The Architects

John M. Carrère and Thomas Hastings received their formal training at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. After apprenticing in the prestigious New York offices of McKim, Mead, & White, the pair partnered to open the firm of Carrère & Hastings in New York City in 1885. Immersed in the distinct classicism of the Ecole and steeped in European traditions, the young architects were particularly adept to synthesizing American high style, placing every building in harmony with its surroundings. Their elegant designs are grounded in a rational, organized plan with meticulous attention to detail. The firm’s portfolio is impressive: civic buildings and monuments (Senate and House offices, Washington D.C and Arlington Memorial amphitheater), institutional and academic buildings (sixteen Canadian banks and offices 1904-12), private residences for captains of industry (Whitehall, Nemours, The Frick House), and public works such as memorials, gardens, parks, and bridges (McKinley Monument, Manhattan Bridge).[i]

Only two years after Cairnwood was completed, Carrère and Hastings were invited to enter a prestigious design competition for the New York Public Library in New York City. They competed against their former mentors, McKim, Mead & White who had experience designing the influential Boston Public Library. “Unexpectedly the prize went to the youngest and least experienced of the invited architects, John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings. So successful was their completed design that they were subsequently commissioned to design fourteen of the branch libraries funded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.”[ii] The New York Public Library is an outstanding National Landmark in the Beaux-Arts tradition. It is a monumental palace of learning where “a unified aesthetic is embodied in the various furniture, fixtures, finishes, and materials that Carrère & Hastings designed and selected for this magnificent Beaux-Arts commission. Nothing is left to accident, nothing is improvised. On the contrary, all is ordered, coherent, rational, and most importantly, beautiful and ennobling.”[iii]

Cairnwood Estate was designed in 1892 and completed in 1895. As one of the firm’s earliest large scale country house commissions, and the only private estate designed by Carrère & Hastings still existing in the state of Pennsylvania, it is a unique combination of rustic and high style resembling a French Chateau. It is unknown how the Pitcairn’s were first introduced to the firm, but it is possible business interactions between Standard Oil executive Henry M. Flagler and John Pitcairn may have precipitated the interest. The collections of John and Gertrude Pitcairn include an 1887 show book of Flagler’s hotels entitled, “Florida, American Riviera, St. Augustine, The Winter Newport,” and showcasing the Carrère & Hastings designs and interiors hotels Ponce de Leon and Alcazar. Whatever the reason, archival records indicate that Mrs. Pitcairn was most influential in the designs of the home and landscape for the estate. John travelled extensively on business, leaving Gertrude in charge of the plans under the guardianship of his brother-in-law, Robert Glenn.

Correspondence between Mrs. Pitcairn and the architects highlight an amicable relationship and partnership in the vision for Cairnwood. The architects accepted invitations to visit Cairnwood after it was completed.  Both gentlemen expressed appreciation for the opportunity to see Cairnwood as a home, personalized by the family living in it, as well as being gratified by the final effect.

(Thomas Hastings, September 24th, 1895)

Dear Mrs. Pitcairn:

“I look forward with great pleasure to seeing you live in your new place. Please give my kindest regards to Mr. Pitcairn and the children…”

Very Cordially Yours,

Thomas Hastings


Dear Mrs. Pitcairn,

How can I thank you enough for the delightful visit I enjoyed with you and Mr. Pitcairn.

I could not say enough [… ] how much delighted I was to see the progress the place has made since you took it from the hands of your architects and put(sic) it in the right direction.  It is most satisfying to see a place improve after the client has taken over, for alas, that is too seldom the case.

Please give my kindest regards to Mr. Pitcairn.  Tell him to save me one of those cigars and a thimble full of that brandy for another hopeful future visit…

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Hastings

(October 1896)

Dear Mrs. Pitcairn

Sincerest thank you for the very pleasant day spent with you at Bethayres which both Mrs. Carrère and myself enjoyed so thoroughly.

It was a pleasant day to see Cairnwood again especially since it has lost its purely architectural character and its newness and become a home and assumed in a great many ways its individuality as such. Mrs. Carrère was also pleased to see it after having so often heard about it. It will be pleasant to remember and see again after it has its history to tell—which [  ] hope may be a happy and cheerful tale.

 I enclose a circular which I have marked for Mr. Pitcairn as I believe it will interest to him—It relates to the subject of plate glass which he discussed with us.

 Sincerely yours,

 John M. Carrère


Dear Mrs. Pitcairn,

 I have so often thought of the delightful visit which I so much enjoyed with you all that I am prompted to write you not only to tell you how much I enjoyed my visit but also to tell you how much pleased I was with the interest you take in your place and the care you have taken of it. I must tell you that I do not think that I have ever built a house for anyone who has taken such an intelligent interest in further developing what I have endeavored to accomplish. So much is dependent upon the good taste and judgment of the client that the architect ofttimes (sic) suffers—when he is not really responsible. I cannot resist the impulse I feel in writing you how much pleased I was to see the great improvements accomplished. Hoping soon to see you again and with kindest regards to Mr. Pitcairn…

 Always faithfully yours,

Thomas Hastings[iv]

 A Sampling of Notable Works 1887-1929

  • City Planning:
    • Atlantic City, NJ (1907); Hartford, CT (1911); Mount Vernon Square, MD (1917)
  • Commercial Buildings:
    • Ponce De Leon & Alcazar Hotels, FL (1887-88)
    • Jefferson Hotel, VA (1893)
    • Royal Bank of Canada (1906), and Bank of Toronto, Ontario, Canada (1913)
    • Standard Oil Building NY, (1926,1928)
  • Civic and Academic Works:
    • Bicentennial Buildings, Yale University, CT (1903, 1926)
    • Staten Island Ferry Terminal, NY (1905)
    • Senate and House offices, Washington D.C. (1903-1909)
    • Manhattan Bridge, anchorages and approaches, NY (1909)
    • Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, NC (1920)
    • New York Public Library, NYC (1897-1911)
    • Carnegie Institution, Washington D.C. (1909) and Carnegie Branch Libraries (1905-1929)
    • Pulitzer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza, NYC Central Park, NY (1911)
  • Country House Estates:
    • Vernon Court (Mrs. Richard Gambrill), CT (1900)
    • Whitehall (Henry Flagler), FL (1902)
    • Nemours (Alfred DuPont), DE (1910)
  • City Houses:
    • F.H. Goodyear House, NY (1903 )
    • The Frick House (Henry Clay Frick), NYC (1914)

Further Reading:

  • Carrere & Hastings, Architects. Vol. 1 & II. New York: Acanthus Press. Mark Hewitt, Kate Lemos, William Morrison, and Charles Warren. 2006.
  • Carrere & Hastings, The Masterworks. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. Laurie Ossman and Heather Ewing.

[i] Mark Hewitt et al., Carrere and Hastings, Architects. Vol 1 (New York: Acanthus Press, 2006), 11-17.

[ii] Ingrid Steffenson, The New York Public Library, a Beaux-Arts Landmark (New York: The New York Public Library in association with Scala Published Ltd, 2003), 12-13.

[iii] Paul LeClerc, New York Public Library President as quoted in Carrere and Hastings, Architects. Vol 1 (New York: Acanthus Press, 2006), 9.

[iv] Letter Transcriptions from Thomas Hastings and John Carrère, to Gertrude S. Pitcairn. Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.