Idle Hour - Oakdale
(Vanderbilt Mansion)


William Kissam Vanderbilt came to Oakdale in the last quarter of the 19th century seeking an escape from New York City for himself and his family. He was the son of William H. Vanderbilt, and the grandson of the famous Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who amassed a $100,000,000 fortune in railroads. 

William K. Vanderbilt's introduction to Oakdale was through the Southside Sportsmens Club. He joined the Club along with members of the Tiffany, Hyde, Hunt and Belmont families who came to Oakdale to enjoy the hunting and fishing together. Hoping to secure his family's position in New York City's elite social set, Willie K. (as his family called him) chose to build a country retreat in the company of his peers. He began to assemble a large plot of land in 1876. 

The northern perimeter was Montauk Highway, its western boundary was the Connetquot River, eastern was what is now Vanderbilt Boulevard, and the Great South Bay formed the southern boundary. When purchasing the land, Vanderbilt was represented by a discrete agent because a Vanderbilt purchase would have caused a substantial price inflation in the area. The plot encompassed 862 acres dense with maple, pine, locust and oak trees. He and his wife, Alva, began construction of "the most beautiful private home in the world." 

First Mansion

Second Mansion

Inspired by the tranquil setting, Vanderbilt named his estate Idle Hour. It was the stage for gala events, hunting parties and coaching outings. Throughout the year, the family traveled among their mansions at 660 Fifth Avenue, New York City, Newport, Rhode Island, and this estate on the banks of the Connetquot River. Idle Hour was the W.K. Vanderbilt country estate, a summer and holiday residence. Staff was employed all year long to maintain the grounds and interiors. 

The original wooden Tudor style mansion was built in 1878. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, it was three stories with 60 rooms. The style was in keeping with the neighboring Bayard Cutting estate across the Connetquot River. During their years together, Alva and William K. had three children, Consuelo, William Kissam, Jr., and Harold. While family photographs reflect many cheerful days at Idle Hour, the marriage of William K. and Alva was not a happy one. In 1894, they separated and eventually divorced. Willie K. kept Idle Hour in the divorce settlement and Alva took Marble House in Newport. She married equestrian Oliver H. P. Belmont, a frequent visitor to Idle Hour in earlier years. In 1903, William K. married Mrs. Ann Harriman Rutherford Sands. 
Oakdale served as a honeymoon destination for two of the children. Consuelo started herhoneymoon at Idle Hour after an elaborate wedding on November 2, 1895 at St. Thomas' Church on Fifth Avenue. She married the Duke of Marlborough at 18 and later established her royal household at Blenheim Castle in England. The couple traveled to Oakdale by private train and were greeted by townspeople. (They were forced to walk to the estate because the train was early and no one was there to greet them.) William K., Jr., was on his honeymoon at Idle Hour with Virginia Fair on April 12, 1899 when the original mansion was consumed by fire. No one was injured
The majestic Queen Anne salon is distinguished by hand-carved woodwork imported as a whole from France. The room features a milk white fireplace and walls accented with 24-karat gold which was applied under the watch of 24 hour security. The ceiling is delicately detailed plaster, with embellishments at the corners. 
The library is a beautifully proportioned room, finished entirely in light oak. A fine marble mantel and large mirror surmount the fireplace. All of the remaining wall space is devoted to book shelving, at the top of which is a dado of carved oak with a series of symbolic panels representing literature, art, music, drama, architecture, science, agriculture, etc. All of the wood carvings and interior fittings for this room were made in France and put in place by men sent over from Europe especially for this work. 

Satisfied with the location, William K. Sr. decided a new mansion would be built. Construction began in 1900 to the architectural plans of Richard Howland Hunt, son of the architect of the original Idle Hour. The new mansion was built in three stages: main house; palm court; and bachelor wing and tennis courts. When building the second mansion, Vanderbilt spared no expense. Marble was imported from Italy. Twenty-four karat gold leaf accented imported woodwork in the salon. Elaborately carved screens and panels were installed in lounges and drawing rooms. Ornate plaster work adorned ceilings and walls. The mansion had 110 rooms and a final cost exceeding $9.5 million dollars. 

he English country house-styled mansion was completed in 1901. It was constructed of red, tapestry brick with sandstone and marble ornamentation to endure the ravages of time, temperature and fire. With hopes of preventing destruction by another blaze, a power plant was constructed a good distance from the home. Electricity and steam heat were supplied to the main house through tunnels under the lawns and gardens. 

The beauty of the new mansion was its interior. The home was filled with ornate, antique furnishings imported from overseas. The Vanderbilts selected pieces during their European sojourns and shipped them back to the estate. Glorious cut velvet sections and silk tapestries were mounted on hallway, bedroom, and ceremonial room walls. Corridors were long and narrow, connecting the finely decorated rooms. 

The first floor of the main building consisted of the entrance hall and vestibule area, ceremonial rooms, fives court (for a handball-like game), an Italian garden enclosed by a cloister walk and several other rooms. Family and guest chambers were on the second floor, and the third floor consisted of servants' quarters and closets. The basement contained kitchens, a pantry, servants' rooms, servant's dining room, wine cellar, and separate storage areas for food and firewood. 

The sweeping Jacobean-style staircase to the second floor is in the center of the entrance hall. The walls are lined in caenstone. The drapes at extreme left guard the dining room entrance. To the right of the chair (left side) is family's private elevator. The darker area to the right of the elevator leads to the main hallway, a few steps from the smoking/billiard room. 

Below the steps is an ancient sarcophagus. There is a door to the loggia and courtyard at the top right corner. The drapes at right hang in front of the living hall. 

The staircase is of quartered oak, carved in high relief. The ceiling is a magnificent specimen of the woodworker’s art, wrought in antique quartered oak. The staircase is lighted by an ornate lantern and a semicircular window of stained glass in which the initials WKV are worked into the design. 

(Not Shown: Between the entrance hall and vestibule are a pair of massive glass and iron doors. The initials, WKV, are in the ironwork above the doorway.) 
The smoking room is separated from the hall only by a Gothic-style, carved oak screen. The room is dominated by a massive fireplace of sandstone with beautifully carved stone Grecian style ornamentation and by tapestry wall hangings. Most of the furniture was selected abroad and much of it is antique. 
The white sandstone fireplace with its carved figures, imported from Europe, is the focal point of the living hall. Above the fireplace are the pipes of two Aeolian organs (one manual, one player). A distinguishing feature of the room is the intricate detail of the plaster, pendentive ceiling. The walls are of English oak. The doorway on the left leads to the library and cloister; on right to the Queen Anne salon. 
Upon completing the main house, a palm court, accessible from the cloisters, was built with 10 tons of plate glass. 

Although construction was completed, Vanderbilt continued to search abroad for rare and unusual decorations. After the bachelor and tennis wing was added, Vanderbilt converted his palm court into a trendy Turkish harem. It was decorated with a large silk tent, couches and Near East ornaments. 

Also, at this time, a set of ancient Italian stone lions were placed at entrances to the house. Pillars and statuary were installed in the garden. Across the vast front lawn, a wide marble stairway led to the river where a floating mahogany dock anchored Willie K's side paddle steam boat, The Mosquito, used for clamming and fishing excursions. 

Palm Garden
In 1903, the architectural firm of Warren and Whetmore was employed to design an indoor tennis court and bachelor's quarters for additional guests, connected to the opposite end of the palm court. Twelve additional master bedrooms were in the cloister wing, where visiting bachelors were quartered. The indoor tennis court was a rarity, featuring a clay court, vaulted glass ceiling, cooling fountains carved in stone, and ivy climbing its walls. 

Dowling College - Oakland Campus
The country estates of the wealthy did not stand alone. They needed many types of support, so that it is customary that a mansion would have a variety of accessory buildings, each serving a particular need. Some of these buildings would be more obvious than others to visitors and guests. 

Most of these buildings were constructed between 1880 and 1890. Some of the later buildings were designed by the son of the original architect, Richard Howland Hunt, who carried on the Hunt architectural firm after his father's death, and designed the second mansion, erected after the first burned in 1899. The name of a prominent Sayville architect, Isaac H. Green, also is mentioned as architect in some accounts of the various dependencies. 

Thee structures have been deemed highly desirable as homes, due to their historical connections, their architectural qualities, and to the pastoral atmosphere of the Idle Hour surroundings. It is fortunate that all these buildings are in excellent condition today, having been converted to residential use at an early stage. This is true even for the buildings originally designed for animal quarters; the "Artist Colony" today was the Vanderbilt farm at the turn of the last century, and its colorful past will be related here, also. 

In addition to the farm area, the Vanderbilt estate included such buildings enjoyed by the Vanderbilt guests as the coach house, the palm house, the bowling alley, the tea house, the railroad station, and the two gate houses. Support buildings included the power house, the toolhouse and potting shed, the ice house, the workmen's boarding house, the pottery, the orchard house, and the laundry.