Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Our Hudson Valley Tour Part 2: Vanderbilt Mansion

Today, Berry and I will show you the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY which was owned by Frederick William Vanderbilt. Frederick was the grandson of Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt and son of William Henry Vanderbilt, who were the richest men in America in their time. Like his relatives, he spent his time acquiring the best that his money could buy. Check out his vacation home:

The mansion and its interiors were constructed in the 1890s to the tune of $2.25 million. Remember, this was the 1800s, so you can just imagine how much that is in real terms. He and his wife Louise would stay here for only a couple of weeks in the spring and fall. Because they spent summers in Newport, Rhode Island if not cruising on their yacht. During the winter, they lived in their Manhattan townhouse, right in time for the winter social season.

I wish I could have shown you the entrance. It was so grand! From the street, you would go down the road, over a bridge on top of a pond, and up into a loooong driveway heading to the mansion. I could almost feel like I was a Vanderbilt coming home to my country retreat.

Here's the side of the house:

Now check out the back! Can you imagine the Vanderbilts hosting backyard barbecues here? Then again, maybe not!

But unlike his relatives who spent money like water, Frederick was the only one who managed to grow his inheritance. The rest of the family whiled away their days yachting, breeding horses, racing automobiles and gallivanting in Europe. Unfortunately, he and Louise did not have any children. Upon Frederick's death in 1938, rather than leave his money to his relatives who were bound to spend it on trivial pursuits, Frederick named his servants beneficiaries to his will and bequeathed the estate along with $5 million to Louise's niece Margaret Van Alen.

The funny thing was, the mansion was sold by its heiress to the US Government for guess how much? $1. Nope, that wasn't a typo! Just ONE dollar! Basically, she donated the home to the government. She told President Franklin Roosevelt, she wished to "keep my place as it is - a memorial to Uncle Fred and a national monument".

Thanks to Margaret's generosity, all of us mere mortals have been treated to a peek into what life was like during the Gilded Age. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the house, but trust me when I say, that during its heyday, I am positive the interiors pretty much looked like the inside of royal palaces. I could just imagine how women dressed in chiffon and silk enjoyed afternoon tea with their hostess while men in tweed hunting suits spent their afternoon roaming the vast estate on horseback. Then they would retire to a lavish dinner in the evening, the dining room filled with the boisterous chatter of folks dressed in beautiful gowns and sharp tuxes. Sigh!

Vanderbilt Mansion
U.S. 9, Hyde Park, NY 12538
(2 miles north of FDR Home)

Vanderbilt Mansion Guided Tour:
$8 per person
15 and under Free
Grounds are Free

Hours of Operation:
Vanderbilt Mansion is open seven days from 9:00am to 5:00pm by Guided Tour only. The Mansion is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

November through March the tours of the Vanderbilt Mansion are limited, please call ahead, 845-229-7770.

Tours are at 1 and 3 p.m.

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