Tuxedo Park: New York's Gilded Age Getaway

BY: LAURA VOGEL AUGUST 1ST, 2017

The history of Tuxedo Park, New York, is just this side of a fairy tale. A 2,600-acre gated community just 38 miles north of New York City, Tuxedo Park originated as an exclusive weekend and summertime enclave for Manhattan Gilded Age elites.

Artists sketch of a typically grand Tuxedo Park Home
A sketch of the Tuxedo Park Clubhouse

It all began back in 1885, when tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard decided to establish a countryside hunting and fishing getaway for himself and his well-heeled friends. Lorillard drafted his close friend William Waldorf Astor to work as his real-estate scout, and instructed him to find acreage close enough to reach from New York City within an hour by automobile or train, but unspoiled enough to be a true escape from the hustle and bustle.

Tilford House - a typically grand red brick and field stone construction

Bob Thompson, owner of Tuxedo Park Preferred Properties—and a font of knowledge about the region’s history—explains, “Astor found this area, right on the edge of New York State’s Orange County, set among the beautiful, rolling hills of the Ramapo Mountains. Construction started in September of 1885, and in just under nine months, the 1,800 craftsmen that they imported from Italy had built 22 ‘cottages’—each was between 6,000 and 9,000 square feet.” In addition to the homes, the craftsmen also constructed 30 miles of roadway though the park, a private police station, and a clubhouse for owners.

Sunset Park House, a Tuxedo Park home viewed from above

Travel to Tuxedo Park was simplified by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt—part of the elite society scene that the community was built for—who built a beautiful train station for and created a dedicated track from Grand Central to the village.

A modernized Tuxedo Park Home

Cindy Booth Van Schaack, a broker at Towne & Country Properties of Sotheby's International, points out that the Tuxedo Park is made up of a peerless collection of rare period architecture. “You had master turn-of-the-century architects working here. People like McKim, Mead & White and Bruce Price. Here you can find Colonial Georgian, Mediterranean-style manors, and Tudor-influenced castles.”

And, yes, the suit that shares its name with Tuxedo Park was named after a sartorial revolution in the Ramapo Mountains. The height of the social season was an annual coming-out event called the Autumn Ball, which lasted to the Great Depression. Legend has it that in 1886 Griswold Lorillard—son of the enclave’s founder—wore a “tailless dress coat” (as described by a reporter at the time), which soon took off among society gents around the world, and was dubbed the tuxedo.

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