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Get Closer to Nature

Kykuit provides a glimpse into not only the Rockefellers’ lives but also U.S. history, all in a stunning setting.


John D. Rockefeller, an oil industry pioneer who, at the start of the 20th century, was widely regarded as the richest man in America and, perhaps, the world, spent his later years distributing his wealth through various philanthropic programs. His legacy includes Kykuit, a spectacular estate originally constructed between 1906 and 1913. It was home to four generations of Rockefellers and is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Kykuit (pronounced Kye-cut and derived from the Dutch word for lookout) is located about 88 kilometers north of New York City on a hilltop overlooking the majestic Hudson River. The estate encompasses a six-story stone manor with 40 art-filled rooms, set amidst lush gardens, displaying former Governor and Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller’s exceptional collection of 20th-century sculptures by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and other prominent artists. Kykuit is situated within about 81 hectares of Rockefeller family land and features dozens of fountains and landscaped terraces with breathtaking views. Its underground art galleries have Picasso tapestries and scores of other artworks. The immense Coach Barn houses classic automobiles and horse-drawn carriages.

While the magnitude of Kykuit can make it difficult to imagine it as a family home, youngsters did indeed romp and wrestle there. After the family patriarch died in 1937, Kykuit became home to his heirs and the Rockefellers lived there until 1979.

“As a young child, I loved and appreciated Kykuit as my home. I never thought of it as a historic site to be preserved and protected,” writes Mark F. Rockefeller in the Kykuit guidebook, noting that “Dad (former U.S. Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller) put some of the more breakable pieces of art in plexiglass cases.”

The Rockefellers are a pre-eminent American family, whose members have been enormously influential in various fields, including business, government, philanthropy, conservation and the arts. Kykuit, which has been meticulously maintained for more than 100 years, provides a glimpse into not only the Rockefellers’ lives but also U.S. history, all in a stunning setting.

“Many visitors have a natural interest in gardens and landscapes, and are happy to discover how much time you can spend [on tours] outside enjoying them, as opposed to just seeing the house,” says Rob Schweitzer, vice president, communications and commerce for Historic Hudson Valley. The nonprofit group operates Kykuit and other nearby historic sites. “Others are architecture buffs, who are keen on every detail of the house. Still others want to see the art, which can sometimes be a bit polarizing, as not everybody shares [Vice President] Rockefeller’s affinity for modern art.”

Kykuit grew over time, with John D. Rockefeller Jr., known as “Junior,” taking the lead in supervising the architects, designers and landscapers, who created the version of the manor house completed in 1908. However, the elder Rockefeller and his wife had reservations about the structure, and the father and son subsequently collaborated on an expanded and far more elaborate version, which was finished in 1913. The interiors were designed to resemble an 18th century English country house, while the formal gardens and hilltop terraces featured pavilions, grottoes and, in the forecourt entrance, the Oceanus Fountain—a replica of a 1576 fountain created for the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy. Kykuit’s gardens are perhaps most spectacular in June, when the roses are in bloom.

In addition to being a historic destination, Kykuit also serves as a center for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which works to advance “social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.”

Kykuit is open Thursday through Sunday, from May 1 to September 30; daily, except Tuesdays, in October; and again, Thursday through Sunday in November. Guests who go to Kykuit by a shuttle bus from a nearby visitors center can see the estate via several tours at prices ranging from $23 (Rs. 1,500 approximately) to $40 (Rs. 2,600 approximately). The most popular is the three-hour Grand Tour, which includes everything there is to see at Kykuit, says Schweitzer. Many visitors also choose the Classic Tour, which covers the highlights of the estate, including the main floor of the house, the subterranean art galleries, the Inner Garden and West Terrace, spectacular views of the Hudson River and the Coach Barn. Most visitors come by car as part of a visit to the Hudson Valley, but train service from New York City is also available. Lodging in the area starts at about $100 (Rs. 6,600 approximately) a night, says Schweitzer.

 

Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.