Updated: Aug 17
October 2022 marks the 174th anniversary of the completion of Harmony Hall as the homestead and country seat of the inventor, manufacturer, and philanthropist Jacob Sloat and his family. Jacob was only 23 when he built his first mill in 1815. It is a pleasant thought to envision the majestic and thoughtfully designed Harmony Hall in 1848, looking out upon its knoll setting to an expansive unobstructed view of the Ramapo Mountains, Ramapo River, and the Sloat Mill long before the New York State Thruway and urban development.
The construction of the mid-century Greek Revival Mansion; with decidedly Italianate elements inside and out, such as a cupola, did likely commence in 1846 with the excavation of the foundation. Locally quarried granite, stone and brickwork meld to create true form and function which is evident in the areaway (basement) exterior and interior. An amusing anecdote is that local residents thought Jacob had gone bankrupt when the foundation was permitted to settle completely for about one full year from its start before building the house. This speaks to Jacob’s mechanical genius for understanding the latest in not only the best in mill manufacturing standards but also construction in this period. Preservationists have duly noted that this meticulous site/foundation preparation on Sloat's part likely accounts for the longevity of the house during several decades of minimal upkeep. Above a doorway on the top floor is a stamped date that commemorates the topping off of the house.
Harmony Hall sold out of the Sloat family in 1908 and subsequently became various restaurants and then for most of its 20th-century life, an elder care facility. Upon the first advocacy site visit in June 2004 to save Harmony Hall from being torn down, NYS Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation officials described Harmony Hall as being entombed under 20th-century overbuild. This was providential, as The Friends of Harmony Hall discovered many original architectural features early on under the wallboard, including windows, the grand staircase, and the rear veranda footprint.
The house design incorporated attributes advocated by the arbiter of the style of this period Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing was America's first important landscape architect and his book The Architecture of Country Houses was widely used in the East when one was looking for house design inspiration. Harmony Hall dates to a period in America when many residents were seeking a reprieve from the congestion of city life and seeking a real or idealized version of bucolic settings. In this period, the Hudson River School of Painters such as Thomas Cole and Jasper Cropsey set down the vistas of the Hudson River Valley on canvas. Cropsey was trained as an architect in his youth. He was a friend of the Sloat family and may have contributed to the design elements of Harmony Hall.
A highly detailed pencil drawing of Harmony Hall circa 1850 by Cropsey shows the house and setting early on. The main floor rooms of Harmony Hall speak to Downing’s aesthetic of bringing the outdoors inside with large floor-to-ceiling windows; with unique offset glass inserts, in the double parlor and dining room which permitted one to step out onto an expansive veranda/front porch. The house was likely decorated in a high Victorian style.
This includes struck plaster cornices, decorative ceiling medallions, gray and black marble fireplaces, and door and window casings profiles. Paint samples have revealed a parlor painted to look like gold leaf and surviving personal items of Jacob and Sarah Sloat such as paintings all have their original frames with carved details and gold leaf. Harmony Hall was designed for a large family and commodious high-style entertainment.
The acoustics in the double parlor are superb and likely served the musicianship of the Sloat family well. Several Sloat descendants are known to have been accomplished pianists/organists including Jacob Sloat, the son of Henry Ransom Sloat, and Henrietta Sloat was an organist at the Denver Cathedral. In the 20th century, a new generation of Sloat descendants left their musical mark upon regional Anglican congregations including Margaret Eastburn Rednour, a Julliard
graduate, Mary Allen Bush, and her son Harrison O. Bush, Jr. at St. Francis in Sloatsburg.
Jacob and Sarah had eight children four of whom died in early childhood. Jacob died in 1857, and his widow and son Henry Ransom Sloat lived on at the residence until it sold out of the family in 1908 after Henry's death in 1905. One can imagine the house in its prime buzzing with a family helping to maintain the homestead as family traditions, faith, and a work ethic created a lasting legacy.
Harrison O. Bush Jr., Jacob's great, great grandson, recounts his grandmother Henrietta Sloat Reeves telling of her childhood at Harmony Hall. Henrietta told of happy playtimes in the house including the indelible image of releasing a toy balloon and watching in amazement as it rose the grand staircase to the top of the house. May Harmony Hall - Jacob Sloat House continue to rise in restoration progress and year-round success as a cultural resource for the historic Highland region.
Happy 174th Birthday Harmony Hall-Jacob Sloat House!