Our Mission

The Preservation League of Staten Island (PLSI) works for the conservation and continued vitality of Staten Island's historic resources. The League was founded in 1977 by a group of community-minded citizens concerned about Staten Island's vanishing historic environment. We sponsor programs about the recognition, care and restoration of historic properties. We have given neighborhood and historic house tours and we confer annual awards for outstanding preservation work. Landmark designation for significant sites is a priority.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

William H., William K. and George W. Vanderbilt on Staten Island

 Portrait of George W. Vanderbilt
by James McNeill Whistler

The fourth son and youngest child of William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885) and his wife Maria Louisa Kissam, George II was named after his father's younger brother, George Washington Vanderbilt, third son of the family founders, Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877) and Sophia Johnson. (Uncle George had died young at age 25 of tuberculosis contracted during his service in the Civil War.)


As the youngest in William's family, George II was said to be his father's favorite and his constant companion. Relatives described him as slender, dark-haired, and pale-complexioned. Shy and introverted, his interests ran to philosophy, books, and the histories of the paintings in William's large art gallery. In addition to frequent visits to Paris, France, where several Vanderbilts kept a home, George traveled extensively, becoming fluent in eight foreign languages.

Vanderbilt Arch
Moravian cemetery, Staten Island
Inheritance and Move to Staten Island
W.H. Vanderbilt Mansion
Midland Beach, Staten island

George W. Vanderbilt II had inherited $1 million when his grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt (the Commodore), died in 1885 of a stroke.  He received another million on his 21st birthday from his father, William H. Vanderbilt, owner of elegant mansions in New York City and Newport and an 800-acre (3.2 km2) country estate on Long Island, leaving a fortune of approximately 200 million dollars, the bulk of which was split between his two older sons, Cornelius II and William K. Vanderbilt.

Upon his father's death, he inherited $5 million more, as well as the income from a $5 million trust fund. He inherited his father's farm (his brother William K. had been breeding horses at the Staten Island farm after having a falling out with their father) at   New Dorp, and Woodland Beach, now the neighborhood of Midland Beach at Staten Island, New York where he had been born, then lived with his mother in Manhattan until his own townhouse at 9 West 53rd Street was completed in 1887. The Vanderbilt family business was operated by his older brothers. This left George to spend his time in intellectual pursuits.

Olmsted Connections

Olmsted Farmhouse
Woods of Arden
Staten Island
In the 1880s, George W. visited western North Carolina with his mother.
On a trip there in 1888, when he was twenty-six, he decided to build a country home there. In 1889, he purchased acreage near Asheville, North Carolina and began construction of the Biltmore Estate. He continued buying land until the estate eventually encompassed 228 square miles (591 km2). It would have taken a week to travel on horseback around the property. Modeled after the great French Châteaux of the Loire Valley, the 250-room estate on 125,000 acres (506 km²) would be the largest of all the Vanderbilt houses. It remains the largest home in the United States and one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age. The buildings were designed by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt and the grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the "father of American landscape Architecture".