Holiday House (Watch Hill)

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


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.[1] Harkness was a silent partner, though he served on Standard Oil's Board of Directors until his 1888 death.[2][3]

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.[4] William died in 1919, with $53,439,000, about 70% of which came from Standard Oil shares.[5] In 2020 USD, the fortune would be worth $800,352,505.14.

William and Rebekah Harkness[edit]

William fathered two children with Edith Hale:[6] Louise Hale Harkness (1898–1978) who married David Sinton Ingalls, and William Hale Harkness.[7] In 1947, William Hale married Rebekah Semple West,[8] who was previously married to Dickinson Pierce, a descendant of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States.[9] 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 built in 1930. 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.[10] She withdrew funding when the Ballet refused to rename in her honor, and created her own dance company: Harkness Ballet,[11] hiring most of the Joffrey Ballet's dancers.[12] The Harkness Ballet closed in 1975.[13] Rebekah also funded medical research.[14][15]

Taylor Swift[edit]

In 2013, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift purchased Holiday House.[16] In 2020, Swift released her eighth studio album, Folklore, featuring a song about the house and its previous owner, Rebekah Harkness,[17] entitled "The Last Great American Dynasty".[18]


  2. ^ "Biggest Trust of All; Looking into the Standard Oil Monopoly. John D. Rockefeller Telling About the Trust and Showing the Agreement of Shareholders". February 28, 1888 – via
  3. ^ "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". November 20, 1917 – via
  4. ^ "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". September 21, 1907 – via
  5. ^ Times, Special to The New York (April 10, 1921). "$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" – via
  6. ^ "$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.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ Warren, Virginia Lee (July 18, 1971). "The Humble Beginnings Of an Elegant Mansion". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Anne Pierce, 1962 Debutante, Married to Anthony McBride". The New York Times. July 19, 1966.
  10. ^ "Patrician of the Dance; Rebekah West Harkness". The New York Times. August 26, 1966.
  11. ^ McDonagh, Don (November 2, 1967). "Harkness Ballet Takes the Bid Step to Broadway". The New York Times.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "History". Harkness Foundation. Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  14. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (March 15, 1997). "Lauding and Forgiving a Patron". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Winfrey, Carey (June 21, 1977). "Curtain Falls on Harkness Theater". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Taylor Swift is buying into a rich Watch Hill tradition". The Day.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "The wild true story behind Taylor Swift's 'The Last Great American Dynasty'".

Coordinates: 41°18′29″N 71°51′19″W / 41.3080°N 71.8553°W / 41.3080; -71.8553