This Dramatic Gothic Castle Was the Hudson River Valley Retreat of a Gilded Age Titan

Photo by alliesfreeman

      Editor’s Note: This post originally ran in 2010 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

      Lyndhurst, located in Tarrytown, N.Y., is one of America’s finest castles. 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 New York City mayor William Paulding, who originally called it Knoll, although critics called it Paulding’s Folly because of its fanciful turrets and unusual 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. A digital animation of this transformation of the mansion can be viewed online. Merritt called his much larger manor Lyndenhurst after the many linden trees on the grounds.

      lyndhurst mansion gothic revival tarrytown national trust

      Lyndhurst by 1865. Image via Lyndhurst

      In 1880, Jay Gould bought the estate and shortened the name to Lyndhurst. At the time of his purchase, Gould was the extremely powerful head of the Union Pacific Railroad, the New York Elevated Railway and Western Union Telegraph. When his health was affected by tuberculosis, Lyndhurst became a country retreat from the rigors of his New York City based empire.

      After Gould’s death in 1892, Lyndhurst passed to his daughter Helen, who made her own additions to the property, including a bowling alley and recreation pavilion built in 1894.

      After Helen’s death in 1938, her sister Anna, the Duchess of Tallyrand-Perigord, moved from her French estate to live at Lyndhurst until her own death in 1961. The property was left to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and it has operated Lyndhurst ever since, offering tours of the house and grounds to thousands of visitors yearly. 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 a 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 and marble floors. Some of the original furniture designed by Alexander Jackson Davis for the house can still be seen in the rooms. It is also a wonderfully faked interior, with plaster ribs and faux-bois columns that look like wood and plaster walls and columns painted to resemble marble.

      Many rooms 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 1970s.

      Lyndhurst is host to annual juried craft shows, concerts and is a popular for wedding and event rentals. It’s close enough that you can see Manhattan’s towers from the Hudson, yet a world away.

      How to Visit
      Address: 635 South Broadway, Tarrytown, N.Y.
      Hours: The house is open May to October 31 and then November 25 to December 30 but the tour times vary so check online, grounds are accessible dawn to dusk
      Admission: Several tours are offered ranging in price from $16 to $20, the grounds are free
      Directions: Take Metro North to Tarrytown, then a taxi 10 miles to the museum. It’s just over an hour by car from Brooklyn via the Saw Mill River Parkway.

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