A starry past

The adjective unique is one that is often overworked but not when applied to Autumn Farms, a magnificent 25-acre horse farm with a five-bedroom Greek Revival residence built in 1838. In addition to what it has to offer today, including a stellar equestrian facility, the remarkable property also has a storied history.

Its original owner, George Fox Bailey, was one of the 19th century’s great American circus showmen, a hugely successful businessman and partner with P.T. Barnum in the “Greatest Show on Earth.” 

CIRCUS TIES

The current owners, former network news executive Paul Friedman and his wife, Gillian, asked North Salem historian Susan J. Thompson to tell them something of the history of their property and she complied.

 “In the early 1700s, when the western two-thirds of North Salem was still part of Van Cortlandt Manor, Levi Bailey leased a large tract on the north side of Hardscrabble Road,” she wrote to the couple in 2012. “He subsequently purchased the land. The Bailey family spread all along Hardscrabble with several farms established.”

Courtesy William Pitt/Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty.

Over the years, the property changed ownership among Bailey family members and the piece now known as Autumn Farms was sold to George Fox Bailey in 1844. George Fox Bailey, son of Hachaliah Bailey of Somers circus fame, followed his father into the traveling circus and menagerie business. The Baileys built the Greek Revival house on Autumn Farms in the mid-19th century.

He was mentioned in historical society bulletins over the years as a great circus showman and successful businessman, a key member of the North Salem circus syndicate referred to as “Thee Flatfoots.” They held a virtual monopoly on circus performances throughout New York state and were a major influence on the menagerie circus business for several decades.

Bailey became a manager for the Turner Circus, marrying the Turner daughter, inheriting the circus and renaming it The George F. Bailey Great American Show, which performed nationwide from 1863 to 1871. Then he became a partner in P.T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth.” Barnum and Bailey threw themselves wholeheartedly into their enterprise, traveling across America by train and going to Africa to acquire animals for the circus menageries. Barns were built in North Salem to house their collection of exotic animals.

After 50 frantic and fun-filled years, Bailey retired from the circus business in 1881 and died in 1903, leaving a rich legacy of circus lore behind. The homes of several of the Flatfoots still stand and many of the group are buried in the June Road Cemetery in Salem Center.Bailey was the last of the Flatfoots to die.

AUTUMN FARMS TODAY

The equestrian estate that is Autumn Farms boasts the original Georgian residence, now beautifully updated, with breathtaking views as far as the eye can see.  A swimming pool, putting green and gardens and three immaculately maintained equestrian buildings are set against a backdrop of rolling fields and forested hills.

Carefully preserved original features throughout the home include wide plank, hand-pegged floors, original fireplaces and historic windows.

A seamless renovation in 2000 of the 5,300 square-foot home added a spacious great room/family room and a Christopher Peacock farmhouse kitchen. The comfortable living space features 11-foot ceilings, a grand fireplace and a wall of French doors and windows opening onto a wide covered porch.

Crown moldings lend a sense of grandeur to the first-floor rooms, which include a sitting room, a library with built-ins and an elegant front parlor and separate dining room, both with wood burning fireplaces. There is also a guest room with updated en-suite bath, a powder room and, next to the kitchen, a convenient mudroom with a door out to the driveway.

On the second floor, the radiant-heated master suite features an exquisitely updated bathroom with a freestanding tub, a separate shower and more of those amazing distant views. Two additional bright and spacious second-floor bedrooms also enjoy commanding views and share an updated bathroom. The third floor has a large family room with an exposed brick wall and a large skylight, a fifth bedroom, an updated full bath and loads of storage.

Courtesy William Pitt/Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty.

HORSE LOVER’S PARADISE

Approached from a separate driveway, the income-producing equestrian area is comprised of two barns with tack rooms and stalls for 35 horses and a pristine heated indoor riding ring with a viewing area as well as an outdoor ring. To gild the lily, there is also a fully equipped Grand Prix field for serious competitors to hone their skills.

The groom’s quarters are located above the garage next to the main house. The equestrian area of the estate is always vibrant and busy with equestrian enthusiasts coming from near and far to board, train and compete.

Current owner Friedman, who has had a long and successful news career spanning the three major broadcast networks, has said that he and his wife are only the fifth owners of the home.  At any given time they have about 30 horses on the property.

Bailey would’ve loved it.

For more, email joanna.rizoulis@juliabfee.com.

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