Silk Tree Cafe at the Hammond Musuem, Westchester County

23 Aug

I had the wonderful opportunity to be invited to lunch with one of the most dearest people, Shirley Perry.  A spry 87 year-old woman, who is so intriguing; she is also an artist and innovator in her own rite!  I could talk with her for days ; for all the knowledge she has in her petite 5’2” frame. 

For months, we have tried to get our schedules together to have lunch at the Hammond Museum in North Salem NY (Westchester County); for Shirley was once on the Board of Trustees years ago!   We had a reservation for noon and I promptly picked her up at 11:30 am.  Only to get a history lesson about the museum.  “I want you to know all about Natalie”.

Born in 1904, she was the daughter and heiress of millionaire adventurer and philanthropist John Hays Hammond, the novel King Solomon’s Mines; well it’s about him.. Natalie  Hays Hammond was an artist, with various talents:  a costume set designer for Broadway, an accomplished painter and author

Her brother who was a famous inventor, John Hays Hammond Jr. founded the Hammond Museum, where Natalie’s home is also part of the museum which details this beautiful Japanese Garden.  So you know this family was very innovative, he built Hammond Castle, which is also now a museum in Gloucester, MA.  

The Hammond Museum, here in North Salem, at one time held all the collected and inherited Ms. Hammond had collected through her lifetime, over 100,000 antiques and a library with over 70,000 volumes.   Her cousin Elizabeth Hammond Taylor; known as Margo; they collaborated together and built the museum.   Natalie was known for her drawings of the Madonna and her needlepoint works, where she published a book showing her craft.

Natalie Hays Hammond died in 1985 where she bequeathed to her cousin the right to live in the estate’s mansion for the duration of her life. Taylor; however thought differently and chose to move; leaving the house unoccupied; with a museum left to fend on its own. In November 2005, the museum negotiated the rights to own it; giving the attention Ms. Natalie Hays Hammond had wanted – a center for the performing arts as well as the visual arts.

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Now it’s time for lunch, it’s a beautiful day and we were directed to the Silk Tree Cafe.   Greeted by a lovely waitress, we were given a menu.  For starters, tea of course!  An Iced brewed tea for Shirley and for me,  a lovely tea kettle filled with hot vanilla almond tea.  We enjoyed the following…..

  • Steamed vegetable dumplings brought in a bamboo steamer
  • A cheese frittata
  • pannini filled with tomato, mozzarella and basil, sides watermelon medallions
  • Golden crepe filled with Nutella and topped with whip cream and cinnamon.

“Let me tell you about Natalie”,  so I put my listening ears on while enjoying the vegetable dumplings….Shirley went on to tell me about Natalie Hammond.

This is  my first time returning since Natalie died and was inquisitive about how the museum was doing.  Natalie was a vibrant and vicarious woman.  We would go out to dinner and talk about everything, she was quite infectious.  She loved art,  was part of King Tut’s first viewing to the world as a little girl and would often at the home of President William Taft.  Her life was extraordinary and lived lavishly, which would often result in not knowing the meaning of a balancing budget!”

We were delightfully interrupted by Lucy, the head of Catering at the Silk Tree Cafe and she welcomed us both for dining here.  We took the time to meet the other staff members at the Musuem and were told the museum had lost most of its funding, due to the state of the economy and were desperately  trying to do the very best they could.  Most of Natalie Hammond’s artwork has been sold, very soon after her death and the property; well it still requires major renovation work.  The staff is very optimistic and try to have inviting events to lure people, artists and organizations to the Hammond museum.

I couldn’t get over the fact, the place was simply charming.  Yes, it was a museum, but very intimate.  Not like the large museums of New York City, it has the quietness, but appealing feel of not being rushed and the allowance to take you time. 

As we are talking, Japanese paper lanterns are being affixed to a large white tent!  “We are having our 45th Annual Moonviewing concert and Picnic this evening.  This has been a tradition, started by Natalie since 1966!”  We visited the gift shop and I brought a Japanese motif, little but a conversation starter!

Now, if you are ever in Westchester County NY, near North Salem, do make it a point to stop in and see the Hammond Museum.  If you are looking for a quaint place to have a intimate wedding, social party or bar mitzvah…this place should be one of your choices.  

Shirley and I had a wonderful afternoon!  I just love history.  There are so many intriguing places in Westchester County, the Hammond Museum is one of them!

Here is a listing of books authored by Natalie Hays Hammond:

  • New Adventures in Needlepoint Design  1973
  • Anthology of Patterns 1949
  • C Later 1920’s Collection of Fine Photography of Natalie Hays Hammond 1927

Have I made you curious?  View the website; www.hammondmuseum.org to learn more and there’s a listing of their upcoming events.  If visting, perhaps you’ll be also interested in becoming a member at the Hammond Museum or give a donation, their email address is gardenprogram@yahoo.com.

Letia 🙂

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