The Ballroom in John Jay’s historic Bedford House was restored in 2007 with a generous donation from Arthur J. and Myra E. Mahon, matched by funds directed by former New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner, Bernadette Castro.
The room is the largest one in the Iselin wing, which was designed in 1923-24 by the architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore, the architects of Grand Central Terminal and the New York Yacht Club in New York City. The principal architect on the project was William O’Donnell Iselin, the brother-in-law of Eleanor Jay Iselin, John Jay’s great-great-granddaughter and the owner of the house at that time. The 30 by 55 foot room was designed to resemble the great hall of a grand English country house. A beamed, Tudor-style ceiling, incorporating hewn timbers salvaged from 19th-century outbuildings, kept company with pine Georgian paneling, stained to resemble walnut. Iselin intended that the room be a showcase for Jay family heirlooms, including portraits by John Trumbull and important possessions of John Jay, such as his cylinder-top desk, the court suit he wore during the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris, and his personal papers, which were stored in hidden compartments in the paneling.
After 34 years of use by the family, plus another 48 years of public programming, the room needed some care. With funds from the gift, the ceiling plaster was repaired and repainted. The paneling, doors, and windows were cleaned and waxed, as were the wide, pegged floorboards; abraded surfaces and sun-damaged windowsills were restored. The original iron chandeliers and sconces were restored and rewired. Family portraits displayed in the room are now lit with conservation-quality picture lamps. Window glass was coated with a plastic film to keep out ultraviolet light, which is damaging to historic paintings, furniture, and textiles. Old, oversized track lights were replaced with smaller ones. All these improvements joined the Georgian damask curtains provided by the Friends of John Jay Homestead in 2006.
The Ballroom provides a backdrop for concerts, lectures, exhibits, and school programs. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Friends of John Jay Homestead are grateful to the Mahons for their public spirit in supporting John Jay Homestead with such generosity.