I live in New York City, so I spend much of my time exploring my home turf when not traversing in a foreign land. When I want to get away from the bustle of the city, I take a road trip to Long Island. There is much to see and do there.
Did you know that Long Island is divided into four counties? Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. But when one refers to Long Island, it is Nassau and Suffolk, the two easternmost counties of the island. Brooklyn and Queens, are two of the five boroughs of New York City. The East End of the island is made up of two forks – North Fork (known for its vineyards and farms) and South Fork (Hamptons and Montauk).
During the Gilded Age, between the 1870s to 1910s, wealthy Americans and Europeans built lavish homes and estates along the north shore of Long Island, known as The Gold Coast. These homes are no longer what they used to be, but they have been refurbished and repurposed as museums, hotels, wedding venues, golf courses and parks.
Though you can’t be teleported back to the Gilded Age, a visit to these five listed historic mansions will help you see why Long Island’s north shore was chosen by the rich and famous to build their European-style mansions and estates.
1. Oheka Castle
Oheka Castle is a French-style chateau built in the middle of a 443-acre land in Cold Spring Harbor. The owner, financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn commissioned Delano and Aldrich; both sought after architects to design the 109,000-square-foot home completed in 1919. It had 127 rooms and an axial sunken garden. The estate had an 18-hole golf course, greenhouses, horse stables, landing strip and tennis courts.
It was and still is the second-largest private residence in the United States. A Gold Coast symbol of success, Oheka Castle entertained guests from royal families and heads of state to Hollywood stars. Now you don’t have to be a star to visit, stay or eat at Oheka Castle.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a member of the Historic Hotels of America, Oheka Castle has been converted into a 32-rooms and suites historic hotel and a popular venue for weddings.
Daily tours are available (reservation only) starting at 11 a.m. Mansion Tour includes a guided tour of designated public areas of the estate and gardens, coffee/tea and a selection of homemade cookies. The Otto & Addie Tour includes the Mansion Tour, a reserved table for two with a bottle of house champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.
I recommend the Lunch Tour. Lunch Tour includes the Mansion Tour and a two-course lunch, coffee/tea and a selection of homemade cookies. Or just visit the estate and have a meal at the Oheka Bar & Restaurant. Better yet, stay a night or two in this country retreat away from the stresses of New York City.
Oheka Castle is my favorite historical mansion on Long Island.
2. Eagle’s Nest, Vanderbilt Mansion
Architecturally, The Eagle’s Nest is unique during the Gilded Age. It was a Spanish Revival style “Mediterranean” home of William K. Vanderbilt II, located nine miles north-east of Oheka Castle in Centerport.
The mansion commands an amazing view of Northport Bay. It was built from 1910 to 1936 by the same architectural firm that built Grand Central Station. Vanderbilt’s mansion was designed to accommodate his boats and cars. There was a boathouse, wharf, two-story garage and a large revolving turntable for his custom-built 1928 Lincoln touring car.
This Vanderbilt dream home is now a museum and planetarium. Vanderbilt deeded the mansion to Suffolk County and the county opened it to the public since 1950. I’ve visited the Vanderbilt museum complex several times and still love it. This 43-acre waterfront museum complex has over 30,000 objects of antique household furnishings, rare decorative arts and fine arts, old photographs, and a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. Other attractions are the mansion, curator’s cottage, boathouse and seaplane hangar. It also has a planetarium, a fun place for kids to explore.
3. Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens is a 70-room English manor house with a 100-acre traditional formal English garden. Designed and completed in 1906 by English designer George A. Crawley, the English Restoration-style mansion is now on the National Register of Historic Places list. Owners John S. Phipps and his wife Margarita Grace Phipps built the mansion in central Nassau County on Old Westbury Road.
Today, both the house and the gardens are open to the public. The house attractions include English antiques and decorative arts in the home, formal gardens, ponds and lakes. The Gardens offer guided tours, school visits, family programs, indoor and outdoor classical concerts, summer pop concerts and seasonal events.
4. Sands Point Preserve
Kingdoms rise and fall just like the story of Howard Gould, the son of railroad robber baron Jay Gould. To please his wife, Howard Gould built Castle Gould, a 100,000-square foot medieval castle in Sands Point modeled after Ireland’s Kilkenny Castle. Completed in 1904, Gould added a second mansion – a Tudor-style home called Hempstead House, a 50,000-square foot mansion with a 60-foot-tall entry foyer.
When the marriage failed, Gould sold the estate to Daniel Guggenheim in 1917. In 1923, Guggenheim added a third mansion for his son Harry F. Guggenheim, a 13th century-style French Norman manor house named Falaise. With death came the fourth mansion, Mille Fleurs built in 1930. Florence Guggenheim, the last owner of the estate, donated the estate to the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences. Today, the property belongs to Nassau County and is called Sands Point Preserve, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is a fee to visit the preserve and it is open year-round except Christmas and New Year’s Day. Docent-led mansion tours are available from Thursdays through Sundays (May to November only).
5. Chateau at Coindre Hall
Chateau At Coindre Hall is a 33-acre (originally 135 acres) and 80,000 square foot mansion overlooking Huntington Harbor built by George McKesson Brown between 1910 and 1914. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this French chateau-style mansion features a circular stairway, six fireplaces, a tower, an indoor courtyard and 40 rooms.
The original Chateau also had a gatehouse, servants’ quarters, a stable, a garage, a boathouse and an indoor pool. It is now mainly used as a wedding and reception venue.
Today visitors can walk the grounds of the chateau overlooking Huntington Harbor.
I recommend a trip to one of these mansions if you like to explore estates built during the Gilded Age. Have a question about things to do in Long Island? Become a Trippy member and post your questions.
Photos and article by Claudia Looi