If you love history and the arts and you’re looking for an “off the beaten path” experience in Westchester during this holiday season, Lyndhurst is a site that is not one to miss. The estate brings together multiple elements of Hudson Valley History and American art, architecture and horticulture and provides a massive insight into cultural trends, shifts and the timelessness of the human spirit.
Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York is the perfect combination of architectural charm, rich history and beautiful rolling landscapes along the Hudson River.
Lyndhurst is just a short train or car ride from the city from Grand Central Terminal along the Hudson Line and conveniently located off of Route 9.
The property is particularly interesting because of its history and unique architecture. The original owner, William Paulding Jr., was a two term Mayor of New York City from 1824 – 1826 and 1827 -1829. He was a career military officer, politician, also a cousin to John Paulding, a local revolutionary war hero made famous for his part in the capture of the traitor Benedict Arnold’s accomplice, Major John Andre. Notably Paulding’s family grew up in Tarrytown next door to the Irving Family, and Paulding’s younger brother, James Kirke Paulding was good friends with a young Washington Irving.
In 1838, Paulding, looking to build a retirement villa, commissioned young architect Alexander Jackson Davis to design a villa in his hometown, right along the Hudson River. Paulding and his son, Philip R. Paulding worked closely with architect Davis to design and construct the summer home as well as furniture to accompany it. It was completed in 1842 and was named “Knoll” and designed using Gothic Revival techniques. The original property was maintained as farmland, and the castle-like exterior and its 1,300 foot long front walls were built from limestone known as “Sing Sing Marble” purchased from The Sing Sing prison Quarry.
Today, the mansion is considered an architectural landmark , but during Paulding’s tenure, his political rivals thought the mansion looked very odd compared to contemporary architecture of the day and nicknamed it, “Paulding’s Folly”.
William Paulding did not spend much time at “Knoll” after its completion in 1842, opting instead for his family home in town. However, his son, Philip, who had spent much of his time designing and building “Knoll” with Alexander Jackson Davis lived there until the 1850’s.
In 1849, the Tarrytown Railroad Station was built. This project was part of the Hudson River Railroad traveling from New York City to Albany. The railroad, once seen as a visionary idea not worthy of actual consideration, was built out of necessity to meet the growing needs of industrialization and travel. The Hudson River Railroad provided a new opportunity to transport people and goods safely and efficiently across long distances, providing for more booming agriculture and industry. The Hudson River Railroad also provided an alternative to wealthy families. Towns and cities along the Hudson River were even more attractive because of the new infrastructure that provided an effective way to travel to the city year round.
In 1864, George Merritt, a wealthy merchant from New York City, purchased “Knoll” with the intent to make it a primary residence for his growing family and his first order of business was expansion. Merritt brought an older Andrew Jackson Davis, back to the property to oversee the construction and interior design of a large addition on the north side of the house, which included a tower that Merritt reportedly used as an observatory. Davis also upgraded the interiors and had new furniture designed specifically for the new rooms. This upgrade put the property on the map as one of America’s most impressive gothic revival homes. Alexander Jackson Davis’ 1865 original expansion plans can be found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
George Merritt also brought Bavarian-born Master Gardener, Ferdinand Mangold to the property with the intent to transform it into a private arboretum and gentleman’s farm. Some of Mangold’s contributions include walkways to the Hudson River, a greenhouse and the installation of specimen trees, clumped in groups, most notably, the grouping of Linden Trees immediately behind the mansion’s veranda, prompting Merritt to refer to the property as “Lyndenhurst”.
The transformation of “Knoll”, the uniquely designed construct that sat on farmland on the bluffs of the Hudson River to “Lyndenhurst”, the impressively large Gothic-revival styled mansion with a curved entrance, rolling hills, sweeping lawns and magnificent walkways personifies the evolution of art and design that dominated the end of the 19th century into the Gilded Age.
Unfortunately, George Merritt did not get to enjoy his new estate for long. Merritt passed away in 1873 and eventually his wife, Julia Douglas sold the estate.
It’s no surprise that a Railroad Tycoon and Financier like Jay Gould would be interested in buying the “Lyndenhurst” estate. Gould and his family spent a few summers at “Lyndenhurst” as renters in hopes to escape the pressures of the city. He had an affinity for nature and kept landscaper Ferdinand Mangold on the premises after purchasing the estate in 1880.
Gould particularly enjoyed the greenhouse. It was the largest Greenhouse in the United States at the time and some say the exotic plants he grew cost him $40,000, a devastating loss when the Greenhouse burnt down in 1881. Gould quickly rebuilt it using the first metal framework for a greenhouse in America.
Gould was notorious for amassing his wealth through ruthless business tactics. One of Gould’s direct competitors was Cornelius Vanderbiilt who, ironically, owned the Railroad that traveled directly along the river behind Gould’s “Lyndenhurst” estate. Because of this, Gould did not take the train, despite the fact that his home was only 2 miles from the station. Instead, he opted to travel on his then, $200,000 yacht, The Atalanta. Gould even built a private bridge that crossed over the railroad tracks so he could access the yacht’s dock.
Prior to his death, Gould renamed the estate from “Lyndenhurst” to Lyndhurst, as we know it today. Jay Gould died of Tuberculosis in 1892 and was described upon his death by the Atlanta Constitution as one who enjoyed the study of history and biography, and “his library was filled with valuable books, and he was proud of them. He had a passion for flowers [orchids] and his conservatories were among the finest in the country.”
After his death, Jay’s daughter Helen became the steward of the estate. Helen was passionate about philanthropy and charitable work. She opened the greenhouse to the community, added a rose garden filled with pink roses (today it features a variety of over 500 roses), built a bowling alley, and offered the estate as a site for free carpentry, sewing and cooking schools for disadvantaged children. She opened YMCA’s across the country, funded the New York University Library, and was well-known for donating Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company stained glass to community buildings like the Irvington Public Reading Room in Irvington, New York.
Helen used Lyndhurst as a summer home and a hub for her charitable efforts until her death in 1938. After Helen’s death, her sister Anna purchased the estate and continued to use it as a vessel for charity, although having been married into French Aristocracy, spent her time in Europe until the beginnings of WWII when she returned to live in the states. During World War II, Anna opened the estate to soldiers and seamen and she auctioned off the contents of the greenhouse to benefit the American Red Cross.Many of those plants found their way to New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
Anna spent most of her time living at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and eventually returned to France after the war was over. She died in 1961 and bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation leaving the organization with all of the contents and furnishings succeeded by the Pauldings, Merritts and Goulds.
Because of this, visitors are able to soak in over a century of art, culture, decor and furniture and styling through a variety of relics on display at the mansion.
Today, the Lyndhurst estate offers a variety of activities. You can stroll the 67-acre grounds, including the Riverwalk, and Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (New York State’s narrowest state park!) and enjoy the fountains, shrubbery and beautiful cement walkways, visit the museum shop or take a seasonal tour.
The property itself is open to the public with a daily grounds pass, which can be purchased here. In addition to touring the property, I opted for the Fall Classic Mansion Tour, which runs Thursday through Monday from 10AM – 3PM through October 28. The mansion tour was one hour and covered 16 rooms with decorative arts and lavish furniture on display.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by a gentleman at the gate who checked me in and offered me directions to the museum shop, where my tour group would be meeting. I advanced through the curved drive where I was met with clusters of trees and scenic glimpses of the Hudson River. There were a few people walking around the property and a small tour group was approaching the mansion as I passed on my route to the parking lot. Parking is comfortable. There are lots throughout the property, which is convenient for anyone traveling with children or elderly guests.
I was a few minutes early so I perused the area around the museum shop (formerly the carriage house) and enjoyed the gorgeous fountain facing the mansion. It was quite picturesque.
My tour was at 11AM, so at about ten of, I went back to the museum shop to render my ticket and check in. About ten of us met in the courtyard and we began our tour.
The tour guide, Kelly, was extremely knowledgeable and offered a bunch of fun facts about members of the Paulding, Merritt and Gould Families. She began the tour at the front of the mansion and gave us a background on the evolution of the landscape, from swamps and woodland, to Paulding’s farmstead and eventually, introduced the group to Ferdinand Mangold’s masterpiece and highlighted the artistic details that laid before our eyes.
Our group was fortunate that Kelly was enthusiastic about art and architecture. She was able to point out a variety of specific items in the house and give extensive detail.
She also made connections to Washington Irving (author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and whose house “Sunnyside” is next door to the south) and William Paulding’s friendship. Paulding revered Irving so much that he designed Irving’s face, among other literary greats, into the wall of his Library which is now the Art Gallery.
The tour started in the entry hall and reception area on the first floor. Upon entry, our group was greeted by a marble statue of a very familiar face, George Washington. The piece was owned by none other than William Paulding. It was interesting to see Paulding’s choice of decor, often a homage to men he looked up to throughout the mansion. Although Paulding purchased the property in 1838 and didn’t spend much time there, the contributions that he made shed a lot of insight into how the enlightenment and revolutionary contributed to his values and the men he revered.
We continued through the library, cabinet room and dining room areas all of which were just overflowing with historical pieces. One of my favorites included a book from the 1500’s that Kelly pointed out on the bookshelf in the library.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the tour was the elaborate display of Tiffany Glass objects throughout the mansion, a contribution of Helen Gould, who was friends with Louis Comfort Tiffany and his family.
Tiffany glass windows, vases and lamps can be seen throughout the mansion, most notably, the large stained glass window piece looking out to the Hudson River in the Grand Picture Gallery on the second floor; its beauty truly cannot be put into words. The Grand Picture Gallery is also home to a myriad of gorgeous oil paintings, most of which were contributions of the Gould family, predominantly Jay with later contributions from Helen and Anna.
One of my favorite pieces from the second floor was a speaker box outside of the bedrooms. It was a very small mouthpiece attached to the wall. Essentially families and their guests would call into the speaker box and the sound would travel directly to the staff’s chambers. While simple, these are the things that are most trivial in a time where cell phones and computers are rampant.
I was also reminded that the mansion evolved through periods of rapid technological expansion. You can see this evolution in ripples throughout different elements of the mansion, but for me, it was most notable during Helen Gould’s tenure. Kelly reminded us that Helen had to install electricity into the home in the early 1900’s. Seeing photographs of Helen and her family with their first automobile (locomobile) and learning about the garage she had added onto the carriage house (now the museum shop) in 1911 (a real upgrade from Paulding’s original stables and Merritt’s coal sheds) bridged the historical gap between the mansion’s beginnings as “Knoll” and transformation to a modern day “Lyndhurst”.
We ended the tour at the front of the mansion and I took the opportunity to explore the grounds. The property is 67-acres and vast so I stuck to basics for the day. I came across a lovely apple orchard, part of Mangold’s original landscape design and walked around a beautiful stone path, where I got some great shots of the Hudson River. I also came across some fun holiday decor under a gorgeous European Weeping Beech tree that put me in the Halloween spirit!
Right before I got to my car, I came across a unique archway of beautiful branches on the pathway near the far side of the parking lot. I later learned the archway was built by Mossy Fern, a local business out of Hastings-on-Hudson. The archway was exquisite – I had to snap a picture and it was the perfect way to end my day.
Lyndhurst was awesome. There are so many adventures to take on the property and so many details to explore in the mansion.
I already have my eye on the infamous Lyndhurst After Dark Tour, which runs October 21 – 23 & 27-30, 2022 from 5PM – 10PM and offers a candlelight perspective, a spooky element and a darker view of some of Lyndhurst’s former inhabitants. (For a full list of Lyndhurst events, click here.)
The connections between the Hudson Valley Region and notable families of the property that contributed to the region’s infrastructure and development are vast. These were real people that traveled and lived here. Their stories are interesting, inspiring and sometimes haunting. What better way to spend the upcoming spooky season, then to gain insight into the lives of families and individuals came before us.
For a full description of the Lyndhurst After Dark Tour & Details, click here.