About Round Hill
Round Hill is a gated condominium community, composed of a variety of summer and all-season living units ranging from single family homes to 16 condo units in an original, ocean-side mansion, built in 1921 by Colonel Green. Located in South Dartmouth, MA, and situated on the shores of Buzzards Bay, recreational amenities include a 9-hole private golf course, private beaches, an in-ground pool, club house, tennis courts, walking paths, and a playground
Taken from a Research Paper by Keith William LeDuc of Worcester Polytech, January, 1984 and Barbara Bedell, author of “Colonel Edward Robinson Howland Green and the World He Created at Round Hill”.
The Round Hill estate’s rich history extends back 300 years. It’s most colorful epoch occurred during the life of the late Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green. Green, in the early 1920’s built the grand mansion on his ancestral land of 277 acres overlooking Buzzard’s Bay.
The Colonel’s first American ancestor was Henry Howland, beginning the legacy of one of America’s most wealthy and successful families. Throughout the next two hundred years, the Howland family developed the largest whaling company in the U.S. The Colonel’s great-grandfather, Captain Isaac Howland Sr., made his fortune on the West Indies trade, and by having the foresight to invest in whaling when that industry was still in its infancy. The Captain settled in New Bedford, a coastal town which was to earn its reputation as the world’s whaling capital. Isaac Jr., as ambitious as his father, continued to develop the family whaling business. He subsequently founded the whaling firm of Isaac Howland Jr. & Company, which was to become the largest and most successful such company in the United States.
The fortune amassed by Isaac Howland Jr. passed, upon his death in part, to Edward Mott Robinson, a Philadelphian who married Howland’s granddaughter, Abby, and who, because of this marriage, had become a partner in the family whaling business.
On November 21, 1834, Edward Mott Robinson and Abby became parents to Hetty Howland Robinson, the Colonel’s mother. In 1865, the Colonel’s grandfather, Edward Mott Robinson, died, leaving Hetty, six million dollars. Unlike most of her female contemporaries, Hetty had learned all the necessary skills needed to run the family business while accompanying her father on his daily business rounds. She was an eccentric woman. While sometimes referred to as the “richest woman in the world,” her clothes were shabby by any standards and her living arrangements seedy for someone of her social stature. Her parsimonious behavior earner her the unenviable nickname, in some quarters, the “Witch of Wall Street.”
In 1868, Hetty and her husband, Vermont millionaire, Edward Green, had their first child, Edward Howland Robinson Green. For the rest of her life, Hetty exerted a paralyzing influence over Edward and his sister Hetty Sylvia.
Hetty died in 1916 and left between $100 and $200 million to Edward and his sister, Sylvia. Edward’s nature was the opposite of his mother. Where she was conservative and frugal, Edward’s lifestyle was opulent and his spending habits extravagant.
In July of 1917, one year after his mother’s death, Edward married his lover of more than two decades, Mabel Harlow. He then embarked upon his most extravagant project, the Round Hill mansion. The mansion, an imposing granite structure designed by New York architect Alfred C. Bossom, was completed in 1921 at a cost of $1.5 million dollars.
In that first year, many smaller buildings were put up to house the help that had been hired to plant thousands of apple trees, plum trees, cherry trees, quince trees, and acres of vegetables.
The Colonel also purchased and repaired the sole remaining American whaling ship, the “Charles W. Morgan”, which once had been owned by his ancestors. At the time, 1924, the ship was owned by Dartmouth artist, Harry A. Neyland, and was in a state of disrepair at a wharf in Fairhaven. After an unsuccessful bid at giving it to the city of New Bedford, if the city would agree to keep up the ship’s maintenance, Neyland agreed to accept an offer from Colonel Green regarding the old whaling vessel. Green would pay all expenses for renovating and refitting the ship, and for its keep, if it were moved to Round Hill. He then completed the whaling era scenario by setting up a replica of a counting house, a whale oil refinery and a cooper shop at Round Hill. He moored the Morgan at Round Hill in a cofferdam off the south beach area. The exhibit was called “Whaling Enshrined”, and attracted about 100,000 visitors each year until the Colonel’s death on June 8th, 1936. The “Charles W. Morgan” was moved in 1941 to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut where it is still berthed.
The Colonel built a complex where scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology engaged in unprecedented experiments in radio communication, aircraft, high voltage and meteorology. In 1922, Colonel Green’s interest in wireless radio experimentation lead to the establishment of the Round Hill Radio Corporation, known as the “Voice From Way Down East.” The Colonel installed a public address system and allowed thousands of visitors onto his estate to listen to the station’s broadcasts. A newspaper account described the scene as a “sort of listening device which enabled 125,000 people to hear distinctly President Harding’s inaugural address.”
The Colonel was a gregarious fellow. While most men of his wealth and stature limited their social lives to those of similar background, he loved to socialize with the “common man.” The grounds of his vast estate were open to the public and on summer weekends hundreds of automobiles took to Round Hill’s winding roads and enjoyed the beach, the old whaling ship and the radio broadcasts. It was not unusual to see the Colonel chatting with these visitors as if they were old friends.
In 1925, Colonel Green placed the estate at the disposal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which used the site for a variety of research projects. The Colonel supported the research by making available his radio station, an airstrip, several buildings and considerable financial support.
During the ten year period that MIT used the estate, MIT scientists used the radio station for high frequency radio transmissions and were able to communicate with Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition. Radio research at Round Hill aided in the development of the “equilsignal” method of aircraft landing techniques, which enabled piloting of planes through darkness or fog. Round Hill became a center of aeronautics and the Colonel had large neon tubes spelling “Round Hill” placed on the roof of the mansion to guide pilots during night flights. The blimp hangar was converted to accommodate Dr. Robert Van de Graaf’s lab generator and his experiments in high voltage. The apparatus, capable of generating seven million volts of electricity, the world’s highest at the time, was built in the hopes of splitting an atom.
There was no smashing of atoms at Round Hill. This famous generator is now the featured attraction at the Museum of Science’s Theatre of Electricity in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1927, a young man named Bert Hill had landed on the front lawn of the Mansion because it looked so beautiful. In doing so he tore up the lawn, and the Colonel walked outside to talk to the young man and a friendship was born. By the end of 1928, the Colonel had the construction of his private airport well underway and contracted Bert Hill to manage the Round Hill Airport.
Following the Colonel’s death in 1936, the estate fell into disrepair as litigation between his wife and his sister over the Colonel’s vast fortune continued for eight years. The 1938 Hurricane also contributed to the decay, destroying several buildings on the shorefront.
Finally, Mrs. Hetty Sylvia Wilks, the Colonel’s sister, was ruled the sole beneficiary and the state of Massachusetts was granted the right of taxation of the estate.
In 1948, she bequeathed the estate to MIT, which used the site for microwave and laser beam experiments. A giant antenna, was erected on top of a 50, thousand-gallon water tank to better radio communications. Another antenna was erected on top of the rocks next to the mansion and was used in the early development of the Ballistic Early Warning System.
MIT used Round Hill until 1964, when it was sold to the Society of Jesus of New England for use as a retreat house. The upper floors were converted into sixty-four individual rooms to be used by those on retreat. Skylights were installed on the third floor. The main floor was redesigned to include a Chapel, conference rooms and a library. Much of the estate’s beach area was sold to the Town of Dartmouth in 1968, In 1970, the Jesuits, unable to justify the expenses of maintaining the property of 240 acres, sold the land and buildings to a local woman, Gratia R. Montgomery. She purchased the property to preserve it.
In 1981, Mrs. Montgomery sold most of the land to Round Hill Associates, developers who tried to preserve the history, grandeur and abundant natural environment while converting the property to a condominium community complete with a 9 hole golf course.
For additional historical information:
- “Colonel Edward Robinson Howland Green and the World He Created at Round Hill” by Barbara Fortin Bedell.
- “Hetty; The Genius and Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon” by Charles Slack
- “The Greens as I Knew Them” by John M. Bullard
- “The Witch of Wall Street” by Sparkes, Boyden and Moore