Count Eugenio Goncalves de Teixeira
The following account of the life of Count de Teixeira was written by Dr. R. Sherman Mills
It is the stuff of which fairy tales are made, but without a fairy tale ending. It is a tale a novelist would tell, but it is true in all known details. A debonair man of reputed wealth and royal lineage meets and marries a young lady of common birth. Together, they return to her hometown and begin to build a castle named Diamond Hill. Their life knows near triumph and near tragedy and most of it unfolds right here in East Setauket.
The young lady was Leona Hand of Setauket and around 1900, she went to New York City to live with her friend and relative, Ella Hand Small, the wife of George Small. Why Miss Hand went to the city is not known, nor are the social circles in which she and her future husband revolved and eventually met. But we might imagine that in nineteenth century New York City, this young woman from a small town may have felt as if Prince Charming himself had arrived in her life. Actually, he was not a prince at all, but a count - Count Eugenio Goncalves de Teixeira of Brazil.
The Count was dapper, distinguished, and the professed owner of 25 square miles of the richest mines in the world. These mines were located in Brazil on properties discovered in 1640 by the Count's ancestor, Don Pedro (de) Teixeira of Portugal. Before coming to New York in 1896, the Count ran a clay products factory in Brazil with his father, civil engineer Don Antonio machado da Camara Goncalves de Teixeira. He was also a husband and father. In fact, his three daughters, Carolina, Jenny, and Georgina, were living in New York City at the time of his second marriage. The Count's first wife, a member of Portuguese nobility, was apparently left behind in Brazil, with or without the courtesy of a divorce.
We cannot say if Leona Hand was aware of all these details at the time of her marriage, but if they were a secret, they did not remain so forever. On January 27, 1917, The Port Jefferson Echo reported that Georgina accused her father and sister Carolina of cheating her out of her mother's inheritance. As a result of the charges, Georgina said her father kept her as a virtual prisoner in his home and asked local doctors Dildine and Many to examine her regarding her sanity. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Exact details are sketchy but at some point after their marriage, the Count and the new Mrs. Teixeria (apparently she was not called a Countess, at least by the locals) moved to East Setauket. They lived first in a small house on Shore Road which belonged to Captain Benjamin Jayne. By 1920, they had moved to the first house on the northwest side of Bayview Avenue. Shortly thereafter, they acquired property on Carleton Avenue which extended through to Bayview. Originally, this land had belonged to George Small (Ella's husband), but when he drowned, his house was moved to Main Street.
The Teixeiras built a large home, which is still occupied today, and extensive outbuildings which the Count referred to as his factory.
On the Bayview Avenue side of the land, the Count began construction of his castle, Diamond Hill.
Aside from the Count and Leona (and perhaps a captive Georgina), the property was home to at least three others. In 1920, the Count's daughter Carolina brought a baby girl to East Setauket who was subsequently raised by the Teixeiras. The Count rescued his ex-cook, Henry Smith, from the Bowery in Manhattan and brought him out to be the caretaker. (Local residents dubbed Smith "No Account" but were touched nonetheless by his devotion to the little girl.) Finally, there was a sculptor named Estivo who lived and worked in the factory.
Surely the most remarkable resident was the Count himself. His personal papers reveal a man of intelligence, ambition, accomplishment and eccentricity, perhaps bordering on genius. His professed degrees were in physics, chemistry, metallurgy, architecture, law, sculpture, religion, mineralogy, and civil engineering. His 125 inventions included clay products, tools, medications, armor, and forest products. In addition, he claimed to have written several scientific and technical books.
The volume containing the Count's business proposals, organizations, and correspondence is four inches thick. It contains maps of his family's Brazilian holdings dating back to their discovering in 1640. If a picture in the December 1981 edition of The Port Jefferson Echo is any indication, the Count's claims of wealth appear to have been true. The picture a five pound, 24-carat gold nugget embedded by nature with a four carat diamond and said to have been found in one of the Teixeira's mines. In addition to that gem, the yield handled by Teixeira Productions, Inc., included 33 minerals, 38 forest products, 57 timber, 13 "cultivated" and 24 animal and insect products.
article Port Jefferson Echo, December 11, 1915
In addition, his factory in East Setauket contained his tile and brick experiments, architectural models, and sculptures.
Port Jefferson Echo, August 23, 1919
In spite of all his reputed credentials and accomplishments, success and renown eluded the Count. In January 1928, a fire destroyed the factory and killed Estivo.
A grandiose plan to dig a tunnel to Setauket Harbor was stopped for unknown reasons. (Rumors abounded as to the Count's intentions since the harbor was a regular site of rum-running during Prohibition.) Even Diamond Hill remained unfinished until it was torn down in the 1940s. Most likely, both projects fell victim to financial troubles.
Troubles of some sort led the Count away from East Setauket in 1930. True to his precedent, he left behind his wife and children. Little is known about his later activities although during World War II he was back in New York City, actively trying to raise $20 million to export his Brazilian products for the war effort.
The Count's story ends in 1950 in New Hampshire where he died of cancer at the age of 86. Interestingly enough, he is buried in the St. James Roman Catholic Churchyard here in Setauket. Next to him is Leona, who died in 1946, and his son Peter and his wife.
The pieces of this story are gathered for the first time here. It is perhaps a tragedy of unfulfilled promise and potential, or a mystery fueled by rumors and speculation. However we choose to classify if in the end, one thing is certain: It is a tale as intriguing and enigmatic as "the Count" himself.