America’s first travel writer, Bayard Taylor regaled readers with tales of his journeys to the Orient, Africa, Russia and beyond. In 1859, he was 34 and already heralded as a poet and author when he decided to put down roots. The 19th-century Marco Polo looked no further than the 200-acre farm across the road from his boyhood home in Kennett Square. He dubbed his estate Cedarcroft in honor of the trees on the property. He even buried Views A-Foot, the account of his European travels, in a time capsule beneath the cornerstone.
More than 160 years later, Cedarcroft is about to embark on the next leg of a long and storied journey that has already included stints as a gathering place for the literary elite, a prep school for boys and the pet preservation project of a DuPont executive. Having stood empty now for 33 years, Cedarcroft awaits a new owner. “We think it’s the most spectacular house in Chester County,” says realtor Holly Gross, who’s listing the manor and its remaining 3.7 acres for $1.199 million.
Indeed, it’s the ultimate fixer-upper. Gross notes the “amazing plaster work, fabulous fireplaces and a beautiful sweeping staircase.”
The house has 13-foot ceilings and hardwood floors set in a herringbone pattern. And although the six bathrooms no longer function, they retain their vintage cast-iron tubs and subway-tile walls.
Cedarcroft’s crowning glory is the five-story tower positioned over the entrance portico. From the top floor, there are views of the Delaware River. Though the 7,131-square-foot house is currently uninhabitable, the structure has been maintained over the years, heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer.
Taylor entertained lavishly at Cedarcroft, undeterred by neighbors who disapproved of his winemaking, counting writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and circus impresario P.T. Barnum among his celebrity friends.
At a housewarming party, guests launched a balloon with a card that read, “Cedarcroft, August 19, 1860, 9 o’clock PM. Please report by Village Record where this balloon descends.” It landed in East Marlborough.
A writer of tremendous industry, Taylor covered the California gold rush for Horace Greeley and the New York Tribune. He reported on the expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan, and he translated Goethe’s Faust from German to English. His book Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania, based on the poets Joseph Rodman Drake and Fitz-Greene Halleck, is believed to be the first gay novel.
But Taylor couldn’t make ends meet at Cedarcroft, starting with overruns that pushed construction costs from $10,000 to $17,000. “Being away from home a great deal of the time, he was unable to see that his plans were executed,” Genevieve R. Pratt wrote in her brief history of Cedarcroft for the 1952 Chester County Day celebration. “Much as he loved it, he became very weary and discouraged in keeping up a place that had become a great burden to him.”
Written when the surrounding acreage was about to be developed for housing, Pratt’s article described Taylor’s dashed dreams of supporting his mansion by selling fruits and vegetables from the surrounding orchards and fields. “When he bought Cedarcroft, he wove an invisible web about himself,” she wrote. “Every tree he planted invited him to rest; the sunset through the trees was the background of his dreams, and his mind, when at leisure from other duties, turned wistfully to the fields his youth had known.”
As Taylor’s vision for the property faded, so did his ardor for his country estate. “If I had known in 1859, how prices were to change, and labor to be dear and unreliable, and the neighborhood to go backwards instead of forwards, I never should have built [Cedarcroft] at all,” Taylor lamented in a letter to his mother written in 1870.
His once cherished goal of becoming a writer living an idyllic country life was “a dead failure.” In 1875, he moved to New York, and his parents, sister and brother-in-law stayed on at Cedarcroft. Taylor died in Germany in 1878. Cedarcroft spent four years on the market before his widow sold the house and the remaining 116 acres at a loss.
Over the years, the home has been restored several times. British-born James Bachelor Dowsland Edge, a DuPont executive, took Cedarcroft to new heights when he bought the estate in 1917, launching a meticulous renovation of the house, carriage house, barn, swimming pool and gardens. The Bergo family bought the home in 1971 and spent the next 15 years bringing it back.
Realtor Stewart Gross expects the future owner will maintain that tradition of respectful renovation, updating the house while preserving its historic features. “There have been several owners who’ve fallen in love with the property and brought it back to life,” he says. “History does repeat itself.”