Like most Long Islanders, I had no idea that there were mansions and grand estates in our own backyard. My first experience came on a trip to Old Westbury Gardens with a friend who wanted to take some pictures. I was completely unaware of what I was about to experience. I had never even heard of Old Westbury Gardens. I couldn't believe that a mansion like that was on Long Island. While strolling the gardens, I wasn't sure I was still on Long Island. I never knew gardens could look like that. There were lakes and ponds on the property...and walled gardens. I never knew what a walled garden was.
Around the same time, I stumbled across a series on A&E called America's Castles and I was hooked on the Gilded Age estates. I discovered that there were more places like Old Westbury on the Island. At one time about a thousand. I began researching and reading anything I could find about them. I gathered up my camera and info and tried to find these country houses. Sometimes with family, sometimes with friends, sometimes by myself and most times getting lost on the winding North Shore roads. Some of these places are open to the public, some still in private hands (got kicked off a few while trying to take pics), some have found different uses, but most are gone. Some are just remains of their former glory. That double row of trees in the center median of Southern State Parkway by Exit 37 was the main entrance drive to the August Belmont residence which is now Belmont Lake State Park. There are also remains on the Muttontown Preserve of an estate called Knollwood. Just some crumbling garden pavillions and staircase to the garden remain. My favorite remains are the Medieval turrets that are still standing guard from Alva Vanderbilt's fairy-tale like castle in Sands Point called Beacon Towers.
OK...this is my brief history of Long Island country houses. Most were built between the late 1800's and 1940's along the North Shore. Thus the term the Gold Coast. There were many others scattered across the island. They were built as country retreats mostly for summer use by the likes of Vanderbilts, Morgans, Phipps's, Pratts. Most estates consisted of the main house, formal and informal gardens, gatehouses, greenhouses, boathouses, polo fields, indoor and oudoor pools, tennis courts and any other luxury that money and imagination could build. The architecture is amazing and so are the interiors which usually consist of antique furnishings from Europe including some fireplaces and complete rooms taken directly from European palaces. They also were stocked with collections of great art. This period was known as The Gilded Age. It was an age of such opulence and bombastic castle building that will never happen again. It's fascinating to get a glimpse into how the ultra-wealthy lived. Palatial estates with acres of gardens and land for polo, hunts, private docks for yachts and grand parties were part of everyday life. Long Island's Gold Coast of the Roaring 20's was the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
PBS recently had a great show about Long Island's Gold Coast that was very interesting. The DVD Gold Coast Mansions is now available.
There are several really great books on the subject. These are a few of my favorites: The Mansions Of Long Island's Gold Coast by Monica Randall, North Shore Long Island by Paul J. Mateyunas, and Long Island Country Houses and Their Architects by Robert B. Mackay, Anthony Baker and Carol A. Traynor. These books and the America's Castles DVD's can be found on Amazon. The Amazon carousel below will bring you directly to these great items.
So join me on my unofficial tour of Long Island mansions and then get out and see them for yourselves. You won't be disappointed. When visiting these places be sure to look up, down and all around. Looking up you could see incredible murals or highly detailed plaster work. Look down to see intricately inlaid flooring. Look around to see fine works of art or maybe a hidden doorway, or safe. Click on the underlined words on the following pages to view more photos.
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SEPTEMBER 2013 - The approach of Fall always means a wealth of festivals and events around the estates. Check out all the upcoming fun on the Events Page.
SEPTEMBER 2013 - Bayard Cutting Arboretum (Westbrook) in Great River will unveil a new garden in the Old Pinetum section.
AUGUST 2013 - The Great Gatsby released on DVD
AUGUST 2013 - The Hameau estate in Brookville designed for Henry Upham Harris is for sale. Listing
JULY 2013 - New12 report on Insifada
JULY 2013 - Please help save Insifada and sign the petitions on the Insifada website.
JULY 2013 - Awixa Castle in Bay Shore is up for sale. The house was built in 1904 and originally called Oakelwood.
JUNE 2013- News 12 video report on LI Great Gatsby style homes
JUNE 2013- Sale of Insifada and pending demolition for subdivision draws protests. Read Newsday article.
MAY 2013- New book released. Long Island Historic Houses of the South Shore by Christopher M. Collora. Although the North Shore Gold Coast mansions are most widely known, incredible mansions were built along the South Shore that predated the North Shore. Explore them in this new book.
APR 2013 - Please check out this amazing site which recreates the demolished Ferguson's Castle (The Monastery) in glorious detail.
MAR 2013 - Planting Fields Arboretum is going to build a new Entrance Pavilion and Sensory Garden. More info.
MAR 2013 - The Planetarium at the Vanderbilt Museum (Eagle's Nest) reopened March 15 with it's new state of the renovations. Updates include a new projection system with improved video and surround sound.
MAR 2013 - Caumsett will be spending about $600,000 to restore it's Walled Garden. The 90 year old brick walls surrounding the garden are deteriorating and considered a safety hazard. The wall is 8 feet high, 1672 feet long and encloses a 4 acre space.
JAN 2013 - The 2013 Designer showcase is coming up in the spring. They haven't officially announced which mansion they will be using, but I think it's pretty obvious judging from the picture on their website. Stay tuned.
NOV 2012 - Fox Hall Estate. Gold Coast estate built in 1915 in Upper Brookville for sale. Click for listing.
NOV 2012 - Fort Hill. Gold Coast estate built circa 1878 in Lloyd Neck is for sale. Click for listing.
OCT 2012 - Glen Cove Mansion. Former estate of John and Ruth Pratt known as The Manor. There was a hearing held in September about a proposal to develop 17.5 acres of the estate grounds to build 46 single family homes. Read more.
PIC OF THE WEEK
Chelsea garden wall and turret. Benjamin Moore estate. Muttontown, NY
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