Gabrielle Greeley
Ida and Gabrielle Greeley in 1872

Ida and Gabrielle Greeley in 1872. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

This photograph, taken in the early summer of 1872, is one of many taken when photographers and illustrators descended in hordes upon Horace Greeley, seeking to satisfy insatiable public curiosity about the presidential candidate and his family. It is an evidently posed portrait of his two surviving children, daughters Ida and Gabrielle, aged 23 and 15. Ida lowers her eyes modestly toward the basket of flowers before her. Gabrielle, by contrast, gazes directly, perhaps even a little defiantly, at the camera.

On the back of the photograph, Gabrielle wrote, "This is…a picture my father loved to show his friends the last year of his life. It has written underneath `The Lion and the Lamb' my sister's gentle nature being the lamb."

Horace Greeley's characterization of his daughters was droll but somewhat unfair. Ida was the quieter of the two, but evidence indicates that she was both self-assured and competent. Gabrielle may have seemed more outgoing and assertive, but she was never known to be fierce or short-tempered. She may have been more accurate when she offered her own self-assessments in "mental photographs"—album pages recording personal tastes and values—that she filled out in 1870 and 1880. In answer to the question, "What do you believe to be your distinguishing characteristics?" she first replied, "Ambition and Firmness," and then simply, "Independence." But she did not mention the qualities by which she was most widely remembered by those who knew her—her kindness and generosity.

The Orphaned Sisters

Horace Greeley House

Horace Greeley House, headquarters of the New Castle Historical Society. Courtesy Gray Williams.

Within a few months after their joint photograph was taken, Ida and Gabrielle were left orphans. Their mother, Mary Cheney Greeley, died on October 30, 1872, after a long period of ill health. Horace Greeley collapsed, physically and mentally, about two weeks later, and died on November 29. The family had been living at their summer home in Chappaqua, the house on King Street that is now the museum and headquarters of the New Castle Historical Society. Following their parents' deaths, the daughters moved back to New York City for the winter. They may have lived with their aunt, Esther Cleveland, Horace Greeley's sister and the wife of New-York Tribune executive John Cleveland.

Gabrielle returned to the Episcopal school that she had been attending. It was run by the Sisters of St. Mary, a small Anglican order also known for its charitable work among poor women and children. Gabrielle not only received a high-quality academic education by the standards of the time, but also formed strong and lasting friendships with her teachers. She had been brought up in the Universalism of her parents, but chose to become an Episcopalian herself, and she found inspiration in the Sisters' example of selfless charity. The direction of her future life was largely determined in these early years.

The following May, Ida and Gabrielle returned to Chappaqua for one last summer in the King Street house. They were accompanied by Aunt Esther and her daughters, Marguerite and Cecilia. Cecilia, as bright and articulate as her cousins, kept a detailed journal of her stay which was later published as a book, Story of a Summer. It now furnishes the best record we have of the house and the family in this period.

What the account reveals, above all, is the amazing resilience of both sisters. Ida, in her unobtrusive way, quickly assumed adult responsibility as head of the household. Gabrielle plunged into her usual summer activities—voracious reading, extensive correspondence, trips into the countryside, and care for her menagerie of pets, among others. What they didn't do was mope. They happily shared memories of their parents with their aunt and cousins, but neither showed any signs of being overcome by grief. They still wore the black mourning clothes that propriety demanded, but their period of personal mourning was evidently past.

One House Built and Another Lost

The House in the Woods

The House in the Woods, the Greeleys' first home in Chappaqua.Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Ida and Gabrielle made one important change that summer. They prepared to move. The house on King Street had been their summer home since 1864, when the family moved there from their first house, a cottage at the remote southern end of the property they called the House in the Woods. However, the King Street house proved to have its limitations. Its location on the main street through the village was convenient, but subject to the noise and dust of traffic and the well-meaning, but sometimes intrusive, attentions of passers-by. In short, it had no privacy, a consideration that had been of particular importance to Mary Greeley. So, starting about 1870, her husband had a carriage house on the property altered into a new house. It was located away from the highway but much closer to the village center than the House in the Woods. The house was reconstructed in the fashionable French Second Empire style, with a slate-tiled mansard roof. Overlooking the plain at the foot of the hillside, it came to be known as the Side Hill House.

The new house was finished by the summer of 1872, but Mary's steadily declining health made a move impractical. Horace, meanwhile, was still using the House in the Woods as his personal hideaway, and he was too preoccupied with the presidential campaign for a major change. So the house was still unoccupied the following summer.

Ida organized the transfer of her father's books and other furnishings from the House in the Woods and made other preparations to move from the King Street house in the fall. Thereafter, it was intended that the Side Hill House would become the summer home of both daughters, the House in the Woods would be vacated, and the King Street house would be rented.

These plans changed two years later, when Ida married attorney Nicholas Smith. His home in Shelbyville, Kentucky, became their principal residence, but Ida retained her deep affection for the Chappaqua farm. Over the winter of 1875-1876, the House in the Woods was renovated for their summer home, with the apparent understanding that Gabrielle would acquire the Side Hill House when she reached adulthood.

Soon, however, these plans in turn had to be abruptly changed. One evening, a woman who had been cleaning out the House in the Woods and heating wash water in the fireplace failed to extinguish all the smoldering embers. A few rolled from the hearth and ignited the floor, and by the time the fire was discovered, the whole building was consumed. No effort was made to rebuild it. Today, the site of the House in the Woods is simply a level, grassy plot in the town park of Greeley Woods.

There is some uncertainty about whether either of the daughters returned to Chappaqua for any extensive period during the next few years. Ida, in particular, appears to have paid the farm only occasional visits. Gabrielle continued to live most of the year with her Aunt Esther in New York City.

Gabrielle Chooses Chappaqua

Having completed her education at St. Mary's, Gabrielle turned 21 in 1878. Handsome rather than pretty, she was nonetheless generally accounted a beauty and had many admirers. Unquestionably she had several opportunities to marry, but for almost 15 years after coming of age, she chose to remain single.

Side Hill House

The Side Hill House, Gabrielle Greeley's home in the 1880s. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

A tragedy in 1882 led to a significant turn in the direction of her life. During a spring visit to Chappaqua, Ida suddenly came down with diphtheria and died of that horrifyingly lethal disease within a few days. She left behind three small children, the youngest born just a few months earlier.

This blow may have reminded Gabrielle that the terms of their parents' wills still needed to be resolved. Their basic intentions had been clear—they meant for the bulk of their estates to be divided equally between the two surviving daughters. Dividing the liquid assets posed few problems, but there appeared to be no fair way to apportion the Chappaqua farm except to sell it and divide the proceeds. Gabrielle made use of an expedient that was not uncommon at the time. In April 1873 the farm was put up for auction, and she herself placed an initial bid on it of $10,000. None of the neighbors wanted to bid against her, so there were no further bids. She bought the property for $10,000 and immediately paid $5,000 to Ida's husband and children.

Even more important, she decided to move back to Chappaqua and make it her permanent home. She rejuvenated the Side Hill House, consolidated there all the possessions she had inherited, and hired a full-time manager to make the farm productive.

"Do you not get very lonely?" a newspaper interviewer once asked her.

"No, indeed," she replied. "I am too busy to be lonesome."

"Then you supervise your farm? You look as though you lived a great deal in this bracing air."

"Half my time," she answered. "I often walk five or six miles a day. I know everything that goes on about the farm, but I have a good man who takes care of it for me."

Gabrielle Greeley

Gabrielle Greeley, about 1920. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Lady Bountiful

Gabrielle spent much of the other half of her time on the charitable activities that led her to be called "Lady Bountiful of Chappaqua." She gave open-house "barn parties" featuring traditional games and dances in the sturdy concrete cow barn built by her father. The barn and the grove of evergreen trees that Greeley had planted also became the sites of popular Sunday afternoon reading and book-sharing sessions. Since there was no Episcopalian church in Chappaqua, Gabrielle became a parishioner of St. John's in Pleasantville, teaching a Sunday school class for adults and taking charge of providing flowers for the altar. She attended both Sunday services, often walking the two miles between home and church.

In 1885 she made the first of several direct contributions to the community. She either donated or sold for a nominal price a right-of-way through the farm to provide a direct connection between the center of Chappaqua and the road to Pleasantville. Now called South Greeley Avenue, it is one of the main thoroughfares of the village.

She was revered for her many private acts of kindness and generosity. Five-year-old Freddy See, for example, was fatally poisoned by grain alcohol that his besotted parents had brought to the house and only partly consumed. His mother was arrested for negligence and his father fled. Gabrielle quietly arranged—and paid for—the child's funeral and burial. Another example: during the famous blizzard of 1888, she was reported to have put on men's clothes and braved the driving snow to deliver milk to an elderly couple who needed it.

Gabrielle also extended charity to those that others shunned, particularly young women "in trouble," who were stigmatized by society and often abandoned even by their own families. Gabrielle, by contrast, would quietly befriend and assist them, without burdening them with moral censure. Part of her motivation may have come from the inspiration and training she received from the Sisters of St. Mary, but she was also driven by the memory of her beloved father, whose own kindheartedness she tried constantly to emulate.

Another Loss and a Great Gain

About 11:00 o'clock on Thursday morning, April 3, 1890, fire broke out in the basement of the Side Hill House. Gabrielle was at St. John's in Pleasantville, and by the time she returned, much of the house was already consumed. Meanwhile, however, smoke had been spotted from the village, and neighbors, along with workers from the nearby shoe factory, rushed to the scene. They were able to save at least some of the furniture and much of Horace Greeley's library, but the house was burned down to its foundations. Like the House in the Woods, it was never rebuilt.

Gabrielle Greeley Clendenin, 1891

Gabrielle Greeley Clendenin in her wedding dress, 1891. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Gabrielle responded to the loss with characteristic stoicism. She removed what remained of her possessions to a small tenant house down on the plain, where New Castle Town Hall is now. She quickly resumed her usual activities. At the age of 32, she probably expected to remain single for the rest of her life, and the prospect seemed to cause her no concern.

Then something happened that had far more radical consequences than the destruction of her home. She met the Reverend Dr. Frank Montrose Clendenin, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He was five years older than she, and like her had never married.

He described Gabrielle as "a charming girl who never got over it," and recounted his courtship with self-deprecating humor: "I have always entertained a conviction, with a slight mental reservation, that I as a priest should never marry. Soon after meeting Miss Greeley at a friend's house in New York City I abandoned my conviction and took up the business of winning my bride."

Their relationship developed so discreetly that their friends and families were greatly surprised when they announced their engagement in the first week of April 1891, and married almost immediately on Sunday, April 23. The wedding was a simple one. Almost no formal invitations were issued, but the community was made welcome, and St. John's could hold only a small proportion of the well-wishers who turned up. Dr. Clendenin's best man and only groomsman was his assistant, Alexander McMillen.

Gabrielle likewise had no attendants except her maid of honor, Elizabeth Chamberlain. The daughter of journalist Ivory Chamberlain and a longtime family friend, Miss Chamberlain had a summer estate, The Orchard, near the Greeley farm. Her life companion, Maria Messenger, lived nearby, and also had a home in New York City. There, after the wedding, Miss Messenger hosted a reception for hundreds of guests brought to the city by special train. She also gave Gabrielle a delicately wrought lace wedding veil, which would become a treasured family heirloom for generations afterward.

The Concrete Barn

Horace Greeley's concrete barn. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Dr. Clendenin was independently wealthy, and he turned over his minister's salary to his parish to aid the poor. He and Gabrielle made their principal home in the well-appointed rectory at St. Peter's. Gabrielle, however, was determined not to abandon the farm she loved. Within the year, she and her husband began to remodel the concrete barn that Horace Greeley had proudly built more than 50 years earlier. They bored additional doors and windows through the 16-inch-thick walls, inserted an additional story and divided the internal space into individual rooms, installed fireplaces and central heating, and transformed the old building into a substantial and comfortable home. It was initially occupied only during the warmer months, but it was suitable for residence year-round. They gave it the biblical name Rehoboth House.

The Rehoboth Years

In March 1892, Gabrielle gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The birth was difficult, and the boy, Gabriel, died within moments, and the girl, Miriam, died a few months later. Gabrielle herself was dangerously ill from the ordeal and recovered slowly. She nonetheless went on to have two more children, both of them daughters, over the next six years. Gabrielle Clendenin, named after her mother, was born in December 1893 and Muriel Clendenin in 1898.

Frank Clendenin

Frank Montrose Clendenin in the early 1900s. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Gabrielle and Frank Clendenin may have come late to marriage, but quickly made up for the delay. They had much in common and were devoted to each other and to their children. Gabrielle undoubtedly expressed the feelings of both of them in 1900, when she inscribed a gift card, "Merry Christmas for the dearest and best of husbands from one who knows."

The communities of Chappaqua and Pleasantville were a little uneasy when "Lady Bountiful" got married and moved to the Bronx. They feared she might lose interest in her former home. They need not have worried. Both she and her husband spent as much time as they could at Rehoboth House, and they threw themselves enthusiastically into local affairs.

And they continued to be generous. By 1900 Chappaqua had outgrown its railroad station in the middle of the village, and the site was too small for a larger building. Gabrielle, warmly supported by her husband, stepped forward to offer a site at the northwest corner of the farm, where it abutted the railroad. It provided not only a location for the new station but also an adjoining, semicircular park and an access road. This road was named Woodburn Avenue after the maiden name of Horace Greeley's mother. The station was completed and dedicated with much ceremony in 1902.

Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. Courtesy Gray Williams.

In 1903 little Muriel came down with polio, an all-too-common scourge of summer at the time, and she died at the age of five. Chappaqua had never had an Episcopal church of its own, so the grieving parents decided to erect one in her memory. Gabrielle provided the four-acre site, just north of the grove of majestic evergreen trees that her father had planted half a century earlier. Dr. Clendenin donated the money for the building. Constructed of native fieldstone, it was modeled upon a rural English church at Monken Hadley, north of London. The cornerstone was laid in 1904, and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin was dedicated in 1906. A modest walled burial plot was established behind the church, and the remains of Muriel and the infant twins were interred there.

February 3, 1911, was the 100th anniversary of Horace Greeley's birth. As the date approached, a group of prominent local citizens decided that a statue would be the most appropriate memorial for the community's most famous citizen. They formed the Chappaqua Historical Society for the purpose and commissioned sculptor William Ordway Partridge to create an over-life-size figure of the editor, to be cast in bronze and mounted on a tall stone pedestal. There was considerable discussion, and some controversy, over the location of the statue, and Gabrielle played a crucial role in the decision. She threw the weight of her authority in support of a site offered by landowner and developer John I.D. Bristol, which was west of the railroad station. She wielded the ground-breaking shovel there on the day of the anniversary. It took three years to complete and assemble the statue and its base. The dedication took place on a rainy Tuesday, February 3, 1914. Gabrielle was in attendance, and Dr. Clendenin, widely admired as a public speaker, delivered an address.

Horace Greeley Statue

Dedication of the Horace Greeley statue, 1914. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

After 1917, when Dr. Clendenin retired from St. Peter's, he and Gabrielle lived full-time at Rehoboth House. Their surviving daughter, Gabrielle Clendenin, married Edward Canning Stahl in 1918, but unfortunately died in 1920 at the age of 27, not long after the birth of their son, Frank Canning Greeley Stahl. Her grave was placed next to those of her brother and sisters in the burial plot behind the church.

Gabrielle made what may have been her greatest contribution to the community in 1926. Up to that time, public education in Chappaqua was limited to so-called "common" schools—small institutions that offered instruction only up to about the eighth-grade level. Students who wanted to attend high school had to travel to Pleasantville. In 1926 some of these common-school districts were consolidated into Chappaqua Central District Number 4, and preparations were begun for a single, comprehensive school for elementary, junior high and high school grades.

Gabrielle deeded about 10 acres of the farm to the school district as a site for the new school. The deed doesn't reveal the price, but the district, faced with the prospect of the most costly capital project in the community's history, could hardly have afforded to pay much for the land. The site was ideal, located close to the village center. Local architect James Renwick Thomson won the competition for the design, a gracefully proportioned building in a Norman Revival style, faced in fieldstone like the church next to it. Completed in 1928, the Horace Greeley School became the visual centerpiece of the village, and a symbol of its dedication to education. For decades the school auditorium served as the community center.

Chappaqua Railroad Station

Dedication of the Chappaqua Railroad Station, 1902. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

In the summer of 1930, Chappaqua was abuzz with preparations for the bicentennial of its settlement. The celebration was to include an elaborate parade and the opening of the new highway bridge over the railroad. Gabrielle agreed to serve as an honorary hostess, and Dr. Clendenin was scheduled to introduce the principal speakers. On August 19, however, he suddenly and unexpectedly died. Gabrielle was devastated, and no one would have blamed her if she had withdrawn from the event. As might have been expected, though, she chose to participate, and on Saturday, September 6, took her place on the reviewing stand for the bridge dedication.

Gabrielle made her last appearance at a public ceremony on February 3, 1932, when she attended the laying of a wreath on Horace Greeley's statue at 33rd Street and Broadway in New York City. The event was sponsored by Typographical Union #6, of which her father was a founder and the first president.

In declining health, Gabrielle continued to live at Rehoboth House, and she died there on March 5, 1937, two weeks short of her 80th birthday. Her ashes were interred in the family plot behind the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and the date of her death was added to the inscription on the Celtic cross she had erected for her husband.

Horace Greeley was without question the most famous citizen of Chappaqua, but it was his daughter Gabrielle who had the most lasting impact upon the community they both loved. South Greeley Avenue, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the railroad station and its adjacent park, and the Robert E. Bell Middle School are all on lands that were part of the Greeley farm, and she either donated them or sold them on easy terms for the benefit of the public. Chappaqua owes equal honor to her memory, for her bounty remains.

Rehoboth House

Rehoboth House, remodeled by the Clendenins from Horace Greeley's concrete barn. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.