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Exploring Rokeby, A Mansion Inhabited by Broke Astor Heirs

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Photos: Historic Structures

The Astor family name conjures up images of Gilded Age wealth, similarly gilded real estate, and necessarily rich heirs and heiresses, but Rokeby, the 420-acre Hudson Valley estate owned by Astors for nearly 180 years, tells a vastly different tale. The 43-room main house was built in 1815 and expanded periodically over the years—including substantial additions by acclaimed architect Stanford White in 1894. Today, it houses 43 rooms and a slew of let's say ... less-than-wealthy heirs to the Astor and Livingston fortunes. To give a sense of the depth of the legacy involved: as of a 2010 New York Times profile, the head of household is Richard Aldrich, a member of the 10th generation of his family to live on this estate.

Photos: Historic Structures

The house, and sprawling surrounding acreage, was passed down from generation to generation, most recently when Aldrich's grandmother willed the property to him and his siblings. Unfortunately, she had not left behind much in the way of cash to pay for upkeep on the house and grounds. That did not deter the Aldrich brothers, who borrowed money from a cousin to pay the taxes. Richard Aldrich went off to study in Europe and returned to the house with his Polish artist wife, Ania, in the early 1970s, and has since become the chief caretaker of the property. By then, according to the Times, the "roof leaked, the windows were splintered and there wasn't much heat to speak of." Hardly what one might come to expect from the Astors.

Still, the couple has soldiered on for more than 30 years, setting up shrines to previous generations in the main house's grand public rooms, while allowing artists to set up shop throughout the house and grounds, all while never throwing away a single family possession. This had led to a house choked with heirlooms and transient visitors, where rooms are "first come first served" and the hallways are jungles of nostalgia. That might not be apparent from the photographs above—taken expressly to record the house as an architectural artifact—but the Times slideshow reveals the house in its true shabby glory.

· The House Inherited Them [NYT]
· La Bergerie/Rokeby Mansion Barrytown New York [Historic Structures]