William Hamilton Swan

Written By: Vincent  McConnell

William Hamilton Swan was the great great grandson of Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the Bank of New York and the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Bill, as he was familiarly known, was born in New York, went to college in Arizona and took a law degree at Columbia University Law School in New York City. While at Columbia Law School, Bill made friends with people who attended International House located at 120th street and Riverside Drive. Bill was kind and friendly to people of all ages, races, creeds, and colors.

Bill owned a country estate called Pen Craig, which he had inherited from the Craig family in Quogue, New York. The estate consisted of twenty acres of prime land in an incorporated village with two acre zoning. Bill served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and obtained permission from the Quogue village board to rent his Pen Craig estate to soldiers, airmen, marines and their families stationed at nearby military bases including Suffolk County Air Force Base, Fort Hero and Montauk Air Station. Bill was badly injured during the war and when he returned to Quogue he appeared before the Village Board on crutches to ask permission to rent his estate to International House. The Village Board was sympathetic to their hometown-wounded warrior and granted him permission, which they regretted from that day forward.

Following the lease to International House, Bill continued to rent his estate to individual members of International House including two Eastern Europeans named Kemal H. Karat and Karl Timpermann, who later bought houses in Quogue from Bill.

In the 1950s, Bill sold oceanfront land in East Quogue to a developer who built the Round Dune, three circular coops on Dune Road just east of the Quogue Village border. Bill also bulkheaded the dock on the bayside opposite the Round Dune, and built tennis courts and a restaurant, now called Dockers, for the use of the Round Dune residents.

Bill was innovative. In 1965, Bill leased a barge and brought it to East Quogue on Shinnecock Bay and had concerts with rock groups. Sybil Burton, former wife of Richard Burton, rented a house on Main Street in Quogue and was instrumental in bringing out the Young Rascals to the barge.

Bill also bought various other properties in the Hamptons with various partners including Dr. Donald Douglass, who is still alive at age 94 today. Bill and his partners would lease the property for various purposes until the value increased sufficiently to make a sale worthwhile. One such property was called “Hotdog Beach” because Bill allowed a hotdog stand to sell hotdogs and drinks at the beach. This annoyed the local residents because Bill was bringing out to the pristine waters of the Hamptons, the great “unwashed” from New York City and its environs.

On one occasion, the writer had a client who wanted to purchase one hundred acres of land and asked Bill whether he had that amount of property for sale. Bill said he could accommodate the client, and the writer took the train to Quogue, where Bill picked him up in his beat up Chevrolet and drove him up and down the hundred acres on both the north and south sides of Montauk Highway. Unfortunately, the sale never went through.

In the 1970’s, Bill leased the Pen Craig Estate to a friend of his who managed the All Seasons Sports Club from the St. Bartholomew’s City Club located at 50th street and Park Avenue in New York City.  The estate house was large enough to accommodate some 30-40 people in it’s various bedrooms and adjoining cabins on the property. At that time, Quogue was a de facto segregated village because only white Caucasians could afford to live in houses, which required two acre zoning. The only reason that Bill was able to rent his estate to people of different religions, colors and national origins, was that he had gotten an exception from the Quogue Village zoning requirements.

In the summer of 1983, the writer leased a restored barn at Pen Craig, which Bill called the Studio, for himself and his then wife, and their three college age children. As happens, first the writer’s three children finished college and spent their summers elsewhere and then his wife followed suit by leaving the marriage. To fill the six-bedroom house, the writer then brought in various friends during the summers of 1984 and 1985. In September 1985, Bill Swan told the writer that the All Seasons Sports Club was not renewing it’s lease of the main Pen Craig house and asked him to lease Pen Craig in addition to the barn which he did with a close friend named Brian Manning. The writer formed a corporation called Baxter Martan Associates, Ltd. using the names of his and Brian’s mothers’ maiden names and rented the Pen Craig estate for ten years. During these summers from 1985-1995, some hundreds of people came to the Hamptons for the first and spent beautiful and magical summers with beach parties, bonfires, cookouts, boat rides, and disco dancing at clubs Marakesh in Westhampton Beach. There were dozens of marriages as a result of Pen Craig and many of the couples bought their own houses in the Hamptons and still live there.

In 1983, a Canadian woman friend, who had been a nun and later a model and photographer named Norine Perrault as well as her disabled son nicknamed Trip, came out to Quogue as guests. Bill was kind enough to provide them with accommodations for the weekend and fell in love with Norine. The two spent the next nine years together as partners. Bill also provided a studio apartment for Norine’s son Trip and housing for Norine’s three other children when they visited Pen Craig.

Bill told me that in the early 1950s, he had bought one mile of beachfront property and two miles of bay front property on Dune Road in the Hamptons. Bill then said to me, “Vincent, out here we buy it by the mile and we sell it by the inch.” Over the years, Bill ultimately sold hundreds of acres of land in the Hamptons worth millions of dollars.

Bill Swan was a frequent traveler to Australia where he was wounded during the Second World War and became an advisor to the Australian government from his own experience in the Hamptons. Bill promised to add Norine’s name to a station he’d purchased in Australia, which was equivalent to a ranch in the U.S. ranch in the midwest, but never did. When Norine reminded him later of his promise, he immediately took umbrage and broke off their relationship.

Bill died on August 6, 2000 and a memorial service was held at the Community House in Water Mill, New York. The writer attended and said a few words about Bill’s kindness and love of children and Norine also spoke with tears in her eyes as to how much she loved this man during their years together.

Bill was divorced from the only woman he ever married and had one married daughter who inherited all his property.