Historic Vanderbilt House Continues To Serve Centerport

Vanderbilt Mansion (Photos courtesy of The Vanderbilt Museum)

The Vanderbilt House is one of the many mansions that decorate Long Island’s Gold Coast. The facility includes the original mansion, a museum and a planetarium, the latter of which was constructed in lockstep with the moon landing in 1969.

The facility is named after William K. Vanderbilt, who bought the property in 1910 following the death of his father and his separation from his first wife, loved collecting specimens from his ocean voyages. They would eventually become a part of his personal museum which he planned to construct on his personal estate.

“He was looking for a deep water port for his yacht and some reasonably priced land and I think that’s how he ended up in Centerport,” Lance Reinheimer said, the executive director of the Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum and Planetarium, “It started out as a small cottage and then he built it over time into a mansion.”

The architects tasked with building the mansion were Warren and Whitmore, the firm responsible for building Grand Central Terminal many years prior. The mansion would go on to hold galleries of his natural-history and cultural-artifact collections.

The house was one of many Gold Coast mansions on Long Island at the time. However, it had certain aspects about it that made it different from its neighbors. Most importantly, the house was meant to be a family-friendly estate, rather than just a showcase of wealth.

“He loved his estate and I think it was a safe haven where he could just be himself and not worry about having to entertain or amuse anyone else,” Reinheimer said.

Vanderbilt died in 1944, but before he did, he made sure that his estate would be put to good use. In his final testament, Vanderbilt instructed that his house in Centerport be opened “for the use, education and enjoyment of the general public.”

Vanderbilt initially left Robert Moses with the task of taking it over. However, the complex didn’t fit his idea of a state park and so Suffolk County took over instead. Six years after his death, in 1950, the Vanderbilt mansion and museum officially opened to the public.

In 1971, the complex would add a planetarium “in lockstep” with the moon landing two years prior. Though it hasn’t been around as long as the museum or mansion, it’s managed to make a profound impact on the people who come to see it.

“I was talking to a person who was looking to purchase signs and he said he remembers the first time he came and he’s an amateur astronomer and it’s because of his visit to the planetarium,” Reinheimer said.

In the present day, the Vanderbilt complex does a lot to serve the surrounding community. Over 25,000 school children visit the property on school trips. They also host various programs including Shakespeare in the Courtyard as well as programs for people with special needs and those who serve as first responders.

“We also have nonprofit events called fundraising events on our property,” Reinheimer said, “We’re very attuned to helping them with their events in finding a venue at a reasonable fee and they can actually raise funds.

Above all, Reinheimer and his staff are dedicated to preserving the legacy of the man people new as “Willie K.” From helping the community to preserving relics in the museum and mansion, Reinheimer and his staff do whatever they can to make sure what he created can stay intact.

“I want the museum to be a good neighbor and I want people to look at the museum as a place to bring friends and family that are visiting from out of town and look at us as a contributing member to the Huntington area,” Reinheimer said.

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James Murphy
James Murphy is a reporter with Anton Media Group.

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