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Robert and LeVanche, a brief love story



Thank you so much to Fred P. for filling in the fascinating details of this story! We found this photo in a box of old family photos yet it doesn't feature anyone from our family. After determining that the characters were likely relatives of an old family friend named Jay Lutes who had died in the 1970's and left his few photos with friends (my grandparents), we turned to Ancestry.com and sent a message to Fred, an active genealogist who had listed Jay Lutes on a distant branch of his own family tree. Despite having over 2,000 entries in his tree, Fred knew the story of Jay's sister, Levanche, very well...

robert Gardiner abercrombie...

was a prominent banker in Irvington, New York, an affluent village on the Hudson River in Westchester County just 20 miles north of Manhattan. He was president of the First National Bank of Irvington and president of the Westchester banking association. His parents were Scottish immigrants and he was born fairly poor in Manhattan.

Levanche Mae Lutes...

was from Geneva, a small town in upstate New York that is closer to Canada than it is to New York City. She attended William Smith College, a women's college in Geneva, and finished a teaching degree at SUNY Brockport in nearby Rochester, New York. Her ancestors were Boyce's, an old Hudson Valley Dutch family who settled in the Irvington area. In fact, some literary scholars have proposed that Washington Irving based the character Bram Bones in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on his neighbor Abraham "Bram" Boyce (who actually did marry a woman named Katrina VanTassel who he is buried with in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery). Levanche took a teaching position in Irvington and became acquainted with Robert Abercrombie sometime around 1925.

 Levanche Lutes Abercrombie, circa 1915. Found along with the photo at the top of the page.

Levanche Lutes Abercrombie, circa 1915. Found along with the photo at the top of the page.

They fell in love and were soon to be married, with Robert wanting to have children who would have deep American roots and all the opportunities that would come along with a privileged upbringing in Westchester County. However, because Levanche was 35 years younger than Robert, his family insisted on her signing a prenuptial agreement, ostensibly to protect their vast fortune, perhaps not believing that Levanche was truly motivated by love. The prenuptial agreement stated that in the almost certain event that Robert would die before Levanche, she would receive a specific dollar amount of his estate (a large amount for the day, yet proportionately small when compared to his entire estate) to ensure that his relatives would receive the bulk of his fortune. Levanche, of course, had no issue agreeing to such terms in order to marry Robert.

When Robert did indeed die suddenly of a heart attack in 1930, the prenuptial agreement ended up working immensely in Levanche's favor, much to the dismay of Robert's relatives (more on that later).

Apparently the wedding would have been fitting of a Roaring Twenties film, a la The Great Gatsby... 500 guests attended and details were eagerly published in the newspapers of the day...


Due to the stock market crash of 1929, the Abercrombie fortune lost much of its value and therefore, when Robert died unexpectedly in 1930, the preset amount that the prenuptial agreement had stipulated Levanche would receive was now virtually the entire estate! She also received life use of their house, designed by Andrew Jackson Downing in 1843 and named "Airdrie" by Robert in honor of his Scottish birthplace. Airdrie was designed to overlook the Hudson River and had such intricate features that the former Irvington Village historian, Carl Carmer, described its gingerbread trim as, "vergeboards cut in mad scroll-saw patterns, poetic fancies of thousands of carpenters let loose in an orgy of quick carving". Airdrie still stands in Irvington today.

Levanche returned to teaching and never remarried. She died in 1985, just shy of her 91st birthday.

 Photo on left from  Hudson River Valley Heritage , photo on right from  Zillow . To view exterior and interior photos of Airdrie today, search on  Zillow  for 19 N Cottenet St, Irvington NY 10533

Photo on left from Hudson River Valley Heritage, photo on right from Zillow. To view exterior and interior photos of Airdrie today, search on Zillow for 19 N Cottenet St, Irvington NY 10533


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