Staycation: Lyndhurst

Photo via Lyndhurst

Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

For many of us, staycations are this year’s vacations. Instead of the cottages and castles of the Continent, visit one of New York’s fascinating house museums. Each week, for the entire summer, we’ll alternate between a site in New York City, or one in greater New York State. Many of these houses are in danger of closing if we don’t patronize them. Check them out, and go visit! If you’ve been, please leave comments and suggestions, including dining or any other amenities.

Name: Lyndhurst (Jay Gould Estate)
Location: Tarrytown, NY, an hour, hour and a half by car, depending on traffic.
Address: 635 South Broadway, Tarrytown, NY 10591
Hours: April 13th Oct. 13th, Tuesday through Sunday, holiday Mondays, 10-5
Admission: Adults- $12, Seniors- $11, National Trust Members- Free
Children: 6-16 with paying adult- $6, Under 6 with paying adult- Free
Directions: Metro North, Hudson Line to Tarrytown. See website for driving directions

Details: Lyndhurst is America’s finest castle. The house was designed in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the giants of early 19th century American architecture. Davis, whose designs for Carpenter Gothic cottages influenced a generation, designed in the Gothic Revival style, at a time when Romantic artists, poets and musicians were the rage, and a new appreciation for the natural world was taking place. Gothic architecture was part of that new Romanticism, and this house is as Gothic as they come.

Davis designed it for former NYC mayor William Paulding, who originally called it Knoll, although critics called it Paulding’s Folly because of its fanciful turrets and design elements. The exterior of quarried limestone came from nearby Ossining, then called Sing Sing. In 1864, merchant George Merritt bought the estate, and Davis was called in to double the size of the house. He added a north wing with a four story tower, a new porte-cochere and a new dining room, two bedrooms and servants quarters. Merritt called the manor Lyndenhurst, after the many linden trees on the grounds. In 1880, Jay Gould bought the estate. He shortened the name to Lyndhurst. At the time he bought the house, Jay Gould was the extremely powerful head of the Union Pacific Railroad, the New York Elevated Railway and Western Union Telegraph. Lyndhurst became his country retreat from the rigors of his New York City based empire, and when he later contracted tuberculosis, he convalesced here, dying in 1892.

At his death, Lyndhurst passed to his daughter Helen, and after her death in 1938, to her sister Anna, the Duchess of Tallyrand-Perigord, who came back from her French estate to live at Lyndhurst until her death in 1961, when the property was left to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Trust has operated Lyndhurst ever since, and offers tours of the house and grounds to thousands of visitors yearly. Lyndhurst is the National Trust’s most popular property. Lyndhurst is one of the many Hudson River estates which once belonged to the titans of the Gilded Age, many of which are also now house museums. The house rests in a beautiful park, designed for George Merritt by Ferdinand Mangold, who drained swamps, planted trees and built the conservatory. It was the first landscaped park along the Hudson River. Lyndhurst is a unique and beautiful Gothic Revival estate, with classic Gothic tracery everywhere, along with stained glass, some by Tiffany, vaulted ceilings, marble floors, and Gothic furnishings. There are wonderful details everywhere. It is also a wonderfully faked interior, with plaster ribs and columns faux boised to look like wood, and plaster walls and columns fauxed to resemble many different kinds of marble. The rooms are actually quite small, considering, and many are dark and moody, while others, like the art gallery, are light filled and bright. It is no wonder that this imaginative place has captured the imagination of visitors for over 40 years. The film industry has also fallen under its charms, using the Gothic structure as the backdrop and sets for two Dark Shadows movies, shot back in the 1970’s. Lyndhurst is host to annual juried craft shows, as well as concerts, and is a popular wedding destination, as well. It’s close enough that you can see Manhattan’s towers from the Hudson, yet a world away. What are you waiting for? Go!

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