Photo by Clifford Pickett / Courtesy of Lyndhurst
The Hudson Valley’s 1800s Gothic Revival mansion embarks on a multi-phase renovation to beautify its 67-acre landscape in Westchester County.
Visits to Lyndhurst Mansion are the sort of experience that leave people speechless. After all, it’s not every day one encounters a castle-like estate as majestic as the one in Tarrytown. With its Gothic Revival architecture, which was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis back in 1838 and still stands tall to this day, Lyndhurst is a shining example of luxurious living in the Hudson Valley.
Now, an expansive project aims to bring the property’s 67-acre landscape on par with the majesty of the estate. Once complete, the multi-stage endeavor will recreate the historic rockeries, estate kitchen garden, and fruit orchard; rebuild the massive treehouse; create allees shaded by flowering trees; and provide a guided, ADA-accessible path from Lyndhurst to the Hudson River.
In fact, the historic restoration first commenced in 2017, when Lyndhurst received a $1 million matching grant from New York State to revitalize the grounds between the mansion and the river. Believed to be the only surviving example of Jackson Davis’s foray into landscape design, the panorama stands out with eye-catching features like rock-lined cement sidewalks, fruit orchards, outbuildings, and picturesque riverside views. Because the project is massive in scope, it will be completed in phases over the course of a decade.
“In many ways, this part of Lyndhurst’s landscape is a private version of Central Park,” observes Executive Director Howard Zar. “Lyndhurst is unusual in that it retains its original 67 acres, the landscape is well-documented with photographs and maps from the 1860s and beyond, and the landscape has been added to over time but, largely, it was never ripped out and changed.”
With restoration fully underway, Phase One is practically complete. During the preliminary stage, the estate replaced a number of meandering pathways next to the mansion and leading down to the Hudson River. To supplement that, it recreated historic wooden benches and restored marble furniture and fountains in front of the property. The greenery has received a facelift as well, thanks to the addition of dozens of native trees, bushes, and shrubs, along with a pear orchard toward the back of the grounds.
Next up, Zar and team eye the restoration of the Helen Gould Tree House, a retreat below the mansion that was constructed for railroad magnate and former Lyndhurst owner Jay Gould’s wife, Helen, and their children. Further down the line, the estate will also upgrade the rose garden, recreate the garden kitchen, replace the grape arbor, and replant the entry drive. Last but not least, it will dive into a full restoration of the Lord & Burnham greenhouse frame before pronouncing the restoration endeavors fully accomplished.
5 Phases to Restoration
Lower landscape restoration
Recreating historic rockeries, estate kitchen garden, and fruit orchard; rebuilding a treehouse and creating allees shaded by flowering trees; providing a path from the mansion to the Hudson River with ADA access; adding safety fencing along the railroad track; restoring and opening bathrooms in greenhouse services building; and adding landscape programs for families
Mansion landscape and rose garden
Restoring front mansion to rose garden landscape, installing diamond pane window panels, enclosing veranda in summer, adding marble benches and urns in rose garden, and restoring perennial garden
Carriage Drive replanting
Reintroducing missing trees and bushes to drive to make entry to Lyndhurst more lush
Restoration of aqueduct and swim tank landscape
Restoring exterior of swimming pool building and surrounding landscape, replanting pear arbor, repairing and replacing cement sidewalks around greenhouse, and replacing garden furniture
Capital campaign to restore greenhouse
Restoring the Lord & Burnham greenhouse so as to provide the greatest public benefit
As far as how closely the restorations will align with the original panorama of the Hudson Valley estate, Zar reveals that they’ll be as true to form as possible.
“Due to a topographical map and extensive photographs of the landscape dating from 1870, we have a very good sense of what trees were in the landscape,” he says. “Phase One restoration adhered as closely to possible to historical photographs, maps, and landscape reports.”
Thanks to those resources, which also include a 45-minute color film of the landscape from 1942, Zar and team have a solid understanding of the geography, trees, and plants that were native to the grounds. In spring 2021, they will commence the final round of replanting along with the addition of more unusual trees that were not able to be acquired during the pandemic. The plantings are based on plans developed by Patricia O’Donnell of Heritage Landscape, the woman who completed a landscape history of the property when the gardener for the Dutchess of Taleyrand, Lyndhurst’s last owner, was still alive. In cases where the original plants are not disease resistant or invasive, Lyndhurst replaces them with native species that are similar in appearance.
With the bulk of plantings done and the tree house and kitchen garden next on the itinerary, Lyndhurst is well on its way to a full restoration. Because much of the landscape it resides upon is at the center of a 150-acre historic parkland, Lyndhurst’s improved terrain will be a boon for an area that includes the Old Croton Aqueduct State Park and the Westchester Riverwalk.
“The objective of the restoration was to recreate significant elements of the historic landscape and to give a very specific sense of that landscape when it was intended to provide shade, leisurely recreation, and stunning river views,” Zar notes. “Today, visitors can engage with that 19th century experience as the restoration is open to the public. Nothing is blocked off.”
With both self-guided and guided tours available at Lyndhurst, visitors can meander along the pathways, rest their feet on one of the seating areas scattered across the grounds, or wander to the lower landscape toward the Bowling Pavilion. Along the way, stops to observe the majestic Hudson River and the equally beautiful Lyndhurst Mansion are requisites. Plus, because the property’s landscape is continually evolving, every visit means there’s a chance to discover something new.
Lyndhurst’s grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a $10 per person fee for those visiting by car. To learn more or purchase a grounds pass, visit the mansion’s website.