William K. Vanderbilt II (1878-1944), the great-grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, purchased acres of waterfront property in Centerport in 1910 and began to build his summer home. The beautiful Spanish-Revival style Mansion has two unique aspects we invite our guests to explore.
First, the Natural History exhibits, which feature specimens Mr. Vanderbilt collected on his travels. The Natural History wings of the Mansion are open to all guests with the purchase of a General Admission pass, and feature specimens from the Galápagos Islands, Asia, Africa, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Visitors can see the 32-foot whale shark, the largest example of fish taxidermy in the world, that was caught in 1935 off Fire Island – as well as many wild-animal dioramas and ethnographic collections that display artifacts from Asian, African, and Pacific cultures. The Hall of Fishes marine museum, which was the first stage of the museum complex, was built when the Vanderbilts lived here. It features many additional aquatic specimens and is also included with General Admission.
The second feature of the Mansion is the family’s private living quarters. These wings are preserved exactly as they were when Mr. Vanderbilt and his family lived here so that guests can see how wealthy Gold Coast families lived during the Jazz Age. Because of the effort that has gone into conserving this experience for our guests to enjoy, the family living space can be accessed only through a guided tour. A trained docent will lead you through the Museum and explain the historical significance of each space. Our docents are well informed and offer guests insights and surprises about the lives of the original owners of the home.
For an additional fee, guests can add a Planetarium show that will allow them to explore the stars with our talented professional astronomers. Built on the former site of Mr. Vanderbilt’s tennis courts, the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium opened in 1971. After extensive renovations in 2013, the facility now boasts one of the most advanced star projection systems in the world. Guests can enjoy interactive journeys to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, or take a quick jaunt through the stars above our own backyard.
The Vanderbilt Estate’s 43 acres of waterfront property includes Mr. Vanderbilt’s reclaimed one-mile Nature Trail, slated to open in Summer 2021. The trail offers stunning views of the water from the Vanderbilt gardens as well as from the Boat House and the vast expanse of beautiful green lawn that once was Mr. Vanderbilt’s golf course. Guests are invited to picnic on the property with General Admission, and we offer many different opportunities to privately book these beautiful spaces for weddings, photography sessions, film shoots, special events, birthdays, and corporate events.