On misty mornings, the majestic seaside Eolia Mansion displays itself atop its Great Lawn, like a guardian of Long Island Sound itself. Named “Eolia” after the island home of Aeolius, the Greek God of the Winds, the Mansion on its breezy perch is a three- story Italianate structure constructed from cement blocks formed on the Harkness property. It was the treasured summer home of Edward and Mary Harkness.
Eolia’s roof is constructed of Italian earthenware tile with a fired green glaze. The Mansion houses 20 bedrooms, 14 baths, and 11 fireplaces. All fireplaces, but one, are made of Italian marble. All, save one, of the predominately Venetian chandeliers were original to the property.
Today the first floor, which once was filled with priceless artwork, is empty of furnishings to best accommodate the innumerable special events hosted in this beautiful setting. The second floor is only accessible through docent led tours.
The Music Room, once a place for the Harkness’s entertainments, has a wonderful view of the Pergola that stands at the north end of the Italian or West Garden. The Pergola, designed by James Gamble Rogers, was a birthday gift to Mary from Edward.
The spacious Living Hall, at the south side of the Mansion, has large windows that open all the way into the ceiling and welcome the cooling summer breezes from Long Island Sound into Eolia’s first floor.
The Breakfast Room with its breathtaking views of the Sound, also overlooks the tranquil heliotrope filled East Garden. On its ceiling are murals of floral arrangements depicting the four seasons of the year. The remnants of the original murals were happily discovered during the process of building restoration in 1996; the murals were painstakingly recreated by artist Rex Newell prior to the Mansion’ re-opening. Many bridal couples choose to highlight their wedding cakes under the charming floral Venetian chandelier in the center of the room,
Edward Harkness’ Study has highly polished black walnut paneling. The portrait of Edward that hangs above the fireplace is hung there with permission from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The Butler’s Pantry has a full refrigerator, a Monel sink and an early 20th century “state of the art” phone system.
The Kitchen features a French coal burning stove and a 1920 electric range. The Servants’ Pantry or Cutting Room was utilized to prepare the many floral arrangements that always graced the mansion when the Harknesses were in residence. Abundant perennials and annuals from the extensive estate gardens allowed for ever- changing seasonal displays.
The dumbwaiter, beside the oak-paneled Servants’ Dining Room, traverses from the basement to the third floor.
The back staircase leads to the Servants’ Quarters, nine rooms that housed the unwed female servants. These simple accommodations each had a bed, a desk, a sink and closet, but spectacular views of the sea or grounds. A communal bathroom and powder room served all nine residents.
The servants’ rooms were steps away from the three second floor Guest Rooms. Today, one of the guest bedrooms has been converted to a ”Museum Room” where photos and historic artifacts are displayed. Two portraits of Mary and Edward Harkness hang there: the paintings were commissioned from artist Cynthia Barbeau of Old Lyme by FOH.
At the west end of the second floor, Mary Harkness’s ‘s elegant bedroom connects to that of her husband though an elaborate bathroom fed by both fresh and salt water. The décor of Edward’s room is more “masculine” and restrained than Mary’s, but lovely in its own right.
The third story had more guest rooms and a living room but presently is not open to tours due to fire safety regulations.
Eolia remained in the Harkness’ possession until Mary’s death in 1950 at which time it was willed to the State of Connecticut.
Guided tours are held every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day and upon advanced special request. Each tour is about 30 minutes in duration. Doors open at 10 am with the last tour starting at 1:30pm. Donations graciously accepted.
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Designed by James Gamble Rogers, this multi-use support compound is currently undergoing restoration. In the past, this building provided living quarters for male staff and when needed, accommodations for male guests. The South Wing of the building served as a clubhouse for Edward Harkness and his friends, with a billiards room, squash court, and two bowling lanes. The central block contained a garage with a turntable to facilitate the parking of limousines, a gas pump and a car wash.
The North Wing contained the horse stables, carriage area, tack room, smithy, and even a space dedicated to dog grooming.
Perhaps most importantly, the Carriage House was the location for the furnace room with its huge steam boiler. This boiler heated the Carriage House as well as the Mansion via an underground steam line.
The 6,000 square-foot Greenhouse, designed and manufactured by the world -renowned Lord and Burnham glasshouse company, was originally constructed in 1910 to support the estate’s gardens. It has been partially restored thanks to 20 year fundraising by the Friends of Harkness, matching funds accrued from the State staff run Mansion Rental Program. This facility once contained rare and exotic tropical and sub-tropical plants. Vines imported from Europe by the Harknesses in the 1930’s survive today in an un-restored wing. Another section of the greenhouse contains an indoor tiled pond to over-winter carp. Ornate cypress woodwork and entrance canopies also grace the structure. Also a charming potting shed stands to the rear of three central glass houses restored in 2014. Today, members of FOH grow tender plants, such as the Harkness heliotrope in the restored portions.