Opportunities and Challenges

March 6, 2013 by David J. Brown

While standing on the tower roof at Lyndhurst last month, the view of Manhattan – some 20 miles downriver from this extraordinary historic place – reinforced once again for me the opportunities and challenges of the National Trust’s stewardship responsibilities at one of the country’s most significant Gothic Revival residences.

I happened to be standing on the roof with several trustees of the National Trust. These volunteer leaders had traveled to Tarrytown and devoted the day to working on-site with Trust president Stephanie Meeks and our senior staff, focusing on the work of charting a sustainable future for Lyndhurst.

As Cindi Malinick noted in her previous update, the history of Lyndhurst is inextricably tied to Manhattan and the Hudson River. The influential American architect A.J. Davis designed the outstanding Gothic Revival manse in 1838 for William Paulding, Jr., twice the mayor of New York City. Eventually the home of railroad tycoon Jay Gould, the house and its landscape today reflect nearly 175 years of life on the river. The site's 67 park-like acres include 16 historic structures, such as a Lord & Burnham steel-framed greenhouse complex and the oldest regulation bowling alley in the United States. Also, the site contains a spectacular collection of more than 4,000 objects, including priceless furniture designed specifically for the house by A. J. Davis.

But even a National Historic Landmark such as Lyndhurst – which has been operated as a house museum since the Trust acquired it in the 1960s – is challenged to thrive amidst the changing habits of tourists and the competition for support in the greater New York City market.

The priority of our campaign at Lyndhurst has been to set a path for success, developing a master use plan that ensures the long-term sustainability of the site. At the same time, we have worked to support our current efforts in ways that will help us bridge to the future. With changes last year, the Trust began to create a new organizational structure that was flexible and forward-looking. Under the direction of our historic sites staff, we have initiated capital improvement priorities that demonstrate our ongoing commitment to stewardship of this National Treasure. As the plan takes shape, we will re-engage local, regional, and national leaders in the work leading to the site’s transformation.

The challenges facing many of the country’s historic sites are seen at Lyndhurst. By committing to the long-term work to reimagine – and reinvigorate – this National Treasure, the National Trust can play an important leadership role for stewards of special places all across America.

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