High Watch

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

High Watch
High Watch (left) partially visible on Watch Hill
High Watch is located in Rhode Island
High Watch
High Watch
Location within Rhode Island
High Watch is located in the United States
High Watch
High Watch
High Watch (the United States)
Former namesHigh Watch, Harkness House
General information
TypeHouse
Architectural styleColonial-style[1]
Location16 Bluff Avenue, Watch Hill, Rhode Island 02891
Coordinates41°18′28.8″N 71°51′19.08″W / 41.308000°N 71.8553000°W / 41.308000; -71.8553000
Construction started1929
Completed1930
OwnerTaylor Swift
Technical details
Floor area11,000 sq ft (1,000 m2)

High Watch, formerly named Holiday House but locally known as the Harkness House, is an 11,000 square feet (1,000 m2) home situated in Watch Hill, a historic district in Westerly, Rhode Island. The most expensive private home in Rhode Island,[2] High Watch has been owned by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift since 2013 and is a subject of publicity and media attention, mostly known for being the venue of Swift's annual Independence Day parties, attended by a range of celebrities.

A Colonial-style mansion, High Watch sits on a 5-acre (2.0 ha) seafront estate that includes a private beach. The estate is situated atop Watch Hill's namesake hillock, which was used as a strategic lookout point during some battles in the history of the United States.

The house was built in 1929–1930 for the Snowden family, owners of an oil company, who named it Holiday House. It was purchased in 1948 by Rebekah Harkness, socialite and Standard Oil heiress, who became notorious amongst the local residents for her lavish lifestyle there. In 1974, businessman Gurdon B. Wattles purchased and renovated the house, renaming it as High Watch due to its location. Swift purchased the house for US$17,750,000 in 2013, and inspired by its history and Harkness, released the song "The Last Great American Dynasty" in 2020.

Several stalking, trespassing, and home invasion incidents have been reported at the house since Swift's purchase. In 2015, High Watch inspired a proposal by the Governor of Rhode Island to impose a luxury tax on expensive secondary homes in the state. In 2017, Swift was sued over her decision to build a seawall on the beach as plaintiffs argued the beach had been dedicated to the public over the years and Swift had no ownership of it; the courts ruled in Swift's favor. L'Officiel has listed High Watch as one of the most expensive celebrity homes in the Americas.

Design[edit]

Holiday House was built in 1929-1930 by "an eminent Philadelphia architect", in a "hulking Colonial style pile".[1] The house sits on over 700 feet (210 m) of shoreline, containing 8 bedrooms, 10.5 bathrooms and 8 fireplaces.[1] The reception rooms include a 36-foot-long parlor, a 45-foot-long sun room, and an octagon-shaped formal dining room with built-in china cabinets.[1] The kitchen reportedly contains a warming drawer and wine cooler, with an adjoining sitting room. There are four bedrooms on the second floor with en-suite bathrooms, and an expansive master suite with two bathrooms. The suite contains a sitting room with a wet bar as well as a widow's walk terrace.[1] Lower levels include a recreation room, a service kitchen, a five-car garage, and a heated workshop. The estate also contains a swimming pool and a summer house.[1]

History[edit]

Snowden family[edit]

Holiday House was built in 1929-1930 for Mrs. George Grant Snowden[3] (Pearl Pinkerton McClelland Snowden) of Philadelphia, whose husband had died in 1918. It stands as a landmark for sailors on the great bluff from which Watch Hill takes its name. Mrs. Snowden had acquired the historic and dramatic site from the estate of Eugene Atwood in 1929. Holiday House included a large servants quarters on what is now the northeast lawn. The servants quarters were demolished during extensive renovations carried out in the 1970s by Gurdon B. Wattles.

The Snowdens, beginning with George Grant Snowden's father, James McKean Snowden, who was born in 1831 and lived in Pittsburgh, had made their fortune in oil and gas exploration. George Grant Snowden and his brother, James Hastings Snowden, explored for oil first in Pennsylvania and then in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The Snowden family is of Welsh descent, with ties to Welsh, English, and Scottish royals. Mrs. Snowden was a descendant of Pilgrim Edward Fuller, the House of Stuart, and Robert Burns.

The 1938 New England hurricane and associated storm surge caused significant damage to the hillside facing the ocean. In order to stabilize the badly eroded hillside, George Grant Snowden Jr. had thousands of granite boulders put in place, which remain there to this day.

The property was sold in 1948 to Mr. William Hale Harkness, heir to the Standard Oil Company fortune.

Harkness family[edit]

American socialite Rebekah Harkness purchased High Watch in 1948

Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness was a progenitor of the extended Harkness family. He and his step-brother Henry Flagler invested heavily with John D. Rockefeller in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler, the corporate forerunner to Standard Oil. Harkness became the second-largest shareholder, which made him extremely wealthy.[4] Harkness was a silent partner, though he served on Standard Oil's board of directors until his 1888 death.[5][6]

Vanderburgh Harkness's half brother Daniel M. Harkness was a trustee of Standard Oil and a very rich man. He left his money to his son William Lamon Harkness.[7] William fathered two children with Edith Hale:[8] Louise Hale Harkness (1898–1978) who married David Sinton Ingalls, and William Hale Harkness.[9] In 1947, William Hale married Rebekah Semple West,[10] who was previously married to Dickson Pierce.[11] William Hale Harkness died in 1954, and Rebekah remarried twice: first to Dr. Benjamin Harrison Kean, then to Niels H. Lauersen.

Rebekah bought Holiday House from the Snowdens in 1948. She apparently was quite unpopular with her neighbors, doing unusual things such as cleaning her pool with champagne,[12] and gambling with a wide range of guests, such as Spanish artist Salvador Dalí.[2] She used her late husband's fortune to support charitable causes, such as supporting the Joffrey Ballet.[12] She withdrew funding when the Ballet refused to rename itself in her honor, and she created her own dance company called Harkness Ballet,[13] hiring most of the Joffrey Ballet's dancers.[14] The Harkness Ballet closed in 1975.[15] Rebekah also funded medical research.[16][17] Locals today still refer to the house as the Harkness House.[18]

Gurdon B. Wattles[edit]

The Gurdon B. Wattles family bought Holiday House in 1974,[3] renaming it as High Watch. The Wattles family remained at High Watch until 1996.[citation needed]

Taylor Swift[edit]

Taylor Swift, the mansion's current owner

In 2013, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift purchased High Watch,[19] for US$17.75 million.[2] From 2013 to 2016, she received widespread press coverage for hosting her annual American Independence Day parties on the estate, featuring numerous celebrity guests and lavish decorations often depicted on Instagram.[20][21] Cosmopolitan compared the parties to "legendary parties in the history of United States", such as the Met Gala and the Vanity Fair Oscars party, and called it one of the most exclusive invitations in the US.[22] Vanity Fair opined, only "few annual celebrity-hosted gatherings are surrounded by as much outsized mythos as Taylor Swift's Fourth of July party".[23] The parties attracted controversy from local Watch Hill residents, who complained about the influx of paparazzi into Watch Hill and the unsolicited attention that Swift brings to the community.[24][25] The parties were not held from 2017 to 2022; although Swift did not disclose why, media outlets named her step-away from spotlight and the presidency of Donald Trump as reasons. She resumed the party in 2023.[26][27][28]

In 2014, she faced criticism from the residents over a proposal to rebuild a seawall on her property which would reportedly impede public access to the beach. Swift responded that she sought to repair damage from coastal erosion, and the area of seawall was on her private beach, which had been used by the public for years before her purchase.[29] Following a lawsuit in April 2017, the Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision that landowners in Westerly can put up fences to keep strangers off their beach.[30] The attorney general's office and environmental groups argued that the land had been dedicated to the public more than a century ago, but the court disagreed, ruling that the beach is privately owned.[31]

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo proposed a luxury tax on "pricey" second homes within the state worth over $1 million in 2015, which was referred to as the "Taylor Swift tax" in mainstream media. The tax was criticized and was eventually withdrawn.[32] The tax was widely viewed as an obstacle for future tourism in the state, especially since people with second homes spent money without straining infrastructural resources such as school systems. Raimondo defended the proposal as potentially adding $12 million to the state's economy, but then withdrew it.[2]

Swift held the "Secret Sessions" at High Watch in 2014 and 2017, hosting listening parties for select Swifties prior to the release of her albums 1989 and Reputation.[33] On April 2, 2019, a stolen car crashed into the estate's gates following a police chase that started in a neighboring town in Connecticut.[34]

High Watch has multiple "No trespassing" signs.[35] Swift has had several stalking, trespassing, and home invasion incidents at the house since 2013.[36] More than five separate cases have been reported by news outlets,[37][38] with three in 2019 alone.[39][40][41] A female trespasser was arrested in 2023.[35]

In 2020, Swift released her studio album Folklore, featuring a song about the house and life of Rebekah Harkness,[42] entitled "The Last Great American Dynasty".[43] The song details parallels between Harkness' and Swift's unfavorable press reception at various points due to their personal lives and residence.[44] The song was praised by critics for its lyricism and storytelling,[45] and peaked at number 13 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.[46] In 2022, L'Officiel named High Watch as one of the most expensive celebrity homes in the Americas.[47]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f David, Mark (28 April 2013). "Taylor Swift Spends Big in Rhode Island". Variety. Archived from the original on 28 January 2022. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Tremaine, Julie (2020-07-28). "A Brief History of Taylor Swift's Rhode Island Feud". Vulture. Archived from the original on 2022-04-11. Retrieved 2022-10-20.
  3. ^ a b B., Barnes, Chaplin (2005). Watch Hill through time : the evolution of a New England shore community. Watch Hill Conservancy. ISBN 0-9770586-0-3. OCLC 68800469.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "ELEVATED ROADS SUED; MR. HARKNESS DEMANDS THE ANNULMENT OF A LEASE. - The New York Times". The New York Times. 16 April 1885. Archived from the original on 26 July 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  5. ^ "Biggest Trust of All; Looking into the Standard Oil Monopoly. John D. Rockefeller Telling About the Trust and Showing the Agreement of Shareholders". The New York Times. February 28, 1888. Archived from the original on July 25, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  6. ^ "HENRY FLAGLER LEFT $75,000,000 ESTATE; Transfer Tax Report Shows He Spent $50,000,000 on Florida Enterprises. HAD NO AUTO OR JEWELRY Appraiser Reveals the Loss of a List of Personal Effects in Summer Home, Valued at $2,304. Some Articles Excluded. Clerk in Grocery Store". The New York Times. November 20, 1917. Archived from the original on July 25, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  7. ^ "STANDARD OIL TELLS WHO HAS ITS STOCK; List Made Public for the First Time in Government's Suit to Dissolve the Trust. ITS GRIP ON EXPORT TRADE Agreement Produced Preventing Independents from Selling for Export Save to the Standard. Export Agreement Abrogated. Terms of Export Agreement. Domestic Trade Committee. Dismantling of Western Refineries. Sale of Transit Pipe Line Stock". The New York Times. September 21, 1907. Archived from the original on October 20, 2022. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  8. ^ "$12,000,000 HEIRESS, MISS HARKNESS, WED; Daughter of Mrs. William L. Harkness Marries David S. Ingalls of Cleveland LOCUST VALLEY CHURCH Bridegroom, Kin of Chief Justice Taft, Won Distinction as Naval Ace During War". The New York Times. June 28, 1922. Archived from the original on July 26, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  9. ^ "MISS GRANT IS BRIDE OF W. H. BARENESS; Christ Church at Rye, N. Y., Is . Decorated With Lilies and Daisies for Ceremony. THE BRIDAL PARTY LARGE Fergus Reid Jr. Is Best Man for Mr. Harkness; Reception at Home of the J. P. Grants". The New York Times. June 14, 1932. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
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  14. ^ Barnes, Clive (January 15, 1969). "The Dance: Rebekah Harkness Ballet Goes Dutch; Madrigalesco' Given American Premiere 3 Other Works Offered as Troupe Returns". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 7, 2020. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
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  16. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (March 15, 1997). "Lauding and Forgiving a Patron". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 20, 2022. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  17. ^ Winfrey, Carey (June 21, 1977). "Curtain Falls on Harkness Theater". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 20, 2022. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
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  21. ^ "The Definitive Evolution Of Taylor Swift's 4th July Parties". Grazia. Archived from the original on 20 October 2022. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
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