Welwyn was the 204-acre estate built in 1906 for Harold Irving Pratt, an oil industrialist and philanthropist. Prat and his wife Harriet lived in their lavish home until his death in 1939 and hers in ‘69, upon which occasion the house was willed to Nassau County. The county had no plans for Welwyn though, and the luxurious estate was left to rot.
The gardens grew thick and tangled while the house was abandoned. Only the greenhouses on the property served a small purpose: In the 1990s the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department used the large cement basements beneath the greenhouses as a training center for its staff. A makeshift jail was built, complete with a steel-barred cell.
In 1993, Boris Chartan, a Holocaust survivor, announced plans to restore the nearly 100 year old mansion and use it to house Long Island’s first Holocaust museum, which remains open to this day inside the estate’s main house.
As a part of the restoration of the mansion, the museum decided to restore the adjacent garden to its original beauty. The garden, designed by the famous Olmsted brothers, had been commissioned by Harriet, a horticulturist who worked on the 1939 World’s Fair and the New York Botanical Gardens. Her life at home was dedicated to maintaining “gardens for all months of the year” as per Sir Francis Bacon’s advice. Along with the verdant gardens, Mrs. Pratt had multiple, designed multiple elaborate greenhouses herself.
Unfortunately, the cost of restoring and maintaining the once-magnificent glass buildings proved too expensive, so they have been left to the elements. The greenhouses today are the most derelict part of the property. They can be found behind the mansion, carriage houses, and tennis courts down a very narrow cobblestone path. As you enter the greenhouses from below, through the same space police used for training in the ’90s, you can still find the old cell door. Then climb up the overgrown staircases to find glassless greenhouses overgrown with weeds, vines, and floral graffiti.
The entire estate is open for exploration. Follow the cobblestone paths through the woods, to small bridges that lead over streams, all the way down to what was once the Pratts’ private beach.