Last week, we attended a beautiful wedding at the Wainwright House. That prompted me to share the amazing history of the house.
It was built by Col. J. Mayhew Wainwright between 1929 and 1931 and was based on a 17th c. French chateau where Col. Wainwright was stationed during World War 1. On the eve of leading his men into battle, he promised himself that if he survived, he would build a house resembling the chateau on his family's property in Rye.
Col. and Mrs. Wainwright had only one child, a daughter named Fonrose. Fonrose was married to Philip Condit in the library of the Wainwright House and later built the smaller house to the left of Wainwright House where she lived until her death in 1983 at age 90. She had no children and she was widowed in the late 1940's, shortly after her parents died. She wanted to find a charitable purpose for Wainwright House as a memorial to her parents. When she met Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, he asked her how she intended to use the house, to which she replied, "In memory of my parents and for the greater understanding of God." Rev. Peale wrote her words on the back of an envelope and they are now inscribed on a plaque at the entrance to the house.
In 1951, Fonrose founded Wainwright House, Inc. and donated the house to the Laymen's Movement. The Laymen's Movement was founded in 1941 by a group of business and professional men, including J.C. Penney and E.F. Hutton, who sought to integrate spirituality and ethics into the business world. Other prominent members included Dwight D. Eisenhower, R.W. Woodruff and Conrad Hilton. The Laymen's Movement was also involved with world peace and the early years of the United Nations. Secretary Dag Hammarskjold gave Wainwright House the furnishings from the U.N. meditation room, including a four foot section of a 300 year old tree, Swedish Birchwood chairs and curtains.
Fonrose wrote that "This is a sacred house. Because it is sacred, it should be consecrated to the development of human potential, in healing, and growing forms, to serve the advancement of humankind through spiritual, philosophical and ecological paths." What an appropriate place for one of most sacred of all ceremonies -- a wedding.