Blog – Rockwood Hall
Have you ever wandered through that southern section of Rockefeller State Park that’s kind of behind Phelps Hospital, kind of adjacent to Kendal on the Hudson? There’s a map showing its trails in the book “Walkable Westchester” by Jane and Walt Daniels.
(Sorry, you have to buy the book to see this map due to copyright restrictions. However, you can easily find this map if you search for it on the Internet.)
It’s also just off the Croton Aqueduct, Now, I’ve always heard this part of the Park referred to as Rockwood. And I’ve always wondered about what looked like an enormous building foundation with a stunning view of the Hudson. There are also wide trails, remains of Central Park-like stone walls and roadways, and elegant old trees that obviously once surrounded a beautifully designed and manicured estate.
Just a wee bit of online digging gave me some of the story. I hope you find it as interesting as I do!
Rockwood Hall, so I’ve learned, was the palatial estate belonging to William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. He was a brother to John Rockefeller, Sr., the founder of Standard Oil and scion of the Rockefeller family we know today. William was a co-founder of Standard Oil with John Sr., and, by many accounts, a canny businessman.
Born in 1841, he was two years younger than his brother John. Once they had established themselves as leading businessmen, William began purchasing property in Westchester, soon inspiring John Sr. to do the same. (He and his son John Jr., soon acquired over 3,000 acres.)
Rockwood Hall was begun in 1886. An enormous estate (to my mind!) it consisted of over 200 acres, with winding carriage trails and a Gilded Age mansion with 204 rooms. Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) designed and laid out the park-like landscape. And this was just one of Rockefeller’s many homes. Today’s Silicon Valley billionaires have nothing on the Rockefellers!
When William Rockefeller died in 1922 (of pneumonia caught whilst driving with his brother John, so the story goes), Rockwood Hall was turned into a country club.
Here’s a photo of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ parents – Mr. and Mrs. John V. Bouvier attending a horse show at Rockwood Hall Country Club in 1934:
When the country club went bankrupt in 1937 (the Depression was hard even on the horsey set) the Rockefeller family bought it back, and demolished the mansion in 1941. (I suppose the war might have made it difficult to staff and keep up?) The Rockefellers donated the land to New York State in 1999 and it became part of Rockefeller State Park.
Here’s a photo of what it looked like back in the day:
“Mr. William Rockefeller is said to have spent Three Million Dollars.” Indeed! Let’s see, three million dollars in 1886 dollars is about — yikes! The online inflation calculator says that’s worth over $75 million dollars today! Could that possibly be true?
Here’s a link to an informational brochure compiled by the New York Parks Department — it contains a far more exhaustive history than I’ve posted here, plus some pictures of the interior of this glorious mansion.
Here’s what it looks like today (photo courtesy of Rev3 M’s Yelp review of this hike):
It’s astonishing to me that it was demolished. There must be more to this story than I’ve uncovered here, so I’d love to hear from anyone who knows more.
And do take a wander around here some day – there are breathtaking views and shadows of its former glory to be seen throughout.