Exhibit of historic photos opens at Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Historic photo of Hayfield House

Hayfield House, designed by Architect Frances Nelson, was constructed between 1930 and 1933.

Credit: William H. Conyngham

LEHMAN, Pa. — A new exhibit, “The Historic Hayfield House – Creating a Legacy,” is now on display at the Penn State Wilkes-Barre Friedman Art Gallery. The exhibit, which is open to all at no cost, honors the legacy of the estate where Penn State Wilkes-Barre is located today.

The exhibit, which runs January through April 1, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes original family photos that were donated and on loan from William H. Conyngham.

Hayfield House, designed by Architect Frances Nelson, was constructed between 1930 and 1933. The owners, John Nesbitt Conyngham II and his wife, Bertha, had amassed a fortune in the coal and banking industries and built the Hayfield House for use as their summer home. When they were not in Pennsylvania, the Conynghams resided at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

John Nesbitt Conyngham was born in Wilkes-Barre on Sept. 13, 1865, the oldest son of William Lord Conyngham and Olivia Hillard. Bertha Robinson Conyngham was born in 1865 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, daughter of financier John Norris Robinson and Mary Moore and stepdaughter of financier J. Hood Wright. On April 18, 1895, John N. Conyngham married Bertha Robinson.

A “gentleman farmer,” John Conyngham purchased the land that became “Hayfield Farm” in Lehman Township. He used the land the house was built on as part of the 500-acre Hayfield Farms, which was started in 1910 to raise various animal breeds for shows. The farm had five barns, prized Clydesdale horses, Chester white pigs, Sardinian donkeys, highland cattle and sheep.

The first cornerstone for Hayfield House was laid in 1932 and the family first occupied the home on Thanksgiving Day in 1933. John Nesbitt Conyngham was only able to enjoy his new home for a short time before he died on July 12, 1935, in his bedroom in Hayfield House, at the age of 69. Following the death of her husband, Bertha Conyngham continued to divide her time between the Hayfield Farm and the Plaza Hotel until she passed away in 1964.

After her death, her nephew Richard Robinson acquired Hayfield House and the farm. He and his cousins donated a portion of the estate to establish a permanent campus for Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Robinson donated Hayfield House, a 19-car garage and 50 acres of the estate to the campus.

Penn State immediately started carefully planned renovations to preserve the historic home and grounds and held the first classes in 1968. Initially, Hayfield House was the only building on campus and housed offices and classrooms. The original garage is now the Penn State Wilkes-Barre Student Commons.

The Friedman Art Gallery, named in honor of Penn State supporters Sidney and Pauline Friedman, regularly displays the work of students and local artists, as well as private art collections. The gallery promotes, encourages and exhibit artworks of professional and amateur artists from Penn State Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding communities.

To learn more about the exhibit, contact Jonathan Pineno, lecturer of music and art; director of the Friedman Art Gallery and president of Arts at Hayfield, at 570-675-9159 or [email protected].