Pen Craig

Written By: Vincent  McConnell

Pen Craig Pen Craig is a 20 acre estate located in the incorporate village of Quogue in East Long Island, New York on the north side of Quogue Street going eastbound. It can be accessed by driving east on Montauk Highway from Westhampton Beach, past their hamlet of Quogue, over the Quantuck Bay inlet and by taking a right turn at Quogue Street and traveling eastbound towards Jessup Avenue. There is a small sign saying Pen Craig at the entrance to the estate and there’s a circular road inside the property that takes you past each of the ten houses that now occupy the 20 acre estate. The word “Pen” is a Welsh word meaning enclosure or estate, such as in pig pen or hog’s pen. The word Craig is a Welsh family name given to the estate by its founder Samuel D. Craig, as discussed below. Pen Craig was purchased by Samuel Davis Craig (1777-1856) who was called “Senior” or “Elder.” Samuel D. Craig, Sr. was a well regarded lawyer with a practice in New York City & Long Island, and was a colorful figure who lived from the beginning of the Republic, through the War of 1812 and was familiar with many of the public figures of the times, including Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he corresponded. The Elder was appointed as co-counsel for the defense in one of the most sensational criminal trials of the nineteenth century, known as the Wickham Murder trial. A book published last year entitled “Murder on Long Island” explores the gruesome details of the savage ax murder of Mr. & Mrs. Wickham by a disgruntled workman Nicholas Behan, who had been fired by Mr. Wickham for insisting on marrying a female servant of the Wickham’s who had spurned his advances. The trial was held at the Riverhead Courthouse and was attended by newspaper reporters, journalists and hundreds of ordinary citizens who fought for seats in the small courthouse. The commercial telegraph, which had first been introduced in 1837, was used to send the news of the trial throughout the country. When the trial resulted in the conviction of the defendant Behan for murder and a sentence of death by hanging, many of the onlookers remained at the county seat to catch a glimpse of the convicted prisoner in the jail where people were allowed to visit for a modest fee exacted by the jailors. The onlookers also showed interest in the frequent visits by a Catholic priest who spent several days with Behan before his execution. Behan was overheard denying any involvement in the murders during the days before the execution until the last hours when he admitted that it was “rum” that led him to commit the deed. Samuel D. Craig, Sr. passed away in 1856, leaving only a son Benjamin Craig. Benjamin was educated at Columbia College where he met a fellow student, Hamilton Fish who became Governor of New York, U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant. Benjamin learned the law by working with his father at his father’s law office. Benjamin had two children, Samuel D. Craig, Jr. who adopted his grandfather’s name and also practiced law in New York and Long Island. The other child of Benjamin Craig was Henrietta Craig who married Robert Colgate and they had a son named Craig Colgate who inherited the Pen Craig estate. On October 31, 1919 Craig Colgate and his wife sold the Pen Craig estate to Marie Hamilton Swan, wife of Charles Fleming Swan. Marie Hamilton Swan was a great granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton, the chief writer of the Federalist Papers and the founder of the Bank of New York. The property passed to Marie Hamilton’s son William Hamilton Swan, great, great grandson of Alexander Hamilton. William H. Swan had graduated from the University of Arizona and received a Law degree at Columbia University Law School..William H. Swan married Mrs. Beverly Brown Stevens in July 1948 and they had one daughter who inherited the Pen Craig and all of his holdings in east Long Island following her father’s death. At the beginning of World War II, Bill Swan received permission from the village board of Quogue to use Pen Craig as a hotel or inn for military personnel stationed at Suffolk County Air Force Base and other military sites at Long Island. During the war Bill served as an officer in the First Calvary Division in the Pacific and was badly wounded, receiving the Silver Star with two oak leaf clusters and the Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters. Bill rose to the rank of Major by the end of World War II. When Bill returned in 1945 he again appeared before the village boad of Quouge in uniform and on crutches and asked the board to allow him to continue to use the Pen Craig estate as a hotel or inn. The members of the village board were sympathetic to one of its wounded heroes and granted the permission that Bill had requested which they regretted ever since. Bill Swan had been very close to International House at Columbia University where he received his Law degree and shortly brought out to Quogue people of color, Asians, African and East Europeans. In 1945 Bill asked a woman, Margie Buckley Kaiser, a war internee to manage the Pen Craig estate. Other members of International House including Kemal H. Karat and Karl Timpermann and a black attorney by the first name of Lionel were leading members of International House and spent several summers at Pen Craig. One of the frequent guests during several summers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s at Pen Craig was a woman by the name of Piri Halasz. She wrote a book called “A Memoir of Creativity” published by iUniverse in which she made reference to Bill Swan and his business partner Donald B. Douglas, a neurologist, and the many interesting people she met at Pen Craig. After International House gave up its lease on the premises in the 1970’s, Bill leased Pen Craig to a group from St. Bartholomew’s Church, Park Avenue, and NYC. After the St. Bartholemew church group ended its lease in 1985, Bill asked the undersigned writer to take on the lease of the main house following a wonderful summer the writer had spent with a dozen friends in the studio or barn east of the main house. For the next ten years from 1986 until 1995, the writer and his business associate Brian Manning ran the house with the help of a number of women friends and brought out to the Hamptons approximately fifty people per year each summer to stay in the main house and surrounding buildings. These were wonderful, magical summers and we spent many warm days and cool nights at the house, on the beach, enjoying cookouts, boat rides and dancing at clubs such as Marrakesh at Main Street in Westhampton Beach. One of the guests of the writer who came out to Pen Craig was Norinne Perrault and her disabled son. Bill Swan was kind enough to allow Norinne to use one of his beach cottages for the weekend and as a result the two became close friends and ultimately lovers for the next nine years. Bill Swan died April 6, 2000 and the Pen Craig estate was divided into ten lots of two acres each and sold by his daughter and her husband to new owners for millions of dollars. Bill Swan was a fascinating man who loved people regardless of sex, race, creed, color or national origin. Bill told me once in the 1950’s he bought one mile of beach front and two miles of bay front. He added, “Vincent, out here we buy it by the mile and sell it by the inch!”. Bill was a warm, hearted kind man who loved children although he only had one of his own. Bill saved his pennies and died owning millions of dollars worth of property. At the memorial service at the Community House in Water Mill the writer Norinne Perrault attended and said a few words. Norinne Perrault cried for her lost lover and the writer wished Bill, who did not believe in any religion, “God speed” on his final journey. A Quogue dowager once told Bill how much she admired liberal ideology and his love for people of color and various national origins but asked him, “Why do you have to bring them to Quogue?”