Long before the hit HBO series put it on the pop-culture radar, the Gilded Age flourished on Long Island, with more than 500 Gold Coast mansions built primarily as weekend and summer homes for Manhattan’s upper crust. About 200 survive, and the best way to see one is to get invited to a wedding. Grand manors — among them the Chelsea Mansion in Muttontown, de Seversky Mansion in Glen Head, Oheka Castle and Coindre Hall in Huntington — have become high-end catering venues. Others now house educational, religious and cultural institutions — Mill Neck Manor is a school for the deaf, the Ormston House in Glen Cove is the St. Josaphat Ukrainian Basilian Monastery, and the Clayton mansion in Roslyn is the Nassau County Museum of Art. A number of these grand homes are open for tours, some self-guided, others led by docents. Here’s a guide to where you can see how the other half lived.
Through October, visitors to Old Westbury Gardens can get a behind-the-scenes guided tour of the mansion’s servants quarters, offering insight into how the John Phipps family maintained the home and put on the lavish parties they were known for. You’ll see the butler’s pantry, the ground floor kitchen, a wine storage room, and even a room for polishing silver. A self-guided tour of the English country house is available daily. The gardens are open daily except Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tour tickets must be purchased in advance.
ADMISSION $20, $14 ages 7-17.
INFO 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury; oldwestburygardens.org, 516-333-0048.
Overlooking the harbor, this 1912 mansion with 40 rooms and imposing medieval turrets, was built for pharmaceutical magnate George McKesson Brown. Surrounded by a 33-acre park (open dawn to dusk and popular with local dog walkers), the mansion was modeled after a classic French château and features a striking red roof and a sweeping ballroom. Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization for artists, has studios there and members offer free tours by reservation only. To arrange a tour, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 631-424-8230.
INFO 101 Browns Rd., Huntington; suffolkcountyny.gov.
Newcomers to Long Island often stop in their tracks the first time they get a glimpse of the castle on the hill. Oheka was built by financier Otto Hermann Kahn on one of the highest spots on the Island. The 127-room mansion, with all the trappings of a French castle, was once the second largest private residence in the United States. Fans of the TV series “Royal Pains” will recognize the exterior. One-hour tours cover the rich history of the mansion and the surrounding formal gardens. Check website for tour dates and to make required reservations.
ADMISSION $30, $10 ages 12 and younger.
INFO 135 W. Gate Dr., Huntington; oheka.com, 631-659-1400.
William K. Vanderbilt II was a collector, and many of his treasures (including a mummy from Cairo, on display in the nursery wing) can be seen touring Eagle’s Nest, the Spanish-style mansion that was his summer home. The mansion, built in stages from 1910 to 1936, sits on a hill overlooking Northport Harbor. A boathouse on the waterfront speaks to Vanderbilt’s passion for sailing.
ADMISSION $10, $7 ages 3-12. Tours (limited to 12) can be added upon arrival for $6.
INFO Open daily except Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 7:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport; vanderbiltmuseum.org, 631-854-5579.
Before railroad and insurance tycoon William Robertson Coe could renovate the home that stood on the 409-acre Oyster Bay estate he purchased in 1913, it burned down. He built Coe Hall in its place, making use of the existing foundation. The mansion, on the grounds of Planting Fields Arboretum, offers a 60-minute guided tour, “Designing Nature Inside and Out,” highlighting several rooms and the Cloister Garden. A self-guided tour, which includes a master bedroom overlooking the Olmsted Brothers gardens, also is offered on Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. The arboretum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., parking fee $8 on weekends and holidays through Nov. 21. Reservations recommended for mansion tours, Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
ADMISSION $10, $5 ages 7-17.
INFO 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay; plantingfields.org, 516-922-9210.
Not every Gold Coast mansion remains in pristine condition, but the lore surrounding this 60-room mansion is fascinating. Knollwood, built in 1906 for steel tycoon Charles Hudson, was purchased in 1951 by King Zog of Albania, though he never lived there. Suggestions that jewels and gold had been hidden in the walls led to significant vandalism (though no treasures, near as anyone knows), and the home was razed for safety reasons in 1959. Visitors to the Muttontown Preserve, 550 acres of nature trails and woodlands, can still see some of the graffiti-covered ruins — you just have to walk a while (you’ll get closer by entering at the Equestrian Center).
INFO Open daily 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 6191 NY-25A, East Norwich; nassaucountyny.gov; 516-572-0200.