Up for Auction: A Gilded Age Mansion With a Storied Past

Joseph via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Joseph via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Joseph via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On Wednesday, September 21, an abandoned mansion that may have helped inspire the expression "keeping up with the Joneses” was put up for auction, The Poughkeepsie Journal reports.

The phrase—a popular idiom for one’s struggle to appear as wealthy and successful as their peers—has unclear origins. Some people say it was popularized by an early 20th century comic strip called Keeping Up with the Joneses, which followed the misadventures of a competitive family with rich neighbors. Still others say that it’s based on a wealthy 19th century New York family—the Joneses—whose 24-room country home, Wyndclyffe Castle, was once the toast of the Hudson Valley. 

Located in Rhinebeck, New York, the home was built in 1853 by New York City socialite Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones—aunt of author Edith Wharton and a relation of one of America’s wealthiest families, the Astors. It sprawled across 80 acres of land and came equipped with a boathouse, carriage houses, and other amenities.

Wharton mentioned Wyndclyffe in her books, and it’s said that others were so awestruck by its grandeur that "keeping up with the Joneses” was coined to refer to its owners. But after Jones’s death in 1876, the property passed through the hands of multiple owners, some of whom experienced financial difficulties. Wyndclyffe was abandoned during the 1950s, and its surrounding property was later sold off in parcels. Today, the home’s crumbling ruins sit on a tiny two-and-a-half-acre plot—and while it was purchased by a new owner 2003, the structure was never restored it to its former glory.

Today, Wyndclyffe’s assessed worth is $312,900. Yesterday, the home was put up for sale at New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott Hotel in East Elmhurst, by order of U.S. Bankruptcy Court. There’s still no word on whether anyone purchased the mansion, but sales officials say they hope it will attract a history buff with the drive—and financial means—to rebuild it.

“If they have a historical passion and the bankroll to fund it, they can turn it into an incredible property,” auction house president Richard Maltz (whose company, Maltz Auctions, is helming the sale) told The Wall Street Journal. 

[h/t The Poughkeepsie Journal]

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.