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Merrywood Estate

 

 

 

By Steve Brawley

It would be hard pressed to find a house in metro Washington, DC that has seen the likes of so many famous folks - John and Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Gore Vidal - to name a few have all lived at or visited Merrywood Estate.

The seven acre waterfront estate in McLean, Virginia belonged to Jackie's mother and stepfather, Janet Bouvier Auchincloss and Hugh D. Auchincloss. Built in the 1920's, the nine-bedroom estate has since been extensively renovated and refurbished. It features a 5,000 square-foot pool house and a tennis court.

In 1942, after her parents had divorced and her mother married Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., a wealthy lawyer, Jacqueline divided her time between the family's Merrywood estate in Virginia and Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. She lived at Merrywood while she completed her studies at George Washington University in Washington DC.

It is rumored that JFK may have done some of his writing for his book Profiles in Courage in the house while dating Jackie.

The financial strain of owning both Merrywood, Hammersmith Farm in Rhode Island and a house in DC's Georgetown led Auchincloss to sell Merrywood in 1963. But the sale was very controversial. Hugh sold the property to a developer who wanted to build high rise buildings on the property - much to the displeasure of neighbors (including Robert F. Kennedy at nearby Hickory Hill) and environmentalists (such as Jackie herself).

In the end the developers had to give up the fight to build their high rise development after the U.S. Dept. of Interior got involved and slapped a "scenic easement" on the property.

Merrywood 1940s (Washington Life Magazine)

From Time Magazine: May 11, 1962

On a high, leafy bluff overlooking the Potomac in McLean, Va., just northwest of Washington, is a broad, lovely, 46-acre estate called Merrywood. There, from the time she was 13, Jacqueline Bouvier swam, played tennis, rode her pony and gamboled about.

Merrywood is owned by Jackie Kennedy's stepfather, Hugh Dudley Auchincloss, who bought it in 1934 for $135,000. and who put $100,000 or more into such extras as a greenhouse and an indoor badminton court. But last week there was little merriment at Merrywood. Sighed its master, a gentle man who is known to friends and family as "Hughdee." and who acts more like an absent-minded professor than the wealthy investment broker that he is: "It's all very unpleasant."

The unpleasantness arose because Hughdee signed a contract to sell Merrywood, for about $750,000, to a syndicate that wants to build three 17-story apartment buildings on the property—which, with its environs, has been described by a local newspaper as a place of "verdant grandeur." The prospect of hundreds of apartment dwellers despoiling McLean has aroused residents of the area to an outburst of verdant vituperation.

True. Bobby Kennedy, who lives just a short piece down the road from Merrywood (at Hickory Hill that was owned by Jack and Jackie first), discreetly avoided taking public sides. But Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. another McLean resident, was on record with: "Since the time of our first President, we as a nation have recognized the Potomac Palisades as a great scenic resource, and over the years considerable effort has been expended to preserve its beauty."

Others have been more outspoken, and quiet McLean has been alive with protest meetings and petitions. Griped Radio Commentator Edward P. Morgan, whose nightly spiel is paid for by the A.F.L.-C.I.O. ("Thirteen and a half million Americans bring you Edward P. Morgan"): "I don't want my own property to be menaced by 1,200 families moving in next to me." The Washington Post sounded as if it were going to cross the river and fight. "No stone should be left unturned." it said.

Hughdee's representative in the sale is Lytton Gibson, a tax attorney notable for wearing rubber bands to hold up his socks. The buyers are led by a developer named Sheldon Magazine. Says Gibson: "Nothing but a bunch of longhairs and eggheads are causing all the trouble." Says Magazine: "What do they think we are building—a couple of garages or something?" Says old Hughdee, who keeps protesting his belief in free enterprise and the fact that a man should be allowed to sell to the highest bidder: "It's extraordinary, their making this fuss."

 

(Parade Magazine)

 

Hugh sold Merrywood in 1963 to the Magazine Brothers. The Magazine Brothers ended up selling the estate to Wyatt and Nan Dickerson after their development plans fell through. Jackie was pleased her childhood home (one of them) was saved. Dickerson ended up developing part of the property in a way the minimized impact on the landscape and kept the original home intact.

Wyatt and Nan's son John grew up at Merrywood. In his book "On Her Trail" he describes that "before Barbara Walters, before Katie Couric, there was Nancy Dickerson. The first female member of the Washington TV news corps, Nancy was the only woman covering many of the most iconic events of the sixties. She was the first reporter to speak to President Kennedy after his inauguration and she was on the Mall with Martin Luther King Jr. during the march on Washington; she had dinner with LBJ the night after Kennedy was assassinated and got late-night calls from President Nixon. Ambitious, beautiful and smart, she dated senators and congressmen and got advice and accolades from Edward R. Murrow. She was one of President Johnson's favorite reporters, and he often greeted her on-camera with a familiar "Hello, Nancy." In the '60s Nancy and her husband Wyatt Dickerson were Washington's golden couple, and the capital's power brokers coveted invitations to swank dinners at their Merrywood estate on the Potomac."

Wyatt and Nan would divorce in 1981, and sell the property in 1984 to Alan and Dianne Kay.

NY Times Dickerson Story

When the Washington real estate market was at a golden peak in the 1980s, the high-rolling Alan Kay and his wife Dianne paid $4.25 million for Merrywood.

The Kays used the residence as a draw for their charitable causes. In 1990, Michael Jackson appeared at the home during a fundraising drive for the Capital Children's Museum, though the entertainer was visibly unimpressed with the real estate crowd and took greater delight in playing with the Kay's 5-year-old granddaughter Lauren.

Washington Life last reported on the home in December of 1999 when Washington Fine Properties for the Kays, who sold it for slightly more than $15,000,000 to William Conway, a founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group.

In 2005, Steve Case of AOL reportedly paid Conway $24.5 million for Merrywood.


The home is described as a mock-Georgian brick house set among 1/2 dozen acres of woods on the high Potomac palisades. From terraced lawns, there is a steep rocky drop to the river.

Merrywood's Owners:

1919: Newbold Noyes

1934: Hugh Auchincloss - Jackie's stepfather

1963: Magazine Brothers (Developers)

1964: Wyatt and Nan Dickerson

1984: Alan and Dianne Kay

1999: William Conway

2005: Steve Case

 

Merrywood Estate: Auchincloss Era 1934-1964

The new happy blended Auchincloss/Bouvier family at Merrywood.

An Auchincloss Christmas at Merrywood.

Gore Vidal (Center) at the 1957 Merrywood wedding of Nini Auchincloss (note JFK second from right)

who was an usher at the wedding.

Nini Auchincloss Wedding Reception at Merrywood (note JFK second from right)

Jackie and Caroline at Merrywood 1959 (Mark Shaw photograph)

Jackie and Caroline at Merrywood 1959 (Mark Shaw photograph)

Jackie and Caroline (and an unknown Collie) at Merrywood 1959 (Mark Shaw photograph)

Jackie and Janet at a 1960 JFK campaign fundraiser at Merrywood

Jackie and Janet at a 1960 JFK campaign fundraiser at Merrywood

Gore Vidal would make Merrywood the prototype for the house Laurel Hill in

his novel Washington, D.C.

(Camrose & Kross)

At some point during her early years at Merrywood, Jackie was given this

watch. Reproductions of Jackie's "Merrywood Watch" can be purchased via Camrose & Kross.

Merrywood Estate: Dickerson Era 1964-1984

John Dickerson age 7 at home (New York Times)

John Dickerson and his mother Nan Dickerson at Merrywood

His Royal Highness Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz (center) with Wyatt Dickerson (left) and Frank Sinatra (right) during

a party in honor of Ronald Reagan's first inaugural in 1981 at Merrywood. (Source Washington Life)

Wyatt and Nan Dickerson at Merrywood (Source: New York Times)

Wyatt and Nan Dickerson at Merrywood (Source: Parade Magazine)

John Dickerson and his mother Nan Dickerson at Merrywood (Parade Magazine)

John Dickerson's book about his mother - Nan Dickerson.

Merrywood Estate: Kay Era 1984-1999

Alan I. Kay with his wife, Dianne, in front of their McLean mansion, Merrywood, in the mid-1980s. (Source:

Harry Naltchayan/the Washington Post)


Merrywood Estate - Today

Photos below from 1998 Real Estate Listing (Washington Fine Properties)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Steve Brawley (314) 740-0298