John D. Rockefeller purchased land in the area as early as 1893 after his brother William had moved into a 204-room mansion, Rockwood Hall, in the area. When Rockefeller and his son chose Pocantico Hills as their residence, he quietly purchased multiple homes and properties in the area, and used the houses for himself, his family, staff, or to rent out. Rockefeller and his wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller moved into one of these houses, the Parsons-Wentworth House, in 1893. The couple would spend winter weekends and parts of each summer and fall there, sharing the upstairs rooms with their adult children and in-laws, pending construction of the manor house. The house burned down on September 17, 1902, and the Kent House became their temporary residence until rebuilding could occur. The New York Times described that Rockefeller was never satisfied with the destroyed house’s electric wiring, which was installed before certain safety measures were developed. He had ordered workers to line the wires in piping, work which was to commence the day after the fire. The loss was estimated at $40,000.
Kykuit was designed originally as a steep-roofed three-story stone mansion by the architects Chester Holmes Aldrich and William Adams Delano. Aldrich was a distant relative of the younger Rockefeller’s wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who was involved as artistic consultant and in the interior design of the mansion.
The initial eclectic structure took six years to complete. Before being occupied it was substantially rebuilt in its present four-story Classical Revival Georgian form. Completed in 1913, it has two basement levels filled with interconnecting passageways and service tunnels. The home’s interiors were designed by Ogden Codman, Jr., and feature collections of Chinese and European ceramics, fine furnishings and 20th-century art.
It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.In 1979, its occupant, Nelson Rockefeller, bequeathed upon his death his one-third interest in the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As a result, Kykuit is open to the public for tours conducted by Historic Hudson Valley.
The imposing structure, of local stone topped with the Rockefeller emblem, is located centrally in a 250 acres (100 ha) inner compound (referred to as “the Park”) within the larger Rockefeller family estate. This gated compound is guarded at all times. Save family residences, the rest of the estate (known as the open space) is open to the public for recreational purposes, as it always has been.