Free Sunday + beautiful weather + sunny skies + friends + rich house = day trip to Kykuit!
There are so many day trips to take from NYC — from staying within the five boroughs to a quick train ride to a few-hour drive — so it was hard to decide where to go! My friends and I chose to take Metro-North about 35 minutes to Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow in Westchester, mainly to visit Kykuit (pronounced ky-kit), which is the Rockefeller estate. And dude, it’s BEAUTIFUL.
We took the Classic tour, which was almost 2 1/2 hours long and totally worth it. We took a bus from the meeting area to the property, driving up a windy street and eventually entered through tall, imposing, grand gates. Then we drove up even more windy roads and reached the top, where we saw the above house. Did you know “Kykuit” means “lookout” in old Dutch? The house is built on Kykuit Hill, and the whole property overlooks the river and what used to be farmland, which understandably made it a totally desirable escape from dirty, crowded NYC where the Rockefellers lived most of the time.
The crazy thing about the house was that, despite its grandeur and opulence, it’s not even that old! It was originally built in the early 1900s by John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil, I’m sure you know tons more about him than I do), and underwent a pretty large renovation of sorts and was completed in its current layout in 1913ish. That means the home is about 100 years old – that’s it! Since it was build, it’s been the home of four generations of Rockefellers: JDR (Senior); his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr.; his son, Nelson Rockefeller (who was a mayor of New York and later Vice President under Ford); and his children. When Nelson Rockefeller passed away, his house was given away to the town/public, per his will. The family history is insane; it’s like the Kennedys where there are so many layers, and each person in each generation has a different claim to fame. I have to find a book about them…
We visited the main two floors of the house – there were four floors above ground, plus two below ground. We’re talking IMMENSE. Nelson Rockefeller raised his children in the house – they were the only generation to actually grow up in this home – so it was fun to learn which updates were made with kids in mind (like digging special areas in the gardens for an adult- and kid specific swimming pool!). Though everything was ornate and clearly expensive, the rooms themselves were rather small, which was apparently because the Rockefellers weren’t all about showing up their wealth (versus lots of their peers at the time, who were all about grand ballrooms and expansive living areas). Another thing I found interesting? JDR was a devout Baptist, and because of that, didn’t believe in singing, dancing, gambling, or entertaining. So their amazing estate was seriously a family home! We even saw the set of doors that was closed off so that, if guests needed to visit to discuss business, they were able to enter specific rooms but not the heart of the house. (By the third generation, religion wasn’t so much a factor anymore and they let the good times roll…)
Since the family was so rich, there was tons of priceless art and beautiful architecture – but the most extravagant part was probably the gardens. It was designed by Frederick Olmstead (yes, you’ve definitely heard his name because he designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Central Park). This was LEGIT. There were no hard edges in any of the landscaping because the Rockefellers wanted the property to mirror the hills across the river, and they were intimately involved in every process of the development.
(P.S., click on the photos to see them a little larger)
In the basement, we saw an extensive art collection – literally, a gallery that’s probably equivalent to the worth of Facebook. We learned that Junior’s wife (I think!) was a passionate art collector, which she greatly instilled in her son Nelson, and the two of them are instrumental in making the MoMA the museum as we know it today.
After we toured the house, we took a quick ride down to the ‘carriage house’ where the family kept their carriages and cars (because, remember, this isn’t super old so the automobile was invented!). Imagine a firehouse… that can easily hold 4 fire trucks. Ok, that’s ONE THIRD of their carriage house. A carriage house!! That’s where their hired help used to hang out!! It made me even more curious to learn about the family, to understand how much they embraced their wealth since they had so much of it. They’re associated with tons of charities – specifically with education and conservation – and I’m sure you’ve heard of at least one of these: Spelman College, Rockefeller University, University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Foundation… and I just read on Wikipedia that JDR Jr. bought (and then donated!) land in Manhattan that’s now the United Nations headquarters. This family is probably linked to so many of the wonderful (and corporate) things in the US today…
After the tour, my friends and I grabbed lunch at a pub in town with a surprisingly disgruntled waiter and a poor view of the water (despite “Riverview” being in its name). We walked around town for a while until we were exhausted – it was SO hot out – so we got some ice cream (because it was national ice cream day), and then headed to a recently renovated area down by the river to hang out in the shade in the park (where I promptly sat on wet grass and had soaking wet shorts for the right of the night). By the time we hopped on the train, we were POOPED. What a day!
A few more pics below – including what I’m sure you’ll easily identify as “Erica’s Least Favorite Sculpture Ever.”