Most of the Museum’s 145 acres originally belonged to William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), long time editor of the New York Evening Post, and also a poet, lawyer, conservationist, political activist, and patron of the arts. In 1843 Bryant settled in his Roslyn home, Cedarmere, on Hempstead Harbor, adjacent to the museum. It became an intellectual and cultural center for some of the greatest minds of the mid to late19th century. In 1862 Bryant built a Gothic Revival board guesthouse on his Upland Farm, now the museum property. Named for his friend and fellow poet, Jerusha Dewey, who was a frequent visitor, the cottage was restored by the Roslyn Landmark Society in 2011.
In 1900, Lloyd Stephens Bryce purchased Bryant's Upland Farm and commissioned the architect and tastemaker Ogden Codman to design a neo-Georgian mansion on an elevated site overlooking Hempstead Harbor, now Nassau County Museum of Art. Bryce is best known as editor and owner of The North American Review, a forum for international opinion on social, political, and cultural affairs.
In 1919 Henry Clay Frick, co-founder of US Steel Corporation and world famous art collector, purchased Bryce House as a gift for his son and daughter-in-law, Childs and Frances Frick. They hired British architect Sir Charles Carrick Allom to redesign the facade as well as the interior of their new home, which they named Clayton.The grounds at Clayton developed by the Fricks were among the foremost landscapes in America.
Childs Frick (1883-1965) graduated from Princeton in 1905. Always interested in natural history, he later became a renowned paleontologist, leading or sponsoring scientific expeditions all over the world, and writing numerous books and articles. After a long relationship with the American Museum of Natural History, where he was a Trustee and honorary curator, Frick donated his unprecedented collection of over 200,000 specimens to the museum and endowed it with $7.5 million. To accommodate the overflow of specimens from his lab at the Natural History Museum, Frick built the Millstone Lab in 1936. The building was named for two colossal millstones placed by the entrance. Renovated in 2017, it is now The Manes Education Center.
Childs Frick was also an avid sportsman and lover of the outdoors. At Clayton he and his family enjoyed swimming, tennis, polo, gold, and skiing on his estate, which included two tennis courts (one grass and one clay), a polo field, two ponds for skating and canoeing, a shooting range, a swimming pool, bridle paths, and a ski slope with its own snow making machine. The family’s love of animals and the outdoors a large animal zoo with a bear pit, snakes, and an alligator, an aviary, a monkey house, and otters in a pond.
In keeping with his scientific interests, Frick created the Pinetum in the 1920s, opposite the laboratory. This was an experimental planting of hundreds of conifer specimens from all over the world to study how these species would adapt to this particular latitude. About half of them survive today, including coast redwoods.
Childs' wife, Frances Dixon Frick, shared her husband's enthusiasm and interest in botany. She was an avid gardener, and retained Marion Cruger Coffin in 1925 to redesign the formal garden.
Frances and Childs Frick lived at Clayton with their children, Adelaide, Frances, Martha and Clay, for almost 50 years. Childs died in 1965 at the age of 81. Four years later the estate was purchased by Nassau County to establish the Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, administered by the county’s Office of Cultural Development. In 1989, the Museum became a private not-for-profit institution, governed and funded by its own board of trustees. A major exterior restoration of the historic mansion was undertaken some years ago; the mansion was then renamed the Arnold and Joan Saltzman Fine Arts Building.
A sculpture park was also begun in 1989 and became one of the largest publicly-accessible sculpture parks in the Northeast.