Nicholas Lansing Zabriskie, or “N.L.,” came to Aurora in 1867 to be with Louise, his new bride and E.B. Morgan’s only daughter. N.L. (1838—1926) would spend the rest of his life in Aurora, raising a family with Louise and helping his new home thrive through innumerable acts and volunteer positions, including 50 years of service as a Wells College Trustee. A history of Cayuga County, published in 1908, eloquently summarizes N.L.’s impact on this tiny, treasured village: “Mr. Zabriskie has never held any public office except that of justice of the peace, but he has become so intimately associated with the best interests of Aurora that the public mind regards him and the village as inseparable. […] Business, education, religion—all find him an earnest and generous patron.”
N.L. and Louise raised their two sons, Alonzo (b. 1867) and Robert (b. 1872), in the comfort and safety of Aurora. As the boys grew into young men, the world took them on separate adventures: Alonzo traveled, most likely fishing and hunting within his social circles, and Robert sought an education at Princeton, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1895 and an Electrical Engineering Degree in 1897. During their time away from home, both brothers found brides: Robert married Aubin Markham Wells in 1899 and Alonzo married Belle Loader in 1902.
Back in Aurora, their mother Louise began to suffer from failing health and wanted her two sons close to her. To this end, she built a grand home for each: the property now known as Rowland House for Alonzo and Belle in 1903, and the property now known as Zabriskie House for Robert and Aubin in 1904.
With their new families in tow, the two brothers moved back home to Aurora. Louise passed away shortly after in 1906, and while Alonzo and Belle moved to Connecticut in 1912, Robert and Aubin stayed in Aurora. That year, Robert became the acting President of Wells College. In many ways, Robert took on his father’s mantle of service to Wells and to Aurora, earning positions as an Aurora Trustee and Mayor, and as a Trustee of Wells for over 40 years.
As N.L. and Louise carried into the future E.B. Morgan’s benevolent spirit on all matters concerning Aurora and the college, so did Robert. When he passed away in March of 1949 at the age of 77, Wells College honored his legacy of philanthropy and support. “Robert Lansing Zabriskie, whose long and cheerful and active life closed on Saturday last, has so secure a place in the minds and hearts of the older members of the College and the residents of Aurora that eulogy from such a newcomer as I am is almost impertinent,” remarked President Richard L. Green, who had been at the college for only three years when “Mr. Rob” passed. He continued, “But undergraduate generations succeed each other swiftly and many of you who now pass in your strolls the big white house beyond Wallcourt may need to be told as I must do imperfectly, of the influence radiating from it through the college and the village for so many years. […] Those who have spoken to me of him have dwelt on his kindness, his genuineness and sincerity, and the hospitality in his big white house, both planned and impromptu.”
Now, after a meticulous restoration and renovation, Robert’s “big white house” is open once again for hospitality—a gracious gathering place bearing his family name in the heart of the special village he dedicated his life to supporting.