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Enchanted landscape behind the gates; Jacobs family's East Aurora estate is surrounded by natural wonders as envisioned by Olmsted

As the automated gate to Jeremy and Margaret Jacobs' 250-acre estate in East Aurora closes from behind, a world of unadorned nature opens.

Weeping beech trees. Grassy meadows. A maple grove. An apple orchard. Woodland trails above the Cazenovia Creek gorge.

It was planned that way 80 years ago, when Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and his firm laid out every tree, road curve and leafy path.

It is believed to be one of just two Olmsted residential landscapes in the country still intact -- because of the Jacobses' commitment.

Planting today is guided by the Olmsted firm's original, intricately prepared plans and other materials the Jacobses obtained from the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site archives in Brookline, Mass.

Margaret Jacobs, who prefers to go by "Peggy," didn't anticipate how much pleasure the house would bring when the estate was bought from the Goodyear family in 1975.

"I must admit, I really didn't want to come here," Peggy Jacobs said. "We were living in Eggerstville, on Lebrun Road, so coming out here was a big jolt to me. Jerry had the vision, not me."

Two weeks ago, the Jacobses' commitment to preserving the landscape drew raves from the National Association for Olmsted Parks.

The group was "enchanted" by what they saw, said William J. Hawkins III, co-chair of the association.

"It's very rare in this world to have what was such a gorgeous bit of landscaping remain intact," he said.

Olmsted scholar Charles Beveridge told Peggy Jacobs he was aware of only one other estate, in Massachusetts, that preserved the spirit of Olmsted's design so well.

Frank Kowsky, an architectural historian who authored a book on Calvert Vaux, Frederick Law Olmsted's senior design partner on the Buffalo Olmsted parks system and the Richardson Olmsted Complex, also was impressed after a recent visit.

"It's a wonderful Olmstedian landscape, very beautifully maintained. The sympathy with the design has governed whatever they do here," Kowsky said.

Following the attention given the estate by the national experts, Peggy Jacobs invited The Buffalo News into her home for the first time to see the Olmsted-designed grounds.

Entering Deeridge Farm, anchored by the sprawling, 35,000-square-foot house somewhat obscured by the nature around it, offers a glimpse into a bygone era of almost unimaginable wealth, a time when Buffalo was dominated by the Jacobs, Rich, Knox, Schoellkopf and Butler families.

The Schollkopfs are no longer neighbors of the Jacobs, and the Knox estate is now vacant, part of the Knox Farm State Park two miles away. But a recent visit to the Jacobs country manor found it in full bloom.

Indoor and outdoor staff tended to home and grounds as visitors sipped freshly pressed hot apple cider and the living room fireplace crackled.

Peggy Jacobs said she didn't know how many rooms are in the house and wasn't sure of the number of bedrooms beyond eight on the second floor, since some were changed when the children were growing up. Nor could she say how many people are on staff.

"There are a lot. I mean it's like the bedrooms, I don't really count," she said.

While the Jacobs' six children have grown up and moved away, they return often with the 18 grandchildren and great-granddaughter.

"We do family pictures in June, and they stay here, and it's a busy house. We really fill it up to the fullest," she said.

The couple own a home in Florida, but this remains their year-round residence. Peggy Jacobs enjoys a daily, six-mile walk on the property, allowing her to keep an observant eye on original plantings, such as hickory and magnolia trees, as well as younger specimens transplanted from their own nursery.

"I get to see everything, and I think that's why there's so much attention to detail," Jacobs said.

When the Jacobs family bought the house, it needed considerable work, from scraping off layers of paint to returning the lily pond to use.

"The biggest shock to us was that there was an acre of slate roof. We had to replace it. It was, 'Oh my goodness!,' " Peggy Jacobs said.

It costs a considerable amount to maintain such a large estate, but according to the Forbes 400 list published in September, the Jacobses can afford to do so.

Jeremy Jacobs, 71, who oversees the concession giant Delaware North and owns the Boston Bruins hockey team,, is worth $1.9 billion. That ranked him as the 227th richest American, just below Robert Rich Jr. of Rich Products.

Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, said the Jacobses' grounds are a classic Olmsted environment, from the long, meandering entrance drive that leads to the mansion to areas carefully segregated for both pleasure and practical uses.

"Every curve, every vista is designed. It didn't just happen. It's a work of art in and of itself," Herrera-Mishler said. "It's all about creating the picturesque scene, and that's what you see over and over again in the Olmsted landscapes.

"Olmsted was creating scenery, this rustic escape, and this is what he was trying to create in the parks, in the city, for everybody."

The estate had its beginnings at the start of the Great Depression. Frank H. Goodyear Jr., whose family made a fortune in the lumber, coal and railroad industries, and his wife, the former Dorothy Knox, commissioned architect John Russell Pope, who had designed homes for the Vanderbilts, to design a shingle-style summer home.

The Olmsted Brothers firm was chosen to create a lush landscape from what was then a potato field. The firm headed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., which still bore the name of his late stepbrother, John Charles Olmsted, inherited the nation's first landscape architecture business years after their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, died in 1903.

Pope and Olmsted would later collaborate on the Jefferson Memorial.

Their work in East Aurora began in 1929 and was completed in 1931, just before Frank Goodyear was killed in a car accident.

The Jacobs family has now owned the estate 36 of its 80 years. They make broad use of it, whether walking the trails and taking pictures, tapping maple trees and boiling the sap for maple syrup, sitting in the rustic log cabin that overlooks the creek or growing plants in the Lord & Burnham-designed greenhouse.

There have been changes made to the landscape. The Jacobses, who are passionate about horses and show jumping, added stables and rinks, but they don't obstruct the nearby apple orchard. A deck was built, but it allows existing trees to poke through. They drained swampland to create a pond and other uses, of which Herrera-Mishler believes Olmsted would have approved.

He also said a small putting green between the house and poolhouse was well considered so as not to obstruct the overall view.

"What's remarkable to me is the restraint they have shown, and the respect expressed for the original design, both of the house and the original landscape," Herrera-Mishler said.

Peggy Jacobs said she appreciates the accolades that have recently come their way.

"It's such a unique and special place, and I feel so fortunate to live here. Every day I get up and I walk out the door, and I feel like I'm on vacation."

email: msommer@buffnews.com