New York Adventure Club recently hosted a presentation by architect and historian Gary Lawrence titled “The Gilded Age Mansions of the Jay Gould Family, Railroad Dynasty” which explores the intricacies of the Gould family life and the lavish mansions that they owned as one of the richest and most powerful families in America.
Jay (né Jason) Gould was born in Roxbury, NY in 1836. He grew up on a farm, then went to school, and started his business career on Wall Street where he made his fortune. He then became a railroad magnate and gained the notoriety of a robber baron, not unusual for the millionaires of the Gilded Age.
Jay married Helen Day Miller in 1863. They had six children:
- George Jay Gould (1864 – 1923), who married Edith Kingdon, a Broadway actress, and after Edith’s death, he married Guinevere Jeanne Sinclair, also an actress;
- Edwin Gould (1866 – 1933), who married Sarah Cantine Shrady;
- Helen Gould (1868 – 1938), who married Finlay Johnson Shepard;
- Howard Gould (1871 – 1959), who married Viola Katherine Clemmons in 1898, then actress Grete Mosheim in 1937;
- Anna Gould (1875 – 1961), who married into the European aristocracy, lived in Paris, then returned to New York in 1938 in the awake of WWII;
- and Frank Jay Gould (1877 – 1956), who married three times, first Helen Kelley, then Edith Kelly, and then Florence La Caze – Frank invested heavily in hotels on the French Riviera, and according to some historians he literally built the Riviera.
All the Gould children had children and grandchildren (Helen had adopted).
Despite his immense wealth, Jay was not accepted in New York’s High Society, the so-called Mrs. Astor’s world, due to a dispute he had with Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. However his children will later be accepted.
The Goulds lived in their Townhouse on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and spent time at Lyndhurst, their country estate on the Hudson River in Tarrytown. They commuted to the Hudson Valley by yacht, which they named The Atalanta. The greenhouse was an important part of the country estate as it secured fresh deliveries of flowers and vegetables; Jay Gould loved orchids. The family enjoyed automobiles and even the children had their own miniature cars to ride on the property.
The Goulds traveled the world, did the grand tours, collected antiques, and built personal libraries. At home they entertained guests, they had elaborate ballrooms, tennis courts, swimming pools, and golf courses, and of course they all loved games. The elder son, George, gained notoriety for hiring actors to play living chess games – the actors would move on the life-size board as instructed by the players. One must wonder whether Gould was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass which was published in 1871, during the Gilded Age.
When Jay Gould passed away in 1892, at the age of 56, he left behind a fortune estimated at $72 million, roughly $2 billion today. There are many books written about the Goulds, one of them is “The Goulds: A Social History” written by Edwin Palmer Hoyt, and published in 1969. The New York Adventure Club Gould presentation can be accessed online until Friday, February 11 when the replay expires.