Described by Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a hideous albatross in the Hudson River Valley,” the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park is located just two miles from the one-time home of FDR.
Built by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and designed by the famed New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White on estate grounds dating back to 1764, the 54-room, gilded-age stone mansion is a Beaux-Arts conflation of a neo-Classical exterior and American Renaissance interior, surrounded by formal Italianate gardens. Stanford White himself scoured Europe for antiques to decorate the mansion, such as the carved wooden ceiling in the dining room.
It is one of the oldest Hudson River estates, and was the first in the town of Hyde Park to be electrified. It is just one of many grand estates built by the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the century, many of which are now historic sites, such as the Breakers, Biltmore, Marble House, and many others.
Despite his personal reservations about the building’s style, FDR himself signed the papers to designate the structure as a National Historic Site in 1940. The estate now provides guided and self-guided tours of the the grounds, library, and FDR’s “Top Cottage” retreat, built for the purpose of “escaping the mob at Springwood.”
Although the mansion may be a bit grandiose for the location, the location is also fascinating. The mansion sits just at the edge of a fairly steep slope. The sloping ground was the front edge of the ancient Crum Elbow Creek delta, deposited by the creek when the Hudson River valley was Glacial Lake Albany at the end of the last glaciation. Read all about it in The Hudson Valley in the Ice Age, by Robert and Johanna Titus. Then, when you’re visiting the mansion, stand out front and imagine the valley filled with water up to the level of your ankles!