Whitlock’s Folly, also known as the Casanova Mansion. Photo via Museum of the City of New York.
Hunts Point, a well known neighborhood on the Southeastern tip of the Bronx, has become known as a major hub for food distribution, housing one of the largest wholesale food markets in the world. However, many forget that the neighborhood housed what was regarded as one of the finest private residences in America, a lost mansion now known as Whitlock’s Folly.
Formerly located at Oak Point on the Long Island Sound, the mansion was constructed in 1859 by a wealthy southerner named Benjamin Morris Whitlock. A sprawling fifty acre estate complete with one hundred rooms, the mansion was said to have cost around $350,000, equivalent to roughly $10 million dollars in 2012 money. Thanks to a tip and slideshow by Untapped reader Paul DeRienzo, we’re able to share with you some great information about this mansion, once called haunted by local kids in the Bronx.
In terms of its exterior, Whitlock’s Folly was an enthralling combination of vintage elegance and high end hospitality. At first sight, one would immediately catch sight of its bronze doors and an inscription that read, “Soyez le Bienvenue.” The entrance to the mansion grounds also had a drawbridge and a large iron gateway for horse drawn carriages. According to The New York Times, “as a carriage approached the horses would step on a hidden spring and the bridge would drop and and the gates fly open as if by magic, a second spring causing them to close.”
When let inside, guests would become privy to the mansion’s many decorations imported from France, chandelier filled halls and massive entryways. However, there was more to Whitlock’s Folly than meets the eye. Underneath the mansion, there was an extensive labyrinth of dark wine cellars and three dark wells that supplied the house with running water. It was also home to various vaults where rifles and pieces of ammunition were stored.
The Mansion’s Underground Tunnels. Photo via Museum of the City of New York
Equal in both its mystery and magnificence, Whitlock’s Folly was exemplified, in architectural form, the fortune that Benjamin Whitlock had amassed from doing business with the south trading in tobacco, wine and cotton. Whitlock was also a real estate speculator, owning large pieces of Murray Hill and the Upper East Side, along Park Avenue. However, pro-slavery but outspoken against secession, the events of the Civil War would bankrupt him.
Soon after, Whitlock’s estate was eventually sold to a Cuban sugar importer named Inocencio Casanova in 1867. A proud Cuban patriot, Casanova used the mansion as a means of shelter for friends who were advocates for Cuba’s independence. During this time, Whitlock’s Folly was renamed “the Casanova Mansion” and was also referred to as the “cradle of Cuban liberty”.
Eventually, after Inocencio Casanova’s reign as the mansion’s owner came to an end, it did not take long for the once prized location to begin its gradual descent into decay and dilapidated ruins. The mansion’s location eventually became the site for a plaster mill in the early 1900s.
In today’s industrial streetscape, it’s hard to imagine that Hunts Point was once dotted with mansions and estates, even a monastery, or that a brook once ran through the concrete landscape. A look back reveals a rich history of fortunes made and lost, national and global conflicts played out on a Bronx peninsula.
Read on for 6 lost Gilded Age mansions of the Upper West Side.