The Men Behind Charlton Hall

Charlton Hall is one of the privately-owned homes designed by noted Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer. When David Dows, Jr. commissioned Trumbauer to build his country home in 1916, the Gilded Age architect had already made quite a name for himself. After dropping out of school at the age of 14 in 1882, he began his career as an office boy at the architectural firm of brothers George Watson Hewitt and William Dempster Hewitt.  By the 1890s, he was designing single-family homes in suburban Philadelphia.  

In 1893, at the age of 24, Trumbauer designed his first country estate, Grey Towers Castle, for sugar baron William W. Harrison.  That commission was followed by a 110-room Georgian Revival called Lynnewood Hall for Peter A. B. Widener, which really launched Trumbauer's career. By 1915, he was at work on Harvard's Widener Library.

Dows, the son of a self-made tycoon and a businessman himself, could well afford Trumbauer's services when he decided to have his estate built. Known as "Big Dave", he was a noted polo player who stood 6' 3" in his riding boots and among his many varied occupations he was a representative of a steamship line, a bank director, and a horse breeder.

Charlton Hall was the site of the formal incorporation of Muttontown on July 29, 1931, by a unanimous vote of 13 taxpaying residents, according to the August 12, 1931, issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Dows was named as the temporary clerk of the village as well as being the Republican candidate for Nassau County sheriff.

According to a 1931 Brooklyn Life & Activities of Long Island Society article, the forty-six-year-old businessman was elected as the sheriff of Nassau County. One of his acts that did not sit well with the status quo was his "cancellation of dozens of deputies' badges in an effort to end abuses of their use."

Described as a, "millionaire sportsman, David Dows, whose estate, Charlton Hall in Muttontown on the North Shore, rivals the residences of the wealthiest in that exclusive territory," noted a 1931 article for The New York Sun, he served on the New York State Racing Commission from 1944-49.

 In addition, Dows was quite involved in politics. He would become a delegate to the Republican National Conventions from New York in 1944 before he relocated to South Carolina where he was also active in the Republican Party on a state level, including being a candidate for Presidential Elector in 1956. He was laid to rest in the family plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1966.

- Linda Childers

Subscribe in a reader