ARTHUR BAKER PENNEY
June 24, 1923 - Oct 3, 2008
Word reached me today from author, Darby Penney that her dad Arthur, had died unexpectedly on Friday October 3, of an aneurism. He was 85 years old on June 24th this year. If there was one individual, who spurred me on at the beginning, to pursue the Knapp story and the history of the Mastics era of transformation, from private estate ownership to vacation homesites for everyman, during the early 20th century, it would be Arthur B. Penney. Thanks to his daughter's wisdom in recording his long and highly detailed Penney family oral history of the Mastics and Moriches during the 1920's and '30's and of her generosity of sharing it with me, much of this very colorful era is now preserved and will be appearing in both of my books , "The Knapps Lived Here" and "The Mastics _from Blueblood to Bluecollar".
It was in 2001, that I first spoke with Darby regarding her great grandfather Merritt Cash Penney (1854 - 1941) All I knew at that time was that Merritt was a superintendant of the Dana estate, I initially found Darby Penney from some Penney family photos she had supplied to the Long Island Genealogy website. E mails were exchanged and Darby told me that she would speak to her Dad for me about the Danas. Arthur's initial anecdotes and short stories about growing up in the area around both his father and grandfather, who were very actively engaged and employed by most of the estate owners, the Tangier Smiths, the Danas, The Knapps etc, really got my full attention fast. He added much more too with warm personal stories of the Penney and Ross families who were very active, long back into the early 19th century, in all aspects of life in the Moriches Bay area. I would soon know I had hit a mother lode and probably not a minute to soon. As another caretakers son named Bill "Cut" Redin would tell me in 2002, everytime a real Moriches area old timer passes on, it's as if another library has burned down.
Thankfully for me that was not to be the case here with Arthur Penney nor with Mildred Clune for that matter. Between the two of them, it was like I had my own personal "Upstairs - Downstairs" script, except this was fact and not fiction. I did not even know at the time of the Penney - Knapp family connection, but imagine my reaction when some of the first anecdotes I learned innocously from Arthur, were that his father built the Knapp golf course on their Mastic Beach estate or that his Uncle Willis courted Claire Knapp in the early 1920's and had to jump off the balcony or out of the second or third story windows of the Knapp mansion, so as not to be discovered by Claire's brother Dodi, when he showed up unexpecatadly. ( For the first nine years the Knapps owned the estate it was shared by Claire and Dodi ) Why?.... because Dodi disapproved of his big sisters romance with the "fast living" Willis Oliver Penney....or perhaps could it of been in Dodi's mind, the fact that Willis was the son of a caretaker and not of the proper class to romance an heiress?
The romance triumphed however and one of the most poignant tales Arthur, the youngest of four brothers, tells was when his brother Lawrence aka "Super", was stricken with polio as a teenager in the 1930's. It was then that Aunt Claire and Uncle Willis, offered to provide the best medical care and experts available. However upon examination of Lawrence, they were told by an expert NY City doctor that the country doctor Edith and Clarence, Arthur's mother and father were using, was totally on top of the situation, using the most up to date treatments known and doing all that could be done. Lawrence btw, although he would always need crutches, went on to live a long and purposeful life.
Arthur was the first in his family to graduate from college, at Brown University, Providence, RI in 1944. During his college years he worked as a butler at the Mauran estate during his summers. If Mauran name rings a bell with you then you have been doing some reading on this website. It was Louise Carlo Mauran, who used to board in the summers of the early 1900's at Arthur's grandparents Moriches home. While there Louise was courted by her cousin from Mastic, Frank Mauran Lawrence. They would marry in 1907 and it was then I believe, while they were exploring Europe together that Frank Mauran had a mansion built in Mastic Beach. The three story 22 room showplace that would forever become known as the Knapp Mansion when Frank & Louise sold it to Dodi Knapp in the fall of 1916.
By the 1940's, Louise C. M. Lawrence was a longtime widow and way up in her years. When Arthur was working at the Mauran household, she would tell him stories of what life was like in Mastic and Moriches at the turn of the 20th century and of her regret of selling her Mastic estate to the Knapps. When asked to elaborate, Arthur thought it seems that the Knapps were just a little too modern, free spirited, and "fast living" for the proper DAR mindset of one Louise Carlo Mauran Lawrence. I feel that perhaps she just didn't care for the fact that her bridal gift home, would be forever known as The Knapp mansion, from the day she sold it to well past the day that two arsonists from Mastic Beach torched it in 1959. Though I'm sure Louise was probably not around to hear of the fire, for if she was she would of been close to a 100 or better. Kids like me btw were blamed for that fire, but your humble scribe here, knows who really did it and it turns out that they were "adults" if only in legal age!
Arthur also told some very amusing stories about the lives of both his grandfathers, Bartlett Ross a rather stylish and flamboyant "wheeler dealer" and the very practical and American Gothic, Merritt C. Penney. eg Like when Uncle Willis bought his father Merritt a new 1936 Ford Roadster and all that V8 power proved to be a bit much for a gentleman, who never drove anything but a horse and buggy or a Model T. As it headed into a tree upon Merritt hitting the gas pedal , he exclaimed " The Devil Himself Is In That Automobile ! Did you see it aimed right for that tree !" Arthur also spoke of the spinster sisters Martha and Eugenie Tangier Smith of the Manor of St. George, telling tales about them that I consider to be priceless. In any event I have no regrets ever of having the good fortune to get to know and hear Arthur Baker Penney speak and to benefit from his articulate and very thoughtful observations of what life was like in my hometown thirty years and more before I ever got there in 1950.
Arthur At The Moriches School 1930.
( Later Known As The Floyd Annex )
I would be sitting with some of my friends in those very same desks and learning to read here too in 1953. Arthur's father was on the Board of Education and Arthur was very good student. He graduated from Center Moriches High School early in 1939. The Penneys lived directly across Montauk Highway from the little Moriches school. Their home is now part of Barntique Village, along with many buildings that Arthur's father Clarence moved onto their property, including the original Moriches Post Office General Store Building that goes back to the early 1800's.
Arthur With His Oldest Big Brother Lloyd and a Sunday Dinner Goose in 1931
I Believe This Is Arthur With His Grandfather Merritt Cash Penney, On The Dana Estate 1930's
(A Movie Still From The Dana Home Movies Pages)
Arthur or His Second Oldest Brother Robert, Riding In Style At Moss Lots With The Dana Sisters In Their Daddy's Rolls - Royce Silver Ghost
(They drove over to the William Floyd Estate ___You can see it on The Dana Home Movies Page)
Baby Darby with her parents Audrey & Arthur and grandparents Clarence & Edith
Fairly Recent Photo Of Audrey & Arthur. I Believe They Celebrated 60 Years Of Marriage
SOME PENNEY FAMILY LINKS