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Marist owns Mansion, it’s a Payne

Tony Sills sits crossed legged on a pert leather sofa, the receding evening sun pools over an expanse of hexagonal tile, colliding against chiseled limestone pillars which dates back to the time of the Rockefellers. He is the current occupant of the Payne Mansion, a 42,000-square-foot Beaux Arts-style palazzo constructed in 1905 by the same architectural firm that erected the New York Public Library and the Frick Museum, and located a short 20 minutes across the Hudson from Marist. screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-23-50-am

Sills was not looking for a new job when Marilyn Murray phoned three years ago asking if he would consider taking permanent residency as estate manager of the property, located in Esopus, N.Y. He admits with a twinkle, “I wasn’t looking, but as they say, ‘the winds came my way.’”

The mansion resides on a 60-acre expanse overlooking the Hudson River and was gifted to Marist by Mr. Rich, alongside an additional 10-million-dollar endowment in support of the Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development. Rich became a huge fan of Marist football and subsequently developed a fantastic friendship with Marist’s President Emeritus, Dr. Dennis J. Murray. Next to the the Marist Brother’s Center at Esopus youth retreat home, the mansion is closed to the public for tours and general perusal. “We have faculty parties, leadership events, dinners, photoshoots, but no weddings—never weddings,” Sills chuckles.

14803031_1558378844188055_947642883_oThe front façade of the house may be likened to a miniature White House, with wrought iron gates opening up to a splendid front hall spilling out to an inner courtyard. On the ground floor, a bright reception room and oaky library chronicling the estate’s history offsets a brilliant living room complete with mirrors and dainty couches. A back terrace peopled with grand Tuscan columns give way to a hill cascading down to the riverfront.

The land was purchased by Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne in 1905, founder of Clarke, Payne & Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. Moving to New York after becoming treasurer of the Standard Oil Co. when his company was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Colonel Payne resided on the property until his death in 1917. Since then, the estate served as a private estate, then the Episcopal Wiltwyck School for Boys—a favorite of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s—and then provincial offices for the Marist Brothers. 14808884_1558378857521387_1775221385_o

In 1986, the mansion and surrounding grounds was purchased by the late Raymond A. Rich. Rich, as Sills puts it, provided, “A renovation rather than a restoration.” Formerly a “party” house, and one among one of Mr. Rich’s 13 other homes, the estate has been the subject of minimal use throughout the years.

Sills has a keen interest in restoration, imparting, “It’s very important to preserve it and appreciate. Colonel Paine had a lot of interests in different steel companies. After he retired from Standard Oil, he took a lot of his money and helped other companies buy and finance steel and railroad companies. This house reflects that.”

He continues, “The house as well as the other buildings on the property, the stables and barn across the road, is built with steel and poured concrete, even the roof structure is steel. You never have an issue with the wood. The interior walls are primarily brick, with a wood façade, marble façade etc. The house is classified as almost fire resistant, having—in terms of codes—the second safest structure for fire. It’s helped us get a lot of credits so we don’t have to do a lot of things like sprinkler systems and modifications to the original structure of the house.”

Sills has been a bed and breakfast owner, personal butler on the only privately owned estate in Yellowstone National Park, flight attendant and has been heavily invested and interested in restoration and property management. “I always like doing what I do, or it wouldn’t be fun,” he concedes. He loves welcoming guests and spending time chatting with visitors to the house.

Currently, the mansion is used for leadership events in the name of honoring Mr. Rich’s memory and fund. Mr. Rich was a longtime philanthropist, entrepreneur and business genius. He held many positions in the oil and gas industry, providing valuable economic insight, until finally retiring as chairman and CEO of the U.S. Filter Corporation.

Tony Sills, Payne Mansion estate manager

Tony Sills, Payne Mansion estate manager. Photo cred Raphael Beretta.

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