Mr. and Mrs. George Austin came to the Genesee Valley in 1893 and purchased Murray Hill in Mt. Morris. George Austin was a retired trader and merchant in the East Indies who had amassed considerable wealth. Mrs. (Isabel Valle) Austin was French by birth and a relative of Mrs. Herbert (Martha Blow) Wadsworth of Ashantee. After living at Murray Hill for three years, they purchased the Sweetbriar property on Rt. 63 from Major Wadsworth and engaged local contractor Edward Forbes to erect a handsome and spacious dwelling. The west side of the house overlooked the valley, the land sloping down to the river. The south side was built around a three-sided roofed patio opening onto a brick terrace. About 1903, the Austins separated. Mr. Austin reportedly left for Europe and Mrs. Austin purchased the fine Federal house at 39 South Street in Geneseo.
In 1906, Sweetbriar was purchased by Major and Mrs. Winthrop A. Chanler. The Chanlers had been frequent guests of Major and Mrs. Wadsworth. Both were avid fox hunters and had fallen in love with the valley. Mrs. Chanler says in her book, Autumn in the Valley, Sweetbriar was “… a hundred and sixty acres of farm and woodland, with a large comfortable house big enough to hold us and our seven children, their nurses and governesses, with place for guests besides, and plenty of stable room.” Major Chanler died in 1926 and although the children were grown, Mrs. Chanler continued to make her home at Sweetbriar until her death, frequently spending the winters in Washington.
Upon his retirement after World War II, following a life-long career in the Navy, the estate became the property of their son Admiral Hubert Chanler. He moved there with his wife, the former Gertrude Laughlin, and their growing family. During their occupancy of Sweetbriar, the farmlands were put in good order, the gardens redesigned, the stables stocked with hunters and thoroughbreds and once again it became the site of hunt breakfasts and a variety of other social community events.
After Admiral Chanler’s death in 1974, Mrs. Chanler continued to reside at Sweetbriar until about 1980 when she sold the house and a parcel of the land to John Hickman, III, retaining the stables, tenant houses and farm lands. Mrs. Chanler built a new, smaller, handsome residence just north of the stables on the rim of Fall Brook from which the new house received its name.
Shortly after Mrs. Chanler moved to Fall Brook House, she had the family Chapel moved from Sweetbriar to a site near her new house. The “Chapel of St. Felicitas” was built about 1916 by Edward Forbes (the same contractor who had built Sweetbriar) following plans drawn by Mrs. Winthrop Chanler and her daughter Laura. The decorations on the interior were done by the Chanler children as a summer project.
Sweetbriar is currently owned by Barry and Angela Caplan, who maintain the historic beauty of the home while also managing the Sweetbriar Radiance Spa and Healing Arts Center. The lower floor and grounds are often employed as the site for elegant receptions and other special events, as well as for yoga classes. Parts of the upper floors have been refurnished as bed and breakfast suites.