Overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York, is Lyndhurst, one of America’s finest Gothic Revival mansions. Designed in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, its architectural brilliance is complemented by the park-like landscape of the estate and a comprehensive collection of original decorative arts. Its noteworthy occupants included former New York City mayor William Paulding, merchant George Merritt, and railroad tycoon Jay Gould.
The estate was shaped during more than a century by these three families. Their influence is evident in the expansion of the main house from a country villa “in the pointed style” to a Gothic mansion, as well as in the rich furnishings and in the park-like design of the grounds.
The 19th century was a period of political and technological change in America. Romanticism dominated the arts, and as the movement emphasized the appreciation of nature, imagination, and emotion, the Hudson River Valley became the center of painting and architecture. Wealthy patrons commissioned the construction of mansions in a variety of styles along the bluffs of the river from New York City to Albany.
Lyndhurst was first conceived in the minds of architect A.J. Davis and William Paulding who constructed the country villa in 1838 and called it “Knoll”. The romantic Gothic Revival design immediately drew attention to the building. Critics called it “Paulding’s Folly” because its fanciful turrets and asymmetrical outline were unlike most homes constructed in the post-colonial era.
Fascination with the property continued for decades. As ideas of wealth and status changed with the growing nation, so did the estate, reflecting the tastes and interests of wealthy New York.
In 1864-1865, Davis doubled the size of the mansion for the second owner, New York merchant George Merritt, who renamed it “Lyndenhurst” after the Linden trees that were planted on the estate.
Railroad magnate Jay Gould purchased the estate as a summer home in 1880, seven years after Merritt died. By 1884 Jay Gould had gained control of Western Union Telegraph, the New York Elevated Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad. Mr. Gould used Lyndhurst as an escape from the pressures of his business life. When his health was impaired by tuberculosis, Lyndhurst served as a country retreat until his death in 1892.
Jay Gould’s eldest daughter, Helen, who later married Finley J. Shepard, was given charge of the property upon her father’s death. She was involved in numerous philanthropic works during her lifetime. When she built the bowling pavilion and recreation center at Lyndhurst in 1894, she included in it a dedicated space for a sewing school that taught local woman a trade that would allow them to move out of service and into their own homes.
Anna, Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigord
After her sister’s death in 1938, Helen’s younger sister, Anna, Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigord, returned from France. While she lived primarily at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, she maintained Lyndhurst as a country home. After World War II, Anna allowed soldiers to convalesce at Lyndhurst. When Anna passed away in 1961, she bequeathed the 67-acre estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Lyndhurst’s vast collection of art, antiques, and furniture have remained largely intact due to the mansion’s use primarily as a country residence. In most instances, the furnishings are original to the house, and more than fifty pieces were designed by the architect himself, Alexander Jackson Davis. The arrangement of the rooms reflects the lives of one of the three major families and the five major owners that lived here. As such, the mansion reflects the development of American identity and taste during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The grounds at Lyndhurst survive as an outstanding example of 19th-century landscape design. Elements include sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, the curving entrance drive revealing “surprise” views, the angular repetition of the Gothic roofline in the evergreens, and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory. The rose garden and fernery are later additions.
Designed in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, Lyndhurst is considered to be one of America’s finest examples of Gothic architecture. The estate was shaped during more than a century by the three families that owned it. Their influence is evident in the expansion of the main house from a country villa “in the pointed style” to a Gothic mansion, as well as in the rich furnishings and in the park-like design of the grounds. The video below shows the history and evolution of the Lyndhurst mansion and the changes each family made.
Portrait of William Paulding
Former New York City Mayor and US Congressman William Paulding purchases 33 acres on the Hudson River near his boyhood home in Tarrytown, NY to build a country estate.
Portrait of Alexander Jackson Davis
Advised by his brother, author James Kirke Paulding, and his neighbor, Washington Irving, William Paulding hires architect Alexander Jackson Davis to design his country residence.
Alexander Jackson Davis’ watercolor rendering of William Paulding Jr.’s ‘Knoll’, (1838).
The Paulding’s move into their new home, known to them as “Knoll” but referred to by critics as “Paulding’s Folly” for its avante garde Gothic Revival style and castle-like form.
Lyndhurst Parlor Room
Architect Alexander Jackson Davis designs approximately 50 pieces of furniture for the Paulding’s which remain with the house to the present day.
Portrait of George Merritt
New York City businessman George Merritt purchases Knoll from the Paulding’s and hires original architect Alexander Jackson Davis to double the size of his country home.
Portrait of Ferdinand Mangold
Born in Carlsruhe, Germany and formerly employed on the estates of King Leopold, Ferdinand Mangold is hired as the estate Superintendent, and remains at the property for the rest of his life.
Photo of the Carriage House Complex
Alexander Jackson Davis designs multiple outbuildings for the property including a carriage house complex, two gatehouses and two caretaker’s cottages.
Postcard of Lyndhurst, 1872
The Merritt Family occupies their country home, named Lyndenhurst, after the Linden trees on the property. The mansion is now double its original size.
A c. 1870 photograph of the first-floor parlor of George Merritt’s expanded Lyndhurst.
The Merritt’s have numerous stereo views taken of the interior and exterior of their new country estate. The furnishings, which have stayed in the mansion, include new pieces designed by Davis and furniture in the latest style by American and European manufacturers.
Second Lyndhurst owner George Merritt’s greenhouse was built c. 1865.
The Merritt’s build a massive wood greenhouse on the estate with facilities that included sleeping quarters, a billiard room, gymnasium and bowling alley. Ferdinand Mangold fills it with rare specimen plants.
Portrait of Julia Merritt
George Merritt dies unexpectedly leaving Julia Merritt widowed with children and a large estate to manage.
Map of Lyndhurst, 1873
Julia Merritt commissions a map of Lyndenhurst as a tool to sell the estate but has to settle for renting out the property as a summer house. This topographical map has served as an invaluable resource for the restoration of the Lyndhurst landscape.
Portrait of Jay Gould
Looking for a country retreat for his growing family, railroad baron and Wall Street tycoon Jay Gould rents Lyndehurst for three summers.
Photo of Greenhouse
Jay Gould purchases the estate from Julia Merritt, renaming it Lyndhurst. Within three months of the purchase, the massive wood greenhouse burns to the ground. Gould hires Lord and Burnham to rebuild it in the gothic style and requested that they use cast iron and steel in place of wood wherever possible – making it the first fire-proof greenhouse built by the firm. This innovation in greenhouse construction served as prototype for American horticultural buildings into the 20th century.
With Jay Gould’s continued expansion of the estate’s landscape and unlimited financial resources, Ferdinand Mangold significantly increases the size of the landscape staff, shown here with a pet tortoise from the estate.
Photo of Drawing Room, circa 1880s
Gould hires noted New York decorating firm, the Herter Brothers, to redecorate the Lyndhurst parlor and add furnishings to other rooms of the house. This is the last commission of Christian Herter.
Gould builds a bridge over the railroad tracks of competitor George Vanderbilt’s New York Central railroad, which runs directly in front of Lyndhurst, to a private dock in the Hudson River. Gould takes the yacht to Wall Street every day to avoid travelling on his competitor’s train line. It was sold to the South American Government in 1900, converted to a gun boat for the Venezuelan Navy, and remained in service until 1950.