Holiday House (Watch Hill)

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Holiday House
Holiday House on Watch Hill.jpg
Holiday House (left) partially visible on Watch Hill
Holiday House is located in Rhode Island
Holiday House
Holiday House
Location within Rhode Island
Holiday House is located in the United States
Holiday House
Holiday House
Holiday House (the United States)
General information
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; -71.8553000Coordinates: 41°18′28.8″N 71°51′19.08″W / 41.308000°N 71.8553000°W / 41.308000; -71.8553000
Construction started1929
OwnerTaylor Swift
Technical details
Floor area11,000 sq ft (1,000 m2)

Holiday House is an 11,000 square feet (1,000 m2) home, sitting on 5 acres (2.0 ha) in the Watch Hill section of Westerly, Rhode Island, built in 1929-1930 for the Snowden family. Since 2013, it has been owned by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Inspired by the house's history and a former owner, Rebekah Harkness, Swift released a song titled "The Last Great American Dynasty" from her eighth studio album Folklore (2020).


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]


The Snowden family[edit]

Holiday House was built in 1929-1930 for Mrs. George Grant Snowden[2] (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 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.

The Harkness family[edit]

Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness was a progenitor of the extended Harkness family. He and his step-brother, Henry Flagler, and John D. Rockefeller invested heavily in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler, the corporate forerunner to Standard Oil. Harkness became the second-largest shareholder, which made him extremely wealthy.[3] Harkness was a silent partner, though he served on Standard Oil's Board of Directors until his 1888 death.[4][5]

A half-brother of Vanderburgh Harkness, Daniel M. Harkness, was a trustee of Standard Oil and a very rich man (the equivalent of a billionaire in 2013 USD). The money was left to his son, William Lamon Harkness.[6] William died in 1919, with $53,439,000, about 70% of which came from Standard Oil shares.[7] In 2020 USD, the fortune would be worth $800,352,505.14.

William and Rebekah Harkness[edit]

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] After William Hale Harkness died in 1954, Rebekah remarried twice: first to Dr. Benjamin Harrison Kean, then to Niels H. Lauersen.

Rebekah lived at Holiday House after it was sold by the Snowdens in 1948. She apparently was quite unpopular with her neighbors, doing unusual things such as cleaning her pool with champagne. Rebekah 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 in her honor, and created her own dance company: 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]

Gurdon B. Wattles[edit]

The Gurdon B. Wattles family bought Holiday House in 1974,[2] renaming it High Watch. The Wattles family remained at High Watch until 1996.

Taylor Swift[edit]

In 2013, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift purchased Holiday House.[18] From 2013 to 2017, Swift received widespread press coverage for hosting Independence Day parties on the estate, featuring numerous celebrity guests and lavish decorations often depicted on Instagram.[19][20] In 2014, she faced controversy from local Watch Hill 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 erosion, and the area of seawall was on her private beach, which had been used by the public for years prior to her purchase.[21] In 2015, then-Governor (and later Secretary of Commerce) Gina Raimondo proposed a "Taylor Swift tax" on second homes within the state worth over $1 million, which was criticized and was eventually withdrawn.[22] Swift held "secret sessions" at Holiday House in 2014 and 2017, hosting listening parties for groups of fans prior to the release of her albums 1989 and Reputation, respectively.[23] During sessions for Reputation, Swift recorded a live, piano version of a song from the album, "New Year's Day", which debuted on ABC in November 2017.[24]

In 2020, Swift released her eighth studio album, Folklore, featuring a song about the house and life of its previous owner, Rebekah Harkness,[25] entitled "The Last Great American Dynasty".[26] The song also details parallels between Harkness' and Swift's unfavorable press reception at various points due to their personal lives and residence.[27] The song was praised by critics for its lyricism and storytelling.[28]


  1. ^ a b c d e f David, Mark (28 April 2013). "Taylor Swift Spends Big in Rhode Island". Variety. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "ELEVATED ROADS SUED; MR. HARKNESS DEMANDS THE ANNULMENT OF A LEASE. - The New York Times". The New York Times. 16 April 1885.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ "$53,439,000 ESTATE OF WM.L. HARKNESS TO PAY TAX HERE; Large Owner in Standard Oil Company Declared Himself Resident of New York. WEALTH EXCEEDS ESTIMATE His Standard Oil Holdings Alone Valued at $37,272,254 and All Securities at $53,272,254. STATE GOES TO FAMILY Widow, Son and Daughter the Heirs --$400,000 Gift Made to Yale Before His Death". The New York Times. April 10, 1921.
  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.
  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.
  10. ^ Warren, Virginia Lee (July 18, 1971). "The Humble Beginnings Of an Elegant Mansion". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Anne Pierce, 1962 Debutante, Married to Anthony McBride". The New York Times. July 19, 1966.
  12. ^ "Patrician of the Dance; Rebekah West Harkness". The New York Times. August 26, 1966.
  13. ^ McDonagh, Don (November 2, 1967). "Harkness Ballet Takes the Bid Step to Broadway". The New York Times.
  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.
  15. ^ "History". Harkness Foundation. Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  16. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (March 15, 1997). "Lauding and Forgiving a Patron". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Winfrey, Carey (June 21, 1977). "Curtain Falls on Harkness Theater". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Taylor Swift is buying into a rich Watch Hill tradition". The Day.
  19. ^ "All the reasons we miss Taylor Swift's Fourth of July parties". Vogue Australia. 5 July 2018.
  20. ^ "The Definitive Evolution Of Taylor Swift's 4th July Parties". Grazia. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  21. ^ "Taylro Swift is not sorry about the sea wall". Boston Globe. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  22. ^ "'Taylor Swift Tax' Defended by Rhode Island Governor". Billboard. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  23. ^ "Taylor Swift invites fans to her NYC, R.I. homes for more '1989 Secret Sessions'". UPI. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  24. ^ Tschinkel, Arielle (November 10, 2017). "Taylor Swift's intimate performance of "New Year's Day" will make you hella emotional". HelloGiggles. Archived from the original on March 2, 2018. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  25. ^ Sager, Jessica (July 27, 2020). "Taylor Swift's Folklore Is Here! And We Broke Down All the Easter Eggs So You Don't Have To". Parade: Entertainment, Recipes, Health, Life, Holidays.
  26. ^ "The wild true story behind Taylor Swift's 'The Last Great American Dynasty'".
  27. ^ Suskind, Alex (December 9, 2020). "Taylor Swift broke all her rules with 'Folklore' — and gave herself a much-needed escape". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on March 12, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2020.
  28. ^ Chiu, Melody. "Taylor Swift Reveals the Empowering Story Behind the Folklore Lyric That Makes Her 'Really Proud'". Archived from the original on March 3, 2021. Retrieved March 3, 2021.