Herkimer County Historical Society

The Garden in the Woods - The Cemetery at Gelston Castle
by Caryl Hopson


TOWN OF WARREN - The Robinson Cemetery in the Town of Warren is one of the few cemeteries in Herkimer County that is not visible from a public roadway. It is situated on a private estate that was once the summer retreat of the Robinson family, last owned by the famous Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya.

After driving down a long woodland path, here you find the location of the burial site set in a picturesque setting with not only a black wrought iron fence to protect it, but, it appeared, a natural barrier of thorn trees that had grown up over the years.

The cemetery stones were laid in perfect symmetry around a main one which was much bigger and topped by a large cross. Here lay the first family members to be buried on the site: Douglas Robinson and his wife Fanny Monroe Robinson.

The cemetery is a legacy to the love the Robinson family had for their summer retreat, best known as Henderson House or Gelston Castle. The property had been in the family since the early 1700's when Dr. James Henderson of Scotland had received a patent in upstate New York from Queen and King of England. It wasn't until the 1780s, however, that his granddaughter, Margaret Douglas, a native of New York City, made her way to the family patent and erected the first family homestead on the property. Her daughter, Harriet Douglas Cruger (1790-1872), was the one to build an additional structure begun ca. 1832-1834, the famous Gelston Castle, named and fashioned after a castle in Scotland owned by her uncle.

Harriet was quite a lady in her own right and a book was written about her titled "Miss Douglas of New York" by Angus Davidson (1953). She can be described as an independent and eccentric woman, who is known to have had her marriage bed sawed in half to make a sofa when she divorced her husband, Henry Nicholas Cruger. She loved her family and her summer home at Henderson and in the book it states, "every summer, as long as her health lasted, the tyrannical old woman - a mixture of Scottish chieftain, English duchess and American pioneer - lorded it over the surrounding neighborhood."

When Harriet died in 1872, the house and estate of Henderson fell to the share of her niece, Fanny Robinson, whom she thought of as a daughter. Harriet wished to be buried at Henderson; however, the family buried her instead in the family plot in a New York City churchyard.

The story of the Robinson Cemetery, therefore, begins with Fanny and Douglas. Fanny was born in New York City on April 14, 1824 to Elizabeth Mary Douglas (Harriet's sister) and James Monroe, nephew of President James Monroe. Fanny's second cousin Douglas Robinson was born in Orchardton, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland on March 24, 1824 to William Rose and Mary (Douglas) Robinson. Fanny's mother Elizabeth (Betsy) and Douglas' mother Mary were first cousins. He was educated in Edinburgh Unviersity and in 1841 came to this country and engaged in business in New York City. The pair fell in love. Douglas did not have much money and the older generation deemed it an unsuitable match adn sent Fanny away to visit relatives in Scotland. However, Fanny showed the true female spirit inherent in her family and married Douglas when she came back in 1850.

The book "Miss Douglas..." reads: "A large wedding reception was given at Fanwood, the house the Monroes had built at Fort Washington, then as a secluded suburb to the north of New York City. The young couple went to live, temporarily, at 55 Broadway, lent to them, together with a carriage and horses, by their fairy godmother Aunt Harriet." And later, in the book, we read: "Douglas and Fanny would visit with their children, Douglas and little Harriet, from their home in New Jersey to visit the formidable old lady in the big hosue in Fourteenth Street in New York City. Amongst the playfellows invited to meet them there was a little boy of almost exactly their own age whose name was Theodore Roosevelt and with him his sister Corinne who later married the young Douglas Robinson."

Fanny died at her summer home Henderson House on Aug. 22, 1906. Her husband Douglas had died Nov. 30, 1893, and were both buried on the family estate in Herkimer County.

Their son Douglas Robinson and his wife Corinne were the next to inherit Henderson House and Gelston Castle. They are buried in Robinson Cemetery as well. Their cemetery stones read that Douglas was born Jan. 3, 1855, and Corinne on Sept. 27, 1861. It is romantic and appropriate that they should meet as children at Aunt Harriet's and make their home during the summers at the estate she dearly loved.

Corinne was the daughter of Theodore Sr. and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt. She was the youngest of four children and the sister of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., president of the United States. She traveled extensively with her family in her younger years - Europe and the Middle East. She wrote poetry and had several volumes published. She had her debut in society in 1880 attended by people with names such as Astor and Vanderbilt. Two years later in April of 1882, Corinne was given in marriage by her brother Theodore to Douglas Robinson.

Corinne and Douglas were very community-oriented. They were one of the major donors for the construction of the Jordanville Library, whose dedication was given in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. An old newspaper recounts Corinne was named head of the women's branch of the Herkimer County Defense Council.

They often had house guests including Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Elinor. Elinor was Corinne's and Theodre's niece. Grandchildren of the Robinson's recall a house party at which Teddy Roosevelt and Elinor Roosevelt were in attendance at Henderson, causing some tension during charades because of their rivaling political parties and beliefs.

Corinne and Douglas Robinson had four children, of which three sons, Theodore, Monroe and Stewart, are buried at Robinson Cemetery. Daughter Corinne married Joseph Alsop and later Francis Cole and msot likely was buried with her husband's family.

Douglas Robinson died on Sept. 12, 1918, and Corinne died Feb. 17, 1933, in New York City. On her gravestone it reads "For She Loved Much." In her will, Corinne gave the portrait of Harriet Douglas by the English artist, Sir William beechey, to her eldest grandson Douglas Robinson. She also left one thousand dollars to the Jordanville Library to be kept in a trust fund in memory of her son Stewart Douglas Robinson.

Theodore Douglas Robinson, the eldest son of Douglas and Corinne, was born April 28, 1883. He continued the tradition of keeping the Roosevelt name in the family when he married Helen Roosevelt, a niece of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was born Sept. 26, 1881, to James and Helen Astor Roosevelt. Theodore and Helen continued to live at Henderson House in his parent's tradition. He was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Coolidge and devoted 14 years to the service of Herkimer County, first as State Assemblyman and then as State Senator. They had four children. Of them, a baby girl named Martha Douglas Robinson was born on Feb. 4, 1912, and sadly died a month later on March 5. She is buried next to her parents in the Robinson Cemetery. Theodore died on April 10, 1934. Helen died July 8, 1962, and was the last of the family line to live in the mansion.

Monroe Douglas Robinson, second son of Douglas and Corinne, was born Dec. 19, 1887 and died Dec. 7, 1944. According to Monroe's obituary, he attended St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H. and Harrow-on-the-Hill, Harrow, England. He graduated from Harvard University. In World War I, he was a captain in the 77th division and served overseas. He married Dorothy Curtis Jordan whom he later divorced and they had one daughter. Monroe was a frequent visitor at Henderson House.

Their third son, Stewart Douglas Robinson, was born March 19, 1889 and died tragically at the age of 19 on Feb. 21, 1909 by falling from a sixth story window while at college.

The last stone in the Robinson Cemetery seemed a little strange as it had a different name than the others and a later date: Paul E. Therriault, born April 2, 1940, and died Oct. 30, 1991. We discovered that he was the caretaker of the estate and permission was received from the Robinson family to bury him there.

After Helen Roosevelt Robinson had died, the property passed to her son Douglas Robinson Jr. who sold it to Mrs. Jan Blair of New Jersey who wanted to operate a retirement home on the property.

It was the end of a bygone era and the days where Gelston Castle and Henderson House were the summer getaway for a family of wealth and notoriety from New York City. A very special place that Margaret and her daughter Harriet had built that would be shared by future generations with fond memories.

* The Legacy articles will be updated monthly on the website *

Previous articles -
* Beardslee Family of Manheim and the Beardslee Mausoleum by Caryl Hopson
* Fire Towers of the Adirondacks by Caryl Hopson
* Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer's Conference at the Unadilla - June 27 and 28, 1777 by Jane Bellinger
* Indian Castle Church by Joe Cirillo
* Christmas in 1898 by Caryl Hopson
* A Day in the Lives of Three Women, Little Falls - 1912 by Jane Dieffenbacher
* A Day in the Lives of Three Men - 1912 by Jane Dieffenbacher
* Able Lawyer, Upright Citizen and Wise Counsellor - Thomas Richardson by Sarah Griffith
* Civil War Letters To Home by Kari Gertz
* The History of Herkimer County Townships by Joe Cirillo
* There Is Much To See in Herkimer County by Joe Cirillo
* The Woman With The Gift To Heal - Lucina Folts by Jane Bellinger
* Murder in Middleville by Jane Dieffenbacher