by Morey Storck
Lyndhurst, the Gothic Revival “country house” designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1838 for New York City mayor William Paulding, Jr.,was originally named The Knoll. Aptly termed, it is situated on a 67-acre park-like setting beside the Hudson River, spanning an idyllic, beautifully landscaped area rambling from Route 9 to the water’s edge. There is abundant open space utilized now for concerts and exhibitions, and for tourists and locals to just walk the area, discover smaller, outbuildings, and comprehend the grandeur of what it was like in 1838 (if you had that kind of money) to live in this little castle in the country. The structure, from the outside, had a somewhat storybook quality. The interior was essentially dark with tall, dramatic stained glass window styling and high vaulted ceilings. The rooms were small, but richly furnished.
The second owner was merchant George Merritt who doubled the house-size in 1864-1865 and renamed it “Lyndenhurst” for the estate’s linden trees. The new north wing included an impressive four-story tower that added to the castle’s classic silhouette, plus a new dining room, two bedrooms, and servants’ quarters. The overall picturesque structure was viewed, by some, as the only perfect example of Gothic Revival architecture in the U.S., and by others, as a brooding, mysterious castle inspiring the romantic intrigue of which novels and scripts are born. And they were. Hollywood and T.V. have utilized the property for many years, even up to the present time.
Railroad tycoon Jay Gould purchased the property in 1880 for use as his country house, shortened its name to Lyndhurst and lived there until his death in 1892, leaving it to his youngest daughter, Anna. In 1881, he contracted with Lord & Burnham, an Irvington boiler and greenhouse manufacturer, and builders of major public conservatories in the U.S., to construct the first steel-framed curvilinear greenhouse in the country. In 1961, Anna Gould, the Duchess of Tallyrand, donated Lyndhurst to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Howard Zar, the current Executive Director of Lyndhurst, came to the position with an extremely impressive resume, a mission and a vision. Since the end of 2012, he has steadfastly pursued the restoration of the estate to its original state in 1842, through the changing years of decorative style, household needs, industrial pace, taste and fashion. “Our goal is to show what it was like for them (the very wealthy) to live during those times, as accurately as possible. The mansion is well-documented by death inventories and is extensively photographed from 1870 through the 1960’s,” Zar said.
Because Lyndhurst holds prominent collections of A.J. Davis furniture, 19th century French academic paintings, 18th century French furniture and decorations, Tiffany windows and extensive Herter Brothers furniture, that realistic accounting exists today. As restorations are completed, more and more furniture and furnishings are taken out of storage and placed where they were originally used.
The following is just a partial list of restorations that have been completed recently: The overhead heating pipes of the main storage rooms, previously not open to the public, have been completely taken out and restored to their original use and look. The third, fourth, and fifth floors leading to the tower are now useable, allowing visitors to explore attic spaces up to the tower and see the magnificent views of the Hudson River from there.
There is now a “backstairs tour” providing more than just a glimpse of the inner workings of the estate. The stairs lead to the butler’s bedroom and office; to the butler pantry alongside the dining room, and still further, to the two revisions of the basement kitchen, including pots and pans stemming from the 1860’s to Helen Gould’s revisions in 1915; a beehive root cellar, scullery, meat room, zinc-top tables, ice-box and refrigerator that Ms. Gould brought in, all adding to a sense of what it was like 100 years ago.
She had married Finley Shephard in 1913, and with the possibility of children on the wayshe needed more useable space for them and a larger household. Keeping servants, domestic or immigrant unskilled laborer, was particularly difficult because there were many more possibilities in New York City. Gould had to put together a beautiful workspace for them or they would just leave for city sweatshops and what they thought would be more money.
Also, Zar has completed renovation on the new bowling alley, the first completely codified in the U.S., with two 1895 parlors, the south veranda for tea and the north veranda where sewing classes were open to women of the community; he curated the fashion exhibition featuring Anna Gould’s designer clothes and accessories evidencing how styles changed through the years, and has reinstated the kitchen garden, cherry orchard, and rockeries. But still, it’s the landscaping, a work still in progress, that is the crown jewel of Lyndhurst as far as Zar is concerned. The specimen trees and shrubs, the magnificent display of roses, the rolling lawns, and the many vantage points from which the Hudson River can be viewed provide a serene, idyllic comfort zone to be treasured. The Lyndhurst grounds are an outstanding example of 19th century landscaping, designed in the English naturalistic style, by Ferdinand Mangold.
“So, when the ultra-wealthy abandoned ‘not so fancy’ Westchester for the even loftier Newport compound to build their grand summer retreats, they made sure to take the esthetics, those signature Mangold landscape plans for Lyndhurst, with them,” Zar said.