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Greenburgh Public Library Blog

House Hunting in Hyde Park with the Vanderbilts

by Nancy Larrabee on 2019-06-08T09:00:00-04:00 in Local History | Comments

Hyde Park, New York is located less than 100 miles from New York City.  Once there, you will discover the Presidential Library and Springwood, the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as several other notable destination landmarks.

Just down the road from Springwood, the National Park Service also oversees the Vanderbilt Mansion. Among his many business achievements, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was known for starting what would become the Staten Island ferry.  His grandson Frederick learned all he could about the railroad business working with his father, William Henry Vanderbilt.

Hyde Park

It was at the urging of Franklin D. Roosevelt that Frederick's niece, Margaret Louise Van Alen, donated her uncle's property after failing to sell it at bargain rates during the Great Depression

The Vanderbilt Mansion became a National Historic site in 1940. Hyde Park is a town in Dutchess County, New York, bordering the Hudson River north of Poughkeepsie. The architecture, interiors, mechanical systems, road systems, and landscape on the estate are a complete example of a gilded-age country place.

Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt purchased their property Hyde Park in May 1895. The house was designed and built between 1896–1899, and was primarily used as a vacation home for Frederick Vanderbilt's family.  Attracted to the Hudson Valley and the land on the east bank of the Hudson River, Frederick and his wife settled into their 600-acre estate. The location offered easy access to New York City on Vanderbilt's own New York Central Railroad.

The smallest of all Vanderbilt mansions built, the neoclassical-styled home with beaux-art flare holds 54 rooms.

“It was considered a cottage, not a mansion, to the Vanderbilts,” Park Ranger Kevin Oldenburg said.

While the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park may look large, it is rather small compared to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, built by Fredrick's brother George. At 175,000-square-feet, the Asheville mansion boasts 255 rooms.

Frederick Vanderbilt

Frederick was born on February 2, 1856, the grandson of Cornelius "the Commodore" Vanderbilt, who had built the vast Vanderbilt fortune. He graduated from Sheffield Scientific School (Yale) in 1878. Working in his father's office of the New York Central Railroad, he went through every department in the railroad service, mastering the general details of the whole business. He impressed everyone with his studious application and willingness to submit to the rules and regulations of the office.

Unlike many of his more famous relatives and siblings, Frederick became an extremely successful businessman. His chief holdings were in the New York Central Railroad and the directorships in other railroads stemmed from that system. His fortune, which amounted to more than 78 million dollars, was invested in steel, tobacco, mining, banking, oil, and government securities as well as railroads.

By all accounts, Frederick was a modest and unassuming person. He gave millions of dollars to philanthropy, but always avoided personal recognition from his benefactors.

Frederick and his wife, Louise never had children.  After her death in 1926, he spent the rest of his life in quiet seclusion in Hyde Park. He lived on the third floor of the mansion with the servants and directed the affairs of the estate from his bedroom. He died on June 29, 1938 at the age of 82. He was buried in the Vanderbilt mausoleum at New Dorp, Staten Island.

Louise Vanderbilt

 Mrs. Vanderbilt was born in 1844. Early in her life, she married to Albert Torrance, Frederick's first cousin. That marriage ended in divorce and she and Frederick married, secretly, on December 17, 1878. 

 Unlike Frederick, Louise was outgoing and social. She loved to entertain friends and family on the estate, while Frederick would take refuge in his study. Since Mrs. Vanderbilt had no children of her own, she 'adopted' the children of the estate employees and servants, holding parties for them and sending presents at Christmas.

 Over 350,000 visitors came to the estate in 2017.  Considered one of the three big draws in Hyde Park, besides the Roosevelt Mansion, and Val-Kill, the Vanderbilt Mansion shows the on-going interest in the Vanderbilt legacy in the Hudson Valley.




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