U S Naval Convalescent Hospital, Harriman, New York 1942 – 1945

“Arden”, the 100,000 square foot mansion built by railroad magnate E H Harriman, was recently in the news, when a Beijing-based non-profit, the Research Center for Natural Conservation, purchased the mansion and surrounding land from the Open Space Institute.(1)

"Arden", the E H / W Averell Harriman Estate

Source: James A Nelson, Town Historian, Town of Monroe, New York

Harriman, a renowned late nineteenth century railroad magnate, started purchasing land in the Ramapo Mountains of eastern Orange (NY) County in 1885. The estate property had grown to around 20,000 acres by the beginning of the 20th century. The noted New York Beaux-Arts architectural firm Carrère and Hastings designed the mansion(2), constructed entirely of American-made and American-sourced materials. They completed their work in the summer of 1909.(3) Harriman died in September of the same year.

Harriman’s son, statesman and diplomat W. Averell Harriman, offered Arden to the Navy for use by the medical department on 6 August 1942. The Navy commissioned the hospital on 16 November and opened it for patients 10 February 1943, with Admiral Charles M Oman, Medical Corps, U S Navy, Retired,  in command.(4) Oman remained the only Admiral to command any of the navy’s 99 commissioned hospitals during World War II. Designated “solely for male officer patients … many [of whom] have been wounded in the various theatres of war… [or] need a convalescent period following fractures and post-operative treatment”, the hospital featured a laboratory, pharmacy, operating room and physical therapy. Its 29 bedrooms provided accommodation for 80 officers.(5)

The 1944 article in the Hospital Corps Quarterly, cited (5) above, describes being hospitalized here: “A patient who has made his way from the steaming jungles of Guadalcanal, from the frigid shores of Iceland, or the burning sands of Africa, who views for the first time the gray towers as he rides through the last [pass in the Ramapo Mountains, naturally begins to wonder what new form of hospital this is.” “Lacking is the usual rushing about of white-clad hospital staff and breath-taking speed of medical men to classify and assign the new patient. The hospital hall with its inviting fire-place, loaded book-cases and beautiful paintings on the walnut-paneled walls makes one think he has wandered into a private palatial home for a week-end party.” Later, “A soft chime rings through the hall summoning the household to the dining room, which is reached by white marble stairs thickly carpeted with plum-colored carpets. The guest arrives at the scene of his first ‘treatment’ – a delicious meal in a tranquil atmosphere of flickering candle light and gay flower clusters on inviting snow-white tables…” “After dinner, the gold room, game room and book-lined lobby attract the patients who choose the entertainments appealing to their fancy. A television receiver (6) draws its quota of devotees. The pool tables, bowling alley, ping pong and library attract others. Motion pictures are shown twice a week.” The article closes, “Nature, the elements and man, have all united to create this quiet haven for convalescent patients; many have returned to active duty with restored health and pleasant recollections of the new war-type hospital”.

The Navy disestablished the hospital 1 November 1945, and in 1950, Harriman donated Arden to Columbia University, during the university presidency of General Dwight D Eisenhower. Columbia operated it as a Conference Center for its business school until July 2005. (7)  In  April 2007, the Open Space Institute, a land conservancy group, purchased the mansion and 450 acres of surrounding land for nearly $4.5 million. The property, entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 by Columbia (see citation 3), remained in OSI hands, unused, at an annual cost of about $3-400,000. OSI’s original intent was to sell the property to New York State, but the plan was overtaken by the economic events. Finally, the Beijing-based charity, Research Center for Natural Conservation – associated with SouFun Holdings, a large Chinese real estate firm, purchased the property for $6.5 million late in 2011. While the charity has not publicly declared its plans for Arden, people associated with the deal opined that the Research Center will continue its use as a conference center.(8)

(1) Daniel Edwar Rosen, “Guilded Age Mansion Changes Hands in Upstate New York for $6.5 million”, The New York Observer, 11/02/11. Accessed on line at
http://observer.com/2011/11/gilded-age-mansion-changes-hands-in-upstate-new-york-for-46-million/, 1 June 2012.
(2)  Carrère and Hastings was a famous Beaux-Arts firm that designed many important buildings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prominent among the architects’ heritage are the New York Public Library, both the Russell Senate and Cannon House Office Buildings in Washington DC and Nemours, the Alfred I DuPont mansion in Wilmington DE. Source: Wikipedia (of course), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carr%C3%A8re_and_Hastings, accessed 1 June 2012.
(3) United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Placws Inventory-Nomination Form, “Arden (E. H. harriman Estate)”, prepared by Richard Greenwood, Historian, Landmark Review Taskforce, 12/17/1975. Accessed on line, http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Text/66000561.pdf, 1 June 2012.
(4) Untitled, undated typewritten document in “Harriman” file located in the collection of the Historical Office of the U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, presently being moved to 1700 Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, VA..
(5) Doty, Francis, Lt(jg), USN and J. L. Heckendorn, PhM2c, USNR, “Naval Convalescent Hospital Harriman, New York”, Hospital Corps Quarterly, Volume 17, Number 5, September 1944. This is in file “Harriman” in the collection of the Historical Office, U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
(6) Television in 1944! According to several on line sources, New York City had three operating commercial TV stations during World War II. While news broadcasts were curtailed through much of the war, sports programming -namely baseball – continued.
(7) Castro, Brian, “Fate of Arden center after closing up in air”, Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), June 16, 2005. Copy of article provided by James A Nelson, Town Historian, Town of Monroe, New York.
(8) Nani, James, “Harriman mansion sold to nonprofit; Historic home may become conference site”, Times Herald-Record, 11/08/11 on line (recordonline.com – harriman mansion sold to nonprofit). Hard copy of article provided by James A Nelson, Town Historian, Town of Monroe, New York.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder

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