1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, Lyndhurst remains
one of America's most outstanding examples of early
Gothic Revival domestic architecture. Through the
tenancy of three prominent families, Lyndhurst evolved
its distinctive asymmetrical plan becoming a statement
of changing 19th century aesthetics.
Originally built and owned by General William Paulding,
former New York City mayor, the estate consisted of
184 acres, purchased at about the same time Washington
Irving purchased Sunnyside, and was known as "The
Knoll." The house sits on a promontory overlooking
the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee, just south of
Tarrytown, and upon completion gathered favorable
comments from leading taste setters of the day. Of
the estate, Phillip Hone described the house as, "resembling
a baronial castle or rather a Gothic monastery, with
towers, turrets and trellises; archways, armories
and air holes; peaked windows and pinnacled roofs,
and many other fantastics too numerous to enumerate."
In creating "The Knoll", Paulding worked closely
with Davis on every aspect of the home. Davis not
only designed and oversaw the creation of the house,
he also designed the interiors and furnishings. Every
aspect of the home was under Davis' direct aesthetic
control. He designed everything as if it belonged
in the room or the spot, as a necessary part of the
whole composition. The furniture was not considered
as being viewable outside of the context of its location,
surroundings and setting were critical to each piece.
This concept of a totally integrated design preceded
Frank Lloyd Wright by 50 years. Wright is considered
the innovator of this idea of architect as environment
During Paulding's residence, there was significant
traffic between Lyndhurst and Sunnyside as the Paulding
and Irving households were close friends. At one point,
Paulding's son, Phillip Paulding Rhinelander, was
engaged to Irving's niece, Julia. The engagement was
broken and a rift formed between the two families
ending the carriage and foot traffic between the two
In 1864 George Merritt, holder of a railroad car
spring patent and successful merchant, bought The
Knoll and renamed it Lyndenhurst. He hired Alexander
Jackson Davis and set about nearly doubling the size
of Lyndhurst by adding a new dining room, two bedrooms,
expanded servants quarters and a four story tower,
turning the home into a grand country residence.
Merritt also purchased additional land greatly expanding
the holdings and had landscape designer Ferdinand
Mangold transform the grounds. Mangold drained the
swamps and created broad sweeping lawns. He planted
specimen trees and erected the 390 foot long Moorish
style greenhouse on the north side of the property.
The results of this labor was a landscape in the Hudson
River Romantic Style: planned vistas and a controlled
romanticized experience of the natural surroundings.
The Romantic Movement had its roots in 18th century
Europe and was adopted wholeheartedly by 19th century
America. It was a reaction against the structured
and restrictive Neoclassicism and emphasized the appreciation
of untamed nature, imagination and emotion. It promoted
the freedom of the individual in their expression
and encouraged the individual to explore aesthetics
through the lens of the natural environment.
The Hudson Valley became the center of this movement
in America and the most important proponents and artists
came to live within its confines. The two factors
of proximity to New York City and the unique character
of the Valley itself drew these visionaries north
where they created the purest expressions of this
new aesthetic in stone and landscape. Lyndhurst, because
of its nearness to New York City and the prominence
of its owners, became a primary example of the Romantic
In adding to the house, Merritt probably had two complimentary
reasons. First, he and his wife had four children so
the original structure was simply too small for their
needs. Secondly, he wanted to own a house that would
emphatically express his position as a wealthy man.
The North Wing addition caused a complete transformation
of the structure into a large imposing stone edifice.
The most important visual element was the imposing
tower, over four stories in height, built next to
the original staircase tower. A new porte-cochere
was added and the old one transformed into a glass
walled vestibule. The new dining room, bedrooms and
servants quarters occupied the remainder of the North
In designing the addition, Davis created interiors
on a grander and considerably more elaborate scale.
He made extensive use of molded plaster, wood paneling
and stone detailing. During this period of construction
two gate lodges, two cottages and impressive stone
walls on the Broadway (Route 9) frontage were erected
and the stables were enlarged.
Unfortunately, Merritt's enjoyment of his new grand
residence was very short lived. He died in 1873 of
a kidney ailment, only six years after completion
of the remodeling. Mrs. Merrit put the house up for
Enter Jay Gould, the well known railroad magnate
and Wall Street tycoon and inside trader. He purchased
Lyndenhurst for the amount of $255,000 in 1880 and
shortened the name to Lyndhurst. By this time the
Hudson Valley had lost its allure and prominence in
New York City society to places like Newport, but
this suited Gould completely owing to his unpopularity
in society stemming from his financial dealings and
manipulations. He and his family happily resided at
Lyndhurst during the warmer months and on special
The Goulds changed little during their ownership except
for completely redecorating the Parlor in the then fashionable
Aesthetic Style and the replacement of much of the simple
wooden flooring to parquet.
After Jay Gould's death in 1892, the house was purchased
by his daughter Helen Miller Gould from the heirs.
Like her father, Helen Miller Gould lived a quiet
live at Lyndhurst. Possibly to compensate for some
of her father's perceived wrong doings, Helen became
a world-renowned philanthropist. She made few changes
to the house except for the addition of several small
structures on the grounds and another redecoration
of the Parlor prior to her wedding, at Lyndhurst,
to Finley Shepard, a railroad executive.
Helen Gould's sister, Anna, married Paul Ernest Boniface,
Comte de Castellane, in 1895 and had gone to live
in France. Despite their three sons, the marriage
ended unhappily in 1905 when it was annulled. Anna
remained in France and in 1908 married Boniface's
cousin Helie de Talleyrand-Perigord who had the two
titles of Prince and Duc, and they had two more children.
After the death of her husband in 1937 and her sister
Helen in 1938 and with the outbreak of war in 1939,
Anna, Dutchess of Talleyrand-Perigord, returned to
America and took up residence at the Plaza Hotel.
She became the last private owner of Lyndhurst. She
kept the home staffed and periodically visited. Anna
was a prolific collector of French antiques and furnishings,
but did little to the interiors of Lyndhurst, except
for her complete redecoration of her private suite
and the guest room immediately adjacent. These rooms,
filled with European furniture and textiles, are known
today as the "Dutchess's Suite."
In 1961 Anna died and left Lyndhurst, all its land,
and an endowment fund for maintenance to the National
Trust for Historic Preservation. Her French heirs
contested the will and after a number of years an
agreement was reached granting Lyndhurst and 67 acres
of it's land to the National Trust and the endowment
to the heirs.
Today Lyndhurst is owned and operated by the National
Trust for Historic Preservation and is open to visitors.
Lyndhurst may be visited from May through October
except Mondays, from 10am to 5pm. The last tour of
the house begins at 4:15pm daily.
From November through April the house and grounds
are open on weekends only from 10am to 3:30pm.
Lyndhurst is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and
New Years Days.
There is a small admission charge to the grounds
and another for a tour of the house. There is a museum
shop and cafe located in the Arnold and Marie Schwartz
Visitor Center in the Carriage House Complex.
Special Tours for groups of 10 or more can be arranged
by contacting the main office at (914)631-4481, press
Lyndhurst is located approximately one half mile
south of the New York State Thruway (I-87) interchange
at the Tappan Zee Bridge and Route 9. Lyndhurst is
accessible from Manhattan via Metro-North Commuter
Railroad service to Tarrytown.