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Lyndhurst

Tarrytown, Westchester, New York

Completed in 1842, for Brigadier-General William Paulding Jr. (1770-1854), the retired Mayor of New York City, and his wife Maria Rhinelander (1784-1851). In 1866, William Pearson stated that Lyndhurst was “the most profoundly intelligent and provocative house to be built since.. Monticello” and 150 years later, PBS named it "one of the 10 houses that changed America". Only an hour's drive from Manhattan, this Gothic Revival masterpiece – undoubtedly one of America’s finest - stands within a landscaped park of 67 acres overlooking the Hudson River at Tarrytown. Along with Carrollcliffe and the since demolished Ericstan, Lyndhurst is one of the three castles built at Tarrytown. Today, Lyndhurst is perhaps best associated with the infamous "robber baron" Jay Gould (1836-1892) who gave it its present name.
In 1838, Paulding employed the renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) to build his new home on what was then an estate of 184 acres, which he named The Knoll, and much of the furniture which can still be seen there today. His impressive mansion was dressed with limestone quarried by the prisoners of Sing-Sing jail (known as 'Sing-Sing marble') and it's 1,300 foot frontage along the Post Road was bounded by a long stone wall. 

Philip Hone (1780-1851) referred to the new mansion as Paulding’s Folly, a term which caught on due to it’s unusual design, fanciful turrets and asymmetrical layout at a time when most mansions being built followed the clean cut lines of the Greek Revival style.

Paulding was no doubt inspired in the design of his home by the Gothic Sunnyside, also in Tarrytown; the home built three years previously for his famous friend and near relation, Washington Irving (1783-1859)

After Paulding’s death in 1854, Knoll was inherited by his youngest – and only surviving - son, Philip Rhinelander Paulding (1816-1864) who lived there with his wife, Sarah Allan Mauran (1828-1864). Philip ran into financial difficulties and leased Knoll for a few years before selling the estate in 1863 to Ambrose Kingsland (1804-1878), a wealthy merchant and another former Mayor of New York who sold it the following year to finance his purchase of Hunter Island.

THE MERRITTS

George T. Merritt (1807-1873) purchased Knoll in 1864, immediately bringing in the original architect, A. J. Davis, to double the size of the original mansion. The addition, completed in 1865, was known as the ‘north wing’. It included the four-story tower, a new dining room, two further bedrooms, servants quarters and a new entrance portico – the old one having been redesigned and incorporated into the house as a glass-walled vestibule. 

Just as the exterior is, the interior of Lyndhurst is also a stunning example of Gothic design. There are stained glass windows (including many designed by Louis Tiffany himself), incredible vaulted ceilings and an art gallery that epitomises the Gothic style which the house captures so well. Much of the furniture still seen there was specifically designed for the house by Davis. 

Merritt renamed his home Lyndenhurst after the rows of Linden trees with which the driveway was lined. Merritt is also credited with hiring the landscape gardener Ferdinand Mangold (1828-1905) who created at Lyndhurst one of the most outstanding examples of American 19th century garden design - and the first park along the Hudson River. 

The surrounding swamps were drained and replaced by lawns with shrubs and a number of different varieties of trees planted throughout the parkland, including the evergreens that follow the angular repetition of the Gothic roofline. It was Mangold who redesigned the entrance drive, giving it the long graceful curves that reveal the magnificent ‘surprise’ views as the mansion is approached. 

Merritt did not live long to enjoy his new estate, dying in 1873. The economy at that time was suffering and though his widow, Mrs Julia (Douglas) Merritt (1823-1904), had put it on the market immediately after her husband’s death, it was not until 1880 that she managed to sell it. Afterwards, Mrs Merritt built Leacote in Dutchess County.

THE GOULDS

The new owner from 1880 was the infamous ‘robber baron’ Jay Gould (1836-1892), who shortened the name of the estate to Lyndhurst and used it as a country retreat and summer home; occasionally commuting by yacht to Manhattan along the Hudson. Gould was portrayed in the 1979 movie The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang and Fortune Magazine estimated his wealth at $77 million, making him the 9th richest man in America. However, the Condé Nast Portfolio also ranked Gould as the 8th worst American CEO of all time. 

Gould's ruthless business reputation - including his infamous attempt to corner the nation's gold market - was such, that even in that era, he was snubbed by New York society which explains his lack of presence in places like Newport, the Berkshires and Rhode Island. However, in private Gould was a keen horticulturalist and a doting father and family man. The additions Gould made reflect this side of his character: the children's playhouse in the garden, complete with child-sized furniture; a full-sized indoor swimming pool; the 19,000 square foot conservatory; and, in a separate building, the country's first private bowling alley. 

Gould increased the land holdings of the estate to 429 acres, but the family had always much admired the mansion itself and apart from a few small adjustments they kept it almost unchanged since Merritt's time. After Gould's death, Lyndhurst was left to his daughter, the philanthropic Helen Gould (1868-1938) who lived there with her husband Finlay Johnson Shepard (1867-1942)and their adopted children. She added several new outbuildings on the estate and developed some of the gardens.

On Helen's death in 1938, she left Lyndhurst to her sister, Anna Gould (1875-1961), who had recently returned to the house from France after the death of her second husband, Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord (1859-1937), Duc de Sagan. The Dowager Duchess lived the rest of her days at Lyndhurst, and after her death in 1961 she left the house with 67 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

HOUSE MUSEUM

Since 1965, Lyndhurst has been open to the public. The grounds and gardens at Lyndhurst are accessible all year round for a fee of $5. A walking trail is very soon to open that will connect Lyndhurst to Sunnyside, the previously mentioned home of Washington Irving (1783-1859). Tours of the house itself are available from Fridays to Monday for fees between $10 and $16, depending. Lyndhurst hosts a number of events particularly for children between Christmas and New Year, and more recently with the Fairytale Holiday held during the holiday season. There is also a September dog show, car shows and craft shows. Cooking awards are held here as well as lectures, concerts and school programs. 

Lyndhurst was featured in A&E's America's Castles. Movies shot there include House of Dark Shadows (1970),The Worst Witch (1986) and Reversal of Fortune (1990)

References

Knoll