The Prince of Chatsworth

Scroggy

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I think most of us are familiar with the story of the Ruspolis and the rise and fall of the Chatsworth Park Company and the Chatsworth Club, as recounted by Beck and McPhee. However, on carefully examining some of the scraps of evidence, there are parts of the story that are a little more complex than the common narrative, some of which has never been fully sorted out in print.

Part 1: A few Beers with friends
First, a quick rehearsal of the lands and the players. Joseph D. Beers (1781-1863), a New York broker, bought about 23,000 acres of land in the Pines in September 1858, including the "Union Forge" and "Jones' Mill" tracts. (Trail of the Blue Comet, p. 35). His only daughter married Lewis Curtis, of another wealthy New York family, and died young. Beers' extensive holdings ultimately passed to her children and grandchildren. In 1883, when Lewis Curtis died, the Beers (-Curtis) heirs were: son Lewis A. Curtis, of Fairfield, Connecticut, son Benjamin L. Curtis of New York, grandson George W. L. Curtis of Catskill, New York, granddaughter Bessie (Curtis), Marquise de Talleyrand, granddaughter Josephine Mary Beers (m. 1885 Emmanuele Ruspoli, 1st Prince di Poggio Suasa), grandson Lewis C. Giles, of New York, granddaughter Mary Elizabeth (Giles) Godfrey of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grandson William C. Giles (d. 1898).

Of these, of course, the two most relevant to us are Bessie, whose only daughter Palma married Mario Ruspoli, stepson of Josephine and the diplomat-prince of the Chatsworth story, and Mary Elizabeth, who married Jonathan Godfrey, a Yale-trained mechanical engineer who was then working his way up to the presidency of the Compressed Paper Box Co. of Bridgeport. Lewis Giles engaged in the real estate trade in New York City as a partner in Wood & Giles and probably took the lead in managing other parts of the Beers portfolio, but examination of the Curtis family papers at Yale would probably be necessary to confirm his involvement with the Pines. Josephine left another line of noble Ruspolis who, fortunately for our bookkeeping, don't enter into this story.

Palma married Don Mario dei Principi Ruspoli-Poggio Suasa, as he then was, in 1890 in Paris. He was appointed attaché to the Italian legation in Washington around this time, but seems to also have resided in New York and Lenox, Massachusetts. The families had, of course, known each other since his father married Josephine in 1885. Perhaps it was Don Mario's personal qualities (in later years, Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen suggested he was "very popular" during his time in America; New York Tribune, May 4, 1908) in addition to his title that persuaded the Beers heirs to go forward with their unusual development scheme for 5,000 of their acres and incorporate the Chatsworth Park Company in 1892. If it sounds rather foolish to us today, consider that the Beers heirs were not without real estate expertise; aspiring to become a second Lakewood was more realistic than the paper plats laid out on neighboring tracts at the time. The clubhouse and villa must have been finished around 1893 or so.

Don Mario was transferred to London in 1898 and succeeded his father as Prince of Poggio Suasa the following year. (Beck was a bit off; he was sent to Paris in 1908 and I don't think he reached Belgium until the 1920s.) While Chatsworth Park ground to a halt (to the extent it ever really began) after the Panic of 1893, the Beers heirs formed the Beers Realty Company in 1900. This may have been a vehicle to manage their inherited real estate more efficiently; some transfers of New York real estate to it in 1901 were from all of the Beers heirs, suggesting at least one undivided interest had come down to that time. The directors of Beers Realty in later years included all of the American heirs and a few other individuals, perhaps lawyers representing the foreign heirs.

The Chatsworth Park Company's holdings, of course, were not included. In the New York Social Register for 1904, the new Chatsworth Club did not yet have an abbreviation. President Morton did not include it in his entry; the two individuals who did were Bessie, Marquise de Talleyrand (the Marquis had run off with another heiress and divorced her as long ago as 1886) and Jonathan Godfrey. Lewis A. Curtis and his son didn't mention it either; I don't know if that reflects a division among the heirs or simply their inconvenient distance as Connecticut residents. By 1905, the Club had already racked up a small lien ($120.81) from Louis Sherry, the hotelier, but one that went unpaid. The February 1908 foreclosure sale for $20,000 is attributed to a "syndicate", but the members were Jonathan Godfrey; Leavitt J. Hunt, whose law partner, George W. Betts, Jr., was a director of Beers Realty; and one Thomas C. Rumbaut, whose name is probably misspelled, but from his Bridgeport origins can be assumed to be a crony of Godfrey. It looks as though Godfrey were acting to rescue the family control of that tract. His continued directorship of Beers Realty suggests that the Chatsworth Park tract wasn't his "share" of the family holdings, although what interest the other heirs had in it before and after the 1908 foreclosure isn't clear.

The prediction that the tract would be developed as cranberry bogs rather than as a resort after the 1908 sale seems like a reasonable one. As we shall see, Godfrey was very much interested in cranberry cultivation. But he had not given up on development, either, as we shall see in part 2.
 

Scroggy

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Jul 5, 2022
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Part 2: Don't count your chickens, unless they're insured
The tract salvaged from the Chatsworth Park Company was presumably what Trail of the Blue Comet refers to as Godfrey's "share of the Beers lands" (p. 197), transferred in 1908 to the newly-formed Chatsworth Estates Company (of New Jersey). George W. Betts, Jr. was its agent, again indicating close ties to Godfrey and Beers Realty. In 1909, the Chatsworth Estates Company (of New York), directors and officers Martin W. Murphy, Thomas J. Curran, and Edwin V. Knight sprang up, and in 1910 bought what was presumptively the same tract ("about 5,280 acres"), subject to a $55,000 mortgage. Their intent was to divide up the tract in "acre plots" for "high class bungalow sites". (New York Times, November 21, 1909).

Notwithstanding, a different corporation was formed in 1911 to continue operating the country club as the Woodland Country Club. The president was Frank D. Berry, another New York realtor. He kept it running up to 1916. In the mean time, the principals of Chatsworth Estates (NY) were not having much success moving lots. The details are a little obscure to me at this point, but around 1915, a new figure, Wright Johnson of Rutherford, New Jersey arrived on the scene. He had apparently made his pile promoting (successful?!) silver mines in Guanajuato, Mexico. He evidently got control of the Chatsworth Estates Co. (NY) and joined Mr. Berry of the Country Club and Samuel W. Burton in incorporating the "Chatsworth Club Farms Corporation". Presumably they planned to shift from bungalows to that other mainstay of the Pine Barrens real estate promoter, agriculture. The small farmer would be able to enjoy the agricultural advantages of the Pines just as soon as someone discovered what those were. (Well, Godfrey had, but the promoters weren't thinking about that.) Judging from Berry's purchase at foreclosure of the "International Poultry Sales Company" in Brown's Mills (there's probably material enough there for an entirely different thread), he thought the secret was chickens and the "intensive farming idea".

Anyway, Mr. Johnson, flush with his Mexican silver, sat down with someone, probably Mr. Betts, in late 1915 and concluded an agreement. The details can only be inferred from subsequent litigation, but apparently Johnson et al. were willing to settle for only 1,800 acres of the tract; Godfrey and Betts presumably wanted someone who might make the occasional timely mortgage payment. Berry and Curran pop up in something else called "Club Farms Inc." and the corporate picture becomes hopelessly muddled. Berry's idea sounds somewhat like today's CSAs: this 1915 ad gives some of the details. The court case that followed gives us one very important, concrete fact: it was in October of 1916 that the clubhouse burned to the ground. This is corroborated by the Mt Holly newspaper, which suggests a date of October 15 and also advanced the notion of an insurance fire. Apparently the purchase money had never been fully paid (this was, perhaps, a condition of Wright Johnson's agreement) and the $18,000 in insurance money was applied to the mortgage. Unsurprisingly, Berry et al. probably never paid much more towards it, and in 1923, the court of chancery ruled that, the mortgage being in default, Chatsworth Estates Co. (NJ) could foreclose on the property, the agreement notwithstanding. Presumably they did, and Messrs. Godfrey & Betts could celebrate, if they wished, their undisputed title to a hole in the ground, a crumbling villa, and several thousand acres of the Pines.

A little about Mr. Godfrey. Born in 1857, he came from a manufacturing family of some means in Bridgeport, and seems to have been an ingenious engineer and a man of boundless energy. He became president of the Compressed Paper Box Co., of Bridgeport, in 1886, I think, succeeding Amos Treat, and did not sell out until 1922. He also married a Beers heiress, Mary Elizabeth Giles (who died not long after the clubhouse burned, in November 1916), and it may be fairly said that his interest in cranberry farming got the heirs more return on their New Jersey lands than anything else that was tried. He seems to have made a favorable impression on the Mt Holly paper; apparently he lived principally at Chatsworth at some period prior to 1916. Perhaps this was in the run-up to the promotion of the Chatsworth Club in 1904; the minutes of Woodland Township from 1901 show him getting a tax reduction on the clubhouse and paying most of the cost for the township's road machine in exchange for getting to use it on his own projects. He can't have been spending all his time away from Bridgeport, though: in 1902 he was a founder of the Auto Club there, together with Lewis B. Curtis, his wife's cousin's son.

His energy betrayed him, however, after the death of his first wife. In 1919 (he was then about 62), he married the 18-year-old daughter of a deceased friend. The June-December marriage collapsed in 1922; the bride returned to her mother's house, did not remarry, and died the same year he did. He also had to deal with some tax troubles following the sale of Compressed Paper Box; he sold the Connecticut house in 1928, and thereafter seems to have lived mostly in Philadelphia, at 2128 St James Place, doubtless more convenient for trips to the cranberry bogs, although he also had a New York residence at 250 Park Ave.

Godfrey was presumably responsible for pushing forward cranberry cultivation on the holdings of the Beers heirs. From Guy's report on the Jones Mill Tract, it seems as though he bought out the other heirs to obtain sole title to what is now the Parker Preserve cranberry bogs. Albert Stevenson was his on-site manager, but he seems to have made plenty of trips down. This altercation in 1928, in which he was slapped in the face by an angry neighbor to one of his bogs, describes the latter as an "old man" of 67--but Godfrey had just turned 71! He formed the Chatsworth Cranberry Association, and served as President of the American Cranberry Growers' Association in 1935. He sold out to Stevenson and Anthony DeMarco (soon to be just DeMarco) in 1940 and died in Philadelphia in 1949 at the age of 91.

What's not quite clear to me, and probably never will be, is the financial structure of his cranberry farming. Evidently he owned the bog at FPP in his own name, but some of the revenue from the other operations presumably reached the other Beers heirs, through leases or otherwise. This reference from 1913 to "the Ruspalia bogs, about 100 acres", suggests that the Ruspolis did, in fact have a closer association to some of the bogs than the rest of the Beers heirs, although whether they had actual title to them is unknown. Of course, the Ruspolis didn't seem very interested in Chatsworth. As McPhee pithily put it: "The native prince...spent one afternoon in the town. He is now dead." But here, especially, the true story is not quite what has been told, as we will find in part 3.
 
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Scroggy

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Jul 5, 2022
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Part 3: A Pack of Princes
The Almanach de Gotha, that famous handbook of European nobility, lists the five sons of Prince Mario Ruspoli:
  • Costantino Carlo Michele Agustino (b. July 8, 1891)
  • Marescotti Carlo Maurizio Gilberto (b. October 17, 1892)
  • Alessandro Edmondo Eugenio (b. May 14, 1895)
  • Emmanuele Costantino (b. June 5, 1900)
  • Carlo Maurizio Giuseppe Edgardo Francesco (b. August 25, 1906)
Now, according to the conventional narrative, the prince born at Chatsworth and nursed by Myrtle Buzby was the firstborn, Prince Costantino. "The Trail of the Blue Comet" names him; and this belief was current when Willis Buzby died in 1939, as his obituary recites the story and notes that the prince is now in "the service of Benito Mussolini". Princes Costantino, Marescotti, and Maurizio all joined the Italian military. Lt-Col. Prince Marescotti Ruspoli and Capt. Prince Costantino Ruspoli both became officers of the "Folgore" [lightning] Division of paratroopers, and were both killed at Second El Alamein, where the "Folgore" put up a remarkably sharp fight, repelling several attacks before being annihilated for want of ammunition and fuel. Maj. Prince Maurizio, in the Air Force, survived the war but died in 1947.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is wrong, as can be seen by a careful examination of the dates in part 1. Costantino and Marescotti were both born in New York, as attested by their birth certificates. It was Edmondo who was born in the then-new villa in Chatsworth and cradled by Mrs. Buzby. Further corroboration can be obtained by searching the national newspapers of January 1893. Katie Sheridan, formerly the nurse to Prince Mario's household, went off with a quantity of her mistress' clothing and jewels, and was arrested in New York for the same. She threatened to reveal family secrets if not released, and some of the more enterprising reporters wormed them out of her and printed the breathless news that the heiress Adele Stevens had become so infatuated with the Princess' father, the Marquis de Talleyrand, and so annoyed his wife (the former Miss Beers) that Stevens agreed to pay her an annuity not to interfere with their relations. Unhappily for Katie, Stevens had already run off with the Marquis, paid some of his debts, and gotten married to him after their respective divorces, as long ago as 1887, all of which had been reported in the New York Times. It did not end well for Katie; but the stories reported that she had lived with the couple in Washington, New York, and Lenox, Mass. Chatsworth, and Mrs. Buzby, were not yet in the picture.

So it was, in fact, the third son, Prince Edmondo, who was the "prince of Chatsworth". It is not easy to piece together information about him. Apparently he and Prince Emmanuele both spoke English, lived for some time in the US, and were extras in the banquet scene in Ben-Hur in 1959. See this message board thread. He was evidently trained as an engineer, and as "E A Ruspoli", took out a number of aviation patents. He was employed as an engineer and a representative by Bendix Aviation at this time. He filed intention of naturalization papers in 1940, but apparently did not follow through and remained a citizen of Italy, living at 23 Via Lisbona, Rome. He married Marthe-Marie de Pineton de Chambrun, a descendant of Lafayette, in 1924. They separated sometime in the 1940s, and she went off to live in Tangier and practice amateur archaeology, convinced that early Phoenician civilization had originated in Atlantis. Before their separation, they had three children; their only son Mario Ruspoli became a documentarian of some repute. Prince Edmondo and his daughter Giacinta visited Godfrey for what must have been the last time in 1948. The Prince was still filing patents (for a machine to help practice one's golf swing) in 1968 and died in Rome in 1975.

Immigration records show that Prince Edmondo made regular trips to the United States, always visiting Jonathan Godfrey, and indeed lived with him at intervals in the 1910s and 1920s. Rumor had linked him with the breakup of Godfrey's second marriage in 1922, but Godfrey denied this, and the subsequent relations between them suggest this was mere gossip. It is easy to imagine amity between these two engineers. Prince Edmondo certainly knew Chatsworth, although it's easier to imagine him discussing cranberry packing machinery with Godfrey than taking in the ruins of his birthplace. The New York Times sent a reporter to the Cranberry Festival in 1989 and got this from Amelia Green: ''My father worked for a man named Jonathan Godfrey, and he and the Prince owned bogs here. I remember my mom would cook dinner for the Prince, and at the time it was taken for granted. He seemed like any other person from New York City to those of us in the pines. I do remember, though, the thrill of seeing the chauffeured Packard, which did make quite an impression on us.'' I have yet to find contemporary reporting on the 1927 visit--perhaps that was Prince Costantino's only trip to what, after all, was not his birthplace--or perhaps it was Prince Edmondo's only visit before the villa burned down.

Much still remains a mystery--the exact terms of Ruspoli and Godfrey's cranberry bogs as part of the Beers inheritance, the protagonist of the visit of 1927. But if this has stripped a little bit of the romance from the tale of the absent prince, it has given our histories a little more accuracy, and revealed a few more mysteries, lurking like cannonballs in the Mordecai Swamp. (I feel like that poultry company in Brown's Mills is going to be a winner.)
 

bobpbx

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My God, you did a lot of history searching here. I started reading it, but decided to wait a few days until I have more time and less distracted from work. Well done, I can tell. That's a hell of a name: "Don Mario dei Principi Ruspoli-Poggio Suasa". Did you come across any photos?

PS: if you have more "Parts" to include, I'll delete this comment to maintain a fluid history.
 

Scroggy

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Nah, that was the last part. It's mostly little fragments carefully extracted by targeted searches in Google Books, the Library of Congress newspaper database (patchy but still useful!) and some other odds and ends. I find writing up pieces like this helps me integrate what I've been learning, and then, as Mark Twain put it, "Information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter".

I think, if I understand the rules of Italian nobility correctly, there's only one "Prince of Poggio Suasa" at a time; all his sons would be styled Don [name] "dei Principi Ruspoli-Poggio Suasa", "of the princes Ruspoli-Poggio Suasa". In Part 3 I just threw in the towel and called them all "Prince", which is a good American approach to the problem.

There's a photo of Prince Mario and each of his sons at this geni.com family tree, I guess from some more distant relative's collection. This picture (a Bendix publicity photo) shows Edmondo on the left and his brother Carlo Maurizio (the aviator) at center. This image, given the Hollywood context, is probably either Edmondo or Emanuele. It gets confusing; there are several different branches of the Ruspoli family. I get the distinct impression that this branch, at least, had plenty of money (unlike the Talleyrand-Perigords, who needed stiff infusions of American money to live up to their titles).
 

stiltzkin

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Feb 8, 2022
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This is a really impressive and well-written essay - cheers and thank you for posting it. This is front page material - I think those should make a comeback.

It looks like you have done more thorough research on this topic than a lot of authors who published books that cover this. Of course, the Internet is a large advantage :)

I have been thinking about this post for a while now, and I just have a few thoughts:

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is wrong, as can be seen by a careful examination of the dates in part 1. Costantino and Marescotti were both born in New York, as attested by their birth certificates. It was Edmondo who was born in the then-new villa in Chatsworth and cradled by Mrs. Buzby.
This is the most interesting part to me, if accurate. That would mean that all of the published accounts are wrong. The historical signs near the site of the villa and club would also be wrong, and should be updated (they should really be updated regardless, as they misspell Costantino as Constantino). I assume you were able to find the birth certificates for the two eldest sons showing that they were born in New York. Were you also able to find Edmondo's birth certificate? It looks like the state archives may be able to retrieve it for a $10 fee, if you haven't already tried that. That would provide very definitive proof.

Further corroboration can be obtained by searching the national newspapers of January 1893.
I am a little confused by this. What happened in January 1893? You have Edmondo being born in May 1895.

He was employed as an engineer and a representative by Bendix Aviation at this time. He filed intention of naturalization papers in 1940, but apparently did not follow through and remained a citizen of Italy, living at 23 Via Lisbona, Rome.
Edmondo would be an Italian citizen through his father, but if he was born in Chatsworth, would he not also be a US citizen? Would he have needed to file naturalization papers?

I have yet to find contemporary reporting on the 1927 visit--perhaps that was Prince Costantino's only trip to what, after all, was not his birthplace--or perhaps it was Prince Edmondo's only visit before the villa burned down.
I wonder about this visit, as well. By 1927 the club would have been nothing but a charred and overgrown ruin (as evidenced by Beck's late 1920s or early 1930s account, which mentions the remains of at least two large chimneys and big piles of brick) and I'm sure the house was in terrible, abandoned condition. I can picture what it would have been like to stand there. It must have been a somber visit, regardless of which son it was.

Speaking of the ruins, it is notable how little evidence, in terms of contemporary aerial photography as well as artifacts in present day, exists to attest to the existence of these two structures. On aerials taken just a few years after the villa burned down, and I suppose roughly contemporary with Beck's account, there is virtually nothing to be seen, not even clearings or driveways. Maybe if you squint. I found a pile of red bricks at the linked location some years ago, but I am not certain if they are from the time period. Beck also mentions non-native pines planted around the club, but I can't say I've seen those, either. A few additional photos are here to give more context. I guess none of this should really be too surprising. I continue to be impressed with how quickly the woods will reclaim an abandoned site.
 
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Scroggy

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Thanks for your kind words! I'm a little pressed right now, but I'd be happy to try to clean this up a bit for the front page in the future.

There was a lot of careful nosing around in online sources for this one, but there's a lot more potential archival work. The Curtis family papers at Yale would throw some light on these subjects, to say nothing of deed histories within the Jones Mill tract, etc. The scope of those papers suggest that the Pines were something of a side-show for the family as a whole. I also just stumbled on this account, in Spanish, of the recent history of the Ruspoli family, as assembled by the 3rd Duke of Morignano from his relatives. It throws some more light on the picture: apparently, Bessie, Marquise de Talleyrand-Perigord, was a "queen bee" who domineered the rest of the family, and a very successful matchmaker, although the couples did not always subsequently appreciate this. Prince Mario was never quite reconciled to the fact that his mother-in-law also got her much younger sister married to his much older father! The three children of this marriage (the 1st Duke of Morignano, his brother Don Eugenio and sister Dona Vittoria) were apparently raised together with their first cousins and half-nephews, Prince Mario's sons. (The account also varies in its spelling of "Costantino" vs "Constantino"!)

Bessie apparently also arranged Prince Edmondo's rather unsuccessful marriage. Dona Vittoria states "Edmundo was not a hero like the others: with infirm health, he stayed at home inventing useless items. He was always tripping over his electrical wires scattered a little everywhere. But everyone follows his craft and he always considered himself an inventor...Edmondo was the most cultured and intellectual of all of us..." After a few years he left his family to move to America and continue as an inventor (his Bendix period) but he was interned as an enemy alien in the early part of WWII and subsequently returned to Rome. As the son of an Italian diplomat, he would have been an Italian citizen, though born in America.

The newspaper coverage of the Kate Sheridan (Rickert) episode in January 1893 notes where she'd lived with Prince Mario's family as the nurse (for the two older sons) and doesn't include Chatsworth. It's not directly relevant, but it's very, very funny. Kate seems to have been under the impression she could threaten the family with revelation of their secrets, which some of the reporters then got out of her anyway: here is (for instance) the Waterbury Democrat of January 4 reporting that Mrs. Frederick Stevens had agreed to pay Marquise Bessie an annuity for a free hand with her husband...while the New York Sun of the same date pointed out that "Mrs. Rickert had probably never heard of the famous Talleyrand-Stevens story of 1887, or she would not have supposed that the misinformation she had would protect her from arrest for theft." Imagine the conversation in which a newspaper editor who printed Kate's revelations is (re-)acquainted with "the famous Talleyrand-Stevens story of 1887". Then imagine the editor's conversation with the reporter who got it out of Kate. (Twain and Kipling are good for furnishing period color as you imagine this.) And then imagine what Bessie must have said when the newspapers rehashed the story of how her husband ran off with a rival heiress!

This was a fun piece to research. As is often the case, Beck's story invites us to make certain romantic assumptions about the principals that don't really stand up. The somberly indifferent Prince, cloaked in old-world hauteur and reserve; Jonathan Godfrey, the nobleman's faithful major-domo, loyally awaiting his return. Actually, they were two wealthy cousins in a Packard, probably discussing how to build a mechanical cranberry rake and generally nerding out about engineering. Honestly, I think I like them better this way. I feel like they would have been fun to know. That article about the breakup of Godfrey's second marriage when he was 65 notes that he was last in the news having won a judgment against the White City Park Company "for injuries received while riding on a chute in the 'Funny House'."

You can't help but admire a guy going down the chute in the 'Funny House' at age 65 (in 1922!) The man had spirit. He'd probably do a PBX hike if we had him around now.
 
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