Kykuit, one of America’s most famous private residences, is open for the public to explore. The mansion, located in Sleepy Hollow, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Now a National Trust house, the estate is a breathtaking mix of historical grandeur and modern art. Included in a trip to Kykuit is the opportunity to view both the Hudson River and the New York City skyline from the highest point in Pocantico Hills.
Visitors can take tours that wander through the home, the picturesque gardens, and the extensive modern art collection in the basement that features works by Pablo Picasso.
History of Kykuit
John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, bought the property in the late 19th century as a retreat that was a short distance away from New York City. The world’s first billionaire, the Rockefeller patriarch built the grand mansion, which now sits on a 250-acre inner compound within a larger family estate.
The last residents of Kykuit, Nelson Rockefeller (the 41st Vice President of the United States under President Gerald Ford and 49th Governor of New York) and his family, filled the home with the massive modern art collection that remains there today. After his death in 1979, the house was bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and became open to the public for tours in the mid-90s.
What You’ll See on a Tour
Visitors can choose from a range of tours to fit their interests and needs, including a landmark tour, a timesaver tour, and a garden and sculpture tour. For first-time visitors, the Classic Tour lasts 2¼ hours and covers the house and terraces, the gardens, the art collection, and the Coach Barn.
Although John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world, the house was built in a modest, conservative style. Compared to other Gilded Age mansions like those of the Vanderbilt family, the Rockefellers were not fans of showing off their wealth in an ostentatious way. Rockefeller Sr. was a devout Baptist, so no drinking or dancing took place at the house, which explains the lack of a grand staircase or ballroom.
But don’t be fooled, the house is still an architectural masterpiece and is filled with treasures from across the globe. Outside the main entrance sits the massive Oceanus Fountain, a replica of the one in Rome. Once inside the house, visitors can see artifacts and artworks from ancient China, now encased in glass due to Nelson Rockefeller’s work to make the house more family-friendly.
|The music room inside Kykuit
The tour includes a look into John D. Rockefeller’s study, filled with more ancient Chinese art, and the desk where he worked every day (even while on vacation, according to a Kykuit tour guide). The music room features an open oval oculus in place of the ceiling that reveals the upper floors of the home.
The butler pantry offers glimpse into what it was like to work in the home. A large annunciator panel on display would have lit up when someone in the house needed assistance. A small room off the pantry houses just some of the family’s exquisite china collection, where a Kykuit tour guide said Nelson liked to sit and be surrounded by the beauty.
In the tearoom, an ancient Chinese Bodhisattva sculpture perfectly lines up with the Oceanus Fountain in the front of the house, an impressive view that is unobstructed through the length of the house.
In addition to holding the offices of the Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States, Nelson Rockefeller was an avid art collector. He is responsible for the careful placement of the art and sculptures that dot the walls and grounds of the estate, to ensure that each piece is enjoyed and appreciated to its fullest potential.
|Picasso tapestries in the basement art gallery
Nelson found that the empty basement of the house was a perfect place to display a large portion of his art collection. He loved modern, abstract, and avant-garde art, and the basement collection reflects that. The collection, which rivals that of a museum, includes pieces from Andy Warhol, Marc Chagall, and Pablo Picasso. One hallway contains one-of-a-kind tapestries of Picasso’s paintings that stretch from floor to ceiling.
The first views of the estate’s perfectly manicured grounds come from the terraces of the house. It is there that visitors can take in the views of the Hudson Rover and the Manhattan skyline, as well as the beautiful golf course.
The property has many separate gardens, which include fountains, sculptures, and meticulously maintained trees and flowers. An extended tour offers access to the Japanese garden that has its own teahouse.
|One of many gardens on the Kykuit property
The Coach Barn
Classic car enthusiasts will be in awe of the collection of vintage coaches and cars housed in the Coach Barn, a separate building just down the hill from the main house.
The carriage room and stables where the family horses resided are also home to the vintage carriages the family liked to take for rides around the property, which are on display. Some of the family’s riding gear is also on display in the dressing room of the barn.
Cars including a Ford Motor T and a Datsun have been carefully preserved for visitors to view. The collection even includes a Chrysler limousine with the governor plates from Nelson’s four terms as Governor of New York.
|Some of the classic cars on display in the Coach Barn
How to visit
Kykuit is open for tours from May through November. Tours begin at the Philipsburg Manor Visitor Center, where a quick shuttle bus ride takes visitors to the property. Strollers are not allowed on the tours due to the delicacy of the house, but can be checked at the Visitor Center. The tours are not recommended for children younger than 10.
Visitors traveling via train can take Metro-North, which offers a discounted ticket package, to the Tarrytown station, a short taxi ride away from the Philipsburg Manor Visitor Center.
Location: 381 N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow
Price: $23-$40 per person
Hours: The Visitor Center opens at 9am and tours are offered throughout the day until 3pm on weekdays and 4pm on weekends
Restrooms: Located in the Visitor Center and in the Coach Barn
For more information: 914-631-8200 or visit hudsonvalley.org
Main image: John D. Rockefeller's historical Kykuit estate
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