Have you seen the movie Gloria, or Winter’s Tale, or the soap opera Dark Shadows? Maybe you’re familiar with the Ramones music videos? Blacklist? Annie? So, what’s the common denominator in the above-mentioned films? The setting. Lyndhurst.
In 19th century America, Lyndhurst was one of the most important homes. It was built from 1838- 1842 on the Hudson River, north of New York City. Sing-sing prisoners quarried marble for the original 7,000 square foot home built by William Paulding, Jr. in Gothic Revival style, making it look like a church or a university. Paulding had been mayor of New York City twice. Originally, this home was used as a summer home. The second owner, George Merritt, doubled the dimensions adding some backstairs, a new porte -cochere, and a tower. Back then NYC was a dirty, industrial place, and the wealthy bought rocky farmland on which to build summer homes overlooking the Hudson, near Tarrytown—the Sleepy Hollow region.
Alexander Jackson Davis, the architect, was about 25 years old when he designed the original house. Twenty-five years later, the owner hired him to design the add-on. Davis also created the plans for the furnishings. The original owner called the home “The Knoll.” The second owner christened it Lyndenhurst because of the linden trees on the property. Merritt, the second owner, had a patent on the railroad spring used to make railroad chairs more comfortable.
The most famous owner was the third, Jay Gould, who shortened the home’s name to Lyndhurst. He was a railroad baron, like Vanderbilt, whom he despised. In fact, he disliked him so much he refused to take the train owned by the Vanderbilts into Wall Street each day. So, Gould had his yacht parked on the Hudson River in his backyard and sailed to work each day. When you look south down the river, you see the skyscrapers of NYC.
It was daughter Anna who later left the home to the National Trust. She didn’t spend much time at the home place after having lived in Europe for years. Mostly when in New York, she resided at the Plaza Hotel in the city. Nonetheless, traces of her influence are seen at Lyndhurst, like the “Duchess Suite” where Anna had the ceiling painted to resemble that of St. Chapelle in Paris.
What else should you notice when you visit? The faux marble. Despite Jay Gould’s great wealth, the walls in the foyer aren’t marble but painted to look like marble. Knock on the “marble” columns. Fake. Was it to save money or simply the style back then? Classical paintings abound in an upstairs room where you see Hudson landscapes by Cropsey, a portrait of George Washington by Peele, and many other art works by famous painters. Like all majestic homes of this era, you find the Steinway piano, floor-to-ceiling bookcases laden with hard covered volumes, Tiffany stained glass, and a Leuten desk which could be folded up and carried with one—sort of like our thumb drive today.
There’s a cork floor in the butler’s pantry, a dining room where painted walls resemble wall paper and a false door in a parlor because symmetry was important and if a room had one door on one side, it needed another on the other side even if the purposeless door opened to a stiff wall. Outside, one finds a two-lane bowling alley and abundant rose gardens on the 67-acre estate.
Jay Gould was a self-made man. Many disparage him as a robber baron. At any rate, his mansion is part of Americana and a pleasure to view today in the 21st century where we can admire and appreciate the architectural beauty of a past century.
Lyndhurst is worth a visit. It’s open mid-April until December, Thursday through Monday 10m -4:00. Not a far drive away is a cozy restaurant called Red Hat. It overlooks the fast-moving Hudson. Sit outside; enjoy the river; watch the train board and de-board passengers at Irvington while you reflect on all you learned at the historical Lyndhurst.