New life in Staatsburgh

Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh (photo by Julie O’Connor).

Visitors to the Staatsburgh State Historic Site on Old Post Road south of Rhinbeck will soon find the elegant Mills Mansion on the grounds under renovation, in a year-long project that will restore the estate’s structural integrity and original appearance.

According to site manager Pamela Malcolm, the Staatsburgh property received $4.2 million in funding for the refurbishment from New York Works, part of the state’s recent $134-million program for the restoration and repair of state parks and historic sites. The mansion will remain open for tours during renovation, says Malcolm, but will temporarily lose wheelchair access during this time.

Cosmetic and structural work will be done on the estate wall and the mansion’s century-old entrance portico. Perhaps the most visible change will be to the mansion’s facade, currently covered in somber-looking gray-colored gunite (a no-painting-required concrete building material sprayed onto a surface) that was applied during the 1950s. The gunite finish will be removed and the exterior of the mansion restored to its original condition, a gleaming white stucco, its details more crisply outlined without the concrete coating. A portion of the facade has already been taken to this point of restoration, giving an indication of the final result will be when the entire job is finished. Deteriorated cornices and precast decorative elements on the facade will also be removed and replaced in the process.

Repairs need to be made to the building’s roof, as well, which has sustained damage in recent storms. Interior restoration work includes the repainting of walls, the cleaning of marble and wooden surfaces, conservation of the mansion’s collections, and the replacement of furnishing fabrics.

 

Mills Mansion is a 79-room Beaux-Arts structure with 47 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms. It owes its greatest debt of design to architect Stanford White, who was commissioned in 1895 to enlarge upon and renovate an existing house on the property.

White’s clients were Ogden Mills and his wife, Ruth Livingston Mills, who had inherited the estate from her family, the prominent Livingstons, landowners in the Hudson Valley since the 17th century. Ruth’s great-grandfather, Morgan Lewis, quartermaster general of the northern Continental Army during the American Revolution and third governor of the state of New York, first bought the property upon which the current mansion stands in 1792. When the house Lewis built burned to the ground in 1832, it was replaced with a 25-room Greek-Revival-style home that Ruth Livingston Mills eventually inherited in 1890.

Ogden Mills was the son of Darius Ogden Mills, a self-made millionaire who made his money in the years following the Gold Rush in California, investing in banks, railroads, steel, steamship and mining companies. Born to wealth, Ogden was also raised to manage it. The meeting of Ruth’s old money and Ogden’s new money was by all accounts a happy marriage, with the couple devoted to each other.

They had twin daughters, Gladys and Beatrice, born in 1883, followed by son Ogden, born in 1884, who eventually became secretary of the treasury under president Herbert Hoover. According to onsite historian Maria Reynolds, Gladys was a bit of a tomboy, interested in horses and playing tennis, while Beatrice was more fashionable and society-oriented. Beatrice later became Lady Granard, having married the eighth Earl of Granard in Ireland. Gladys ultimately inherited the mansion in Staatsburgh, after her father died in 1929 and her brother left no heirs when he passed away in 1937. Gladys donated the property to the state in 1938, along with 200 acres of land that included outbuildings, a carriage shed, a greenhouse, a farm and trails. (At one point the family owned 1600 acres on the site.)

While it seems a generous donation to give away such a palatial estate, the family had no shortage of housing options. The Mills family was really only in residence in Staatsburgh during the autumn each year, from mid-September through the Christmas holidays. The rest of the year they lived in their homes in Newport, San Mateo (California), Paris and a townhouse on Fifth Avenue and 69th Street in New York City.

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