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Rockefeller Home, Sweet Home

It has been described as the kind of place God would have built, if only He had the money.

It was home to four generations of a family whose very name is synonymous with staggering wealth: the Rockefellers.

In 1973, CBS News Correspondent Walter Cronkite gave viewers an insider's tour of the Rockefeller estate which, at the time, was a strictly a private preserve.

Cronkite observed, "They live (in) Pocantico Hills, 3,500 acres of Westchester, on the Hudson River, north of New York City. A 50-room baronial mansion … just one of the estate's 11 homes … their private golf course …a stable of 25 horses, and 80 miles of trails and carriage roads, six swimming pools…"

The "Historic Hudson Valley" Web site says, "Kykuit commands a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and occupies a landscape of extensive stone terraces, formal gardens, and glorious fountains. …The house … contains fascinating collections of art, fine furniture, and chinese ceramics. Horse-drawn vehicles and classic automobiles from the family's collection fill the coach barn."

It all took shape in 1903, reports CBS News Correspondent Charles Osgood, when family patriarch John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil and the nation's first billionaire, chose a hilltop named "Kykuit," Dutch for "lookout," as the site for his family's new home.

The house and gardens required close to ten years to complete. The landscaping alone cost $750,000, which was 30 times the original estimate and roughly $12 million in today's dollars, more than the combined total for the house and all its furnishings.

Today, it seems like a wise investment, Osgood comments: The views from Kykuit are truly priceless, the highlight of every tour.

One tour guide says it "looks like a riverside home, but it isn't. Rockefeller planted trees so that the view from (a) terrace would make it appear to be a riverside home."

Nestled among all that greenery is the sculpture collection of Kykuit's last fulltime occupant, Nelson Rockefeller, a one-time New York governor who went on to become United States vice president.

In 1978, he and Osgood met in Kykuit's library to discuss his passion for art.

Rockefeller said, "I really think people, more and more in this country and the world, want beautiful things around them."

He said it has a kind of civilizing effect.

And what could be more civilized than using a helicopter to situate your favorite sculptures on the front lawn?

Ann Rockefeller Roberts and Mary Louise Pierson are the daughter and granddaughter of Nelson Rockefeller. Pierson is Roberts' daughter.

Robert and Pierson have published the definitive book on Kykuit , which includes the story of how a Henry Moore sculpture made a surprise landing into the golf game of Nelson's brother, David Rockefeller, then-chairman of Chase Manhattan bank.

Pierson told Osgood, "All of a sudden, a huge helicopter shows up with a crate carrying a sculpture, and golf balls go everywhere…"

And Roberts added, "It did cause somewhat of a family ruckus, and … David really did think he might have done it as a joke."

Much of the Rockefeller fortune has been spent not on private pleasures, but on the public good, helping to establish national parks, building museums to house great art, and funding advancements in medicine, science and education.

Kykuit itself is now a historic site of the national trust, operated and maintained by the rockefeller brothers fund as a center for the fund's philanthropic programs. It is open to the public for tours.

Incidentally, in today's dollars, John D. Rockefeller would be worth $190 billion. By comparison, Microsoft's Bill Gates is worth $60 billion, according to "The Wealthy 100," by Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther.

For more information:

On visiting Kykuit:

On visiting the Rockefeller State Park Preserve north of New York City:

On Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant on the Rockefeller estate:

"The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit," by Mary Louise Pierson and Ann Rockefeller Roberts

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