History of the Landscape
Lyndhurst has one of the most significant and well-documented Hudson River landscapes. Its development spans from the 1840s to the 1960s and tracks the developing landscape fashions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Over successive generations, many existing features in the landscape were preserved with selective additions made to bring the landscape up to date. The landscape never experienced a wholesale redesign and thus presents an excellent history of developing trends in the Hudson River landscape over two centuries.
Lyndhurst’s landscape begins with the mansion’s architect Alexander Jackson Davis in the 1840s before his work with noted early landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing. Davis considered himself as much a picturesque landscape designer as an architect and the first iteration of the landscape at Lyndhurst was designed by him and was captured in his watercolors and other drawings of the time. Six years ago, Lyndhurst staff uncovered a series of Hudson River rock viewing areas that are likely the landscape work of Davis and as such, could be an extremely rare survivor if not the only surviving example of his landscape work.
During the 1860s, Lyndhurst was further developed into a picturesque parkland landscape by Bavarian landscaper and Master Gardener, Ferdinand Mangold. Mangold brought the latest trends from European royal estates to Lyndhurst and instituted many of the trees and features we see today and would stay employed on the grounds until he died in 1902. The Lord & Burnham Company built the largest private greenhouse and subsequently likely the first fireproof greenhouse at Lyndhurst. Philanthropist and owner Helen Gould added garden elements in the early 20th century. Her younger sister, Anna Gould, Duchess of Talleyrand added garden sculptures and other marble features that still exist in Lyndhurst’s collections and are methodically being restored to the landscape.
The property is extremely well documented. Drawings and watercolors of the landscape exist from the 1840s and 50s. The landscape was photographed around 1870 and mapped to scale in 1873. A full topographical map was commissioned by Helen Gould in 1905 after the death of Master Gardener Ferdinand Mangold and landscape photographs were taken in 1920 by Mattie Edwards Hewitt are housed at the New-York Historical Society. There are aerial photographs from the 1960s and an in-depth landscape report was undertaken in the 1990s by Patricia O’Donnell and David Schuyler which utilized the memory of a landscape gardener who had been on the property since the 1960s and had worked for Anna Gould. A 30-minute 16mm film of the landscape was shot in 1942 by staff shortly before the estate fell into decline during WWII, and the film documents the lushness of the estate, including the details and color schemes of the floral bushes and perennial beds throughout the grounds.
Lyndhurst is at the center of a group of land parcels that stretch from former Lehman family estates (now owned by Montefiore Hospital) down to Washington Irving’s Sunnyside comprising approximately 150 acres of parkland directly on the Hudson River. This is one of the largest parcels of Hudson River-adjacent land in lower Westchester and these parcels are connected by both the Old Croton Aqueduct and the Westchester Riverwalk.
Over the next decade, the staff at Lyndhurst will undertake restorations and program expansions that place the landscape on an equal footing with Lyndhurst’s mansion.
We have already restored major landscape features and public amenities to tie together major trails and make Lyndhurst a destination for recreational use. We recently opened wooded parkland to our south that belongs to Westchester County and was the site of three 19th century estates there were lost to fire. This new pathway creates a seamless extension for the Westchester County Riverwalk to the Old Croton Aqueduct State Park Trail. Ultimately, restorations will include restoring and adaptively reusing the historic greenhouse and its adjacent flower gardens and groves of flowering trees.
As the second phase of landscape restoration, Lyndhurst will restore the landscape from the front of the mansion to the rose garden. Lyndhurst staff have already re-installed a series of marble benches, sculptural pieces, and a MacMonnies fountain across from the mansion in a sitting area re-created from historic photographs. In the rose garden, the central axis road will be restored with marble benches and urns at its terminus. The former perennial garden, including the Boboli Gardens fountain, will be reinstated across from the rose beds.
Plans also include restoring missing specimen trees and bushes that once lined the Lyndhurst drive and major restoration and repurposing of the iconic Lyndhurst Lord & Burnham greenhouse.
1837: Alexander Jackson Davis' Business Card
Lyndhurst’s architect Alexander Jackson Davis considered himself an architectural composer; designing and integrating both the architecture and landscape. Lyndhurst’s original landscape, likely designed in the 1840s, may be his only surviving landscape composition.
1840: Design drawing of Paulding's 'Knoll'
Lyndhurst was designed as a romantic country villa and placed on a rocky promontory above the Hudson River. This early watercolor of the property shows the spartan character of the landscape. Except for a few outcroppings surrounded by trees, the landscape largely reflects its origins as clear-cut farmland.
1864: Ferdinand Mangold, Master Gardener
Lyndhurst’s second owner, George Merritt, hired Bavarian immigrant Ferdinand Mangold to significantly expand Lyndhurst’s landscape. During his 40-year tenure as Master Gardener, Mangold drained the surrounding swamps, created greenswards, planted specimen trees, and established a world-class conservatory whose rare orchids still survive in the collection of the New York Botanical Garden.
1870: Broadway and Front Entrance to Lyndhurst
After the remodeling of the mansion was completed in 1868, Master Gardener Mangold implemented his vision for the landscape using picturesque elements that arranged the Lyndhurst’s plantings in an artistically composed way, and added unique garden elements such as exotic species and specimen plants throughout the property.
1870: Historic Rockery
Lyndhurst’s lower landscape design made use of cement sidewalks, seating areas, rocky outcroppings, and picturesque outbuildings. The American chestnut tree pictured, surrounded by a lattice bench, was likely a survivor from the 17th-century.
1870: The Merritt Greenhouse
Second owner George Merritt commissioned an enormous wood-framed greenhouse that was stocked with exotic plants. The design was modeled after French architect Rouault’s design for the Jardin des Plantes conservatory. The Moorish design of the observation tower contained an aviary and was influenced by John Nash’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton. This impressive greenhouse was supposedly the reason Jay Gould purchased Lyndhurst from Merritt’s widow in 1880.
1870 view from the Merritt Greenhouse
When completed, the Merritt conservatory and surrounding beds were used by Mangold to propagate exotic trees, shrubs, and plants for the estate. This rare image from around 1870 is taken from the Aviary tower and faces the southeast towards the front entrance to the property and Broadway.
1873 Ward & Carpenter Survey Map
A widowed Julia Merritt commissioned this map as a sales tool to showcase the landscape features of the estate as put it up for sale after her husband’s untimely death. Trees planted during the 1840s under Davis and first owner Paulding are shown larger than the trees planted in the 1860s under Merritt and Mangold, showing the delineation between older and newer plantings.
1880: Gould's Lord & Burnham Greenhouse
Six months after Jay Gould purchased Lyndhurst, the conservatory and its contents burned to the ground in a massive fire. Gould relocated greenhouse builders, Lord & Burnham, to nearby Irvington and immediately started reconstruction of the metal-framed greenhouse in a gothic style.
1885: Gould's Greenhouse
Gould’s greenhouse contained over 40,000 varieties of plants from all over the globe. In its day, it was famous for being one the largest, best-stocked private greenhouses in America.
1885: Mangold and his staff
The men pictured here in the center of the Greenhouse were hired by Mangold under George Merritt and many remained on the estate throughout the Gould ownership.
1905: Topographic Map of Lyndhurst
After the death of Ferdinand Mangold, Helen Gould, the fourth owner of Lyndhurst, commissioned a survey to create a plan of existing conditions on the site. This map has been extremely important in guiding the restoration of the landscape.
Photo by Mattie Edwards Hewitt, Lyndhurst Collections
1905: Helen Gould's Treehouse
Helen Gould had a treehouse built around a clump birch that was located directly behind the mansion. Although long gone, the stone landing for the stairway still exists off of the cement walkway down to the Bowling Alley.
Photo by Mattie Edwards Hewitt, Lyndhurst Collections
1914: Rose Garden
Around 1914 Helen Gould added a rose garden to the property. A symphony of pink roses, this hand-colored image was taken by the female photography firm of Johnson-Hewitt studios. Led by Mattie Edwards-Hewitt, this firm was renowned for its ability to shoot architecture and landscapes.
Photo by Mattie Edwards Hewitt, Lyndhurst Collections
1914: Rose Garden Arbor
During Helen Gould’s ownership, this wooden arbor used to adorn the center of the rose garden. Gould later added a Venetian wellhead under the arbor that still exists on the property by the greenhouse.
1917: Burroughs and Gould Children
Famed naturalist John Burroughs was a childhood friend of Jay Gould as they grew up in the Catskills together. Burroughs had a profound influence on Gould’s appreciation of nature. Helen Gould maintained a relationship with Burroughs until his death in 1921. Here, he’s pictured visiting with Helen Gould’s two nieces and adopted son in Roxbury.
1920: Gardening as a Family Activity
Like her father before her, Helen Gould was an avid gardener and naturalist and made certain that all of the children at Lyndhurst spent time planting and gardening. Helen is seen here, in a white hat and dress, with her niece Violette, while her adopted children hoe in the raised beds. A secretary, in a flowered hat with carpetbag, stands nearby and watches.
1942: Perennial Garden
in 2018, Lyndhurst staff discovered a 30-minute color film of the landscape shot in 1942 by the outgoing superintendent and his wife. This film grab shows the long gone perennial beds that sat next to the rose garden beds. Parts of this fountain, a copy of one in the Boboli Garden, exists in Lyndhurst collections storage.
1942: Rose Garden
Footage from the 1942 Garden Film reveals that the Helen Gould rose garden had the Venetian wellhead placed under the center pergola. Later moved by her younger sister, Anna, Duchess of Talleyrand, the wellhead is now on the greenhouse lawn.
1942: RAF Pilots in the Greenhouse
Prior to its horticultural collections being sold to benefit Red Cross war efforts, visiting Royal Air Force pilots took a moment to stop and smell the carnations as seen in the 1942 Lyndhurst Garden Film. The orchid collection was sold at the auction to benefit the Red Cross and was subsequently donated to the New York Botanic Garden, whose orchid house had burned in the late 1930s. Helen Gould also donated plants in her time to the NYBG, some of which still thrive there today in their conservatories.
1971: Dark Shadows
House of Dark Shadows was filmed at Lyndhurst during a period when the estate only just began to return from decades of neglect. The movie still shows the property in an overgrown state. This marble rhyton was damaged, removed, and thrown in a trash heap. It was recently restored to its position in front of the bowling alley.
2019: Rockery Seating Areas
In 2018, Lyndhurst began restoration efforts of the Hudson River-adjacent lower landscape. Rock-lined sidewalks and period wooden benches were rebuilt and reinstalled in the Rockeries based on photographs from the 1870s.
Photo by Clifford Pickett
Lyndhurst is in the midst of a decade-long restoration plan of its 67-acre landscape. This well-documented landscape has never been completely redesigned in its 100-year history. Successive owners maintained its early layout and then made selective additions, making Lyndhurst a catalog of changing American landscape practices from 1840 to 1940.