Step Back in Time to the Heyday of a Great Estate With a Tour of Untermyer Gardens

Photo by Susan De Vries

    by

    This grand Yonkers mansion is long gone, but the magnificent gardens remain, giving a glimpse at the splendor that surrounded the Untermyer family on their scenic estate overlooking the Hudson River.

    The Metro-North station stop still bears the name of the estate that once perched on the cliffs above it, Greystone. Originally built in 1865 for hat manufacturer John Waring, the 99-room mansion was bought by former New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden around 1880. While he dabbled in horticulture, it was with the purchase of the estate in 1899 by lawyer Samuel J. Untermyer that it became a garden wonderland.

    untermeyer gardens

    Greystone as depicted in an 1894 article on the predicted sale of Tilden’s former home. Image via The World

    Landscape designer and architect William Welles Bosworth was hired by Untermyer in 1916 to transform the grounds, and the vision was grand. Eventually, there were 150 acres with greenhouses, walled gardens, scenic vistas, pergolas, follies and rock gardens.

    It wasn’t just a family paradise. Local newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s made note of garden club visits and open days when the public could enjoy the horticultural splendor.

    untermeyer

    After Untermyer’s death in the spring of 1940, the fate of the estate was unclear. As early as 1939, Untermyer had offered the estate, said to be valued at $5 million, as a public park. The cost of maintenance would have been extraordinarily high. Ultimately, 16 acres of land were donated to the city as a public park in 1946. In the 1990s more acreage was acquired, bringing the total up to 43 acres. Alas, the historic house and most of its supporting structures were demolished beginning in the 1940s, but the original gatehouse survives.

    The gatehouse, located at the edge of the Croton Aqueduct Trail, was stabilized and a “ruin garden” was planted in and around the structure this year. That project and many other restoration efforts that are promoting the beauty of the site was facilitated by the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy. The group partners with the city of Yonkers to promote the historic site, raise funds and plan conservation projects. Visitors can now amble around the pathways for woodland trails, formal gardens and scenic overlooks that are accessible almost every day of the year.

    untermeyer garden

    The organization also offers history and garden tours of the site which delve deeper into the origins of the estate and the landscape. The tours run from late April through late October and run about 90 minutes. For an architect’s view on the history of the site and its restoration, you can also join Stephen F. Byrns, founder and president of the organization, for a walk through the garden once a month. Full details on the tours are available at their website here.

    How to Visit
    Address: 945 North Broadway, Yonkers, N.Y.

    Hours: The grounds are open from 7 a.m. until one hour before sunset every day. There are some extended hours for special events and closures for holidays, visit the website for full information here.

    Admission: Free access to the grounds; a variety of tours are available at a range of prices. Visit the tour page here for full information.

    Directions: Take MetroNorth to Greystone, then take a roughly 20-minute walk uphill to the garden. For a scenic route, you can catch the Old Croton Aqueduct trail a short distance from the station. Full walking directions are on the website here. By car, Untermyer Gardens is about one hour from Brooklyn.

    Related Stories

    Email tips@brownstoner.com with further comments, questions or tips. Follow Brownstoner on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

     

    Brooklyn in Your Inbox

    * indicates required
     

    What's Happening