Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside is open during the warmer months of the year, closing at the end of October. The house looks like a enchanted cottage with almost a fairy like appearance right on the banks of the Hudson River with the most spectacular views of the river valley and the Tappan Zee Bridge in the distance.
Sunnyside at the end of the summer
The house was designed by architect George Harvey and reflects the Dutch Colonial Revival, Scottish Gothic and Tudor Revival influences with wisteria growing up and around it and a jagged crow stepped gable.
When walking through the home, you will see the study where Washington Irving conducted the business of the house and did his writing. To the other side of the house, you will see the living room and small dining room where the family used to entertain. The upstairs contains small bedrooms where Washington Irving, his brother, Ebeneezer and his five nieces lived on and off when they were living at the house. Washington’s brother’s business had failed and the family came to live with him. Two of the nieces never married and ran the home for their uncle.
The bedroom at Sunnyside
The house is nicely furnished in the most modern decor of its time but is not an elaborate house. It is a home and not a weekend mansion and this ten acre estate was a once a working farm. In the back of the house, there is an ice house and a barn show where the people who worked on the estate kept the house running.
The study of Washington Irving
The view of the river is one of the most spectacular in the Hudson River Valley as its at the widest part of the Hudson River. You can see the cliffs of New Jersey on the other side with views of Nyack and the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.
During the Fall season there are all sorts of activities going on at the estate and the tours are a very interesting look at life at that time.
The Sunnyside Kitchen
The History of Sunnyside:
The estate was once the home of Wolfert Acker called Wolfert’s Roost and was part of the Manor of Philipsburg and this home was once a simple two room stone tenant farmhouse built around 1690.
The property came into the hands of the Van Tassel family, who were married into the Eckert family and owned it until 1802. That year, 150 acres were deeded to the family of Benson Ferris, one time clerk of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, whose wife, Maria Acker, was a descendant of Wolfert Acker’s.
In 1832, Washington Irving visited his nephew, Oscar Irving, who lived near the old stone farmhouse and was looking for a home at the time. He purchased the property on June 7, 1835 and would add to the property.
Irving wrote a story, “Wolfert’s Roost”, about Acker and the site. In a letter to his brother Peter, he described it as “a beautiful spot, capable of being made a little paradise…I have had an architect up there and shall build upon the old mansion this summer. My idea is to make a little nookery somewhat in the Dutch style, quaint but unpretending. It will be of stone.” He asked his neighbor to help him remodel the house and landscape the grounds in Romantic style adding a brook and waterfall.
The house became a major spot of people visiting the area to meet the author. In 1842, he was appointed to be the Ambassador of Spain and left the estate in the care of his brother and four daughters. He returned in 1846 and added to the home the ‘Spanish Tower” in 1847. This added four more bedrooms to the home.
Irving died in the house in 1859 of a heart attack at age 76.
The house was purchased from Lousi Irving by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and was restored for historic preservation. It was opened to the public in 1947.
I have visited the childhood home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt many times over the years. It is an interesting part of not just Hudson River Valley history but of American history.
Parts of the house were built in the late 1700’s and added on later by the families who lived in the house. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s father bought the house and continued to add on to it. Most of the estate is still intact as well as the homes that the President built separate from the main house to give he and his wife some privacy from his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, who owned the home until her death.
Visiting Springwood is like a step back in time. Unlike the grand mansions of the Mill’s and Vanderbilt’s up and down Route 9, Springwood looks more like a home just on a larger scale. The self-guided tour takes you through the first story of the house which includes the dining room, living room, sitting rooms and offices of the President and of his mother, who ran the staff and the household.
The inside of Springwood
The house is done in dark woods, representing a time before the Victorian age when the Federalist look was in and the later additions represent the trends in Victorian style. The furnishings were functional and very homey not like the elaborate ‘over the top’ furnishes in some of the other mansions. The Roosevelt’s were old money Hudson River Valley compared to the Vanderbilt’s who money was earned after the Civil War and did not have to prove themselves to Upper Crust Society.
I was impressed with the amount of sporting goods, stuffed animal species and just the general hominess of the house. It looked like someone still lived there. The downstairs area for the servants and the kitchen are functional and not huge. This is a house that was built for a family and for entertainment but not on the scale of the Astor’s or Vanderbilt’s. It ran for a growing family that lived in the house.
The inside of Springwood
Even the upstairs bedrooms looked like any other American home at the time but a touch bigger. I could see by Eleanor’s room that she did not spend much time there. You can see where the adjustments were made when the President developed polio. I am glad that the man showed determination and did not let that stop him in his life. It proved to me that a disability limits you only if you let it.
The grounds were interesting. The formal rose gardens are beautiful when in season and the estate does have views of the river. On the grounds of the estate as well is the Presidential Library, Museum and the grave sites of the President and his wife, Eleanor.
The Springwood Estate
The only problem we faced on our recent visit to the house was that a sweltering heat wave hit the Valley and the humidity hit 98 degrees. The house was boiling hot because they could not open the windows for fresh air and the whole house smelled musty and old. That is the bad part of all that wood trimming and paneling, it does smell when it is hot.
At the holidays when I visited in 2019, the house was going to be closed in April of 2020 for a full restoration and renovation of the lights, interior alarms and plumbing for about a year so the only Christmas decorations in the house was a tree in the library (the books had started to be removed from the shelves) and the formal dining room had been set for dinner. The rest of the mansion was in the process of being packed up.
Springwood at Christmastime
Still the ranger talked about the history of the house and the role it played not just with the government influence during WWII but at the holidays and how Sara Delano Roosevelt had influence on her family.
The Dining Room set for dinner
Still it was an interesting tour that takes about 45 minutes and is an important part of the foundation of a very important family.
History of FDR at Springwood:
Franklin’s father, James Roosevelt purchased the 110 acre estate in 1867 for $40,000. The property included a house overlooking the Hudson River and a working farm. FDR was born in the house on January 30, 1882, the only child of Sara and James Roosevelt. Growing up with a view of the majestic Hudson River, he developed a love of the river and the valley through which it flowed. By age eight, he was sailing the Hudson. As a young adult, racing his ice yacht “Hawk” was a favorite winter pastime.
Franklin accompanied his father on daily horseback rides. During these times, he became immersed in the land, its history and particularly the trees. In later years, he expanded his parents’ land holding to nearly 1,500 acres and planted over half a million trees. His interest in tree farming translated into a New Deal program, the Civilian Conservative Corps (CCC). The CCC provided jobs to unemployed men age 17-28. Over 10 years, enrollees planted over three billion trees and built over 800 parks nationwide.
Surrounded by the rich agricultural heritage of the Hudson Valley all his life, FDR felt a strong affinity with farmers. One of the first New Deal programs instituted during the Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, was designed to help farmers retain their land. His subsistence homestead projects relocated poverty-stricken families into government subsidized rural communities that provided decent housing, cooperative work and farming and schools.
When Franklin Roosevelt married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905, they resided in both at Hyde Park and their New York townhouse. Franklin and Eleanor had six children, one who died in infancy. FDR supervised the expansion and redesign of the house to accommodate his growing family and his political ambitions, ensuring it reflected the Dutch Colonial architecture of the Hudson Valley.
FDR contracted polio in 1921 and was paralyzed from the waist down. He held out hope for a cure but was never able to walk again unaided. The multi-level home was adapted to his needs with ramps along the short steps. The trunk lift, installed years before the onset of FDR’s polio became his transportation to the second floor.
In 1932, FDR was elected to the first of an unprecedented four terms as President of the United States. His presidency redefined the role of government in America, establishing programs designed to improve the lives of all Americans. These programs included Social Security, the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, the Securities & Exchange Commission, the establishment of minimum wage and unemployment insurance.
During his 12 years as President, FDR led the nation through an economic crisis of enormous proportions and the Second World War. He continually returned to this home he loved, seeking strength and relaxation. He entertained foreign dignitaries here including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In the small study, FDR and Churchill initiated a document known as the “Hyde Park Aide Memoire”, that outlined possible future uses of the atomic bomb.
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, FDR died from a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, GA. He was laid to rest on April 15th in the rose garden here. One year after his death on April 12, 1946, the home was opened to the public. At the dedication, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think Franklin realized that people would understand the rest and peace and strength which he gained here and perhaps go away with some sense of healing and courage themselves.”
(Home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site pamphlet)
History of the Springwood:
The estate was part of the 1697 agreement of the English Crown that gave 220 square miles to a group of nine businessmen from New York City. To ensure that everyone had access to the river, the land was divided into “Water Lots”, one of which was deeded to William Creed, one of the nine partners.
The central part of Springwood is believed to have been formed from a large farmhouse which was constructed around the year 1800 in the Federal style. In 1845, the estate was purchased by Josiah Wheeler, a merchant from New York City. Wheeler undertook a remodeling of the house, giving it a then fashionable Italianate style with a three story town at the south end as well as front and rear piazzas spanning the entire length of the house.
In 1866, the estate which has been reduced to one square mile, James Roosevelt bought the house and expanded the main house adding the servants wing, two more rooms and the carriage house. James Roosevelt passed away in 1900.
In 1915, FDR and his mother, Sara made the final additions and renovations to the house for the growing family and for entertaining political and family friends. Sara Roosevelt used the New York firm of Hoppin & Koen and doubled the size of the house by adding two large fieldstone wings (designed by FDR), a tower and a third story with a flat roof. The clapboard exterior of the house was replaced by stucco and most of the porch was replaced with a fieldstone terrace with a balustrade and a small columned portico around the entrance. The inside layout of the house was redesigned also to accommodate FDR’s growing collections of books, paintings, stamps and coins.
The grounds were also changed with the planting of almost 400,000 trees all over the estate in a thirty year period. Today large portions of the estate have been turned over to the Forestry Department of Syracuse University.
Disclaimer: The history of the Springwood and of FDR are living there was taken from Wiki writings and the pamphlet of The Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Site and I give their writers full credit for the information. Please see the attachments from the National Park site for more information.
During the beginning of the Halloween season, I decided to explore the Hudson River Valley mansions while the foliage was out. I had never been as high up as Kinderhook, NY before and I wanted to visit the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. This was the estate Lindenwald-Martin Van Buren home.
President Martin Van Buren
The tour is really informative and discusses our eighth President’s life in Upstate New York. I had not released that he was not born a wealthy man. He was a barkeepers son to Abraham Van Buren and his wife, Maria Hoes. His mother had been married before so he had three half siblings and four other siblings growing up.
He had worked his way through Law School and joined the local political scene of Upstate New York. From the what the tour guide told us, he was a self-made man. He had won the first election but not reelection. His further attempts at Presidency were not successful so after his time in Washington DC, he retired to his home in Kinderhook, NY and remained here until he died in 1862.
When we took the tour, the tour guide said that the house had many other owners after the President’s death and that was the reason why there was not much left in the house. There is period furniture from the time he lived here but not from the President himself. There are a few pieces from the family that were donated later. They even replaced the wallpaper in the dining room that was from the original French company that manufactured it (it seems that they have records going back almost 400 years). The grounds are beautiful with the golden and orange leaves on the trees and what is left of the crops in the back fields. There is also the graves of Peter Van Ness and his wife, the original owners of the house.
Lindenwald’s Dining Room
The house is not far from downtown Kinderhook so take time to visit the town and the historic sites of the President. There is a lot to see.
History of the Martin Van Buren Home & of President Van Buren:
Kinderhook is most noteworthy for its native son. Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States. Van Buren was born here in 1782 and began his road to the White House as a teenager campaigning for Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Van Buren held many positions in New York State government before becoming a United States senator. in 1821. He was elected President of the United States in 1837 after serving as Secretary of State (1829) and vice-president (1833-1837) in Andrew Jackson’s administration. Van Buren was one of only two men to serve as Vice-President, Secretary of State and President. The other was Thomas Jefferson. Van Buren was the first President to be born as an American citizen. Previous Presidents were born prior to the American Revolution. President Van Buren was an accomplished politician but his Presidency was characterized by the economic hardship of the time-the Panic of 1837.
This banking crisis occurred only five weeks into Van Buren’s Presidency and tarnished his administration. Van Buren ran for reelection in 1844 and seemed to have a advantage for the nomination. However, his opposition to the annexation of Texas contributed to his defeat at the Democratic convention. The nomination eventually went to James Polk. As the question of extending slavery into the territory captured in the Mexican War became heightened, Van Buren broke with his party and ran for the Presidency as a candidate of the Free Soil Party in 1848. Following the campaign of 1848, Van Buren returned to his farm, Lindenwald, where he remained until his death in 1862 from bronchial asthma and heart failure at age seventy-nine.
(Lindenwald-Van Buren Home pamphlet)
The house was built in 1797. The knocker on the old front door of this famous mansion bears the date 1797. This however refers to the building of the small and much less imposing building, which was the beginning of this Mansion and was erected by Peter Van Ness. There was still an earlier house on the place when Peter Van Ness bought it about 1780. The house of 1797 was greatly improved by Judge Van Ness, a son and still more improved and enlarged by Mr. Van Buren on his return from Washington when he named it ‘Lindenwald’.
Many of the most distinguished men of the period of the Van Ness and Van Buren families entertained here, among whom were Henry Clay, Washington Irving and Samuel Tilden.
Lindenwald is situated about two miles south of Kinderhook on the Old Post Road from New York City to Albany and sits about 400 to 500 feet back from the road, surrounded by old fir and pine trees. Two separate drive ways lead up to the house.
The house is brick, painted yellow and seven windows wide. The main building had two stories and a large garret. Three chimneys rise above this main or front part of the house, two to the north and a wide one to the south. The middle of the front is pedimented and there is a dormer on each side of the gable, which in the bedroom story below has a large triple central window with a curved pedimental top and two windows on each side. The two windows on the south side are in the room where Van Buren died.
Before the center of the main story is a small covered portico with an easy flight of steps and balusters. To the left is the living room or double parlor to the right the sitting room and dining room.
The oblong house is four windows deep on the north side. A colonnade or arched porch separates it from a domestic building, mainly kitchen and laundry. This undoubtedly was the Peter Van Ness original home. The library was added in the rear of the south side by Mr. Van Buren and next to this he built a tower, like a donjan keep with an Italian summit, the openings few and slitted; the object, stateliness and the view.
Beyond the front door is a fine straight hall. The four doors opening off of it are of early carpentry. At the rear, nearly concealed in the side of the hall under sort of an alcove is the stairway, wide and low and long stepped.
The palour at Lindenwald
The main feature of the hall, is the foreign wallpaper in large landscapes, representing hunters on horseback and with guns and dogs breaking into Rhenish vales, where milkmaids are surprised and invite flirtation, the human figures are nearly a foot high, the mountains and woods, rocks and streams, panoramic the colors dark and loud.
The Living Room at Lindenwald
After the death of President Van Buren the house was sold several times.
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.
On a recent “Lecture on the Portico”, the topic of the “Titanic” was discussed. It seems that Mr. And Mrs. Mills had tickets on the return voyage to Europe from New York. They lost many friends and family members like J.J. Astor on the sinking of the ship. Our lecturer talked about what you would wear, you would eat and how you would dine on the ship and all the protocols of behavior. Between the sinking of the ship and WWI this ended the “Gilded Age” and ushered in the “Jazz Age” after the war was over. All of the these lectures and tours are free.
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 visit the homes of the people who lived there like the Head Housekeeper, the Estate Manager and Butler and the footman. It was interesting to see how these people lived when they were not working.
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.
When we were on the tour, we saw how the town progressed from being dependent on the mansions and estates to how businesses like ice harvesting became prominent in the area up until the 1950’s. Our last stop was the old Hughes Department store in the old downtown area which is now a sail store for boating.
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
“Acute Reflections” performing
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.
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.
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.