- Historic Sites
The Realms Of Gould
The notorious financier’s properties included railroads, yachts, and newspapers, but none was more precious to him than Lyndhurst, the family castle on the Hudson. It would have distressed him to know that it now belongs to you and me
April 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 3
There was not the remotest danger that Helen, then a shy, prim, and inflexibly pious girl of eighteen, would ever fall in love with a coachman, although in 1886 coachmen were considered nearly as great a menace to wealthy young virgins as actresses were to young gentlemen. When her mother died on January 13, 1889, at the age of fifty-one, following a series of strokes, Helen was ready to take over as mistress of Lyndhurst. It was not an easy role to fill. In addition to Lyndhurst, there was the town house at 579 Fifth Avenue to be looked after; the two younger children, Anna and Frank, had still to be raised; and her father, to whom Helen was fanatically devoted and who was now mortally ill of tuberculosis, needed her constant care. But the young lady of nineteen, now more prim and more pious than ever, who would be famous for nearly a quarter of a century as the militantly virtuous Miss Gould, was ideally cast for the part of the daughter who stays home to take the place of her mother and who becomes in time the doting aunt of her brothers’ and sister’s ungrateful children.
George, in spite of a fondness for the haunts of a young man about town, had gone to work at seventeen, and Edwin had made his first million in the stock market soon after dropping out of Columbia College. At an age when most of their second-generation contemporaries were drifting into the life of confirmed gentlemen of leisure, both were able and hard-working railroad men. They took over the management of most of their father’s complex affairs, but his feverish mind would not permit him to seek the rest that might have prolonged his life. He still commuted back and forth to the city on the Atalanta and plotted the fulfillment of his great dream of a Gould system extending from coast to coast. If he had lived longer, it is quite likely that he would have succeeded.
Jay Gould died on December 2, 1892, at the age of fifty-six, in his ugly brownstone mansion on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue at Forty-seventh Street. He was no more popular dead than alive. Aside from the pious platitudes of acquaintances and camp followers, there was little public lament. The New York Times , in an editorial sternly deploring his career, did pay him one tribute he would have liked. Jay Gould, the Times said, “never gave himself the trouble of making any false pretenses.” His family was stricken with a deep and lasting grief, and his few close friends were saddened by the passing of a remarkable man. Lyndhurst, with crepe on its great doors and its flags at half-mast, mourned the death of a kind and considerate master and faced its own future with trepidation.
The estate of Jay Gould was officially appraised at $84,309,258, exclusive of Louisiana timber lands which, in accord with the laws of that state, passed directly to his heirs, and from which some twelve million dollars was eventually realized. Up to that time, it had been exceeded only by the estates of Commodore Vanderbilt and his son William Henry, but the will disposing of it was a relatively simple document. There were no bequests outside the family, and even the one-thousanddollar token remembrances to friends and business associates, which he had directed in a curious surge of deathbed sentimentality, were later disallowed by the courts and removed from the pockets of his executors, who had dutifully paid them.
Contrary to the prevailing pattern of testamentary distributions among the rich in the nineteenth century, when Astors and Vanderbilts and their imitators were seeking to concentrate their wealth in the hands of their eldest or ablest sons, Jay Gould treated his children rather equably. The money left after the payments of debts, taxes, and administration expenses was divided into six trust funds, each valued at approximately $12,500,000. Each of his four sons and two daughters received the income for life from one of these trusts, with the principal to be distributed among their issue when they died.
The Fifth Avenue mansion, valued at four hundred thousand dollars, was bequeathed outright to Helen. Lyndhurst, however, was left in a state of testamentary limbo. Until Frank came of age, Helen was given the use of it, free of taxes, plus six thousand dollars a month, in the expectation that Anna, Frank, and perhaps even Howard would make their home with her; after that it would become a disposable part of the estate. Howard, of course, at the age of twenty-two, could not be relied upon. He came and went as he pleased and, to Helen’s utter dismay, was already showing a decided preference for ladies of the lighter stage.