The Howard Mansion in 1896
Howard Mansion History
The Howard Mansion was built in 1896 by McKim, Mead & White, the famed New York City architects, on a site selected by Mr. Howard, the husband of Frederick Vanderbilt's niece. The structure was constructed between Jan.-Sept. of 1896 by the same crew that built the Vanderbilt Mansion several months later, as well as its 'sister' house, The Wales House. The farmhouse, which — reflecting the area's tradition — is constructed of local fieldstone, may be the only one of its kind by the noted architects.
The original architectural plans are at the New York Historical Society and refer to the Howard Mansion as Vanderbilt House #2. In fact, the backs of wood panels and trim removed during renovation have this designation, suggesting pieces were fabricated off-site. Many similarities exist in the design elements, interior trim and hardware of The Howard Mansion and The Wales House. Copies of the 9 original line drawings are displayed in the upstairs hallway of the house (and replicated on this website in the Architecture section.) These drawings highlight some interesting features, including a forced air heating system, among the first in North America.
The house had two alternate designs for the face of the gabled roofs on the north and south facade. One design was shingle style, a trademark treatment by those architects; the alternate design a pebbledash Tudor exterior, which the client selected. Only a few exterior photographs exist from the Piersaull Collection in the Vanderbilt archives.
The house was built using field stone from the property mixed with Rosendale cement. Rosendale cement was the finest quality cement of the era, developed across the river in the town of Rosendale, near New Paltz. The stone and masonry construction have proven incredibly durable, as the mortar has survived largely intact with little to no damage for over one hundred years. Fire damage necessitated the rebuilding or renovation of some parts of the house, introducing significant changes. Other portions of the house, especially at the south end, remain entirely intact and unchanged. During the current renovation, the owners decided to restore the house using the original shingle style design, favored by the architect.
The original house was about 10,000 square feet including a finished basement and partially finished attic. The most significant alterations to the structure occurred on the north end with a focus on the kitchen. During the demolition, evidence of five previous kitchen renovations was uncovered. The contractors removed 5 old ceilings and 5 floors, each laid over the other! The integrity of the building was restored using structural steel in certain places, often anchored into the stone walls.
The Howard Mansion was abandoned in 1918 and was boarded up until the early 1950's. Local accounts suggest that plenty of people gained access during this time, however. A few elderly neighbors have shared stories of walking through the abandoned house as children, marveling at some of its features.
The Vaughn family purchased the mansion in 1952. Elmer Van Wagner, the Vanderbilt property manager, sold the house to the Vaughn family. The Vaughn family restored the south end of the mansion in 1956 and lived there until a fire in 1962. The Anderson School took control of the mansion after 1962 and converted it into a dormitory. The north addition to the house was a three story Tudor style, wood framed structure. A second fire occurred during The Anderson School ownership which destroyed the addition to the house. The loss of the addition brought the house back to its original size.
No interior photographs are available, although research continues. The doors and hinges of the house's interior are mostly original, although some elements were added from other houses such as the Astor Mansion. Any missing hardware was replaced with original antique hardware from the same period.
The modern renovation, overseen by New York City architect David Yum of David Yum Architects, focused on the north interior section of the house, resulting in an entirely new kitchen and fully restored bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor, and a new attic. The attic was converted from a dark storage area, to a well-lit loft. An arbor, fence and gardens around the pool area were completed in 2007. This garden is based on a design by Edwin Lutyens, the famous English garden designer. The restoration project was completed in 2008.
The mansion was featured in the Hudson River Heritage 2008 Summer Newsletter, available for download here.