All the pleasures of the New York summer are not necessarily in the city. A celebration for a recent Sunday birthday provided the opportunity for a drive up the Hudson River. So off we went, heading up to Hyde Park, about 90 miles north of the city.
The mansion is situated on some 200-plus acres (originally more than 600 acres when Frederic and Louise bought the land). The mansion and the grounds were primarily used as a vacation home for Frederick and Louise and their many guests. A staff of 60 or so kept up the house and gardens and Louise – a lady who loved flowers – would sometimes have, it was said, more that 100 bouquets in vases throughout the house when she and Frederick and their guests were in residence.
Louise died in 1926, and after her death, Frederick lived out his life in the mansion. When he died in 1938, the estate went to Louise’s niece Margaret Van Alen. She told President Roosevelt the next year that she wanted to “keep my place as it is – a memorial to Uncle Fred and a national monument.” The 211-acre site has been open to the public since 1940. It is a National Historic Site, with well-trained park ranges conducting informative tours for visitors. The interior of the house, except for some personal belongings, is arranged as it was when Frederic and Louise lived there.
For our family excursion, accompanied by our friend Nerisa Kamar visiting from Kenya, we had the full experience of the grounds and the very satisfying tour of the history of the interior of the mansion from the knowledgeable park ranger. Not surprisingly, flash photography isn’t allowed inside the house, but the lighting conditions were good for one artifact I particularly wanted to photograph, one of a pair of ruby glass lamps (at one point in my life I collected ruby glass). So the photographs (you can see them at Vanderbilt House) are mostly outdoor photographs with the emphasis on the scenery, the splendid Beaux-Arts architecture (considered by many to be one of McKim, Mead, and White’s finest residential projects), and photographic memories of our family’s splendid day out.