The History of Brecknock Hall
Along the North Road, outside the village of Greenport, and set on a verdant knoll protected by a sweep of lawn and an imposing manicured hedge, is the noble, if reticent, Brecknock Hall.
One of Long Island’s most superb examples of 19th century Italianate architecture, the hall was finished in 1857. It was built as the family residence of David Geiston Floyd, a distinguished businessman, whaling entrepreneur, and true American aristocrat, he was the grandson of General William Floyd of Revolutionary War fame and the only Long Islander to have signed the Declaration of Independence. The name “Brecknock” was given to the hall in loving tribute to Brecknockshire, Wales... the ancestral home county of the Floyds.
Born in 1802 on his grandfather Floyd’s Mastic estate, David first sought his fortune by working for his maternal grandfather,David Gelston, the very wealthy and well—connected Collector of the Port of New York(Customs). One can imagine the opportunities for a bright, hungry young man with money, credit, and inside information. He could capitalize on such things as foreclosures on vessels or seizures of goods; wheel and deal for pennies on the dollar; and, in general, profit handsomely with little government oversight.
From New York City, his business concerns.. .more intensely focused on whaling...brought him to Sag Harbor. But when the eastern terminus of the Long Island Railroad was completed, ~ his operations to Greenport. The young village had few restrictions on risk—taking, mercantile ventures; had a protected, deep water harbor; and, now, had the availability of cheap rail transport. his ships included the Italy, Pioneer and Prudent and in the ten years(1847—1857) that they prowled the seas, made their owner about $400,000 richer.. .a princely sum in that halcyon era. Whaling, shipping, a ships chandlery enterprise(Floyd & Skillman), banking, warehousing and property interests enhanced his already considerable earned and inherited wealth.
On July 31, 1845, the 43-year old David Gelston Floyd married the 38-year old Lydia Smith, a direct descendant of Tangier and William Smith (founders of Smithtown),...whereby patrician lineage wed historic lineage and fortune trebled fortune. The couple was blessed with four daughters:
Julia, Lydia, Mary and Grace.
From ground-breaking to completion, Brecknock Hall took six years to build. Since price was not a consideration, the finest materials, workmen, decoration, and effects(furniture, kitchen utilities, objects d’art, etc.) were used throughout. The mansion was said to have cost over $30,000 and it was the centerpiece of a large farm.
Mr. Floyd bought about 100 acres from Joshua P. Youngs, the great, great grandson of Southold Town’s founder.. .the Reverend John Youngs. For the most part, the stories used in the construction of Brecknock Hall were quarried on the northeast section of the property. For $2.00 per day, Scots masons shaped and erected the fine, random ashlar walls. The lintels above door and window, the steps and the table line around the hall( the long stones) were brought across the Sound by schooner from Connecticut. The hall’s design was a distinct re—iteration of General Floyd’s manor house in Mastic but with a heavier, more formidable Italianate articulation and grander interpretation.
The outside woodwork was the highest quality white pine and the large molding used in the cornices was hand-wrought. The chimneys are brick on the inside, stone—faced on the exterior. The original tin roof lasted until the 1938 hurricane.
Inside the hall, the bearing walls are 3 feet thick each room has 8-inch brick walls which run from cellar to attic. Gas pipes were installed but never used. Every room included a tin speaking tube and, forever Innovative in his thinking, Mr. Floyd had iron registers(for a central hot—air heating plant) ~et into the walls of the main house. All the main rooms have carved white Italian marble fireplaces, lined in brick, which had grates for coal but were converted to wood-burning. Two rain collecting cisterns and a well provided water.
The walls are plastered to an inch or more in thickness and the moldings and window treatments in all 20 rooms are finely crafted. Each window of the hall has folding, hand-made (still usable and beautiful), hardwood shutters. Huge gilded mirrors and chandeliers grace the salons and central foyer. Some of these are said to have been Floyd or Smith family heirlooms. heavy double wooden doors face each other across the expanse of the center hall and the back door leads to what once was the magnificent planting fields of Lydia Smith Floyd an avid and scientific gardener~ None of the original furniture or furnishings is left, although a few pieces are on display at the Suffolk historical Museum in Riverhead, New York.
Brecknock Hall was built by Mr. Floyd as both a testament to his success and as a manorial home befitting the Floyd-Smith pedigree. The Estate was to be modern and beautiful but, also, a self—sustaining farm capable of turning a prof it. Ills concerns were aesthetic and utilitarian More calculating than penurious, money was to be invested not squandered. All manner of crops and animals were wisely husbanded, so that after providing for his large establishment, the excess was sold. His only indulgence was allowing his wife her garden... which evolved Into acres of flowers, fruit trees, and exotic shrubs; topiary fantasies, grand allees, and graceful: fountains; and soon were acclaimed in New York horticultural circles.
Sadly, except for a few dispirited boxwood, nothing remains of the garden’s splendor. And besides the grand hall, only the stables remain. However, the ephemera of olden times persist. On certain nights, a.young woman wafts through the mansion’s rooms and a tatty, bearded man in a sailor’s cap(a sea captain?) roams the stable’s attic. Both are searching. One evokes melancholy. The other, the salty brine of low tide. haunting the imagination, Brecknock Hall deserves to be saved and restored to the future.