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 1860s 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 Hudson River landscape over two centuries.
Lyndhurst’s landscape begins with architect Alexander Jackson Davis in the 1840s, prior to his full work with noted early landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing. Davis considered himself as much a picturesque landscape designer as architect and the first landscape at Lyndhurst was designed by him and was captured in his watercolors and other drawings of the time. Six years ago, Lyndhurst uncovered a series of Hudson River rock viewing platforms that are likely the landscape work of Davis and as such, may be an extremely rare survivor if not the only surviving example of his landscape work. Davis was essentially the Frank Lloyd Wright of the 19th century and virtually any work by him is considered American patrimony.
During the mid and late 19th century, Lyndhurst was developed into a picturesque landscape by a Bavarian landscaper who brought the latest trends from European royal estates. Lord and Burnham built the largest private greenhouse and probably the first fireproof greenhouse at Lyndhurst. Philanthropist Helen Gould added gardenesque elements in the early 20th century. Her younger sister, Anna Gould, Duchess of Talleyrand added garden sculptures which still exist in the basement of Lyndhurst’s greenhouse and are slowly 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 done by Helen Gould in 1905 after the death of Lyndhurst’s groundskeeper and extensive photographs that exist in the New York State archive in Cooperstown were taken in 1920. Arial photographs were taken in the 1960s and an extensive landscape report was done in the 1990s by Patricia O’Donnell and David Schuyler utilizing the memory of the landscape gardener, who had been on the property since the 1960s and worked for Anna Gould. A 45-minute color film of the landscape was done in 1942 shortly before the estate falls into decline, and was rediscovered two years ago in storage, documenting the lushness of the property, including the details and color schemes of the floral bushes and perennial beds throughout the property.
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. It is our intention to work with other partner organizations to connect these parcels to create a “Central Park” for Lower Westchester and the River Towns. Because of ownership of the water lands fronting the Lyndhurst estate and an active right-of-way over the rail lines, Lyndhurst even affords a future opportunity to provide direct access to the Hudson River itself.
Over the next decade, the staff at Lyndhurst will undertake restorations and program expansions that place the landscape on an equal footing with Lyndhurst 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 to our south. Ultimately, restorations will include reopening the Jay Gould era dock bridge and restoring the Hudson River dock to provide access to the river and restoring and adaptively reusing the historic greenhouse and its adjacent flower gardens and groves of flowering trees.
As a second phase of landscape restoration, Lyndhurst will restore the landscape from the front of the mansion to the rose garden including installing the diamond pane window panels that enclosed the veranda in the summer. We’ve already put back a series of marble benches, sculptural pieces and a MacMonnies fountain across from the mansion. In the rose garden, the central axis road will be restored with marble benches and urns at its terminus. The perennial garden, including the Boboli Gardens fountain, will be restored across from the rose beds.
Future plans include restoring missing specimen trees and bushes that lined the Lyndhurst drive and a major restoration and repurposing of the iconic Lyndhurst Lord & Burnham greenhouse. Prior to restoration we must determine a use with the greatest public benefit for the structure.
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.
Lyndhurst was designed as a romantic English castle and placed on a rocky promontory above the Hudson River. This early watercolor of the property shows the spartan character of the landscape and except for a few rocky outcroppings surrounded by trees, the landscape largely reflects its origins as a farm clear cut for growing crops.
Lyndhurst’s second owner, George Merritt, hired German immigrant Ferdinand Mangold to significantly expand Lyndhurst’s 67-acre landscape. During his 40-year tenure, Mangold drained the surrounding swamps, created greenswards, planted with specimen trees and established a world class conservatory whose rare orchids still survive in the collection of the New York Botanical Garden.
After remodeling of the mansion was completed in 1868, landscape architect 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.
Lyndhurst’s lower landscape design was influenced by Central Park, then recently completed, as reflected in the 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 farm as early Dutch farmers planted the chestnut as a starch crop.
Merritt commissioned his enormous greenhouse which 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.
When completed, the Merritt conservatory and surrounding beds were used by Mangold to propagate exotic trees, shrubs and plants for the estate.
A widowed Julia Merritt commissioned this map as a sales tool to showcase the landscape features of the estate. Trees planted during the 1840s under Davis and Paulding are shown larger than the trees planted in the 1860s under Merritt and Mangold, allowing us to delineate between earlier and later planting schemes.
Six months after Jay Gould purchased Lyndhurst, the conservatory and its contents burned to the ground in a fire. Gould relocated greenhouse builders Lord & Burnham nearby and immediately started reconstruction of the greenhouse in a gothic style.
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.
The nurserymen 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.
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.
Helen Gould commissioned a treehouse to be built around a clump birch that was located directly behind the mansion. Although long gone, the stone landing for the stairway still exists.
In 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.
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.
Famed naturalist John Burroughs was a childhood friend of Jay Gould and 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 adopted children.
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.
During recent renovations, Lyndhurst staff discovered a 45-minute color film of the landscape taken during 1942. This image shows the long gone perennial beds that sat opposite the rose garden beds. Parts of this fountain, a copy of one in the Boboli Garden, exist in Lyndhurst collections storage.
Color footage of the Helen Gould rose garden shows 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.
Prior to its horticultural collections being sold to benefit Red Cross war efforts, visiting British Royal Air Force pilots coming from the Brooklyn Navy Yard took a moment to stop and smell the flowers. Many of the orchids in the Gould greenhouse were purchased by the New York Botanical Garden, who’s orchid house had burned in the late 1930s.
House of Dark Shadows was filmed at Lyndhurst during a period when the estate only began to return from decades of neglect. This film 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.
Lyndhurst began restoration efforts of the Hudson River-adjacent lower landscape. Rock-lined sidewalks and period wooden benches are restored based on photographs from the1860s.
Lyndhurst is in a decade-long restoration plan of its 67-acre landscape. Lyndhurst’s landscape is extremely historic and well-documented and has never been completely redesigned. Successive owners maintained its early layout and made selective additions, making Lyndhurst a catalog of changing American landscape practices from 1840 to 1940.