5.2 million was spent on restoration.
The price-tag notwithstanding, this is a very historical property. In addition to his reputation as a “Robber Baron,” he created the 26,000+ acre “Corbin Park” hunting preserve. Here is an good summary from a neighbor of Corbin Park:
A self-made millionaire, and known as the “Father of the Banking Industry”, Austin Corbin bought up dozens of farms in west central New Hampshire in the late 1800s to create one of the largest hunting preserves in America. Previously, he developed Coney Island, and Manhattan Beach. He also created a railroad that transported guests from New York City to his well-known hotel “The Oriental” in Coney Island.
Corbin Park, or the Blue Mountain Forest and Game Preserve (also known as the “Blue Mountain Forest Association” and “Corbin’s Park”), is a private, enclosed shooting preserve with a very limited membership. The approximately 26,000 acre preserve was founded in 1890 by Austin Corbin II, a Newport native who grew to prominence in the late 1800s as a founder of modern American banking. Corbin used his fortune to buy up as much land as he could in the Croydon-Grantham area to establish a gigantic hunter’s playground.
The majority of the park is in Croydon, with over 10,000 acres. 1,151 acres lie within Grantham’s borders. Corbin’s intention was to bring together at his preserve, “all the animals of the world that can live there harmoniously.” Originally, it was stocked with bison, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, mule deer, European red deer, bighorn sheep, moose, antelope, caribou, Himalayan mountain goats, pheasants and wild boar from the German Black Forest. The bison, deer, elk and boar all flourished, but the pheasants flew over the fences and the rest of the species proved unable to survive. Corbin Park once had the largest bison herd in the country, and supplied bison and deer to refuges, parks and zoos all over the U.S.
Here is a description of Corbin Park from Eastman Living magazine:
“Blue Mountain Forest” refers to the tinge of the park’s blue spruce and includes granite-topped Croydon Peak, the highest peak in Sullivan County (2,781 feet) and forest-summited Grantham Mountain (2,661 feet). There were also existing roads with farm buildings, machinery, a schoolhouse, orchards, vineyards, sawmills and a cemetery within the lands purchased. Some farmhouses were turned into camps for wardens or hunting members, but most were left to slowly deteriorate. Much of the pasture from former farms was allowed to revert to forested land, but some meadows were maintained and planted with rye, buckwheat, clover, carrots, and turnips for the animals.
The enclosing fence is 36 miles long and 12 feet high, with three feet of underground fencing to keep the boar from tunneling out. There were originally nine gates, each with a keeper’s lodge including four public or pass gates. Corbin added 15 miles of roads with granite watering troughs placed every four miles. A number of buildings were built including the Central Station clubhouse, winter-feeding sheds, barns and kennels.
Horses and other working animals were used by the rangers for transportation around the park and for dragging out carcasses that had been taken by hunters. English foxhounds trained for deer and elk, bloodhounds, French boarhounds, and Great Danes from Denmark assisted the hunters.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the Austin Corbin Estate (see slideshow) was bought in 1988 by William Batterman Ruger, jr. for only $135,600 . . . that’s right, only $135,600! Of course, it’s not like Mr. Ruger couldn’t afford more since he was the retired CEO of the firearm manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co. Rather, he bought the home ‘It was the largest and most historically significant house in the area,’ he said. ‘I wanted to make sure it was preserved.’ Good for him and the large capital gains he will reap doesn’t hurt either.
Here is a great video showing more of the architectural splendor of this estate:
Finally, here the text of Austin Corbin’s obituary that was published in the New York Time on June 5, 1896:
Austin Corbin Dead
Thrown Out of His Carriage at Newport, N.H.
LIVES ABOUT SEVEN HOURS
Suffers Severely a Portion of the Time from His Injuries
LEG BROKEN AND HEAD BADLY CUT
His Scalp Laid Bare with Two Great Gashes and His Lips and Chin Frightfully Lacerated,
JOHN STOKES, HIS COACHMAN, DEAD
Corbin Edgell, His Nephew, and Dr. Kunzier, a Guest, Seriously Hurt–The Family Witness Accident.
Newport, N.H., June 4.–Austin Corbin died here this evening at 9:42 o’clock of injuries received by being thrown from a carriage.
John Stokes, the coachman, also received fatal injuries, and died at 6 o’clock.
Corbin Edgell, nephew of Mr. Corbin, and Dr. Paul Kunzier, the other occupants of the carriage, were injured severely. Mr. Edgell’s right leg is broken in two places between the knee and ankles. Dr. Kunzier has a broken arm and a sprained ankle.
The accident took place at 3 o’clock this afternoon, when the party started from Mr. Corbin’s country house on a fishing trip. They rode in an open carriage drawn by a pair of horses which the coachman, Stokes, was driving.
Just as they were moving out of the yard, the horses, which were being driven without blinders fo rthe first time, shied, and all the occupants were thrown down an embankment against a stone wall.
Members of Mr. Corbin’s family and guests at the house who were seated on the plazza saw the accident, and all hurried to the assistance of the unfortunates. With the help of the farm hands, they conveyed them to the house, and as quickly as possible doctors were summoned from Newport Village and from Claremont.
Mr. Corbin’s injuries seemed to be very severe. The doctors found, for one thing, that he had a compound fracture of the right leg above and below the knee, and they quickly reached the conclusion that it would be necessary to amputate the leg. The operation was not performed, however, it being the desire of the family that it should be deferred until physicians from New York and Boston should arrive.
Messages were sent to Dr. Bull of New York and Dr. Cilley of Boston to come to Newport with all possible speed. Dr. Cilley arrived here on a special train just before Mr. Corbin’s death.
It is supposed that the injuries that caused Mr. Corbin’s death were those of which the outward marks were two great cuts in his forehead. On the front of his head there was a cut fully four inches long, which laid bare his scalp; on the right side of the head was another cut three inches long. Mr. Corbin’s face also was out and torn, particularly his chin and lips.
he was conscious when taken from the ground, and retained consciousness fro a long time.
Everything possible was done to alleviate his suffering, but his injuries were of such a nature that necessarily he experience a great deal of pain.
Mr. Corbin’s son, Austin Corbin, Jr., came on a special train from Boston, which arrived here at 11 o’clock. All the other members of Mr. Corbin’s family, with the exception of George S. Edgell, his son-in-law, who is in the West, were present at the deathbed.
MR. CORBIN’S CAREER.
The Very Embodiment of Energy Throughout His Life
Austin Corbin was born in Newport, N.H., July 11, 18227. He was of old New England ancestry and was a Yankee of the Yankees in mental and physical makeup.
His father was a farmer, who was many times elected to the Legislature of New Hampshire. the elder Corbin was not a rich man, and his son started in life with the usual endowment of Yankee boys abundance of brains and courage. After receiving a moderate amount of schooling, he taught a country school himself and tamed some “terrors” in the teaching. He studied law with Chief Justice Cushing, of New Hampshrie, and Gov. Metcalf, of Rhode Island, and finished the course at the Harvard Law School, where he received his degree in 1819. He practiced while at home, but in 1851 removed to Davenport, Iowa, where he remained until 1865.
Though successful as a lawyer, Mr. Corbin did not practice long. He became a partner in 1854 in the banking firm of Macklot & Corbin, which was the only concern of the kind in Davenport which did not suspend payment in the financial panic of 1857. Corbin organized the first National bank, which began business under the National Currency act of 1863. The bank was successful, and Mr. Corbin was enabled in 1865 to come to New York with a considerable fortune. Here he founded the Corbin Banking Company, and acquired interest after interest until he became one of the leading financiers in the community.
One distinctive and most creditable thing about Mr. Corbin was the fact that he was always a builder. Property that he handled invariably became better. Thus the rejuvenated Long Island Railroad was the work of Corbin, and to hime New York owes almost all that is good at Coney Island.
Mr. Corbin first visited Coney Island in 1873. His infant son was ill, and the physician had ordered him to the seaside. The Corbin family put up at the only respectable hotel, which was at the west end. Mr. Corbin, being anxious about his boy, spent much time on Coney Island, which then had a very bad name. The east end was a desert waste; the west end was given over to the revels of the worst of characters.
Mr. Corbin one day set out to explore the east end. He found a deep creek running where the Brighton Beach Hotel now stands, but took off his boots and stockings and waded. Beyond he found miles of sand dunes, lapped by whitecaps and swept by sea breezes.
Mr. Corbin made up his mind he had found a site fro a great hotel, and, after talking the matter over with a few friends, set a Coney Island man at work to buy the necessary property by the acre. He offered this man a large amoutn of stock for his trouble, but the Coney Islander was too shrewd, and preferred a small sum of ready money.
when Corbin’s Manhattan Beach project was fairly unmasked he was generally pronounced mad, but when the Manhattan and Oriental Hotels arose, people changed their minds, and the two achieved a popularity which has grown constantly.
Mr. Corgin went at the ocean as at every other antagonist. He made no flimsy preparations against the wrath of the unruly Atlantic, but put a solid bulkhead along the shoreline that so far has been respected. Damage from storms at Manhattan Beach is almost unknown, save in the case of the Marino Railway.
Mr. Corbin loved Manhattan Beach, and during the Summer days of great crowds went there very frequently watching his servants and seeing that everything was going properly.
“Why don’t I retire?” he said one time, in answer to the question of one who accused him of working harder than any three of his clerks. “I don’t care to retire. This is my pleasure. I like to see the machine run, to help to run it, and to feel that I am steering it. It pleases me beyond anything else that it is going well. If some one took me in the finest conveyances on a trip around the world, looking upon the most wonderful sights, it would only bore me. This work is my pleasure.”
Mr. Corbin was very particular about the reputation of his beach, and one of the few occasions on which he ever offered to bet was when a gentleman told him that gambling was going on at Manhattan. He grew quite excited and offered to stake any sum that the speaker was in error. when informed that children daily gambled on the beach, he subsided but did not seem to consider it a joke.
Immediately following his success with Coney Island, Mr. Corbin turned his attention to Long Island, and to the Long Island Railroad, which at that time was in the hands of several different companies, all insolvent.
Long Island at that time was an almost unknown territory to others than natives. In spite of its beauty and healthfulness and availability for sustaining a large population, it was standing still. Its roads were disgraceful, and its railroads a laughing stock.
Corbin quietly secured control of all the various little railroads and united them, making at the same time a comprehensive plan by which the island was to be developed as a territory of homes, hotels, and clubs. Under his wise management the development of Long Island was very rapid, and great and beautiful towns arose in places that a little while ago were waste.
Mr. Corbin’s latest public achievement was the rehabilitation of the Reading Railroad of Pennsylvania. This, like the Long Island Railroad, seemed in a hopeless condition when he assumed the Presidency. He built it up steadily from the time of his first taking hold, and finally assured success.
Mr. Corbin was tall, raw-boned, broad-chested athletic. He was extremely active, always under a pressure of great nervous energy, never able to sit still. He was impetuous and brusque in manner, but not unjust, and he made the fortunes of many of those about him. he married, in 1853, Miss Hannah M. Wheeler, by whom he had several children. his eldest daughter married M. Champollion, a grandson of the famous Egyptologist. Two younger daughters have been prominent in society here.
Mr. Corbin had a beautiful home on Long Island, and another in New Hampshire, beside his town houses. His New Hampshire property consisted of 25,000 acres around Newport, all mountain and valley. This last property is the greatest and best-stocked game preserve on the continent.
A recent article (May 27, 2017) by The Economist magazine was less generous toward Mr. Corbin:
In 1861 Sunnyside was among the largest, richest plantations in Arkansas. It was owned by Elisha Worthington, who scandalised white society by recognising two children he fathered by a slave. After the war, as cotton prices plunged, it belonged to John Calhoun, namesake and descendant of the southern ideologue, and then to Austin Corbin: a robber-baron financier and railroad speculator, who, as a founding member of the American Society for the Suppression of the Jews, barred them from the hotel he built on Coney Island. Corbin installed a steamboat and a small railway, but, like many southern landowners, struggled to find labour. He experimented with convicts, then hit on an alternative: Italians.
Like many people-traffickers, then and now, Corbin had a man on the inside. His was Don Emanuele Ruspoli, the mayor of Rome, who recruited workers from Le Marche, Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto. The first batch—98 families—sailed from Genoa on the Chateau Yquem, a reputedly rancid steamship that arrived in New Orleans in November 1895. The families clutched contracts showing that each had bought a tract of land, on credit to be repaid in cotton crops. After a four-day journey up the river to Sunnyside, they quickly realised that they had been misled.
“The first year, 125 people died,” says Libby Borgognoni, a magnetic 81-year-old whose in-laws came over on the Chateau Yquem (her grandfather arrived later, after drawing the shortest straw of his family’s six sons). Hot, humid and swarming with mosquitoes, Sunnyside was fecund but deadly. Today you can drive on a gravel road on top of the levee between the fields and the Mississippi, the wide, eddying river and glacial tugboats on one side, cotton on the other, red-winged blackbirds darting between them. When the Italians arrived, the barrier was lower, and floods were common. The drinking water was filthy; yellow fever and malaria were rife. Climbing into his hunting truck, Tom Fava, another local Italian-American, helps to find the disused cemetery where the victims lie. It is hard by Whiskey Chute, a stream named after a cargo of whiskey scuttled by brigands during a fire-fight.
Many of the millions of Italians who moved to America in that period, mostly to industrial cities in the north, suffered. But rarely like this. Heat and disease were the worst of it, but Corbin’s terms were onerous too. The Italians spoke little English; many were illiterate. But they could see that the land had been wildly overpriced. And while many were farmers, Mrs Borgognoni admits “they knew zip about cotton”. Anti-Italian and anti-Catholic prejudice swirled: 11 Italians had been lynched in New Orleans in 1891. Mrs Borgognoni recalls that, well into the 1930s, locals would roll the car windows down and holler “Dago!” at Italian children.
In 1896, six months after the first Italians landed, Corbin died in a buggy accident near his exotic hunting lodge in New Hampshire (he was said to have startled the horses by opening a parasol). Still, a second boatload left Genoa for Ellis Island in December. Another Italian also made the trip from New York that year. Pietro Bandini grew up in Forli, joined the Jesuits and was sent as a missionary to Montana’s Native Americans. Later he moved to New York to minister to put-upon Italians. For those at Sunnyside, he was a redeemer.