They don't make grande dames like Florence Vanderbilt Twombly any more. Granddaughter of Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, Florence married Hamilton Twombly, who was such a shrewd investor that when he died in 1910, Mrs. Twombly was richer than most of the rest of the Vanderbilts (which took some doing), with an income of several million dollars a year. She entertained regally at her magnificent New York house at 684 Fifth Avenue; Vinland, her Newport cottage (now part of Salve Regina University); and her New Jersey home, Florham, designed by Curbed Hamptons favorites McKim, Mead and White. Florham is now part of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Florham was the kind of estate that makes Ira Rennert's Fair Field look like a shack, with more than 1,000 acres only 25 miles from Manhattan. The estate's main house boasted more than 100 rooms, with an entrance hall containing marble busts of the Twelve Caesars. The Great Drawing Room contained tapestries that had originally been a gift of Louis XIII of France to Cardinal Barberini of Rome. There was an indoor swimming pool, working farm, orangery and a railroad siding for the private railroad cars the Twomblys used to commute from Manhattan. For shorter jaunts, Mrs. Twombly was driven in her violet-colored Rolls-Royce.
One Labor Day weekend, a guest found his bags packed ready to go in Florham's front hall on Sunday afternoon. He asked a footman why—he assumed since it was Labor Day weekend, he would be staying until Monday. The footman went off to confer with Mrs. Twombly, returned and told the guest, "Mrs. Twombly says she has never heard of Labor Day, and that the weekend is over today, sir."
Thanks to Gary Lawrance for this anecdote.
· Houses of the Hamptons [Amazon]