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Holley/MacRae Family Papers Edit


Finding Aid Author
Marianne Hoffman, August 1989. Reprocessed by Kirsten M. Jensen, December 2001. Edited as needed by Amy Braitsch, 2003. Entered online by Ashley Aberg, November 3, 2023
Finding Aid Date
November 3, 2023
Description Rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Finding Aid Note
Part of the Manuscript Collections, Greenwich Historical Society Contact: Christopher Shields, Curator of Library and Archives 47 Strickland Road Cos Cob, CT 06807 United Stated


  • 1783-1988 (Creation)


  • 20 Linear Feet (Whole)



  • Scope and Contents

    The papers include correspondence, photographs, financial records, and ephemera from the Holley and MacRae families, as well as material relating to the 1913 Armory Show. The holley family operated a tide mill on Strickland Road and a boardinghouse frequently used by members of the Cos Cob Art Colony (1890-1920). The MacRaes were an affluent New York City family. Elmer Livingston MacRae became associated with the Holleys through his involvement with the Cos Cob Art Colony. MacRae subsequently married Emma Constant Holley in 1900. The bulk of the papers concern this couple.

  • Custodial History

    The bulk of the collection came to the Historical Society in 1957 following the sale of the Holley House to the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich. Additional donations were made relating to the 1913 Armory Show, as well as the 50th and 75th anniversary shows, in 1988 and 1989.

  • Conditions Governing Use

    The Holley/MacRae Family Papers are the physical property of the Greenwich Historical Society. Literary rights, including copyright, may belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, contact the archivist of the Greenwich Historical Society.

  • Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Holley/MacRae Family Papers, Greenwich Historical Society

  • Arrangement

    This collection has been arranged into five series with subseries. Series I: Correspondence (1859-1952). Series II: Financial and Business Records (1812-1953). Series III: Papers of Elmer Livingston MacRae concerning art, exhibitions, commissions, and the 1913 Armory Show (1895-1988). Series IV: Ephemera, Memorabilia, and Diaries (1806-1950). Series V: Photographs (1875-1950).

  • Conditions Governing Access

    There are no conditions governing access to materials. Where there are photocopies of clippings, researchers are requested to use photocopies in place of the original.

  • Biographical / Historical

    The Holley family was one of the early families of Stamford, descended from John Holly (1618-1681). Isaac Holly (1764-1851) moved to Greenwich as a boy. He became a prominent storekeeper and purchased a large amount of property in Stanwich. Isaac married Sarah Reynolds (1767-1853), and had three children, Sarah, Stephen (1804-1855), and Frances. Stephen inherited the land from his father and later became the second Postmaster of Greenwich in 1831. Stephen married a cousin, Emeline A. Reynolds, and had two children, Edward Payson (1837-1913) and William. Like his father before his, Edward Payson (E.P.) Holley (E.P. added the "ed" to the family's last name)inherited the family land; he leased, and later ran, the Cos Cob tide mill, which burned in 1899. In 1866 E.P. Holley married Josephine Lyon of Bedford, New York, with whom he eventually had three children, Edward Lyon (1868-1952), Josephine Lyon (1869-1887), and Emma Constant (1871-1965). E.P. Holley was not satisfied to remain a farmer, and subsequently build a large summer boarding hotel on the property he had inherited from his father. By 1897, when the boardinghouse proved unsuccessful, E.P. Holley, burdened with debts from its construction, lost the house when the bank foreclosed on his mortgage.

    In 1882, the family moved to the "Hold House" on Strickland Road, in Greenwich, which they rented for two years and ran as a boardinghouse. In 1884 E.P. Holley purchased the house. Beginning in the late 1880s E.P. Holley left his wife Josephine and the children to run the boardinghouse while he traveled to Florida and Cuba for his health. E.P. Holley constantly wrote to his wife for additional funds to support him and various moneymaking schemes he was always devising; his letters to Josephine are full of humor and flowery poetry, while at the same time full of assurance that he was working on "the enxt big thing" which would most certainly prove successful. These efforts failed, and E.P. died in Florida, destitute and alone, in 1913. Josephine Holley, however, was able to make a living running the boardinghouse, which by 1890 was used by artists John Henry Twachtman and Childe Hassam, who brough with them their summer classes from the Art Students League in New York. Cos Cob became, like Old Lyme further north on the Connecticut coast, home to an art colony, and the Holley boardinghouse was the center of its activity.

    Emma Constant (known mostly as Constant) was very much engaged not only in running the boardinghouse, but also in the life of the art colony, where during the summer of 1896 she met Elmer Livingston MacRae (1875-1953), a student of John Henry Twachtman. The two were married in 1900, after a four-year struggle with Elmer's father, Charles, who wanted his son to focus on his art and not become involved in running a boardinghouse - an occupation which he no doubt perceived to be beneath his son. The couple agreed to wait to marry until Elmer became successful, but married in 1900 soon after Charles MacRae died.

    Elmer Livingston MacRae was the son oc Charles MacRae (1834-1899) and Mary Jane Rogers MacRae (1843-1905), and had fourth brothers, Duncan (1868-1888), Charles Hope, Cecil, and Jesse; there were additional children who died in infancy. The family lived in New York City, where Elmer was born, and where Charles MacRae operated a successful real estate firm. Elmer was educated at both public and private schools in the city, including a military academy and Fordham University for one year. His father was very intent that his son become a successful artist, and gave him the opportunity to pursue art as a career. Elmer attended classes at the Art Students League, and father and son took a three-month European tour in 1894 - an opportunity that was not extended to his brothers. It is apaprent from some of the materials in this collection that Elmer's brother, Charles Hope, had significant artistic talent, but his father intended Charles, Cecil, and Jesse to follow in his footsepts in the real estate business, which they did (a task for which they did not appear suited as none of them were successful).

    Elmer and Constant were very active in the Cos Cob community, and were engaged in clubs, reading, and choral societies and arts organizations. Constant became known as a pioneer flower arranger, and was credited as being the first person in the United States to elevate flower arranging to the status of an art and to get it accepted as an integral part of flower shows. In 1937 she won the Fenwich Medal for her flower arrangements, a pinnacle of acclaim in the art.

    Along with his colleagues from the Art Students League, Elmer was one of the founders of the landmark Armory Show in 1913, which challenged and changed both the academic and public definition and attitude toward art and by doing so altered the course of history for American artists. Later in his life he became interested in the Arts and Crafts movement and took up woodcarving.

    Emma Constant and Elmer Macrae had two twin daughters, Clarissa and Constant, in 1904. The two frequently sat for their father and were very much involved in the art colony activites at the house. In 1925 Clarissa married Frederick Thompson, from who she was divorced in the 1940s. She was married for the second time in 1947 to Manuel Velasquez. Constant was also married at age 21, to Hall Smith, a mrechant from Cincinnati, Ohio. Hall and Constant resided in ohio and had two children. In 1934 Constant died suddenly of bronchial pneumonia.

    During the 1940s and 1950s Emma Constant Holley MacRae gave tours of the Holley House to schoolchildren and opened the house to visitors, which established a precedent that continues to this day. Elmer MacRae died in 1953 and Emma Constant Holley MacRae continued to live in Holley House until 1957, when the property was sold to the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, now the Greenwich Historical Society.