Discovering the Lyndhurst Garden Film
Lyndhurst, a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site and a National Historic Landmark, in Tarrytown, New York, is primarily known for its 1838 Gothic Revival mansion. In fact, the mansion draws so much focus that it often overshadows the rich history of the picturesque landscape surrounding it—the specimen trees; sweeping lawns; romantic gardens; and a massive greenhouse structure that was once filled with orchids, palm trees, and many other exotic florae. Today the Lyndhurst staff are doing the essential work of restoring the Lyndhurst landscape to serve an audience for whom its beauty and significance are on par with those of the mansion.
The staff at Lyndhurst has embarked on a multistage restoration project to bring renewed attention to the site’s important and integral landscapes. The first areas of focus are the lawn and slope just south and west of the mansion, where as early as 1870, an arcing path led from the veranda to three “rockeries.” Photographs of these rockeries, which served as secret cooling grottos and provided sweeping views of the Hudson River, are some of the earliest remaining images of the Lyndhurst landscape. Only one of the rockeries is still accessible to visitors, as the other two have long since receded, and all that remains of the pathway that connected them is an indentation in the grass.
Bringing the rockeries back to the landscape—and back to life, as it were—is a large undertaking. Staff have spent a lot of time combing the images, notes, and newspaper clippings in Lyndhurst’s archives for evidence of this lost landscape. This research has uncovered early images of the property dating to the 1870s as well as documentation from around the turn of the 20th century. Overall, though, staff found very little such documentation of the grounds dating from between the beginning of the 20th century and the early 1960s, when the National Trust acquired Lyndhurst. Until, that is, an unassuming reel of 16mm film surfaced in the Lyndhurst archives—and opened a new world of living color.