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Wildcliff, 42 ,Wildcliff Rd., New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York.JPG
Location 42 Wildcliff Road, New Rochelle, New York
Coordinates 40°54′23″N 73°46′12″W / 40.90639°N 73.77000°W / 40.90639; -73.77000Coordinates: 40°54′23″N 73°46′12″W / 40.90639°N 73.77000°W / 40.90639; -73.77000
Built 1852
Architect Davis, Alexander
Architectural style Mid 19th Century: Gothic Revival, Late 19th & 20th Century: Tudor Revival[2]
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference #


Added to NRHP December 31, 2002

Wildcliff, also referred to as the Cyrus Lawton House, is a historic residence overlooking Long Island Sound in New Rochelle in Westchester County, New York. This 20-room cottage-villa, built in about 1852, was designed by prominent architect Alexander Jackson Davis in the gothic revival style. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December, 31, 2002. [1]


Designed in 1852 by Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the preeminent American architects of the nineteenth century, the house was sited to take full advantage of the dramatic views of the water. Davis’ original plan envisioned the family sitting on the villa’s front porch and looking out over the spectacular scenery. The beauty of the house and its site were accented by the progression of the entry drive. The visitor originally entered the property from the north along a private road. The curving drive ascended toward the house, proceeding toward Echo Bay and curving around to the front door. The family who first commissioned the design was one Cyrus Lawton, a close friend of Mr. Davis. Mrs. Lawton was a member of the prominent Davenport family, for whom the entire area is named, and the house was a wedding gift to the couple. [3]

Wildcliff was erected in the early 1850s, during a period when New Rochelle was beginning its transformation from a rural farming community into a residential suburb. Improvements in transportation permitted affluent families to built homes in New Rochelle and commute to work in nearby New York City. The land along the scenic north shore of Long Island Sound was especially sought after and many of Davis' designs were built here. His smaller homes were called "cottages", and the more substantial ones "villas", however the terms were frequently combined. Among their typical features were prominent, steep-roofed gables, with elaborately carved bargeboards under their eaves. [4] Wildcliff is one of two "cottage-villas" built by Davis on New Rochelle's waterfront peninsula Davenport Neck, the other being "Sans Souci" (or Davenport House).[5]

After Cyrus Lawton's death in 1902, the property was inherited by his son Newberry Lawton Davenport. It was later purchased by Julius and Clara Prince who moved into the home in 1914. Clara Prince donated Wildcliff to the City of New Rochelle in 1940 with the hopes that it would be used as a natural science museum.[6]. Clara Prince's obituary, "Mrs. Julius Prince". The New York Times, September 14, 1941, pg.49, notes that she was a "philanthropist who had given generously to educational projects" and that she was especially known for the donation of Wildcliff to New Rochelle in 1940, ten years after the City had tried in vain to purchase the property. It has since been used for a variety of purposes including a youth museum and performing arts center.[7] Around 1970 a wing housing a theater was added at one corner of the house but the main structure remains intact. [8]

Since late 2010, the local organization Jen's Community at Wildcliff has been working with the City of New Rochelle and its citizens to bring awareness to the building and to create a preschool and education center.[9]


Closer view of a gable

Wildcliff is a 2½-story house faced primarily in rubblestone of various colors. These stones give the picturesque design a natural quality, as if the building were rising out of the landscape. For a house in the Northeast, Downing prescribed a design with high roofs, thick walls, warm rooms, and chimneys. The original front façade of the building was on the southern portion of the present house facing Long Island Sound, now partially obscured by the out-of-character one story addition used as a theater. This facade originally had a 2½-story central gable with a pair of windows on the first story looking out over the water. In the mid 1860's Davis designed additions to the house in the same style with special efforts made so that the changes would be as inconspicuous as possible. Bargeboards and other ornamental details match exactly and stonework was laid so that there would be no sign of the joint between the old and new sections.[10] [11][12][13]

Later owners Julius and Clara Prince were responsible for the second major expansion to the home which was done in the half-timbered Tudor style. The additions consisted of the construction of a porte-cochere, a new entrance on the south facade of the home, and the conversion of the original entrance into a long, twelve-part window.[14]

The original plan of the house can still be read on the interior. To the south is the original library and entrance hall, now combined into one space. On the upper floors are bedrooms with steeply sloping walls reflecting their locations within the gables. The attic retains some original floorboards and four paneled doors with original knobs. The interior retains much of its historic plan and some historic fittings, but much of the interior detail has been lost.


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form description
  3. ^ Cyrus Lawton Obituary, NY Times
  4. ^ A. J. Davis and the Gothic Revival, Edna Donnell, Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Sep., 1936)
  5. ^ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, section 8, page 2
  6. ^ "Wildcliff Youth Museum", manuscript printed by the City of New Rochelle, in collection of New Rochelle Public Library (New Rochelle Museums - Wildcliff File)
  7. ^ The Preserver - Highlighting New Rochelle's Rich Past
  8. ^ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form,section 8 page 7
  9. ^ Jen's Community at Wildcliff>
  10. ^ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, section 8, page 7
  11. ^ Roberta Hershenson, Vision Takes On Reality as Group Inches Closer to a Stage of Its Own, The New York Times, March 26, 2006
  12. ^ 2006 EPF Grant Awards, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, October 20, 2006
  13. ^ Andrew S. Dolkart and Peter D. Shaver (June 3, 2002). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Wildcliff / Cyrus Lawton House". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2010-06-19.  and Accompanying 6 photos, exterior and interior, from 2002
  14. ^ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, section 8, page 6

See also[edit]

Media related to Wildcliff (New Rochelle, New York) at Wikimedia Commons

  • Davis, Alexander Jackson, Day Book vol.2, October 1853 - December 1869 (collection Columbia University, Avery Library)
  • Davis, Alexander Jackson, Diary' [Journal] (collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Prints and Drawings)
  • Peck, Amelia, ed., Alexander Jackson Davis: American Architect 1803 - 1892. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Rizzoli, 1992.