- Lila Osgood Vanderbilt Webb
- William Seward Webb
- Vanderbilt Webb
- Derick Webb
- Frederick Law Olmsted
- Robert H. Robertson
Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt (Lila) was the youngest daughter and eighth child of William Henry and Maria Louisa Vanderbilt. She attended Miss Porter’s School, a boarding school for wealthy adolescent girls in Farmington, Connecticut. In 1881, she married Seward Webb, and they had four children: Frederica, James Watson, William Seward, Jr., and Vanderbilt. Lila’s $10 million family inheritance largely funded the construction of Shelburne Farms, where she directed all aspects of the household: planning meals, hiring servants, hosting guests, and interior decorating and garden design. Lila enjoyed playing golf and card games (particularly bridge), gardening, and traveling. She was an avid reader, often devouring up to three books a day. Despite growing hearing loss, she hosted large groups of guests at her residences until her death at Shelburne Farms in 1936.
Seward (as he was known) was a native of New York City, and graduated as a surgeon from Columbia College in 1875. He met Lila Vanderbilt at a dance in New York in 1877 and they married in 1881. They had four children: Frederica, James Watson, William Seward, Jr., and Vanderbilt. In 1883, Seward entered the Vanderbilt family railway businesses as President of both the Wagner Palace Car Company and the St. Lawrence & Adirondack Railroad. He and Lila often hosted state and national dignitaries at Shelburne Farms, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. He represented the town of Shelburne in the state legislature from 1896 to 1898. In his later years, Seward developed severe rheumatoid arthritis, and eventually became addicted to the morphine prescribed to lessen the pain. He began to withdraw from business affairs and social events, and died at Shelburne Farms in 1926.
One of the country’s first landscape architects, Olmsted created places that nourished the mind and spirit, from urban parks to suburbs, estates, farms, and wildlife sanctuaries. He emphasized the duty of a democratic society to ensure that people have access to natural beauty. His major works include Central Park in New York City (1858-1878), Mount Royal Park in Montréal (1876), and The Emerald Necklace in Boston (1878-1896). He also designed the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, owned by Lila’s younger brother George Vanderbilt. During his brief involvement at Shelburne Farms (1886 to 1889), Olmsted conceptually organized the property into three types of spaces: farm, forest, and park, and developed the winding road system to highlight the rolling lakeside topography and views. This original plan was modified and carried out by Seward Webb and Farm Manager Arthur Taylor. The property today retains many characteristics of an Olmsted landscape.
For more on Olmsted, visit the Olmsted National Historical Park.
New York City architect Robert Henderson Robertson designed many prominent buildings in New York City and was an early pioneer in steel construction. His Park Row Building was considered the first skyscraper in Manhattan. Robertson used the design vocabularies of several late 19th-century architectural movements: Victorian Gothic, Richardson Romanesque, Shingle, Queen Anne, and Classical Revival styles. From the mid-1880s to 1905, Robertson designed 36 buildings and structures for Shelburne Farms — his most significant, extensive, and intact country estate commission. Sixteen of these structures still stand, including the Farm Barn, Coach Barn, Breeding Barn, and Inn. The buildings share a distinctive combination of Queen Anne- and Shingle-style architectural features: estate-quarried redstone foundations, shingled and clapboarded exterior walls, pseudo half-timbering, and gabled and hipped roofs punctuated by dormers, cupolas, and eyebrow windows. The buildings are excellent examples of late 19th and early 20th century architecture.
Vanderbilt was the youngest child of Seward and Lila Webb. He attended Yale, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. In 1912, he married Aileen Osborn, and they had five children, including Derick Webb. Vanderbilt pursued a law career, both in private practice and as special counsel to the Rockefeller Foundation. He also served briefly as a Captain in the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. He ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for the New York State Assembly in 1925. After his mother died in 1936, Vanderbilt purchased his siblings’ inheritance shares in the main portion of Shelburne Farms, which included the Farm Barn, Coach Barn, and Shelburne House. He and his wife maintained residences at Shelburne House and in Garrison-on-Hudson, New York. He died in New York City in 1956.
Derick Webb was the grandson of Seward and Lila Webb, and the eldest son of Vanderbilt and Aileen Webb. He attended Yale University and Cornell Agricultural School and became Farm Manager of Shelburne Farms in 1938. Derick inherited the main portion of the estate in 1956. He strove to enhance and diversify the farm by establishing beef cattle, sheep, and hog operations, planting soybeans, and establishing the Brown Swiss herd that continues to this day. Derick also served in the state legislature and was a board member of the University of Vermont. He had six children with his wife Elizabeth Canfield: Quentyn, Marshall, Mary, Alec, Elizabeth, and Robert. In 1972, his children founded Shelburne Farms Resources, a nonprofit organization with an environmental education mission. Derick allowed the organization to use the property for camps and programs. He gave the Farm Barn to the nonprofit in 1976 and bequeathed the balance of the estate’s land and buildings upon his death in 1984.