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Nineteenth Century Piano Finds its Way Home to Mount Kisco

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The Malcolm Love piano, left, owned by Col. Robert Woodward Leonard when he and the Leonard family lived at what is now Leonard Park, is back in Mount Kisco at the village’s Historical Society archives. Leonard’s Spanish American War portrait is on the wall overlooking the piano.

A piece of Mount Kisco history has made it back to the village after crisscrossing the United States for decades. The Mount Kisco Historical Society received a more than century-old Malcolm Love piano last week, an upright that was purchased by Col. Robert Woodward Leonard in the late nineteenth century.

Leonard, a Civil War and Spanish American War veteran, was a son of Judge William Henry Leonard, a state Supreme Court justice from 1859 to 1872, according to “The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History.”

The family owned significant property in what is present-day Mount Kisco, and in later years donated about 96 acres of their Meadowside estate to create much of what is now Leonard Park, said Historical Society President Ralph Vigliotti.

That the organization now has not only the Malcolm Love piano, which was a popular purchase for well-to-do families in the New York area from the 1890s into the early 20th century, but a portrait of Col. Leonard in his Spanish American War uniform and a treasure trove of photos, documents and two formal dresses from the 1880s, is a stunning find for the historical society, Vigliotti said.

“We hope to have a museum one day. I may not be around to see that, but the piano and Col. Leonard’s portrait is just perfect,” he said. “He’s one of the backbones of our history, Mount Kisco’s history.”

How the historical society obtained the piano, the portrait and other artifacts and possessions took a stroke of great luck.

Polly Holyoke, the great-granddaughter of William Henry Leonard II, early last year was selling her home in Plano, Texas to relocate to her native Colorado. Holyoke, a children’s book author, was in possession of the piano, which she had kept in her living room.

She had gotten it from her aunt, Evelyn, a daughter of Holyoke’s grandfather, who had moved to Maryland.

“That’s where I remember seeing the piano,” Holyoke said. “I remember playing the piano at her place. I think we lent it do a community center.”

At some point, Evelyn got it back and had it in her farmhouse, one of her two homes, in Martinsburg, Md. she said.

Holyoke, who married a businessman where relocating was a recurring event over the years, toted the piano around the country from the West Coast to the East Coast, including for several years when she and her family lived in Wilton, Conn. She said the piano has a beautiful cabinet and ivory keys that are in outstanding condition.

“Whenever we had to move this thing – it’s one of those old-fashioned uprights – it was just crazy heavy,” Holyoke said. “It would take eight men, nine men, 10 men to lift it.”

Looking to downsize when moving to Colorado, Holyoke realized she could no longer keep the piano, so she left it to the house’s new owner, Suzanne Phillips. Phillips and her husband moved to Texas in July 2021 from Chappaqua after their youngest child graduated from Horace Greeley High School.

Phillips said when they were ready to move in after purchasing the home, Holyoke asked them if they were interested in keeping the piano. Phillips enthusiastically agreed.

“I was like absolutely, it will be loved and cherished here and it will be played,” she said. “But then we got here with no children and I was like, ‘What is happening?’”

When her children visited, they closely read a letter that Holyoke had left the family. It outlined the history of the piano through the generations.

“They were sitting there and they said, ‘Oh my God, we’ve all played at Leonard Park,’” Phillips remembered her children remarking. They suggested to contact the Mount Kisco Society if their parents didn’t want to keep it.

Vigliotti said when Phillips reached out, he and other members of the organization were so thrilled that they agreed to pay the $2,400 to ship the piano. Holyoke also donated the portrait, photos, letters and other possessions. The historical society is currently fundraising to offset the cost, he said.

The items are all in the historical society’s archives at 40 Green St., a facility that it shares with the Westchester County police at the village’s old police headquarters.

“It’s striking,” Vigliotti said of the portrait, which now is on a wall over the piano. “It gives the archives a sense of a museum. It’s very special.”

For Holyoke, she’s ecstatic that one of the most appropriate places was found for the piano and other possessions.

“It’s a huge relief and it absolutely makes me smile to think that the piano will be looked after from now on, and that Robert Woodward, the portrait, is there also,” she said.

 

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