Staatsburgh State Historic Site(The Mills Mansion)
75 Mills Mansion Drive
Staatsburgh, NY 12580
Open: Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.
I have been a Friend of the Mills Mansion for about five years and have attended many special events at the mansion including their Afternoon Tea & Lectures, the Annual Meeting and Talk, The Holiday Party and the Isadora Duncan Dance and Reception. Their events are a lot of fun and are very engaging. It also includes a tour of the mansion which is very interesting. Try to get on one of their theme tours.
The Friends of Mills Mansion Meeting on April 2019
Their Special Events:
I recently attended their Summer fundraiser “Sunset on the Terrace”, an evening of cocktails, appetizers and music. On a beautiful sunny evening, there is nothing like it. We were entertained by the Perry Beekman Trio with an assortment of jazz music while passed hot and cold appetizers were passed around the room. It is a relaxing night of light food and cocktails and wine while chatting with members as the sun sets on the mansion’s terrace. Now I know why the Mills loved this house so much.
Another event I have attended over the past few years has been their “Christmas Cocktail Party” that is held in the formal dining room which is decorated for a Victorian Christmas.
Mill’s Mansion at the holidays is spectacular
What is nice is that everyone is dressed in suits or tuxes for the evening and like its Summer counterpart, it is a evening of light appetizers both passed and on the tables, light desserts and an assortment of wines from a local vineyard.
The Mills Mansion Holiday Party in 2018
The “Winter Lectures & Teas” have gotten more interesting over the years. The tables are laden with tea sandwiches, scones and small cakes and the Staatsburg blend of tea. They are always refilling everything for you and I have seen some big eaters at the table. The lectures this year were on various subjects taking place during the Victorian era that included “Bicycling and the Women’s Movement”, “Masquerade Balls during the Season” and “Etiquette & Calling Cards during a Social Visit” by visiting lecturers from colleges or local historians.
Afternoon tea here is wonderful
I recently went to the Victorian Halloween Lecture which was very interesting. These are a nice afternoon of good food and interesting discussion.
Mill’s Mansion Halloween Tea
Another lecture I recently went to was “Masquerade Balls of the Gilded Age” which was very interesting. The enormous amount of money that was spent on a one night affair is almost mind boggling. The Vanderbilt Ball alone cost almost three million dollars in today’s money.
These were not just social occasions but a change to show off your wealth and creativity. It was what money could buy back then before the coming of personal and income tax and the Great Depression. The speaker discussed the food and the music and the fact the home was filled with flowers out of season.
The Famous Vanderbilt Ball
She discussed how the balls were created during Roman times in Venice for the start of Carnival (Mardi Gras was the next week) and how they developed during the Renaissance. She then discussed how they played a role in High Society during the Gilded Age and they were considered a little risque at the time. It was a very interesting discussion. As usual, the tea and cakes were delicious and they did a nice job decorating the room.
Hostess Alva Vanderbilt at her famous Ball
Don’t miss visiting the Mills Mansion during the Christmas holidays. The house is decked out for a Victorian Christmas even though the Mills did not spend much time at the mansion during the holiday season preferring to live in their New York mansion during the holiday social season.
The Mills Mansion foyer with tree
Still the house is decked out every year with different decorations and the formal dining room has just had the ceiling repaired and new velvet curtains put on the windows. The foyer steps of the older part of the mansion have been repaired with new curtains and rugs as well. Don’t miss seeing the tree in the foyer.
The Mills Mansion Library at Christmas
The volunteers are all on staff to answer any questions so feel free to ask about how the Mills entertained and lived in this era. The mansion is so beautifully decorated for the holidays.
The Mills Mansion dining room at Christmas
Recently with the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreak effecting cultural sites all over the United States, New York State has enacted Phase 4 of reopening with the exception of opening museums, restaurants and bars for business so they all have to take it “outside”. That Staatsburg site is no different as the inside of the mansion has remained closed.
That leads to new creativity and ideas of how to show off the mansion and it’s grounds true beauty. The State Park site has now created two different programs for the Summer months, the ‘Landscape Tour’ of the mansion’s former ice house, greenhouse, boat house and walking paths and the ‘Programs on the Portico’, lectures of the mansion’s past starting with a lecture of “Staatsburgh’s Servants”.
The Landscape tour of the property was very interesting as our group strolled through the grounds first to the site of the old ‘ice house’ by the river, where ice was cut in the winter time and used for the ‘ice boxes’ in the home which was those days ‘modern refrigeration’. We also visited the site of the ‘boat house’ where water sports by the river started the day and the yachts that used to flow up and down the Hudson River.
Our next stop on the tour were the sites of the old greenhouses that used to supply flowers for the mansion and fruits and vegetables for the kitchen. They disappeared over fifty years ago. The site of the stables is now an overgrown woods but once lead to bridle paths around the estate. The tour is about 90 minutes.
The ‘Programs on the Portico’ lectures started with the theme “Staatsburgh’s Servants” later in the afternoon. These 3:00pm lectures on the ‘front porch’ of the mansion are socially distanced and under cool shade.
The lecture was on items that the servants would use when the family was ‘in residence’ in the warmer months and how they would be used day to day. Items like a hand-cranked ice cream maker and a scoop for desserts, a bottle closer for beverages, a rug cleaner and a meat press for meals were just some of the items displayed and discussed. It was explained how the house would go through a deep cleaning when the family was away and when they were ‘at home’ how the house would be cleaned around them.
Another tour I was on recently was the “Exploring the Village of Staatsburgh” tour where a small group of us toured the Village of Staatsburgh where the mansion was located and learn about the history of the town. It was taken from the perspective of how the mansion was dependent on it and the town benefited from the Mills family and the people that worked there.
We met at the Staatsburgh Library which was a old church at one time.
We learned how the town was created, how the businesses like the railroad and the ice manufacturing businesses were developed and how they grew. We learned a how the town was much more developed before WWII and the effects of the development of Route 9 bypassing the town changed it.
St. Margaret’s Church was where we started the tour which is an amazing church. The stained glass windows are beautiful.
As a member, we also had a recent concert on the portico to hear the duo “Acute Inflections” perform on the lawn. We all stayed socially distanced on the lawn but still the concert was nice and this is what being a member of the Friends group is all about. These small events make a big difference.
The duo “Acute Reflections” performed that day
Another recent tour I took at the Mills Mansion was the “Estates of Staatsburgh” tour where we visited the abandoned estates of the Lee and the Hoyt families. The Hoyt’s were distant relatives of Ruth Livingston and their mansion still stands up on a buff in the woods overlooking the Hudson River. The family lived there until the 1960’s when the land and home were sold to the State of New York to create the park.
The abandoned Hoyt Estate will soon be a Visitors Center for the Park
The Lee Mansion burned down in the late 1950’s and all that is left of their estate if the old ice house, which is the size of a regular home. Most of these old estates we came to find out were self sufficient with agriculture and light manufacturing.
The Hoyt Mansion in its heyday
We got to see all the back trails to these old estates and the old driveways that once led to them. They have been abandoned since the 1960’s and have almost a spooky appearance of being lost in time. With the foliage in the background, it gave them a Halloween appearance. The tour was very interesting how the Gilded Age didn’t last too long when modern times came into play with income tax.
To ring in 2021, the park had their “First Day Hike tour, ‘Staatsburgh in Winter”. There were two walking tours around the estate. One entitled “Staatsburgh in Winter” which discussed the winter time fun at the turn of the century and the activities the Mills family enjoyed when they were at the estate in winter months. It seems that Ruth Mills was quite an accomplished figure skater. The family also owned an ice yacht, “The Beatrice” that they rode on the frozen river.
The Mills Mansion New Year’s Day Walking Tours-Me with the dark jacket and white mask
The second tour we took later that afternoon was “When Ice came from the river: Ice Harvesting in the Gilded Age”. We toured the river and the cove areas of the estate and discussed the ice block harvesting business that Mr. Mill’s had on the river. The family ice house could hold 500 tons of ice that was sold down in New York City. It was interesting to see how the process of clearing the snow and cutting the ice into blocks served as refrigeration for thousands of residents before refrigerators came into use.
Both tours our groups walked the back of the estate and the river front along the Hudson River. The tour guide had a long conversation on how the river was used during the Winter and that life continued in a productive way even after the holidays were over. It was a great way to spend the first day of the New Year.
The park continues to amaze me in their adaption on running events during the COVID era.
All of these can be seen on the organization’s website.
In 1792, Morgan Lewis, the third Governor of New York, purchased an estate covering of about 334 acres and commissioned the construction of a colonial-style house on the site of the present mansion. In 1832, the first house was destroyed by fire, said to be the act of arson committed by disgruntled tenant farmers.
The current home, originally built in 1832 and greatly expanded in the 1890’s, the Mills Mansion (also known as Staatsburgh) is emblematic of the great country estates built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to house America’s wealthiest families.
The Mill’s Mansion in the Summer months
Staatsburgh is a New York State Historic Site located withing the boutonnieres of Mills-Norrie State Park. It is an elegant example of the great estates built by America’s financial and industrial leaders during the Gilded Age.
A 25 room Greek Revival structure was built on the site in 1832 by Morgan Lewis and his wife, Gertrude Livingston, replacing an earlier house that had burned down. This second house was inherited by Ruth Livingston Mills, wife of noted financier and philanthropist Ogden Mills.
Ruth Livingston Mills
In 1895, Mr. and Mrs. Mills commissioned the prestigious New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to remodel and enlarge their Staatsburgh home. After the completion in 1896, the house was transformed into a Beaux-Arts mansion of 65 rooms and 14 bathrooms. Its exterior was embellished with balustrades, pilasters, floral swags and a massive portico. The rooms were furnished with elaborately carved and gilded furniture, fine oriental rugs, silk fabrics and a collection of art objects from Europe, ancient Greece and the Far East.
In 1938, the house and 192 acres were given to the State of New York by Gladys Mills Phipps, the daughter of Ruth and Ogden Mills. The estate is now operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. In 1988, the Friends of Mills Mansion were organized to support the preservation and educational work at the site.
(Friends of the Mills Mansion Website)
The outside of the mansion features a massive portico, balustrades, pilasters and floral festoons. The central part of the mansion is layered into a basement, three floors and an attic. In the north and south wings, there is a subbasement, a basement and two floors. Ceilings in the older part of the building dating prior to the enlargement (the first floor of the central part) are about 14 feet high, whereas the ceilings of the later construction (first floor of the north and south wings) can be about 18 feet high. The interior of the building is decorated in French styles of the 17th and 18th century. However, some architectural elements of the previous home have been preserved in the process.
The Mills Mansion poses several challenges to preservation: On the outside, a gray sprayed concrete finish which was added later as a preservation measure need to be removed and replaced with a more suitable surface treatment. At the same time, the decorative cornice and many decorative elements need to be either restored or replaced. On the inside of the building, wall paint and furnishings fabrics are in need of replacement, marble and wooden surfaces need to be cleaned and the objects of the mansion’s collection need to be conserved.
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