Wenga Farm - The Storied Past of the IBM Property
By Jackson Harrower
August 9, 2016
The Armonk IBM headquarters stands on almost 450 acres of land. What is now the home of the world’s largest information technology company has rich local historical significance. The land of IBM’s headquarters was once a fort built by the Siwanoy Indians long before any white settlers inhabited the area. When the first settlers witnessed the fort while looking north from the Long Island Sound, they found it to resemble a castle, thus giving the area the name North Castle. The area surrounding the Siwanoy fort was a sprawling landscape of pristine mountains and valleys veined by crystal clear rivers.
The first settlers came to North Castle in the 1700’s, by the mid 18th Century many homes had been built along the streams and a vibrant milling industry had been formed. North Castle was growing rapidly through its own milling and later shoemaking industries and as a stop on the New York-Danbury Post Road. It was in this environment that Willett Cornell first established his farm and home in 1790 on the now IBM property. In 1825 Cornell conveyed the property to the Birdsalls, who lived and farmed on it for two generations. The property was later purchased by James E. Brundage and eventually sold to Cornelius R. Agnew.
Mr. Agnew was the vice president of a New York bank and a prominent citizen of Westchester. He purchased neighboring farms until the estate sprawled out over 600 acres. Cornelius Agnew and his wife Blanche named their estate and working farm Wenga Farm, as it was customary to use the family name in reverse for the farm name. The Agnews built a large, stately house at the end of a long, winding driveway atop one of the rolling hills. The three story house was outfitted with all the desirable luxuries and comforts of the period. The first two floors contained ample bedrooms, bath rooms, and sitting rooms for the four children and many guests. The third floor housed the servants’ rooms. A circular room paneled with chestnut was built to house Mrs. Agnew’s organ. The house opened onto sprawling lawns, elegant landscaping, and a glittering pool. Views from the Agnew house stretched as far as the Kensico Reservoir and the Long Island Sound. The property surrounding the Agnew Home possessed multiple other homes that served as houses for maintenance workers and the Agnew children. The house of Alice Agnew Morris, often called the Crow’s Nest, was used by IBM before its headquarters were completed.
Wenga Farm itself was much more than just an estate. It was a lively and fully functioning farm with an apple orchard containing hundreds of trees along with peach and pear trees. There were also horses, cows, and sheep among other animals. Wenga Farm remained a hub of activity for decades. Cornelius Rea Agnew stayed at the helm until his passing on November 24, 1954 at the age of 84. Ms. Dorothea Agnew said that Mr. Agnew’s close friends and relatives remembered him as, “a sweet, gentle man with twinkling blue eyes.”
In 1955 it was announced that IBM would be purchasing Wenga Farm, ushering in a new era for the land as a corporate world headquarters. IBM spent nine years planning and constructing a 417,000 square foot, four story compound for the over 1,000 employees it would be bringing in. The headquarters flourished in its new location. A new, lightning bolt shaped, central headquarters building was built in 1997. IBM has remained an active charitable contributor in North Castle. In 1977 IBM senior vice president Robert W. Hubner donated $85,000 on behalf of IBM to the North Castle Historical Society to aid in the establishing of Smith’s Tavern as the Historical Society’s lasting Armonk home.
Thank you to the North Castle Historical Society
Content sourced from The North Castle Historical Society Volume 27
Articles used were “Wenga Farm” by Doris Finch Watson and “IBM Corporation, A Different Neighbor” by Sharon Tomback