If you read Past Lane Travels regularly, you know I’ve visited a lot of mansions over the years, but the Vanderbilt Mansion tour in Hyde Park NY was a new experience for me.
Built during the Gilded Age, the mansion has 54 rooms and was owned by one of the wealthiest families in the United States.
If you love the era of “Gilded Age Glamor,” come along on a Vanderbilt Mansion tour with me and explore this stunning house and grounds.
Your eyes will pop at this luxuriously appointed mansion that features exotic wood paneling, imported marble, lush velvets and extravagant French tapestries.
Vanderbilt Mansion Hyde Park NY History
Frederick Vanderbilt and his wife, Louise, purchased the 153-acre Hyde Park property in 1895, and started construction on the mansion.
Three years later, at a cost of $660,000, the Vanderbilt mansion at Hyde Park was completed. (That’s more than $23 million in today’s money).
BUT, they spent another $1.5 million (around $53 million today) to furnish it!
Fun Fact: The Vanderbilt Mansion and grounds in Hyde Park were bequeathed to the park service in 1939 and everything inside is original.
Vanderbilt Mansion Tour: First Floor
This is a Vanderbilt Mansion tour post, so of course you want to see the inside of this home, owned by a family that was as close to American royalty as you can get.
You’re in luck because I have plenty of photos. I was there in November so some of the rooms were set up for Christmas.
Let’s start with the first room you seen when you enter the Vanderbilt house during a mansion tour.
The oval-shaped entrance hall is really a feast for the eyes because it’s full of decorative tapestries, sculptures and other historical artifacts from the Vanderbilts.
A 17th Century Medici crest is located prominently over the grand fireplace marking the mansion as the home of a “merchant prince.”
Cipollino (“onion stone”) and Carerra marble walls and floor, classical statues and throne chairs create an impressive introduction into the Vanderbilt’s home.
During a party, this would have been a location of a formal reception and refreshments, serving to showcase their status.
Surprisingly, unlike most residences at the time, the mansion had running water and electricity, including flush toilets at a time when most people were still using chamber pots.
The next room I entered during my Vanderbilt Mansion tour was the dining room on the north side of the house.
The Vanderbilts hosted their first housewarming dinner party in May 1899 with 18 guests, and only entertained about once per season.
A formal Gilded Age dinner would include seven to twelve courses, including a different French wine with every course.
The Vanderbilt Mansion dining room contains many objects and pieces of furniture originally from Europe and Asia, including the ceiling, and the Persian carpet that is 400 years old.
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This rug is also one of the largest known Islamic carpets in the world measuring 20 by 40 feet in the 30 by 50-foot room.
As the tour guide noted, the Vanderbilts only visited this house in the summer as a getaway, and probably would not have ever been there to entertain over the holidays, but it was still nice to see the decorations.
On the other side of the house (South), was the Living Room, which was furnished with a combination of antique Renaissance furnishings and Louis XV style seating.
A guest visiting the mansion in 1923 recorded that the chairs were arranged in conversational groups, and that there were flowers everywhere.
Following dinner, men would remain in the dining room for cigars, while the ladies would retire to the Living Room for coffee and liquors.
The men would join them later for games of cards, charades, and music.
Of course I have to show the Christmas tree at the Vanderbilt Mansion in the formal living room or drawing room.
More Rooms On The First Floor
The ground floor also included an 18th-century-style French salon or Reception Room, where Louise Vanderbilt would occasionally have tea with guests or spend time alone.
Look at the ceiling in this room! It has a luminous painted panel of “Aurora and Tithonus” by the American artist Edward Simmons, depicting goddess of the dawn and her spurned lover.
Guests arriving for a party might enjoy a cocktail in this “Gold Room” before moving into the Dining Room.
Eighteenth-century-style French salons like this were a typical feature of Gilded Age mansions. Though not used very often, they were essential for their display of wealth.
Other rooms on the first floor included Frederick Vanderbilt’s office and den. He conducted business from his office, which wasn’t very big.
The den was beautiful, but not as ostentatious as other rooms. It acted as a family room as well as a place to have afternoon tea, write letters or read.
Fun Fact: Frederick Vanderbilt did not hunt and forbade hunting on the property. The deer heads on the wall were purely for decoration.
Vanderbilt Mansion Tour: Second Floor
While the first floor of the Vanderbilt Mansion tour was eye-opening, the second floor held even more surprises.
It started with a grand staircase that had velvet covering the handrail so that the gloves of ladies would slide easily.
Take note of the Ming Dynasty koi-bow at the bottom of the stairs. It is half a millennium old! The Vanderbilts used it as a planter for a 20-foot live palm tree.
Louise Vanderbilt’s bedroom is a reproduction of a French Queen’s chamber from the Louis XV period. It features a ceremonial railing around the bed, silk wall coverings at the head of the bed, and French paintings.
A connecting door leads to Louise Vanderbilt’s boudoir (dressing room).
What Is The Oldest Thing In The Mansion?
The oldest object in the mansion is a painting of a processional scene, built into the 15th-century gilt cassone (Italian marriage chest) located in the dining room foyer.
How Long Is the Vanderbilt Mansion Tour?
The Vanderbilt Mansion Tour lasts about an hour and covers three floors.
How Much Does The Vanderbilt Mansion Tour Cost?
The Vanderbilt Mansion Tour in Hyde Park costs $10 and is given multiple times per day depending on the season.
Vanderbilt Mansion Tour: Basement
The Vanderbilt Mansion tour also lets guests go into the basement level, where the Basement Hall and kitchen are located.
The Basement Hall is a large elliptical central space with corridors extending north and south, connecting a range of service work rooms and bedrooms for the male staff.
This area of the Vanderbilt mansion would have been bustling with cooks, housemaids, laundresses, and footmen discharging their daily duties.
Also in the basement were the wine storage and laundry.
Although very different, the Vanderbilt Mansion Hyde Park reminded me of Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana, the largest plantation the South.
A Picture-Perfect Location On The Hudson River
The Vanderbilt Mansion Hyde Park boasts spectacular views of the Hudson River as well as the Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains.
According to my tour guide, by the turn of the 20th century, the wealthiest families in the country had built palatial houses along the Hudson River between New York City and Albany.
Info On Vanderbilt Mansion Tours Hyde Park
Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt didn’t have children. After Frederick’s death in 1938, he left the house to Louise’s niece, Margaret Van Alen.
Since Margaret had no interest in the house, the Vanderbilts’ neighbor in Hyde Park, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, suggested converting it into a national park.
Today, the Vanderbilts’ Hyde Park home is preserved and operated as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.
The grounds are free to roam, but house tours are $10. The timing of the tours varies by season so check the Vanderbilt Mansion’s calendar before your travels.
The Vanderbilt Mansion tour of the house lets you see about 18 rooms on three floors.
Pro Tip: The House is not air conditioned and get quite hot in the summer months. Stay hydrated.
Why Is The Vanderbilt Mansion In Hyde Park?
The Hudson River held special significance for the Vanderbilts, because in the early 1800s, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt began a ferry service between Staten Island and Manhattan.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was Frederick’s grandfather, who laid the foundation for the Vanderbilt fortune.
The Legacy Of A Grand Gilded Age Mansion
With more than 600 acres of landscaped property and a palatial Beaux-Arts mansion, the Vanderbilt Hyde Park estate came to symbolize the enormous wealth accumulated by a privileged few during the Gilded Age.
Typical features of Beaux-Arts buildings include a large and grandiose appearance; symmetrical facade (both sides of the central entrance are identical); exterior columns or pilasters (rectangular columns attached to a wall); wall surfaces embellished with floral patterns, garlands, medallions, or similar details; and a flat, low-pitched roof.
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Planning A Trip To The Vanderbilt Mansion
I really enjoyed the Hudson River Valley and did a lot of sightseeing during my visit.
No matter where you’ll traveling, make sure you check out these Travel Resources before your trip.