The Rockefeller Family Home
By Mary Louise Pierson, Cynthia Altman, Ann Rockefeller Roberts
Abbeville Press Copyright © 1998 Mary Louise Pierson
All rights reserved.
Both John D. Rockefeller (JDR) and John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Jr.) loved beautiful views and had an inherent sense of the land and its spirit, although they might never have expressed it in quite that way. The land they chose at Pocantico is a testament to this innate sensibility. Located on a wide sweep of the Hudson River known as the Tappan Zee, it was formed when ancient glaciers carved out a great rift and rounded the mountains into hills. These full, rolling hills stretch back from the river; morning mist drifts among them, storms bear down along the river with sudden speed and power, evenings can be still and sweet or brilliant with the riotous colors of the setting sun. Gazing at the uninterrupted vistas, one has a startling sense of how this land must have looked before the first European settlers arrivedmiles of deciduous and evergreen forest, the river a ribbon of undulating silver cutting through it.
The character of the land is felt in the many elements that comprise it: the rock ledges that form a massive crust underneath, barely hidden in spots, rising up through the earth in others; the mantle of earth over the rock, deep and rich in many places, shallow in others, but always full of loose stones (used by early settles to form miles of walls, and reused by JDR and Jr. for house foundations, garden walls, and terraces); the wide variety of deciduous trees, including oak, elm, maple, butternut, walnut, and tulip; evergreens, such as pine, hemlock, and spruce; and myriad other native floradogwood, laurel, azalea, wildflowers, mosses, grasses, shrubbery, vines. The wildlife of the area was also originally very rich and varied; now it consists of creatures that can coexist more easily with white-tailed deer with their large ears and bobbing tails, possums, raccoons, rabbits, mice, the occasional fox, hawks, owls, and a variety of songbirds, as well as the ubiquitous crow.
On this natural matrix the built elements were laid out and a great, parklike estate was developed. The land became highly cultivated in every sense of the word, reflecting the character and spirit first of the father and son and then of succeeding generations.
Each of the seasons etched in color, form, and texture all around Pocantico. In the early spring the melting snow reveals the browns and grays of the sleeping land, and the architectural forms of the gardens and buildings stand out starkly. Then a pale green haze of tender new shoots and leaves sweeps over the threes and manicured lawns. Before long spring bulbs, shrubbery, and flowering trees all burst into bloom in the gardens. In the summer it is a tapestry of leaf textures and shades of green, the gurgle of water in fountains, the dappled patterns of sunlight through leaves, the music of wind through the trees, the purring of lawn mowers over the greensward of the golf course. In the fall color manifests itself again in the riotous turning of the leaves, in swaths of chrysanthemums, and in the last roses in the gardens. Then winter sets in, stripping everything of its last hues, returning the earth to browns and grays, and finally cloaking everything in the white of snow or the silver of ice, glittering in the pale sun on statues, garden walls, and plants.
The acquisition, development, and occupancy of Pocantico is intertwined with the lives of six generations of the Rockefeller family. It was intended to beand always remaineda private home, the beloved country retreat of JDR and his wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, their children, and their children's children. The estate was developed between 1893, when JDR made the first purchase of land, and 1913, when the main house and its extensive gardens were largely completed. Since then there have been many more changesadditional land was acquired, other buildings were built, and each succeeding generation left its distinctive touch. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Rockefeller Family Home by Mary Louise Pierson, Cynthia Altman, Ann Rockefeller Roberts. Copyright © 1998 Mary Louise Pierson. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
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