Delhi, Delaware County, New York
This house is best associated with...
Robert Livingston Gerry
Robert Livingston Gerry, Sr., of 69 East 79th & "Aknusti" Delhi, New York
Robert Livingston Gerry
"Bobby" Gerry, Jr., of New York City, "Aknusti," Long Island & Dallas, Texas
Robert grew his estate to encompass just under 2,000-acres of rolling farmland and forest, a large proportion of which was then landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers with seven miles of winding pathways. For the house and outbuildings, Gerry commissioned Thomas Hastings (of Carrère & Hastings) who designed a sprawling 65-room Colonial-Revival mansion. Gerry's choice of architect was almost certainly influenced by his wife, railroad heiress Cornelia Harriman, whose father had completed the Hastings-designed Arden House just three years before. According to family tradition, "Aknusti" was a term used by the native Delaware Indians that in English translated to “expensive proposition”.
An Avian Haven & the Galloping Gerrys
Aknusti took two years to build and from 1919 the Gerrys divided their time between here and their elegant townhouse in Manhattan, 69 East 79th Street. However, Aknusti wasn't strictly a summer-only home, throughout the relevant seasons the Gerrys hosted pheasant, quail, partridge and duck shooting weekends here - and it wasn't unusual for local schoolboys to skip class and join in as beaters. While Aknusti gained a reputation for having the largest shoot in the county, it was also a game farm expertly maintained by its manager, Thomas Rae, author of 'Profitable Game Bird Management' (1934).
Frequent guests here included the extended Harriman family, the polo-loving Phipps' of Old Westbury Gardens and Prescott Bush, father of the 41st President; and, it wasn't just outside that guests had to look out for ducks: a favorite family story is told that at one dinner the butler carried in a large silver cloche (a serving tray with a domed lid) and placed it at the head of the table in the usual manner. Announcing that the duck was served, he removed the lid only to release a very much alive, flapping, quacking duck into the Dining Room - causing amusement and chaos in equal measure!
The Gerrys were equally enthusiastic about all things equine and spared no expense when it came to the welfare of their horses. The vast stable complex with 32-stalls was built to be fireproof and also housed a circular indoor exercise track. They bred thoroughbreds for the tracks at Saratoga and champion polo ponies. Three of the four Gerry boys made up the "Aknusti Polo Team" and went on to win the Junior Championships (1933), the Monty Waterbury Cup (1938) and the U.S. Open Championship (1940).
"A Blackened and Twisted Hulk of Concrete and Metal"
On February 1, 1953, a devastating fire ripped through Aknusti and took with it family heirlooms, art and antiques valued even then at over a million dollars. Ice on the roads had prevented the firemen from making fast progress and by the time they arrived the 200-foot long house was a blazing inferno and when they left, "a blackened and twisted hulk of concrete and metal". Only the servants wing and the old kitchen remained unscathed. The Gerrys were in their seventies and perhaps realizing that time was no longer a luxury they chose a quick rebuild over a full restoration. Sadly, the result was decidedly underwhelming, both within and without; and, as the late great John Foreman put it, today it has, "not much more style than a suburban subdivision house".
The Final Furlong
After Mrs Gerry died in 1966, Aknusti passed to their second son, Robert Livingston Gerry Jr., of Old Westbury, who was by then married to his second wife, Etsie, whose stepsister was the first wife of George Washington Vanderbilt III. They continued to use Aknusti as a summer home but after Bobby died in 1979 the family sold the estate in the same year - fully furnished - to BLF Farms Inc., continuing Aknusti's tradition of breeding thoroughbreds, but the mansion itself would never be lived in again as a private home.
Sitting Bored as Broadlands
In 1989, the house changed hands again for $2-million when it was purchased by "Broadlands Property Corp" and its been known as "Broadlands" ever since. It sat empty as various proposals never came to fruition until 2006 when the house and the whole 1,964-acre estate was sold for $10-million to ADG Broadlands LLC of Los Angeles, linked to Vladislav Doronin's Aman Resorts. It has continued to bounce from one property entity to another, each one maintaining "Broadlands" in its company name. It was last listed for sale in 2016 for $12-million, but remains unoccupied and a spare card for speculators.
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