One step onto these grounds gets your instincts screaming there’s a lot of history that’s gone down here. Untermyer Gardens is a public park, just 20 minutes north of Manhattan. While parts of the gardens are perfectly manicured, they are surrounded by a crumbling facade. Criss-crossing canals with clean flowing water are surrounded by gorgeous blooming tulips but it all leads to a drained pool with a cracked mosaic bottom, one that even in ruins is quite stunning.
This bizarre and wonderful 40+acre park is nestled on the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, right next to Saint John’s Riverside Hospital. It’s been dubbed as ‘American’s Greatest Forgotten Garden’ and it’s easy to see why as it’s hidden by a giant wall. These grounds are a real gem for both garden and history lovers. For someone who loves exploring, especially when it involves a touch of spooky, this park truly captured my heart .
Untermyer Gardens was created by Samuel Untermyer with his wife Minnie Untermyer around 1915. With their shared passions for exotic plants and green thumbs their intention was to build the finest garden in the world on their estate. The results were an eclectic mix of ancient Greek and Indo-Persian designs which has been hailed as one of the ‘most celebrated gardens in America’ during the 1920’s. The grounds now belong to the City of Yonkers and are fortunately being restored back to their glory.
The most popular area in the park is the Walled Garden. Inside the walls you see criss-crossing canals symbolizing the four ancient rivers. The quadrants represent the elements: earth, air, fire and water. The flowing canals are lined with rows of flowers and lush landscaping. Facing North, at the end of the Walled Garden, is an open-air amphitheater. It’s decorated with two sphinxes on top of marble columns with the amphitheater behind it. The floor of the amphitheater is made up of a gorgeous mosaic.
On the west side of the Walled Garden is a roofless gazebo, called Temple of the Sky, which is made up of Corinthian columns. This area has fantastic views of a sprawling lawn, the Hudson River and the Palisades. A terrace below the temple leads you to what once was a large reflecting pool, unfortunately it’s currently drained and in need of major repairs.
Right next to the amphitheater, heading west towards the Hudson River, is an area called The Vista. This is accessible via an inconspicuous doorway leading out of the Walled Garden which opens to a long descending stairway. The Vista is said to be modeled after the well-known Villa D’Este originally found in Lake Como, Italy. At the bottom of the stairs is the Overlook, which is a circular area flanked by two monolithic ancient Roman Columns.
Another well known area is the Temple of Love. This area is currently under renovation and not accessible to the public. I will definitely be coming back to see this. It looks like a tower built of rocks with a four-columned gazebo on top.
My four year old daughter and I had a great morning exploring these gardens. There were just a few other people there during our visit, which was surprising considering how remarkable these grounds are. When I got home I started doing some research on this park, that’s when I came across its spooky history! It’s rumored that the Son of Sam’s Devil Cave is located in the park and that he used to spend his time there. There are also stories told about occults hanging out on the grounds at night. So, is this garden haunted? I’m not so sure but I wouldn’t go there at night. After all, the garden’s silence seemed so…loud.
- The park is free and open to the public, it even has free parking. Hours 7am – sunset daily.
- Best time to visit is during the summer when the gardens are in full bloom.
- The Temple of Love, which features waterworks that haven’t functioned in 75 years, is in the middle of a major renovation with plans for it to be back in working order by late spring 2016.
- Visit untermyergardens.org for more information and a full schedule on history and horticulture tours (small fee). The grounds are open year-round for free, self-guided tours.
- Samuel Untermyers and Minnie Untermyer are fascinating people. I’m not a history buff but really enjoyed learning about their contributions to society, be sure to google them.
- Strollers are allowed but there are areas not accessible via wheels.
- There are no food vendors although there are picnic tables if you bring your own food.
- Dogs are not allowed.
- Restrooms, water fountains & pamphlets with a park map are available at the community center (which is in the parking lot).
- Parking: There are two small lots with spaces for about twenty cars next to the community center at Untermyer. In addition, there is street parking along North Broadway which is both metered (coin operated) and unmetered.
- For public transportation click here.
Check out our video of the grounds on the day we visited:
more pics from another visit: