December 2, 2014

The American Legend Lives On at Lyndhurst Castle

  • By: Ashley & Brittany Hill

The 1838 Gothic Revival-style mansion Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown New York represents 175 years of influential American history.
The 1838 Gothic Revival-style mansion Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, New York, represents over 175 years of influential American history.

Lyndhurst, a National Trust Historic Site, welcomed us to tour the property as part of our American Legend Tour, a nationwide commitment to raising historical awareness and educating America’s youth about the importance of the pursuit of the American Dream.

The American Dream permeates Lyndhurst’s history, as it was home to three influential families over the years: William Paulding; George Merritt, who doubled the size of the estate; and legendary railroad financier Jay Gould. Together, they represent about 175 years of history. Anna Gould, Duchess of Talleyrand and Princess de Sagan, donated the 67-acre estate in memory of her parents to the National Trust for Historic Preservation upon her death in 1961.

We spoke with Krystyn Hastings-Silver, associate director of Lyndhurst, about why she is passionate about preserving and portraying the memories of the Castle’s famous residents, what opportunities are available for the public to interact with the site, and how Lyndhurst is, in her words, “a time capsule.” [Interview is edited for length and clarity.]

What inspired you to become involved with Lyndhurst?

For me, Lyndhurst is like a strange little dream that has come true. I visited Tarrytown as a child, and remember distinctly remarking to my mother that one day I would love to be a part of something like that.

While I was studying nearby for my undergraduate degree, I was invited to decorate the Christmas tree at Lyndhurst. I really felt like I was behind the velvet ropes. I began as the preservation manager, and now the mansion and its stories are a part of me. December 1, 2014 marked my 9th year working and living on the grounds.

I constantly feel like I am living in the shadow of Henry Duffy, who was once curator of Lyndhurst. I have even had some otherworldly experiences, such as responding to signaling alarm systems in the dark of night to find no one there. I feel there are definite spirits surrounding this place, and I like being a part of the living legend.

Krystyn (far left) points out artifacts from the three original owners of the home to Darlene (left) and Brittany (right).
Krystyn Hastings-Silver (center) points out artifacts from the three original owners of the home to Darlene (left) and Brittany (right).

There are many components to the entire property, including 12 buildings and 67 acres on the Hudson River, only 25 miles from New York City. What section or area is your favorite?

That’s a really tough question to answer; it’s like picking which child is your favorite. One of the most impressive aspects, though, is the stand-alone bowling alley, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. At 4,300 square feet of maple wood, this work of art is currently undergoing a massive restoration, including replacing the roof.

It’s believed to been built by Helen Gould in 1895, though the identification plate has gone missing! The mystery of this absent bit of information makes it all the more intriguing. It served as a versatile space; Helen Gould used the area for a sewing school, and allowed her staff to bowl there. The eventual intent is for the historic bowling alley to be a place that the public can rent for recreational use.

A detail of the interior of the main house, a room frequently used in major motion pictures.
This light-flooded room in the main house is frequently used in major motion pictures.

The rooms on view display authentic paintings, furnishings, and rugs. Are there plans to continue to grow the collection?

We have over 4,000 objects at the estate, many of which spend time in storage. We just restored the entire picture gallery. The space is much more intimate now. We are constantly changing exhibitions and bringing in special pieces to provide a unique view of life at Lyndhurst. The holidays offer opportunity to decorate and have fun with the mansion as well.

This year, in partnership with Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Lyndhurst was part of a countywide installation called "In the Garden of Sonic Delights." The curated exhibit included 15 site-specific sound oriented works including musical, visual, and sculptural pieces inspired by the artists’ environment. The collaboration included five partner organizations in the Hudson Valley and Westchester County.

Taking five years to develop, the exhibition brought a unique method for audiences to experience sound and to respond to a location’s history. Lyndhurst had an innovative sound and music experience created by Ed Osborn. The artist chose to use Lyndhurst’s iron-frame greenhouse as his source of inspiration [for a piece titled "Palm House Transect"]. The installation was available from April-November, 2014.

Ashley, Brittany, and Krystyn outside Lyndhurst
Krystyn Hastings-Silver (center) with Brittany (right) and Ashley Hill (left) outside Lyndhurst with their famous red Jeep.

What story would you most like to tell at Lyndhurst?

If I had a story to tell, I would love to bring Helen to life. Helen Miller Shepard (born Helen Gould) was the first daughter of Jay Gould, the third owner of the estate. What I love about her story is that she was progressive without even intending to be. She attended New York University Law School because she felt a moral obligation to learn to manage her own money.

There is much to be learned from Lyndhurst's past -- the beautiful opulence, attention to detail, and craftsmanship. Lyndhurst has become an evolving piece of living history. It is a place where you can visit again and again. With each season, the experience will be different. There is always something new to learn.

By: Ashley & Brittany Hill

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