Dedicated to the conservation of

Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve

The Caumsett Foundation


In the1920s, automobiles became status symbols. Before the Great War, just having a car was a sign of wealth, but in the new decade, car makes became linked to snobbery and class consciousness.

  1. BulletCaumsett's 1932 Circus Party

By Walter D. Kolos

When Caumsett was under construction in the 1920s, America was witnessing the explosive influence of the automobile.  After World War I, cars were all the rage, and Henry Ford’s assembly line process made the cars affordable for all, especially with the introduction of the Model T, and later the Model A.  The nation was awash with automobile makers, and an endless stream of car brands—Auburn, Davis, Durant, Locomobile, Packard, Peerless and Maxwell, just to mention a few. Roads and highways were being improved to accommodate the new vehicles and the traffic jam had already become a reality.

In the1920s, automobiles became status symbols. Before the Great War, just having a car was a sign of wealth, but in the new decade, car makes became linked to snobbery and class consciousness. The initial fascination with mechanical technology no longer sufficed.  Appearances were everything. Advertisements depicting elegant passengers being chauffeured in gorgeous limousines were an effective marketing tool in high- end magazines.  Emotion, not intellect, sold cars.  Advertisers also appealed to women of means, seducing them with offers of a wide range of colors and luxurious interior appointments.

Caumsett, one of the grandest estates in America, was never noted for its automobile collections.  The other large estates on the Gold Coast were famous for their motorcar equipages. At these places, American makes such as Packard, Pierce- Arrow and Cadillac were all the rage.  Rolls Royce, Hispano-Suiza and Benz were the preferred European imports.

However, Caumsett definitely was planned with the automobile in mind.  The two hundred acre estate was traversed with endless miles of paved concrete roads, all carefully graded and incorporating hand laid stone gutters with extensive drainage systems. Even the secondary, unpaved roads were carefully planned.

All the homes and buildings at Caumsett—from the Main House—to the smallest staff cottages were furnished with garages.  The grandest of these was the Master’s Garage just to the east of the Main House. Designed by John Russell Pope, it was a mansion in itself. It was a masterpiece of Georgian architecture, complementing the Main House just to the west.

On the upper level (west side) of the Master’s Garage were three large bays with arched fan windows above the double doors. Guest’s cars and the Buick hunting station wagon were parked here. At the lower level, in back, were eight garage bays which housed the Field family automobiles. It was said that Marshall Field never visited the garage to get a car. The needed car was always driven to the front of the Main House.

The Master’s Garage was a unique and almost independent establishment.  It not only housed  a wide array of cars, but it provided a mechanic’s garage complete with a dug “pit” in the floor for under carriage work. Here the cars were repaired, tuned up, and underwent the frequent oil changes required back then.  The cars were fueled at the gas pump which stood in the parking lot.  A regular regimen of washing and polishing was conducted here too.  The famous “redbugs,” for the children, were kept here for recharging.

Across the parking lot from the lower garages, to the east, was the Mechanic’s Cottage, which was the residence of the head chauffeur Albert Risebrow and his family.  Incidently, since Caumsett was technically a farm, gas rationing restrictions were not imposed on the place during World War II.

Upstairs in the Master’s Garage were dormitory rooms and full bath for visiting chauffeurs.  Downstairs was the Margey’s apartment.  Mr. Margey was a mechanic, and his wife ran the building, cleaning the dorms and doing odd chores for the chauffeurs such as mending. The visiting drivers took all their meals at the staff dining room in the Main House.

To the surprise and disappointment of many Caumsett Foundation members, the Marshall Fields were not known for having exotic automobiles.  Except for the Rolls Royces of the 1920s, their cars afterwards were primarily Cadillacs and Buicks.  There were also Chryslers, Plymouths and a variety of other automobiles.

The Fields seemed to be particularly fond of Buicks, and had 1936 and 1937 four door Roadmaster convertibles powered by the famous Buick straight eight engines. Ryerson Motors in Huntington serviced all the Buicks.  Pase Motors (Dodge/Plymouth) on Jericho Turnpike at New York Ave. supplied parts for the farm group vehicles, and would do special repairs if necessary.

Mrs. Field had a maroon 1942 Plymouth convertible which was purchased just before Pearl Harbor—this car would have to do for the war years.  After the war, she had her famous gray Packard Clipper (which eventually ended up as a taxi cab in Huntington).  Marshall Field had a custom made 1953 royal blue Oldsmobile, with a white interior—very unique for its day.

At the farm group complex, there were many garages to house the trucks and tractors necessary for estate work.  There was a large truck made by the REO Company (Ransom E. Olds).  This truck would deliver ice and milk to the estate employees from the Caumsett dairy on a daily basis. The REO would also be driven to Huntington to pick up day workers.  Caumsett milk was sold commercially,  under the auspices of Brush’s Dairy in Huntington.  The estate was never involved in the direct sale of their milk products.

Although the age of the horse and wagon had not disappeared in America, Caumsett was a thoroughly motorized estate. Its construction and functioning capabilities all depended on the motor vehicle and the new road building technologies. The automobile, which evolved tremendously during the 1920s, found its place at Caumsett.

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In the1920s, automobiles became status symbols. Before the Great War, just having a car was a sign of wealth, but in the new decade, car makes became linked to snobbery and class consciousness.