Lyndhurst’s Lower Landscape Restoration Has Begun

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by Linda Viertel – 

What you have here, in many ways, is a private Central Park,” explained Howard Zar, Lyndhurst’s Executive Director, as we strolled along the new pathways on the property’s lower landscape overlooking the Hudson River. This park-like setting, with its new paths, now takes visitors through a landscape that “entertains,” giving them different experiences as they walk, which was the original intent. The fully restored landscape will realize a Central Park encounter as the walkways now divide the vast acreage into differing settings, enhancing the experience of this iconic local panorama. (You can read our previous article: “Lyndhurst Landscape Restoration to Enhance Visitor Experience”).

Planted rock outcroppings, lawns, hills, seating with views to the river and mansion, a new kitchen garden and pear orchard will all become more defined as the continuing work gives shape to the lawns, hills and mix of farm and forest on the property. Much of what is being restored was on the site but wasn’t visible until work began to recreate the rockeries and pathways. “The mix is what is happening here and what we have discovered, which will all become clearer,” said Zar. “You will be able to see hundreds of years of history in the landscape, dating back to the 17th century Dutch farm situated here, the result of clear-cutting. The rock outcroppings planted with trees were established from that clearing effort.” Originally the Dutch planted chestnut trees as a source of starch in these rocky areas; then in the 19th century the rockeries were turned into a scenic feature.

Alexander Jackson Davies, the Gothic revival architect who embellished what had been the original Pawling home in the 1830s and 40s, planted many of Lyndhurst’s trees as screens in the open landscape to hide the railroad coming through as well as to screen adjacent properties, the laundry yard and the carriage house. Additionally, he complemented the rockeries with more trees to give them a heightened romantic ambience. Then, in the 1860’s owner George Merritt embarked on major landscape restoration under the auspices of landscape gardener Ferdinand Mangold, creating most of what is still in existence. Given that Mangold was active until 1906, serving as the railroad magnate Jay Gould’s gardener, then his daughter Helen Gould’s gardener, he was able to shape the environment into the setting we see today. In fact, Lyndhurst provides one of the best records of American landscape history from the 17th century into the 1950’s.

“People come here for very different reasons,” Zar maintained, “And, you need to meet them at their interest level. Once you’ve taken the house tour, there are multiple reasons to return to experience the property – a very valid experience we want to encourage.” Soon visitors will be able to be seated in all four of the rockeries; one of the historic wood benches has already been recreated based on photos from the 1870’s. These shaded areas provided outside air-conditioning in an era where women wore corsets, long dresses, and stockings, the men dressed in woolen suits, with starched long-sleeved shirts and collars. Helen Gould often worked in her tree house (soon to be recreated) where she enjoyed the breeze, the cooler temperatures and scenic views.

This fall, a path from the Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) on the southern portion of the property will be completed and give clear access to the lower landscape restoration. It will be funded by a Department of Transportation (DOT) grant from 2004. In addition, once the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge is completed in the spring of 2020 and the visitor center is created, pedestrians will be able to walk along the sidewalk on South Broadway through the short path on to the property and continue along the OCA. Lyndhurst will be at the nexus of an important north/south trailway.

Residents who walk here or drive to walk the property multiple times throughout the year will now have more options and ways to experience the landscape, enhanced by the bowling alley, the visitors center, rest room facilities and more seating.

Recovered pathway to renovated bowling alley

Lyndhurst’s new sidewalks not only give access to the lower landscape but also encircle the mansion, giving visitors an opportunity to pause and look up at the exquisite gothic architecture. These pathways, made of cement, which was invented during the creation of the Erie Canal and considered an expensive material in its day, also connect to the original one accessing the bowling alley. Steps help ease the grade, and there is an ADA compliant pathway from the carriage house to the lower landscape as well.

Zar hopes the community will help enrich Lyndhurst’s landscape restoration and quicken the process: anyone who has mature shrubs or trees they would like to donate from their property will be recognized. Elms and copper beeches have been donated in the past, and, with pruning and watering, have done remarkably well. Many of Helen Gould’s commonly planted shrubs and bushes became stock in our local nurseries, flourishing in homes throughout the area. Of particular interest would be bridal wreath spiraeas, mock orange, beauty and pearl bushes, white dogwoods, rhododendron maximus and especially the rarer katsura tree. These donations would contribute to Lyndhurst’s greenery repopulation and be welcome community efforts on behalf of a rivertown landmark. So, if anyone is clearing bushes away from their homes or properties and wants to give them a place to rejuvenate in similar soil and climate, please consider a donation to help restore the lower landscape.

Once this landscape is completed, Zar has plans to enhance the rose garden, create a performance space in the swim house and restore portions of the greenhouse, all in addition to ongoing exhibit creation. Lyndhurst mansion is coming back to a life Helen Gould would approve of heartily.

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