renamed the property Lyndenhurst, after the linden trees that
Downing had planted on the property. He also built a greenhouse,
the largest private
greenhouse in America at the time – measuring 300 feet in length and 60
feet in depth. In its center was a tower from which, it was said, Jay Gould go
eventually, on a clear day, look out across the Hudson and all the way up to
the Catskills and the land of his birthplace.
Merritt, with Davis’ assistance, revamped the décor of
the house to reflect the style of the more affluent and industrially dynamic
time – a style called Rococo Revival. He also turned the two-story library
on the second floor into a poolroom/picture gallery. He died nine years after
acquiring the property. Several years later, his widow, sold it to Gould for
he shortened its name to Lyndhurst.
expanded the property, acquiring land on the
other side of the main road (until he had almost 500 acres),
turning it into a dairy farm, and re-decorating the interior,
turning to the more up-to-date Herter Brothers in New York
did the great WH Vanderbilt double mansion on Fifth Avenue).
All that frou frou was replaced by something considered less intricate. The drawing
rooms walls and ceilings were decorated with numerous small repeating floral
designs known as the Aesthetic style. The original soft wood flooring and Oriental
carpets were replaced with wall-to-wall carpeting. The tops of the inner window
frames were filled with stained-glass panels featuring exotic birds and banded
curtains hung below. The furniture was known as Renaissance Revival. The Gould
family employed thirty-five servants on staff at Lyndhurst – twenty-one
inside and fourteen outdoors.
In 1880, the enormous greenhouse burned to the ground, possibly the work of an
arsonist. Gould had it rebuilt immediately for it was there that he found his
greatest solace away from the rigors (and terrors) of Wall Street and business.
Gould was, incidentally, never far from the threat of his own reputation, even
at Lyndhurst. Once, while in residence at Lyndhurst, a gunman entered the house
when Gould was there. He was chased away, escaping briefly but soon found hiding
in shrubbery, by the police and private detectives, nevertheless re-kindling
Gould’s fears and demons.
built by George Merritt, ca. 1870. When first built,
it was one of the largest private greenhouses in the
world. It burned down in 1880.
section of the rebuilt greenhouse, today.
adored wife Helen (whom he called Ellie)
became ill while still in her late forties and died in 1889 after
a long illness. Gould himself, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis
around the time of his
wife’s death, lived only another three years, dying in 1892. He left an
estate of approximately $125
million (more than a billion in today’s currency) divided equally between
his children with some bequests to members of his family.
Nothing was left to charity. Some of the Gould children were underage and so
the will provided that his eldest daughter Helen could live there (with her siblings
until the youngest reached majority). That occurred in 1898. A few years later,
Helen bought the
property from the estate for $382,000.
Helen Gould married for the first time at age forty-five to a distant
named Finley Shepard. They adopted three children and had one
foster child. She added the poolhouse and the bowling alley to the property,
as well as a schoolhouse for the children. Mrs. Shepard became the philanthropist
that her father never was, donating millions to the Red Cross, the Salvation
Army and the YMCA. She invited the public onto the grounds for garden tours and
picnics and ran a sewing
and cooking school for local girls on the grounds.
When Helen Shepard died in 1938 at age 70, the estate was sold to her younger
sister, Anna, who was perhaps the most famous Gould after their
as a very young woman made a European marriage to Boni, the Count de
Castellane, spent her millions fabulously and as profligately as her
father’s will would allow. After having three children with him, she had
the marriage annulled
and married a cousin of his, the prince (and duke) de Talleyrand-Perigord.
Helen, who became a thoroughly Franco-American woman as la duchesse de Talleyrand,
returned to New York at the outbreak of the Second World War, and lived at the
She maintained Lyndhurst, visiting it frequently but never sleeping there. She
redecorated some of the rooms in the style to which she had become accustomed
(French). When she died in 1961, she left the house and land and a fund for supporting
it to the National Trust.
to r.: The birthplace of Jay Gould, Roxbury, NY;
Jay Gould, age 19.
wife, Helen Miller Gould
eldest daughter, Helen Gould Shepard
younger daughter, Anna, Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigord
the house today, one is exposed to all aspects
of its almost 170 year architectural and design history.
Furniture and interiors from the Paulding days are intact
in the restoration of certain rooms, including the drawing
room which has been restored to its early Victorian style,
as are interiors and furniture from the Merritt period. The
interior of the house is
surprisingly small to what
we’ve come to expect of Robber Barons’ mansions (i.e., Newport).
And the style of the Victorian era, first without electricity, as well as devoid
of air-conditioning, reveals a much darker abode, sedate and restrained, yet
probably very uncomfortable in many ways, compared to the space and light that
we are used to in the late 20th, early 21st century.
facade of Lyndhurst
one gets a sense, not only of what life was like for the economically
very privileged, as well as the mores and folkways of those times.
One also gets the sense of the beauty and the exhilaration and
relief because of the beauty of the natural environment surrounding
One can imagine how this man, small and physically frail, a demon to the
public, a pariah even, harshly reviled, could sit on his veranda of this
house, surrounded by his devoted family and his loving wife, on a very
warm summer’s evening (like the evening at the time of this writing)
and look down across the sweeping lawns, and over the treetops, to the
magnificent river and the New Jersey Palisades and the Tappan Zee across
One can imagine what an immense relief it must have been for someone who
lived such an intensely agitated and, in the end, not very long life that
stretched from the hardscrabble, frugal diary farm life upstate to the
towers and citadels of international business and the riches of Croesus.
One can imagine how he might have been humbled very possibly, no matter
how briefly, by his ghosts and the looming vast landscape beyond his protected
place on the veranda.
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is only about forty minutes from the city by car, up the
Major Deegan and the Saw Mill to Route 9 in Tarrytown, approximately
a half mile south of the NY State Thruway (I-87) at the Tappan
Zee Bridge. Also accessible by Metro-North Commuter Railroad.
Open May through October, Tuesday through Sunday from 10
am to 5 pm. And then November through April, weekends only
from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas
and New Year’s Day.