Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

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Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, located in Hyde Park, New York, is one of America's premier examples of the country palaces built by wealthy industrialists during the Gilded Age. The site includes 211 acres (85 ha) of the original larger property historically called Hyde Park. Situated on the east bank of the Hudson River, the property includes pleasure grounds with views of the river and the distant Catskill Mountains, formal gardens, natural woodlands, and numerous support structures. The grounds also include Italian Gardens that have been restored by the volunteer Frederick W. Vanderbilt Garden Association. Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856-1938) purchased the property in 1895 for use as a seasonal country residence. Its crowning feature is a 54-room mansion by the distinguished architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, with Charles Follen McKim laying out the plan and Stanford White assisting by serving as an antiques buyer. Designed and built between 1896-1899, the house is a perfect example of the Beaux-Arts architecture style and one of the architects' finest residential projects. The interiors of the mansion are archetypes of the American Renaissance, incorporating a range of European antiques and finely crafted period reproductions. Herter Brothers and A.H. Davenport were subcontractors who executed McKim's interior designs. The Vanderbilts also hired Georges Glaenzer and Ogden Codman to decorate several rooms. E.F. Caldwell & Co. manufactured the majority of the lighting.

The earliest development of the estate began in 1764 when Dr. John Bard purchased land on the east side of the Albany Post Road, where he built Red House and developed the agricultural aspects of the eastern section of the property that continued through Frederick Vanderbilt's occupancy. Bard family ownership continued through 1821 with his son, Dr. Samuel Bard (1742-1821), owning the property from 1799 to 1821. In 1828, Dr. David Hosack, president of the New York Horticultural Society, purchased the property from Samuel Bard's heirs, with André Parmentier helping to lay out the grounds. In 1840, John Jacob Astor purchased the property from Hosack's heirs for his daughter Dorothea and her husband Walter S. Langdon. Frederick W. and Louise Vanderbilt purchased Hyde Park in May 1895 from Langdon's heirs. Attracted to the beauty of the Hudson Valley and the east bank of the Hudson River, Frederick and his wife settled comfortably in their new 600-acre (2.4 km 2) estate. The location was ideal, offering quick and easy access to New York City on the Vanderbilt’s own New York Central Railroad. The estate was primarily used as a vacation home for the Vanderbilt family. The previous owners of the estate had made it famous for its grand landscape and array of different plants and trees throughout the property. The New York Times described the Vanderbilt’s estate as "the finest place on the Hudson between New York and Albany." A niece, Margaret "Daisy" Van Alen, inherited the property when Vanderbilt died in 1938. Encouraged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Van Alen donated a portion of the estate, including the residence with most of its original furnishings, to the National Park Service. The property entered the National Park Service in 1940. From 1941 to 1943, President Roosevelt's Secret Service was housed in the basement and third-floor service areas, and some of the President's personal White House staff and friends occasionally stayed in the main bedrooms of the house, including those of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt.

The house is a classic Beaux-Arts plan with the major public rooms on its ground floor - the central Elliptical Hall, Dining Room, and Living Room - laid out in an axial arrangement parallel to the Hudson River. North and South Foyers provide transitional space from the Hall to the Dining Room and Living Room. Five secondary spaces are located off the Elliptical Hall: the Lobby, Den, Gold Room, Grand Stair Hall, and Lavatory. The second floor rooms, comprising Mrs. Vanderbilt's suite of Bedroom, Boudoir and Bathroom (designed by Ogden Codman), Mr. Vanderbilt's Bedroom and Bathroom, Guest Bedrooms and Baths and the Linen Room, are disposed around the Second Floor Hall and the North and South Foyers. The third floor contains five additional guest bedrooms, and a Servants' Hall separated from the guests' rooms by a door at the main staircase. Supported by both concrete and steel, the Vanderbilt mansion was considered modern for its time. The mansion also included plumbing and forced hot air central heating electric lighting which was powered by a hydroelectric plant built on the estate on the crumb elbow stream.The Vanderbilt estate had electric lighting before the surrounding area.

Frederick's interest and love of horticulture led to the development of several large gardens on the Vanderbilt estate. These lavish gardens incorporated the formal “Italian” style. This meant that the beds were laid out in such a way that if you draw a line down the middle, either horizontally or vertically, one side of the line would mirror the other side. These formal gardens also consisted of multiple tiers, which depended on the type of plants. Each level was different. Frederick himself added the rose garden which contained almost 2000 “vintage” rose bushes along with other kinds of roses. The Vanderbilt gardens were grand and exquisite.


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