Hudson Valley Gems: the Rockefeller Kykuit Estate is Sleepy Hollow's Secret Garden


"Secret Garden" doesn't begin to describe the lush setting that welcomes you as you step off the Kykuit shuttle bus to a four-generation home turned museum: the Rockefeller family estate. If walls could talk, they would have to consult with the landscaping to get the full story on the life, history, and descendants of the once richest man in the world.

The Kykuit Estate Classic Tour:

I picked up my ticket for the one o'clock Classic Tour of the estate 30 minutes early. The forecast called for rain and the sweat that dripped between my frizzing hair and damp blouse confirmed the summer humidity. I was already second guessing the 2+ hour walking tour in the July heat. 

Our guide, Susan greeted us at the waiting area outside of the Visitor Center / Gift Shop and - grace be to the tech gods - our shuttle was well air-conditioned. Within five minutes familiar Westchester surroundings came to a halt as a large gate opened to mark the beginning of our journey through Rockefeller history. 

The Meaning of "Kykuit":

"Kykuit", dutch for "Look out", represents the high hill point that the estate rests on, offering views overlooking the Hudson River and New York City skyline.

Immediately upon arrival we were greeted by what I found to be an all too familiar sculpture. How could I recognize this? I'd never been there before. 

An Estate Influenced by English and Italian Design:

Susan confirmed my recognition. Influenced by Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy (which I recognized from my trip to Florence), John D. Rockefeller, Jr. chose a fountain statue of Oceanus to stand directly across the manor front entrance. 

The standing 20th century home was built by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and lavishly decorated by his junior. The Classic Tour gave us insight about Junior and his son, (Governor) Nelson's love for art, sculpture, and automobiles, amongst other treasures.

From the romantic English-style gardens, to the Italian-style garden rooms adjacent to the house, sculpture collection, and five-hole reversible golf course, the 4,000 acres of landscape gives the opulent six-story stone mansion a run for its money (and lots of it), some might say. 

Inside the Six-story Rockefeller Kykuit House:

Still in a nostalgic fog of my time exploring the garden fountain, the Kykuit front porch made of limestone led me through grand double doors and into the historical home, with a men's and women's room on either side of me.

The men's room gave me a glimpse of the working Rockefeller, his desk, and hobbies, while the women's room told a story of card games and planning what is now the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA: founded by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of Rockefeller Junior).

Interior photos by Jaime Martorano (Top: Women's Room, Bottom: Music Room)

Interior photos by Jaime Martorano (Top: Women's Room, Bottom: Music Room)

In-home elevators dressed the decorated halls and an open, atrium-style chamber purposed for enjoying music divided the front gender-based quarters from the back of the house. I paused to imagine the family often sitting in this area before I turned and entered a small room housing decorated china collections from around the world. 

China collection photos by Jaime Martorano

China collection photos by Jaime Martorano

Annunicator photo by Bryan Haeffele

Annunicator photo by Bryan Haeffele

Through a discrete door, our guide led us into a large kitchen pantry that would put some New York City studio apartments to shame. The annunciator alone was indication of the house's size and grandeur. Each visitor and guest were marked on this device in order to keep track of who was where (and when).  

Other rooms explored during this tour were the dining room, library, tea room, and basement featuring an elaborate collection of modern art.

Basement art collection photos by Jaime Martorano

Basement art collection photos by Jaime Martorano

Picasso tapestries draped the basement walls and temperature controlled settings ensured each work of brilliance was properly preserved.  

Before our departure, we were shuttled to the massive Coach Barn, where antique carriages, automobiles, and other gems remained stored and on display.



Why Don't the Rockefellers Live in Kykuit Anymore?

Well it was just too much work, frankly. There is still one "small" house (originally built on the estate as a playhouse for the children) that family members use to gather and have events but overall, the main Kykuit residence proved to require too much maintenance and Nelson, Rockefeller Junior's son decided to share his childhood home and grounds with the public. 

Wellness Tips For Your Visit to the Kykuit Estate:

Be mindful of the weather forecast when you tour the grounds. The gardens are not completely shaded so if sun is an issue for you, make sure to lather on the sunscreen.

Food isn't allowed on the tour so eat something beforehand and make sure you bring a bottle of water. Within 30 minutes I was already thirsty. Note: you cannot drink inside the house so hydrate outdoors whenever you can.

PHOTO by Bryan Haeffele.jpg

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For Kykuit visitor tour information, check out the Hudson Valley website.