The Swope's mansion in Sands Point is about to be destroyed, forever closing another chapter in Port Washington's illustrious history. It is happening all too often. In the quest for modernization and expansion, developers are carving up our community's notable sites, leaving a void in our town's historic genealogy.
All my life here on the peninsula, I have heard the Swope's mansion at Lands End referred to as the Gatsby house. Many people accept this as fact. F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel, The Great Gatsby, included a character like Herbert Bayard Swope. He was a man larger than life, and people knew or heard about dignitaries and other people of high regard being entertained at his home just like Mr. Gatsby in the novel. In his memoirs, Swope's son mentioned a time when F. Scott Fitzgerald was found sleeping on the lawn of his father's home after a night of partying. We also know people like, Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill (his son), Averill Harriman, Albert Einstein, Alexander Woolcott, and more who visited Swope. With information such as this, it is plausible that a connection exists between Fitzgerald's novel and the Swope's mansion.
Many people have referred to the tip of our peninsula as the "East Egg," another reference from The Great Gatsby. And we all know of the origins of "The Gold Coast."
Someone once told me that history is sometimes recorded and remembered through regional perspectives. This is accomplished when a community's history is interpreted from the local lore and stories passed down from the people who lived there. In Port Washington, the regional accounts of the Swope's family and home along with the many references to F. Scott Fitzgerald's work give importance to the preservation of the mansion. Maybe this fictitious home was Beacon Towers instead, or another home long gone. Swope's mansion became the place of our local folklore and has been recognized as such for many years.
Although no one can prove that Stanford White did or did not design the colonial revival home for A. C. Sloane, what has become of even greater value here is the myth. We have enjoyed imagining what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall at Swope's mansion during those high times in the 1920s. Even if the mansion is raised to the ground it will always be the home of "The Great Jay Gatsby" for many of us.
As a local preservation builder I have brought several homes back to their original condition, some dating back to the early 19th century. Swope's home could be saved if the owner was interested, or felt the myth held a special value.
Many years ago the Baxter homestead was subdivided and developed, but the developer not only spared the house but named the subdivision after it. Today it is a separate incorporated village named Baxter Estates. Today the home is a recognized landmark, it would be wonderful to see the developer of the Swope's estate take the same path.