On my last visit to New York, a friend Rosemary and I decided to take a drive out to the north shore of Long Island to the town of Centerport, in Suffolk County, where through these elegant iron gates stands "The Eagle's Nest," an estate of William K. Vanderbilt II, the heir to one of America's greatest fortunes. Upon Vanderbilt's death in 1944 the property became the Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum and Planetarium. (All photos and photo collages in this post will enlarge fro easier viewing by clicking on them)
The estate property includes 43 rolling acres and a panoramic view of Northport Bay and the Long Island Sound that delighted Vanderbilt when he had the estate constructed in three stages during the years 1910 through 1936.
The first phase of construction was the building of a 24 room Spanish revival mansion, designed by the famed New York architecture firm of Warren and Wetmore, the same architects responsible for designing and constructing New York's Grand Central Terminal.
Gorgeous architectural details could be seen everywhere, and it was evident no expense had been spared when the complex of buildings were constructed.
As my friend and I walked into the central courtyard, and glanced around at all the structures, I was transported back to the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby...
,,,. where once rich and privileged socialites gathered in summer mansions along what was called the Gold Coast of Long Island. They held glittering parties, listened to jazz, and filled their homes with expensive art, furnishings and priceless possessions.
The mansion and grounds are now operated by Suffolk County, and this Wikipedia article states that "..there has been a tumultuous relationship between the parties who own and the parties who oversee and run the museum. Currently, Suffolk County officials are experiencing difficulty receiving and allocating funds to keep the museum running. The museum's endowment from previews occupant, William Vanderbilt, was tied up in stock and bonds, which as a result of the economy proved to be a less than desirable financial safety net...."
I managed to take this photo inside the museum portion of the property, before I was told no photography was allowed inside the museum either. If you are not impressed by touring the rooms of the mansion, then the museum of Vanderbilt's personal collections would be a reason enough to visit! William K Vanderbilt II, during his oceanic expeditions on his various yachts, sailed around the globe and collected thousands of specimens of birds, invertebrates, and marine life for his museum, They are all on display in different exhibitions. He also worked with artisans from the American Museum of Natural History to create a room of marine and animal taxidermy dioramas, including a 32 foot whale shark and a 3,000 year old Egyptian mummy! It was really fascinating to see his well curated collections.
The Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum and Planetarium has one of the most impressive views of the Long Island Sound, although as time marched on in the area it now sadly came to include a view of the ugly Northport Power Station in the distance.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was influenced by his visits to various opulent Long Island Gold Coast homes during the roaring, 20's and perhaps the Vanderbilt Mansion was one of them?
Once over 500 Gold Coast Mansions existed on Long Island's north shore in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and today less than 200 survive. The remaining mansions are used as hotels, event venues for tours and parks and some remain privately owned mansions and a few are for sale.
If you want to take a step back into the past, the Gold Coast Mansions open to the public are the place to begin. My friend and I enjoyed our visit to the Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum Planetarium, and we both hope to visit a few more of these beautiful mansions in the future.
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