The Rockefeller State Park Preserve has been made possible by the farsighted and generous gift of the Rockefeller family. Since 1983 over 1600 acres of their carriage roads have been deeded over to the State of New York. The 55 miles of Carriage Roads in Pocantico were developed during the period between 1910 to 1950 by John D. Rockefeller Sr. and John D. Rockefeller Jr. They initially laid out a system of broken stone roads surrounding Kykuit. As the system of carriage roads extended into outlying family properties Jr. assumed the lead role in overseeing their construction. In so doing he was applying concepts of landscape design of the time, notably those of Frederick Law Olmsted. The Olmsted Firm had been involved with the Rockefeller Westchester property since William Rockefeller had created Rockwood Hall, his Hudson River estate, in 1887. JDR, Jr would maintain a close association with the Firm, and its principal family until the firm closed in 1950.
In 1893, the year that JDR, Jr. entered Brown University, JDR, Sr. began buying land on the Hudson River, near Tarrytown. The proximity to NYC, where the family’s life was centered, and to William Rockefeller’s estate on the Hudson, was most inviting. Jr was involved, from the start, in purchasing the land with his father. In addition to land immediately around the house, that formed an enclosed estate of approximately three hundred acres, they gradually acquired more than three thousand acres of the surrounding rolling farmlands and woods.
Pocantico Hills, as the new estate came to be called, provided JRD Jr. with a vast landscape for exercising his own considerable but untested design and building skills for the first time. The result was fifty-five miles of horse roads winding through the property. It was here that JDR, Jr. first expanded his father’s concept of building roads for personal pleasure. Because he owned the lands, he did not have to answer to anyone but himself. He could plan, lay out and build the roads as he saw fit.
Echoing Frederick Law Olmsted’s steadfast belief in the democratizing effect of public parks, JDR, Jr. made a commitment to a social compact by ensuring that the roads were open to the public for walking, riding, and carriage driving as soon as they were built. Olmsted’s work in Central Park put into a practical context what JDR, Jr. already understood and believed in as a builder: that roads and paths were needed to give access to open space.
The carriage park designed by JDR, Jr. is an exceptional resource. There is no other such facility. It is unusual because it was designed by JDR, Jr.; reflecting his passions for conserving nature, for carriage driving and riding, for knowing every detail of the land intimately before he began his design, for perfection, for working with others, and for ensuring that because he was so fortunate that he would gave back, providing for the greater whole.
With the creation of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, JDR, Jr.’s vision of protecting the historic, scenic, and natural beauty of the area, while providing public access to these remarkable resources has been secured. Today’s annual attendance figures exceed over 300,000 people. Most have no idea that they are in a designed environment, thus attesting to the genius of Jr.’s design and insight. Daily uses include: runners, dog walkers, bird watching, nature study, hiking, photography, and public programs. Seasonal activities include trout and bass fishing, and cross country skiing. Nonetheless, it is the original concept of a carriage and equestrian park is maintained. Today, members of the Rockefeller family work closely with New York State and the Park Preserve to ensure that JDR, Jr.’s vision and legacy is perpetuated and maintained.