If approved by the borough of Cornwall in the next 60 days, the private carriage road to the mansion will find new use as a construction entrance. Work could begin by the end of this year or as late as spring 2005.
Millwood was built during the Gilded Age of the newly rich Americans at the turn of the century the Astors, the Vanderbilts, the Choates and the architects who created their mansions. Millwood was completed in 1881, the result of a marriage between two of America's first families: the Aldens of Massachusetts, who came over on the Mayflower, and the Colemans of Pennsylvania, whose ironworks supplied ammunition from the Revolutionary to the Civil wars.
Millwood's architect was Stanford White of the partnership of Mead, McKim and White, among the top two or three most influential architects in American architectural history, according to Richard Guy Wilson.
"This is really one of the best, intact and preserved houses of these architects and also one of the best surviving houses of this type (Queen Anne, also called Shingle style)," said Wilson, a professor of architectural history at University of Virginia, an author and a consultant to television documentaries on American architecture.
"It is a wonderful house, a national treasure."
Millwood, later called Alden Villa, is eligible for the National Register of Historic Sites, according to Carol Lee, an historian in the National Register program of the Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission.
"The eligibility," she said, " is determined because of its association with the Coleman family the owners of the Cornwall Iron Company and its signifigance as an early example of the work of Stanford White, a very signifigant American architect."
However, today, vinyl siding covers most of the 19th-century half-timbered exterior walls and handcrafted, shaped wooden shingles. Once carefully tended ivy has taken over and covers first-floor windows, alcoves, benches and gardens. An exotic Japanese maple tree has become a shapeless shrub that obscures a set of shuttered, covered corner porches.
Soon the isolated villa may acquire lots of next-door neighbors.
In a public meeting of the Cornwall borough council, held July 28, developer Louie Hurst of Ephrata presented a plan for a 273-acre parcel of the property to be transformed into a private community (called Alden Place) for people age 55 and over.
Circular driveways would link 93 town homes, 70 single-family units and 275 duplexes ranging from 1,600 square feet to 2,200 square feet. They would sell for $145,000 to $190.000.
Residents would lease the land from Hurst for 50 years. He would retain ownership and responsibility for maintaining roads and separate systems for sewer, water, and recreation in the community. There are no plans for an area of 136 acres on the perimeters of the property.
Hurst is the developer of the Arbor Gate retirement community near Myerstown. Cornwall Borough Council will act on the proposal within 60 days, most likely at its Sept. 13 meeting, according to borough manager Steve Danz.
Millwood sits on its own hillside, buffered from the activity in the valley by ridgeline trees. It is contained within a natural parcel of perhaps 30 acres.
"Our approach to the mansion," said Hurst, "is not to do any harm to it. We are keeping it heated. We are keeping it dry.
"We are working with historical groups to do the right thing.
"It is safe and sound at this point and we will keep it that way.
"There may be people we can partner with in the future, people who are better suited to owning the villa, people who have the means and a vision for its preservation" he said.
Hurst said he has rejected offers to buy the mansion because the proposers did not have the means to preserve it.
"The house has always exerted a mysterious aura," said Wilson, the architectural expert. "It should be better known," he said, because it is a wonderful example of the merger of European architectural styles and details inspired by Colonial American craftsmanship.
Geneology of the mansion
In June 1842, according to York newspapers, Bradford R Alden, an aide-de-camp to Gen. Winfield Scott, married Anne Caroline Coleman. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Burd Coleman; a road in the village of Cornwall still bears his name and winds past Miner's Village and the Coleman iron furnace, now a state museum.
Anne Coleman Alden owned several tracts of land in Cornwall, at that time totalling about 5,000 acres.
For the high ridge of that land, R. Percy Alden, their son, commissioned the summer villa in 1879 through then-26-year-old Stanford White. In that same year, White became the third name in the influential architectural firm of Mead, McKim & White.
Truly a summer villa, the 16-room mansion was lightly used through the years. Its interior is intact, with a great hall, library, dining room and kitchen on the first floor. Fireplace moldings, carved staircases and intricate cabinetry are unscarred and detailed on all three floors of the mansion.
R. Percy Alden died in 1909 and the villa was used by his son, John Percy Coleman Alden, who never married and lived primarily in New York, where he worked with the John Alden Life Insurance Company, according to a deed in the Lebanon County Courthouse.
When John PC Alden died, a public auction was held at the by-then 520-acre estate, according to a front page story in the Intelligencer-Journal of September 17, 1949.
According to the newspaper story, the sale was conducted "in the ballroom," the room that J. Cornelius Peck describes as "perhaps the first English great hall reproduced in America."
Peck is a specialist in interior design and architectural restoration from Bucks County. His book "Stanford White at Cornwall" is available at the state historical site at the iron foundry.
The estate was purchased in 1949 for $88,000 by a representative of Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union of America for use as a recreation center.
The union built a large bathhouse with an adjacent dance hall and stage in the valley below, the area now earmarked for the retirement community. The union created fireplaces and picnic facilities, a dock at the lake, and a large swimming pool.
They installed institutional kitchen facilities and new bathrooms in the mansion and used it for meetings and sleeping facilities.
In 1959 the property was sold to D.M. Stoltzfus Quarry of Talmage which quarried limestone there, until it was put under agreement to Hurst.
As Cornwall Associates, Hurst has spent the last year developing plans for one of the largest community developments in Lebanon County, according Bob Sentz of the Lebanon County Planning Office.
Roberta Strickler's e-mail address is email@example.com