By Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov, Intern, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Born and raised in Katonah, New York, I have always been proud of my roots, and with good reason. The tiny, picturesque hamlet located about forty miles north of Manhattan in Westchester County claims its fame as the site of Chief Justice John Jay’s home. After twenty-six years serving his country, the native New Yorker retired to his 750-acre plot of land, where he later died. His house, along with 62 acres of the original land, is now a New York State Historic Site and functions as a museum as well as a host to a variety of community events.
Upon Jay’s death in May of 1829, Chief Justice Jones of the New York State Superior Court made a statement to the Bar, saying, “Few men in any country, perhaps scarce one in this have filled a larger space and few ever passed through life with such perfect purity, integrity, and honor.” This is no understatement. Jay was an extraordinary man whose accomplishments were fundamental to the founding of the American republic.
John Jay filled more high offices than any other Founding Father, including president of the Second Continental Congress, secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation, and, most famously, the Supreme Court’s first chief justice, appointed by George Washington in 1789. He worked closely with fellow patriots Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in authoring the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution and with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in writing the Federalist Papers in support of the ratification of the Constitution.
Washington saw Jay as unique in his superior virtue and objectivity and appointed him chief justice with great confidence in his qualifications. This, however, was a demanding position with frequent travel, and it came with the huge responsibility of establishing the role of the Court. When it came time for Jay to retire in 1801, he was thankful to return to New York to spend time with his family and explore his interests in agriculture and horticulture. He once said that his retirement was “the most agreeable part of my life.”
My grandfather, Lino S. Lipinsky, was the curator of John Jay Homestead from 1968 to 1988. He lived in Jay’s house during this time, where he raised his family, including my father. As a skilled artist both in etching and painting, my grandfather drew maps of the house and grounds that can still be found around the site. He compiled the Jay genealogy, designed exhibits for the museum, and maintained and recorded the museum’s collection, which includes works by John Trumbull, John Singer Sargent, and Gilbert Stuart.
Following in Jay’s tradition of commercial farming on his fertile Katonah land, the homestead recently started an egg co-op with a sustainable solar powered chicken coop; it hosts a farmers’ market from June to October. Picnics, wild raspberry-picking, and horseback riding are favorite pastimes for locals at the site, which is open daily, and scholarly lectures, country fairs, fundraisers, and other events are held for the public year-round. John Jay Homestead is the gem of Katonah and locals are proud to maintain the history of a man who was so monumental in our nation’s founding.
John Jay /Artists: Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull / Oil on canvas , begun 1784; completed by 1818 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution