Gardiner Island ownership dispute
In 1936, when 23-year-old Winthrop Gardiner Jr. inherited the Island Sarah Diodati Gardiner purchased it from him, for $400,000. Her purchase kept the Island in the family, although The New York Times described her as a "distant cousin". She had been a close enough cousin to remember vacationing there, while a child.
Sarah, an author of works on American history, was 56 at the time of the purchase, had never married, and had no children. She planned to leave the property to her neice and nephew. However, she established a trust fund, which intended to pay the substantial on-going costs of the property's upkeep, to be administered by her neice and nephew.
Sarah Diodati Gardiner died in 1953. The trust remained in effect, even when the funds Sarah had set aside for maintenance ran out.
Robert David Lion Gardiner, although he had been married several times, also had no heirs. His sister Alexandra Gardiner Creel had two children, Alexandra Creel Goelet and Raymond J. Randall Creel Jr.. Alexandra Creel Goelet earned a degree in Forestry, and had detailed plans for how best to preserve the large relatively untouched original forests left on the Island, which brought her into conflict with her uncle.
She and her husband, Robert Guestier Goelet, who was also a naturalist, bought out her brother's interest in the Island before her mother passed away.
Robert David Lion Gardiner was so opposed to the idea that sole management of the Island would pass to his neice, when he died, because the terms of the trust did not permit him to leave his half to anyone but a relative, that he commissioned a search of the lineage of the descendants of Lion Gardiner, to see if he could find a distant cousin he could adopt to be his heir. Inheriting his share of the estate would impose a very substantial burden on any heir he adopted, so he only considered adopting distant cousins who were already wealthy. He narrowed his list to just two wealthy cousins, but neither wanted to be adopted under the conditions he wanted to impose, so sole ownership of the Island did fall to his neice, when he died in 2004.
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