More than Meets the Eye: Anna Gould

Lyndhurst Mansion has had many famous residents from former New York City mayor William Paulding to railroad tycoon Jay Gould.  However, I think the most interesting resident and owner was Anna Gould, Jay Gould’s daughter.  A quick google search of Anna immediately links you to her glamorous life in Paris.  Anna was referred to as a dollar princess—she was rather plain but she had a fortune attached to her following the death of her father, Jay Gould.  However, Anna was far from plain and her story is one that deserves to be uncovered and heard.

Anna grew up primarily without any typical female figure in her life.  Her older sister, Helen, married very late and their mother had passed.  Historian Sara Mascia explains that a sister-in-law had to sponsor Anna into society before her wedding at age 19.  She moved to Paris for her marriage, becoming a countess.  She eventually divorced that husband as she felt he spent too much of her money and later married a Duke, who happened to be her first husband’s cousin—it was a bit weird, even for the times.  In Paris, Anna became the perfect Parisian woman, according to Ingrid, my guide at the Defying Label exhibit currently at Lyndhurst.  She was fashionable, thin, and constantly had portraits done.  She was constantly striving to show that she, an American heiress, did belong in society as a French Duchess.


A photo of Anna next to her famous dress- she was known for her style in France

Leading up to World War II and following the death of her husband, Anna left France and returned to New York, renting an entire floor at the Plaza and buying back Lyndhurst from her older sister’s widower.  She preserved the home impeccably, changing barely anywhere but her own bedrooms, which she wanted to be more Parisian.

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A painting Anna brought back from France for the art gallery


Anna’s childhood bedroom.

She kept the home open to the public, so that the community could enjoy its resources.  She donated the home to become a historic site.  She, while known as the selfish sister, is the reason why the stories of Lyndhurst continue to live on today.

Unfortunately, Anna’s story is the most hidden of any about Lyndhurst.  On a tour, she is infrequently mentioned and her contributions to the home are often forgotten.  Currently, the Defying Label exhibit gives Anna’s story light as it shows the outfits she wore after returning to America.  These outfits give you an insight into Anna—yes, she was far more selfish than her sister, Helen and yes, she cared greatly about what the world thought of her.  But, the cufflinks she gives her husband with her children’s faces on them and the outfits she gave to Helen show that there was far more to Anna Gould than the selfish, plain woman that meets the eye.  Without Anna Gould, all of the stories of Lyndhurst would be forever hidden—she laid the groundwork so they could be uncovered so now, it’s time for her story to be uncovered.


Dresses Anna was commonly seen wearing following her return to New York


Anna embraced the flapper style dress


Two Stories, One Home: Lyndhurst Mansion

Enter someone’s home and you instantly know them better.  A home shows who someone really is and my tour at Lyndhurst Mansion did exactly this for me in regards to William Paulding and George Merritt.  The home showed who they were, who they wanted to be, and who they became.  Join me as we peer into their lives and learn the stories that are thankfully kept alive every single day at Lyndhurst Mansion.

The original owner, William Paulding, former New York City Mayor commissioned the building of Lyndhurst because he wanted an escape from the city, according to my guide, Heinz.   He didn’t want the home to be showy, he just wanted a retreat.  However, it is the 19th century—whatever was fashionable in Europe was what every American needed, even the humble ones—so the home was built with gothic architecture.  The home was not necessarily very ornate—the ceilings and furniture were rather plain.

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A plain ceiling, as it was during Paulding’s time at Lyndhurst

The room I found most interesting from Paulding’s time was the parlor, which was mainly the woman’s room.  Men, at the time, had the opportunity to converse in many settings but women did not have that luxury.  The parlor was their space, where they were free to speak as friends do.


The parlor, featuring a wheel chair, one of two ever made in this  specific style

The home changed greatly when it passed into new hands.  George Merritt, the second owner, was the opposite of William Paulding in many ways.  While Paulding just wanted a retreat, Heinz explained that Merritt wanted his home to show his wealth.  He expanded the home, adding a wing.


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The wing Merritt added to Lyndhurst

He also had stained glass placed in the windows.  Interestingly, the stained glass Merritt commissioned is one of the greatest mysteries of Lyndhurst—no one is sure who actually designed it.  It is thought to be a Tiffany’s piece, but there is no confirmation.

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One of the many stained glass additions Merritt made to the home

The finest addition to the home though is the art viewing gallery on the second floor.  The gallery hung state of the art pieces, ones that you would expect to see the Met and not in a home.  Merritt was trying to show the world that he deserved respect for his wealth.  He wanted people to be in awe of him and the art gallery made people see him in that light.

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Paintings that Merritt had commissioned for the ceilings


The art gallery

It is strange to think that two men that wanted such different things could both find it in the same home.  William Paulding did have his country retreat with sprawling views of the river.  George Merritt also had his ostentatious show of wealth through Lyndhurst.  And now, as the home sits with guests coming through every day, both stories lie in the walls, just waiting for someone to take an interest and hear.