Many New Yorkers have been stepping out of the city during this time of COVID, in search of space ~ more than six-feet of space. Today, we’re taking a leap back in time to 1853, when Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones (1810-1876), a New York Socialite, built a weekend and summer residence in a small town named Rhinebeck, directly across the Hudson River from the currently popular, Kingston. Below, our pictorial visit to what’s left of Rhinecliff (now known as Wyndclyffe).
Her three-story mansion, built in 1852, consisting of nine bedrooms, five bathrooms and four fireplaces. The 7,690 square foot, 24-room gothic mansion was designed by George Veitch, who also designed Rhinebeck’s Episcopal Church of the Messiah. The mansion was built of brick and slate on over 80-acres of land.
It was grand. So grand that several of her friends and family members built large homes in and around that same area, each one larger and more ornate than the next ~ coining the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Interestingly enough, Elizabeth was a single woman who never married.
Many notable guests were known to frequent her home, including Elizabeth’s niece, the writer Edith Wharton, who was a frequent childhood visitor. The mansion was eluded to in both of her novels, “A Backward Glance” and “Hudson River Bracketed.” Elizabeth was also related to the prosperous American industrialist family, the Astors.
Through Wharton’s writings, we have come to learn of her dislike for the mansion ,,,, “The effect of terror produced by the house at Rhinecliff was no doubt due to what seemed to me its intolerable ugliness. My visual sensibility must always have been too keen for middling pleasure; my photographic memory of rooms and houses – even those seen but briefly, or at long intervals – was from my earliest years a source of inarticulate misery, for I was always vaguely frightened by ugliness. I can still remember hating everything at Rhinecliff, which, as I saw, on rediscovering it some years later, was an expensive but dour specimen of Hudson River Gothic.”
After Elizabeth’s passing, the mansion and land were sold by her executors to the New York City brewer, Andrew Finck (1829-1890) for $25,000. Andrew’s son August (1854-1905) and grandson August Jr. (1879-1963), owned and operated one of the largest breweries in New York City. The mansion, renamed Linden Hall or Finck Castle, passed on through the Finck family down to Theodore Finck (1883-1923) in 1919.
Theodore Finck passed away in the mansion in 1923, leaving the mansion to his daughter, Anna Wolf Finck Rice (1879-1963), who stayed on until about 1936, after which the property passed through the hands of several owners.
Sometime around 1950, the mansion and property were abandoned. Much of the eighty-acres, which included waterfront access to the Hudson River, was sold off, until the empty house, which now sat on only 2.5 acres, fell into total disrepair.
Above and below are a few wonderful images of the mansion found in the Library of Congress. Now completely uninhabitable, what is left of the mansion still gives a sense of what was once a grand home.
In 2003, the mansion was sold. However plans to restore the mansion never came to fruition, and the mansion continued to deteriorate over time.
Wyndclyffe went on the auction block in 2016 and was sold to the highest bidder for $120,000. At the time of the auction, it had no bedrooms, bathrooms or fireplaces. Nor did it have floors or a ceiling. It was in total ruins, as the images above and below show.
Knowing what an impossible task it would be to attempt to restore, the new owner set about making an application to demolish the historic mansion. The request was denied, pending approval from the Planning Board, which has not ~ as of this date ~ happened.
Wyndclyffe is in a National Historic Landmark District (Hudson River Historic District) which includes the riverfront sections of the towns of Clermont, Red Hook, Rhinebeck, and part of Hyde Park. The Historic District also includes the hamlets of Annandale, Barrytown, Rhinecliff and the village of Tivoli in their entirety. All together, about 35-square-miles.
Wyndclyffe was never placed on the National Register of Historic Places, since it physically sits inside the Historic District. Nevertheless, Rhinebeck has a plethora of sites on the list including the Henry Delamater House (a wonderful place to stay), Astor Home for Children, and the Rhinebeck Post Office, with its historic murals ~ just to name a few.
To see the mansion, you’ll have to do it at quite a distance. Located at 25 Wynclyffe Court, a private road off Mill Road, in Rhinebeck. As of this date we understand that a private NYC architectural firm is about to begin restoration (September, 2023).
Update ~ May, 2023 from Daily Freeman: Town Board members have approved the stabilization plan for the Wyndclyffe Mansion. Highlights below:
Town Board members have approved the stabilization plan for the Wyndclyffe mansion in an effort to move forward with the restoration of the 170-year-old deteriorating relic of pre-Civil War extravagance.
The work will keep the attractive nuisance from being a hazard, town attorney Warren Replansky said during a meeting Monday.
Under the stabilization plan, owners will install a new floor and roof framing to the freestanding masonry walls, add supplemental interior wood stud bearing walls and shear walls for support and bracing, replace interior brick walls and chimneys, and pour a new concrete slab.
“It has for many years been in a state of disrepair and possible danger of collapse,” he said. “Over the years, the various zoning enforcement officers for the town have filed notifications that the property needed to be sealed and a fence installed around it in accordance with our property maintenance law and the town’s unsafe building law.”
The town resolution notes that the building has been sealed and a 6-foot security fence has been erected around the property.
“The structural drawings adequately address the emergency stabilization of the structure and are suitable for the purpose of restoring the structure to a safe condition,” wrote town consulting engineer Bruce Richardson. “The drawings do not include information regarding roofing, insulation, windows, doors, and the permanent repair of the exterior walls, so additional input from other consultants will be needed to return the building to a watertight condition and to future occupancy.”
Board members approved the resolution in a 4-0 vote with Councilman Alan Scherr abstaining because he is a neighbor of the property. He noted that before a long-term repair plan moves forward, there needs to be protections for residents who live nearby.
And to further update, according to The Daily Catch, “A New York City architecture firm hopes to save Rhinebeck’s dilapidated Wyndclyffe estate, a once-glorious nine-bedroom mansion commissioned by Edith Wharton’s aunt that has languished in abandonment for nearly 50 years, The Daily Catch has learned. The estate, off Mill Road and sometimes known as Wyndcliffe, was nearly demolished in 2016.
On Dec. 1, John Barboni of Elemental Architecture LLC, a Manhattan firm known for renovating historic buildings in the city, applied for a building permit to stabilize the mansion. He proposes to shore up its crumbling foundation to prevent the brick Norman Gothic-style building from crumbling completely and to repair the walls to make the home safe to enter.
Blue Sky Design Inc., a New York-based engineering firm, is consulting with Barboni on the project. “
We understand that restoration will begin soon.
Down the block, the historic Grasmere Farm, located on Mill Road, was built in 1824. Recently purchased by Soho House, the British company intends to restore the mansion, creating an environment for several food/beverage options, a wellness facility, spa and guest bedrooms. Read more about the official announcement in Travel + Leisure, September, 2023.
In 1987, Grasmere was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The rendering of Grasmere (below) includes multiple bars and large pool areas on the 250-acre property.
Below, the Delamater Inn, located at 6387 Mill Street, was designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis. It includes seven guest houses, each with a unique style
Below, a little of the interior of the Rhinebeck post office. The mural was commissioned for Rhinebeck, NY post office by the WPA Section of Fine Arts Art in Public Building Program in 1940.
While you’re there, take a walk through the historic Beekman Arms, (below) added to the original Tavern in 1776. Few changes have been made to the original structure – oaken beams and broad plank floors. In 1979, The ‘Beek’ was added to the National Register of Historic Places.