In the early part of the 20th century, St. James was home to many grand estates, including the estate that now houses Harbor Country Day School.
The Harbor Country Day School estate was originally built in 1910 as a summer home for William A. Minott, heir to the Goodyear Rubber Manufacturing Company of New Jersey, and his wife Clara Brewer Minott, by local architect Lawrence S. Butler. For financial reasons, Mr. Minott was forced to sell the home to James McLean and his wife Sarah Throckmorton in 1916. James McLean, vice president of Phelps Dodge and Company, was a well-known financier, an avid art collector, and great lover of horses. The McLeans eventually sold the home, then known as “Tulip Knoll”, to their daughter Alice Throckmorton McLean Tinker for a small sum. At the time, Alice, 17, was married to Edward Larocque Tinker, founder of the Tinker National Bank. After her divorce from Edward Tinker, Ms. McLean continued to live on the estate with her two sons, who would eventually each own a home on the estate.
Several additions were made to the estate under the guidance of Alice McLean. These included the purchase of the gate house, as well as construction of a 13 box stall horse stable and garage, the Groom’s Cottage on Thompson Hill Road (at the main entrance to the estate) and the Prince’s Ballroom. In 1929 Ms. McLean commissioned an extensive renovation of the house, conforming to the style of traditional brick-clad English country manor homes.
During her younger years Ms. McLean traveled extensively with her father to Europe and the Far East. While visiting England, she learned of the Women’s Voluntary Services, a volunteer organization providing support for World War II soldiers in Europe. In 1939, Ms. McLean organized a similar volunteer organization in the United States, the American Women’s Voluntary Services. The organization trained women to become cryptographers, switchboard operators, and fire-watchers. Members would also provide first-aid classes, defense photography, map reading, childcare, conservation, and motor transport. The AWVS workers produced more than one million articles of clothing for servicemen, hospitals, and others. By 1945 the AWVS counted 325,000 members, and sold more than one billion dollars in war bonds and stamps.
Ms. McLean allocated the better part of her fortune to funding the activities of AWVS, leaving her unable to maintain her Tulip Knoll estate. In 1942 she was forced to offer the estate for sale, along with its 25 acres of land, at a price of $85,000. The estate was never sold, prompting Ms. McLean to donate the estate’s main home in 1948 to a foundation supporting Europe’s displaced children. Three years later, the Christian Brothers of Ireland purchased the estate as a training school.
The Birth of Harbor Country Day School
In 1957 several families realized a need for a local school that would serve the surrounding North Shore villages from Head of the Harbor to Port Jefferson. The first 38 founding families of the school raised almost $20,000 toward the purchase of the Tulip Knoll estate, which would serve as the home to Harbor Country Day School. At the time, the estate consisted of the main house with formal gardens, swimming pool and tennis court, set on several picturesque acres in Head of the Harbor.
The residence was converted into classrooms for the first 38 students who entered Harbor Country Day School under Headmaster Spencer P. Kennard, Jr. in 1958. As the years progressed the school underwent major changes and expanded to accommodate the needs of its growing student body. In 1961 the board of trustees raised $5,000 to be used as a down payment on four acres of property on North Country Road. This property, eventually renamed “Miller Field” would become the grass-covered athletic fields in use today.
Today, some 60 years later, the halls of Tulip Knoll are filled with passionate and engaged students, a talented faculty, an exceptional academic program, a philosophy dedicated to developing every aspect of a child's character and potential while instilling an exemplary work ethic -- the building blocks upon which Harbor Country Day School was founded so many years ago. This foundation continues to underscore everything the school does today and everything it plans for its future.