Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate

 Our drive from Hudson, New York, south to Kykuit (pronounced ky-cut and meaning ‘lookout’ in Dutch) was supposed to take about one hour and forty five minutes.  We thought we’d have plenty of time to go and see the estate and then visit another garden in the afternoon.  But as we drove along the Taconic State Parkway and got closer to New York City, we got swept up with the speeding masses and missed the exit (okay, I missed the exit).  It was a white-knuckle drive (with the rest of the big city commuters) along a highway with lanes made twisty and bob-sled-like by construction until I could finally get off and turn around.   

It seemed like forever — but we finally got to the visitor centre in Sleepy Hollow, New York.  We thought that this was where we went to buy our tickets and then we’d drive on to the estate.   I thought we could drive directly up to Kykuit, and park our car around the back.  Wrong!

There is no public parking lot behind this house… surprise!

When you buy your admission ticket you also sign up for a scheduled tour and shuttle bus.  You can choose from various themes:  architecture, gardens, antique car & carriage collection (!), works of art, etc.  We opted for the house and garden tour.

This six-storey house sits on 3400 private acres and was built in 1914 for John D. Rockefeller Sr. and his family.  It has been home to four generations of the Rockefeller family until it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1979.  Several members of the famous family still live in a number of other homes on the surrounding grounds.  So this estate, Kykuit, is centrally located within the 250 acres that is now open to the public (known as ‘the Park’), but entrance to it is strictly regulated through the organization known as the Historic Hudson Valley.


This is one of the monumental iron gates that protects the entry to the mansion. 

This is what you see when you are looking from the front of the ‘house’; in the distance is New York City.  The fountain that depicts Poseidon, God of the Sea, wasn’t working when we were there; I can only imagine how spectacular it must be when it’s actively flowing!

This is the rear of the house, with the lush ivy precisely clipped around the arched windows.  And look at those rhododendrons!

This is the view you would see everyday from the rear of the house.  The clipped hedge at the right is purple beech and the loose planting in the foreground is a long row of roses, a bit too early for bloom.  You can also see several of the monumental sculptures that are situated throughout the grounds.  These were collected by Nelson Rockefeller and given to the estate.  And yes, that is a (nine hole) golf course!


The contract to design the grounds was originally awarded to Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who created Central Park in Manhattan.  But in 1906 he was amazingly dismissed in favour of the virtually unknown William Bosworth.  Bosworth had worked for Olmstead and then met one of the architects that worked on Kykuit while studying at the Ecoles des Beaux-Art in France.  After he completed work at Kykuit, Bosworth went on to supervise restoration work at the palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau, among other projects in France.  These gardens are considered the best of Bosworth’s work in America.

Sections of the highly structured garden are Italianate in style; our guide informed us that this sunken area used to have a pool until it was later filled in and covered with lawn.

There are garden areas that, although they are incredibly well manicured, seem natural and to a very human scale.

And then there are views that are nothing less than spectacular…

…and this!

There are sculptures throughout the grounds that seem entirely appropriate, like this toadstool table and chairs…

And this bronze nude on a stone wall with a swath of astilbe creating a swaying wave below her …


And look at the sculptural quality of this ancient euonymus looking as though its being propped up by this beautiful stone wall.

And then there is just pure beauty — having nothing to do with what money can buy.


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