The hardest thing to do with this project is not to assume anything. Everytime I have, it has turned out to be wrong. This place has always been a mystery to me from the days I first looked up at it while wandering around it's back yard. My Mom would take me when she went to pick up my sister from her girl scout meetings held there. I wished she would of taken me inside with her. My sister who remembers getting a tour of it back then, can't really remember any details. Is there a hypnotist in the house? Trouble is when so few things are known to be facts, all you can do is make reasonable assumptions....Or INVESTIGATE and get to the truth
Well here's a very reasonable one : Sometime between 1916 and 1925 Claire Antoinette Knapp goes from being a "spinster" to becoming Claire Antoinette Knapp Penney. How do I know this? Because on December 15th, 1925 she sells all the land and all the buildings (was the mansion built yet?... most likely) back to her brother J. F. Why? well its reasonable to assume several things. Either she got just got married (the deed transfer lists her as Claire Knapp Penney who's residence is Yaphank about 15 miles to the north west of Mastic) or she was getting divorced and didn't want the property in her name. I know that she remarried sometime later to a Thomas Dixon III., but do not know yet if she was a widow or a divorcee. Her brother J. F.s residence at this time is listed as Mastic, so I can assume he is living in the mansion.
UPDATE: With this news, another reason Claire transferred the estate back to her brother becomes most plausible. Around 1925, she marries a man named Willis Oliver Penney 1898-1974. Willis was the son of Merritt Cash Penney 1854-1941. Merritt was the caretaker of the nearby Dana Estate and the Dana's and The Knapp's socialized. He was also involved with the Methodist church. Merritt's oldest son Clarence was employed by the Knapps to construct their 9 hole golf course. It is highly likely that he did not build this course totally alone and enlisted help eg. his brother Willis. There is also a possibility that another Penney family member (Charles?) was employed by the Knapp's for estate duties. This could of been the opportunities for Claire to meet Willis. But however they did meet, it is known that Claire's father Joseph Palmer and her brother did not approve of the Claire Willis courtship. I have heard she had to hide him in the mansion and there are reports of him climbing out of second story windows to escape detection.
That scenario brought to mind, my group of friends and my brother Butchie, who would be practicing our second story escapes out of the mansion some 30 years later. We did this so we could all escape the clutches of the Brookhaven Town Police who were in charge of keeping kids out of the abandoned building. I can't help but wonder now if we may of taken the some of the same routes as Willis once did. Sweet bird of youth fly on......
With the kind of wealth the Knapps had, one can reasonably assume they could of built that place in feast or famine years, though it had all the earmarks of a late teens, early roaring '20's style large home that sprung up on Long Island during that era. However it was far from ostentatious like many were on the Long Island's north shore gold coast. I do know this in 1929, J. F. Knapp was still buying land to add to the original 160 some acres. In fact he bought 27 lots off of Warren & Arthur Smadbeck the owners of Home Guardian Corporation. It may of been the first land deal he made with them, but it would certainly not be the last.