Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 49: Vanderbilt House, Hyde Park, NY

Also in Hyde Park (in fact, just a few miles up the road), is another famous home that's starkly different from the Roosevelt place...

The Vanderbilt "cottage"

Our hosts, Anna and John, live within biking distance of the Vanderbilt Estate, which is now a National Historic site.

How'd you like to mow this lawn?

Or maintain these gardens?  This is the rose garden, not yet in bloom.  The Vanderbilts had a full-time gardener residing on site.

Garden fountain and statue.

Not only did the Vanderbilts have a gardener but they had a full time staff of about 60 workers and servants.  Did I mention this is just their summer place? They were only here a few weeks out of the year.

Our Park Ranger who conducted our tour, Victor, was terrific.  Very knowledgeable about everything Vanderbilt. Like the fact that the Vanderbilts came from a town in Denmark called Bilt. So their name, reminiscent of the Roosevelts, means, "on the Bilt."

The Foyer.
The house took an army of craftsmen, many from Europe, 26 months to build.  There were two 12-hour shifts per day and the men worked 6 days a week.  The workers lived on the front lawn in a tent village.

 The house is built and decorated in the style of the Gilded Age, basically the time period between the Civil War and WWI. It's very ornate and European.

Another ornate ceiling.  They recreated the finishes of European palaces. The Vanderbilts were the richest family in America and saw themselves as American royalty. 

This ceiling and many of the furnishings were imported from Europe.

Victor giving us the skinny on the Vanderbilts.  The Vanderbilt fortune was begun by Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt who began with nothing. He borrowed $100 from his mother to buy a small boat which he used to ferry cargo and passengers from Staten Island to Manhattan.  He grew this into a shipping empire and then he moved on to railroads.  This home was built by the Commodore's grandson Frederick, who was President of the New York Central Railroad.

 No expense was spared in the building of any of the Vanderbilt houses.

Louise Vanderbilt's bedroom includes a "birthing rail" around the bed.  This was a feature in European palaces.  The inner rail was for the immediate family and attendants to be during delivery, everyone else stayed outside the rail.  Louise and Frederick had no children.  The rail was merely decorative.

The servants' staircase, the home has 6 levels!

The basement level was for the servants who lived on site.

Basically a commercial kitchen for the time period.

Walk-in ice box.
The house featured a lot of technical achievements including modern plumbing and central heat.  Edison even designed a hydro-electric plant on a nearby creek that provided electricity for the house!

When Frederick Vanderbilt passed away he had no heir and left most of his fortune to his staff.  Each of his staff received a minimum of $1000, which could have bought a house at the time, and those that had worked for him longer received even more.  The manager of the estate was given $250,000 and 16-room mansion!

The Vanderbilt House was inherited by Louise's niece Margaret Van Alen in 1938 who tried to sell it but that style house had fallen out of fashion and, even though millions was invested in the property, she couldn't get the $250,000 asking price (the manager of the estate had the money, but he knew better than anyone how much it cost to keep up the house!).  Much of the land was sold off.  Franklin Roosevelt, who lived just down the street, suggested she give it to the National Parks Department to be preserved and so she did in 1940.

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