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, it has not been demolished, and no plans have been made towards its restoration.