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A historic Salisbury house and farm return to life

The former Shagroy Farm house and estate have re-emerged as the spruced up Belle Vallee. Photo by Cynthia Hochswender

SALISBURY — Belle Vallee might still be Salisbury’s Gray Gardens, a grand mansion in decay, if it hadn’t been for Realtor Pat Best, who began work to restore it in 2013. 

Crumbling on the outside and ruined by pet damage on the inside, the Greek Revival house cried out for someone to show it some love and respect. 

Built in 1845 by Silas Reed and called Shagroy Farm, it passed to Reed’s son-in-law, Henry Woodworth, in 1854. Reed’s daughter died in 1858, but she and Henry had at least one surviving child — Silas Reed Woodworth — who assumed ownership of the farm after his parents’ demise. Salisbury Town Hall records show that Shagroy Farm remained in the family until May 1896, when widow Harriet P. Woodworth sold it to James Campbell.

Here, the story of Belle Vallee’s ownership takes a decidedly colorful turn. In July 1998, The Millerton News interviewed the descendants of John “Jack” Dunston, a famous New York restaurateur who won the farm in a poker game during an April 1909 fishing trip in the Adironacks. 

Shagroy Farm’s new owner lost no time in restoring the house and changing its name to Idlewild Farm, before settling in to enjoy it for the next 20 years. Dunston’s new life had no effect on his schedule at the restaurant, however. According to New York newspapers, Farmer Dunston changed out of his overalls and into his tuxedo every evening, traveling by train from Lakeville to Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street in time for a 3 a.m. dinner at his Jack’s restaurant.

In addition to his Millbrook estate, Dunston owned valuable New York City property, which he purchased under the name of Kompesula Realty. Salisbury Town Hall records reveal that, at his death in 1927, the owner of Idlewild Farm was not Jack Dunston but his daughter. Kompesula Realty had deeded the house and property to Victoria D. Hay in 1918, for the price of one dollar.

Chemical engineer Titus Sheard Hose and his wife, Agnes, bought the 850-acre Idlewild Farm, which they rechristened Shagroy Farm, for $150,000 in December 1933.

In addition to the 18-room mansion, superintendent’s cottage, chauffeur’s garage and numerous out-buildings, the farm also included a 10-acre lake and trout streams. Hose raised prize dairy cows; his enterprising wife transformed Shagroy into the largest and most profitable turkey farm in the Northeast. The newspapers said that Mrs. Hose, a well-groomed woman who wore her hair in soft waves and a string of pearls around her neck, looked more suited to hosting a tea party than to running a poultry farm.

To their surprise, she used her Shagroy success story to illustrate the importance of women achieving financial independence that amounted to more than “pin money.” She participated in vocational demonstrations and lobbied Albany legislators for more business opportunities for the fairer sex. 

After her husband’s death in 1948, Hose installed a freezing and canning facility at Shagroy Farm, revolutionary for its time in the poultry industry. This allowed her to sell flash-frozen turkey products to nationwide supermarkets, not just to specialty stores. 

“Good things should be available to everyone,” she often said. 

The Hoses made a point of giving back to the community, distributing hundreds of fresh turkeys to the Millerton Mission during the 1930s. At the outbreak of World II, Mrs. Hose gave most of her birds to the U. S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps, who served them in Army mess halls.

Mrs. Hose earned the respect of her fellow turkey farmers, most of them men, and her success made her and the farm famous. 

Titus Hose also had his share of notable friends — including Babe Ruth, who was his close friend and hunting companion. Ruth stayed at Shagroy a number of times between 1945 and 1948; he came to Millerton to hunt deer and to shoot at the Millerton Rod and Gun Club. Shagroy Farm was conveniently located on the part of Belgo Road that is close to the New York border and Millerton.

Ruth most likely discovered the town during a weekend with the woman who was his girlfriend at the time, a leggy redhead named Lorraine who lived adjacent to the gun club property. Long-term residents still talk of Babe Ruth’s legendary drinking at Sam Parker’s and at the Oakhurst Inn, during hunting expeditions with Hose, LeRoy Ganung (who ran the Millerton Sausage Factory, at what is now site the Harney and Son’s Tea Shop and Tasting Room), and Millerton grocery store owner Sid Shufelt.

Three years after Titus Hose’s death in 1948, his wife became partners with two neighboring poultry farmers — Edward I. Eldredge and William Ford — which increased Shagroy’s holdings to more than 1,200 acres. The partnership lightened her responsibilities considerably, leaving her more time to focus on the important community activities she sponsored, including clubs for children and adults. 

After running what became known as Shagroy-Tirvelda Farm for more than 20 years, William Ford left it to his wife, Pauline, at his death in 1976. She sold off parcels on either side of the house in 1976 and in 1978. Sometime in the early 1980s, Robert V. Racek bought the remaining property, christening it (incorrectly) Beau Vallee. His daughter remained in the house for close to 40 years after her father’s death. She had many cats in the house; they damaged much of the interior. 

Pat Best purchased the property and did extensive renovations, including what she consider two key elements: a family room addition to the kitchen, and master suites on both the first and second levels. Other additions included a swimming pool and a three-car garage with an upstairs apartment.

Now, the farm awaits the next chapter in its storied history. 

The house remains for sale; information can be found at the Best and Cavallaro website, bestandcavallaro.com/listing/170005332/251-belgo-salisbury-ct-06039/.