The Vanderbilts are one of America’s most well-known wealthy families and their Biltmore Estate in North Carolina might be one of the most famous homes in America, but did you know that you can visit another Vanderbilt home in the Hudson Valley? That’s right, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York offers a taste of the Vanderbilt’s wealth and luxury only a short distance north of New York City.
The home that became the focal point of the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site is built on land that was first settled as an estate in the 1760s. This land became known as Hyde Park and would later give its name to the nearby town (which is now more famous for its connections to President Franklin Roosevelt).
The current home on the property was built in the late 1890s and was used almost exclusively as a vacation home by Frederick Vanderbilt, who was the director of 22 different railroads, most notably the New York Central Railroad.
Yes, believe it or not, this 45,000 square-foot home with 54 rooms, was used as a seasonal vacation home by the family, Though, by Vanderbilt standards, it was relatively modest, especially compared to the 178,000 square-foot Biltmore Estate that his brother George built in North Carolina around the same time.
After Frederick Vanderbilt died in 1938, the property was inherited by his niece, Margaret Van Alen. In 1940, at the urging of neighbor and current president, Franklin Roosevelt, she donated the home and much of the land to the National Park Service, creating the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.
Today, the grounds are open for free throughout the year, and the Vanderbilt home is open for guided tours at a modest cost.
Even though I’d already visited a few other Gilded Age homes in the area on the same trip (Staatsburgh and the Rockefeller’s Kykuit), I was excited to check out another opulent home and learn about another of America’s most famous families.
Tours of the mansion are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and run on the hour when the mansion is opened (See the site’s website as exact tour schedules can change based on the season.) Because there are no reservations, make sure you arrive early if you want to take a tour on a busy day or you might have to wait a while for an open spot.
Tours of the mansion last roughly one hour (Mine was a little over that), and take you through more than a dozen rooms inside the Vanderbilt mansion.
Even if you’ve visited other Gilded Age Mansions, the opulence of this space is sure to wow you. When the mansion was donated to the National Park Service, nearly all of the home’s furnishings came with it, so you really get a great glimpse into how Frederick Vanderbilt and his family lived in and used this home.
As they guide you through the home, rangers offer a lot of great information covering topics including the Vanderbilt family, how each room was used, and some of the furnishings in the space. There really is a lot to see here, and guides do a great job helping you appreciate each room and the mansion as a whole.
Of all the rooms I saw, probably my favorite space was the area just beyond the front door.
Here, you’ll find a grand room with couches, a stone fireplace, and several beautiful sculptures. However, what sets this place apart from other spaces in the home is the large octagonal opening in the ceiling that leads right up to the second floor and a large skylight above that.
This makes the space truly majestic and is a really neat architectural element within the space.
Tours continue through a large portion of the rest of the mansion, passing through several incredible rooms. There’s also the chance to go to the upstairs of the home, and you can even see the opening from above.
It truly is a treat to see the interior of this opulent home.
Either before or after touring the home, it’s worth taking some time to explore the beautiful park-like grounds on the property.
From several spots, including behind the home, there are fantastic views overlooking the Hudson River and the forested hillsides on the opposite side. Many of these views can be seen along or near the roadway through the park, making them easy for anyone to check out.
There is also a road that heads down to the bottom of the hill and provides great views along the banks of the river. While the road is open on certain days to drive down, many opt to park at the top and walk the half-mile down to Bard Rock.
Whether you drive or walk down, this is a beautiful area to see along the river and was a highlight of my time at the site.
Overall, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site is an incredibly interesting spot to visit and a great place to learn about the extravagance of the Gilded Age. If you love New York history, definitely add this to your list of spots to tour.
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Hours: Hours Vary.
Cost: Adults: $10, Kids: Free
Address: 119 Vanderbilt Park Rd
See map below for other area attractions.