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The Vanderbilt family, building on the shipping and railroad business started by Cornelius Vanderbilt, became prominent during the Gilded Age (the period after the Civil War.) William K. Vanderbilt was a great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and he built Eagle’s Nest on the Long Island Sound in 1910 as his summer home.
I’d previously visited the Hyde Park and Biltmore Vanderbilt mansions…those were built by grandsons of Cornelius, uncles to Centerport’s ‘Willie K.’ Some friends and I were looking for a rainy-day activity on Long Island’s North Shore, so we headed to the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium and took the guided tour of Eagle’s Nest.
The summer home began as a 9-room Tudor cottage in 1910. By 1936, Willie K had remodeled and expanded it into a 24-room Spanish-Revival mansion, including a wing dedicated to the memory of his son who was killed in a car accident.
Willie K was a marine biology hobbyist who collected specimens from around the world. He displayed these in a separate building on his 43-acre property. There is also a gallery of his collections on the ground floor of his mansion.
Vanderbilt was outrageously wealthy as evidenced by the eccentricities throughout the mansion. In one wing there is a carved wooden spiral staircase. Vanderbilt saw this in a monastery in Europe and loved it so much that he purchased it, had it shipped to Eagle’s Nest and tasked his architect with making it fit somewhere in the house. It didn’t fit, so the architect had to add another section and a second story to the house to accommodate the staircase.
Vanderbilt left his estate to Suffolk County with an endowment to keep it open to the public as a museum. The county also runs a planetarium in a separate structure to help with funding for the upkeep.
- Hyde Park (Frederick Vanderbilt)
- The Biltmore (George Washington Vanderbilt II)
- Eagle’s Nest (William K Vanderbilt)
Location: 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport, New York
Designation: National Register of Historic Places
Date designated or established: 9/26/1985
Date of my visit: 3/10/2019