William Robertson Coe was born on June 8, 1869 in England. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1883. At the age of 15, William began working as an office boy for a Philadelphia insurance broker. The brokerage was acquired by Johnson and Higgins Insurance Co., and Coe rose to become a manager of the adjusting (claims) department in the New York City office of the maritime insurer. He worked his way up to President and then Chairman of the Board.
He married three times. His first marriage, was to Jane (Jeannie) Hutchinson Falligant, in 1893. On June 4, 1900, Coe married Mai Huttleston Rogers. Their marriage produced four children and the development of Planting Fields. He leased and eventually purchased the Byrne estate, on the same property of today’s Planting Fields. That house burned down and Coe Hall was built in the same location. Mai died in 1924. In 1926, Coe married Caroline Graham Slaughter
Coe was on the Board of Directors of the Virginian Railway from 1910 until his death in 1955, and headed the company for a brief period during World War II. He was also a director of Loup Creek Colliery and the Wyoming Land Company.
Coe liked horses and was a thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast. He built a riding stable on his Planting Fields estate and put together a racing stable based at the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York. Coe's filly Black Maria won the Kentucky Oaks in 1926, the Metropolitan Handicap in 1927, and the first running of the Whitney Handicap in 1928. Among his stables' other notable horses were Cleopatra, the 1920 U.S. Champion 3-year-old Filly, and Ladysman, which won the 1932 Hopeful Stakes and was the American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt. Six of Coe's horses competed in the Kentucky Derby. His best finish came in 1937, when Pompoon finished second to War Admiral.
Planting Fields, the Coes' estate in Upper Brookville, New York, was built around 1911 on the famous Gold Coast of Long Island. Coe Hall, the manor house, was designed by the firm of Walker and Gillette and built between 1918 and 1921. The Coes' interest in rare species of trees and plant collections made the estate a botanical marvel.
At Planting Fields, W.R. Coe was actively involved with developing and improving the collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, and hibiscus. Coe had a particular liking for new plant varieties and modern growing techniques. In this spirit, he deeded the estate to the State of New York in 1949. W.R. Coe died in his recently acquired home in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 15, 1955.
“William Robertson Coe.” Howling Pixel, howlingpixel.com/i-en/William_Robertson_Coe
“William Robertson Coe.” Planting Fields Foundation, plantingfields.org