A Brief History of Cassilis Farm

Reprinted with permission of the New Marlborough 5 Village News

Cassilis Farm, which looks out upon Mount Everett from its perch on Route 57, just a bit north of New Marlborough Village, may be a mystery to newcomers to town, but it has a storied history. In its first incarnation, it was known as Brookmead Farm. The original house burned to the ground but was rebuilt in 1890 just as it had been. Around that same time, during the so-called “Gilded Age,” a small number of men of New York patrician families discovered the rustic beauty of New Marlborough and began to acquire tracts of land here. Foremost among these was Hildreth Kennedy Bloodgood, who was looking for a good place to bring the Hackney horses and ponies, numbering around 200, that he had purchased in England. He acquired large parcels of land to the north and east of New Marlborough Village, established Mepal Farm, and built a manor house on the property. After that house burned down, he built another, this time of stone. Today, after a long succession of owners, this manor is the home of the Center for Motivation and Change.

Cassilis Hackey ponies posing at an undated horse show, likely in the early
1960’s, with Mrs. J. Macy Willets at the reins.
Archival photo courtesy of New Marlborough Historical Society

Howard Willets, another wealthy New Yorker and good friend of Hildreth Bloodgood, had a disaster (yet an- other fire!) at his extensive Jersey cattle and thoroughbred horse farm, known as Gedney Farm, in White Plains, New York. As a result, he bought a down-at-the-heels farm in the center of New Marlborough Village, built a magnificent horse barn and dairy which exist today, and which we know as…Gedney Farm.

But what’s that got to do with Cassilis Farm, one might ask. Both the Bloodgood and Willets families were deeply involved in breeding and showing their horses and dogs, as well as in competing, particularly in the National Horse Show and the Westminster Dog Show. Howard Willets’s son, J. Macy Willets, and Hildreth Bloodgood’s daughter Gladys knew each other from a young age, being in the social fabric of “Old New York” and from participating in these shows. They were a proper match, and, in 1910, they married. The young Mr. Willets bought Brookmead Farm. The couple renamed it Cassilis Farm and set about breeding their own prize-winning Hackney horses and ponies, as well as cocker spaniels and Jersey cows. Eventually, the farm had a stable of sixty horses, along with a souvenir room with hundreds of trophies won at horse and dog shows. The Willetses were quite active for decades in the horse show association and annual exhibitors at Madison Square Garden. In fact, in the November 1, 1958 issue of The New Yorker, in the Talk of the Town section, there appeared a thoroughly informative and complimentary story on Gladys Bloodgood Willets, as she was preparing to participate in the seventy-fifth annual National Horse Show.

Sadly, in October of 1940, Mr. Willets, apparently with intention, shot himself in the head with a .22 caliber rifle in Canaan, and, then, incredibly, managed to drive home to Cassilis Farm, where he ignored his guests, went up to his room, was discovered by a maid, and rushed to Fairview Hospital, where he died. The farm stayed in the Willets family ownership until Mrs. Willets sold it in 1975, but she lived on until 1984. Her granddaughter, Angie Pell, a lifelong accomplished equestrian in her own right, has sustained the Bloodgood/Willets family connection to New Marlborough, returning here each summer to her rustic home at the base of Dry Hill.

A notable chapter in the history of Cassilis Farm occurred between the years 1976 to 1978, when the founder of the international art movement known as Fluxus, George Maciunas, resided there. According to an article by Adele Holman in the July 2007 New Marlborough 5 Village News, “…John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were early and very active Fluxus artists, staged a ‘Happening’ at the New Marlborough dump on Halloween….” John and Yoko must have had an extended stay at Cassilis Farm, or a number of visits, as there is a photograph of John sledding with his young son Sean down a snowy embankment with the house in the background.

In the mid-1980s, the property was acquired by Jane Carpenter. Jane was a nurse, a local business person, and a caregiver of abused children. After her death in 2017, her son Jeff and his wife Winona continued to live there until the sale of the property to the John Dewey Academy. A new chapter now begins in the saga of Cassilis Farm.