Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly

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Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly
Mrs. Hamilton McKown Twombly by John Singer Sargent
Florence Adele Vanderbilt

January 8, 1854
Staten Island, New York, US
DiedApril 11, 1952(1952-04-11) (aged 98)
(m. 1877; died 1910)
Parent(s)William Henry Vanderbilt
Maria Louisa Kissam

Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly (January 8, 1854 – April 11, 1952) was an American socialite and heiress. She was a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family.[1] She and her husband Hamilton McKown Twombly built Florham, a gilded age estate in Madison, New Jersey.

In 1946, her relationship to her wealth was summarized by Collier's: "[Twombly] owns fifteen automobiles. She pays her chef $25,000 a year. Her butler has four footmen to assist him. Her New York mansion contains seventy rooms. At one of her country places she employs more than a hundred servants. And she does not crave publicity – she hates it!"[2]

Early life[edit]

Florence was born on Staten Island in New York City on January 8, 1854. She was a daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885) and Maria Louisa Kissam (1821–1896).[3] Her siblings were Cornelius II, Margaret Louisa, William Kissam, Frederick William, Eliza Osgood, Emily Thorn, and George Washington II.[4] Her paternal grandfather was the Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), of whom she was the last surviving grandchild when she died aged 98 in 1952.[5]


Twombly townhouse - 5th Avenue, NYC

Florence was known for her many elaborate homes, including her townhouse at 684 Fifth Avenue in New York City that was designed by John B. Snook and given as a gift from her father, William Henry Vanderbilt. The home was sold to John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1925,[6] and has since been demolished.[3]

Her Vinland, a Romanesque "cottage" in Newport, Rhode Island, built in 1882 for tobacco heiress Catharine Lorillard Wolfe by Peabody & Stearns, purchased by the Twomblys in 1896 and greatly enlarged. Interiors by Ogden Codman.[3] Now part of Salve Regina University and called McAuley Hall.[7]

Florham, an 800-acre estate in Florham Park, New Jersey, designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1897.[3] Part of it including the manor house now belongs to Farleigh Dickinson University.[8][9] At Florham, Florence had a fleet of fifteen cars, including six maroon Rolls-Royces.[10]

A second townhouse was a 70-room house located at 1 East 71st Street, New York City that was designed by Whitney Warren and has also since been demolished.[11]

Personal life[edit]

In 1877, Florence married Hamilton McKown Twombly (1849-1910).[3] He was a son of Alexander Hamilton Twombly (1804–1870) and Caroline (née McKown) Twombly (1821–1881).[12] Together, they had four children:

  • Alice Twombly (1879–1896),[13] who died at the age of sixteen on the eve of her society debut.[14]
  • Florence Vanderbilt Twombly (1881–1969), who married William Armistead Moale Burden (1877–1909), a son of I. Townsend Burden, in 1904.[15][16]
  • Ruth Vanderbilt Twombly (1885–1954), tennis coach and athlete, founder of charity thrift store "The Opportunity Shop" in Manhattan, and philanthropist. A lesbian, she did not marry. A New York Times article claimed she struggled heavily with alcoholism.[17] She ultimately died from heart failure at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
  • Hamilton McKown Twombly Jr. (1888–1906), who drowned in an incident at a summer camp where he was working as a camp counselor.[18][19]

Morristown farmer Caroline Foster was once invited to a dinner party at the Vanderbilt-Twombly Estate (now part of Fairleigh Dickinson University).[20] Her friend Russel Myers described Foster's experience at the Twomblys':

[Foster was] greeted at the door by the butler, and Mrs. Twombly would be there. [Foster] would be introduced around and greet everybody and have a drink...After dinner, as was usual in those days, the gentlemen would go to one room with cigars and the ladies would go to another room...[After that,] Mrs. Twombly would come around and see each guest. When she got to the last person, she would say to the butler, "It is time." That meant time to go. People who had never been there before and did not realize what time to have their coachman return were left standing at the door.[20]

Her husband died in 1910 after an extended illness.[21][22][23] According to an obituary, his death was from "cancer and a broken heart" over the death of his son.[24][25] She died April 11, 1952, in New York City, having outlived her husband by 42 years.[1] She is in interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.[5]


Through her daughter Florence, she was the maternal grandmother of William A. M. Burden Jr. (1906–1984),[26] a banker[27] who served as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium from 1959 to 1961,[28][29] and Shirley Carter Burden (1908–1989), a prominent photographer.[30]


  1. ^ a b "Ms. Twombly Dies In Home Here at 9:41. Daughter of W. H. Vanderbilt Was Last Surviving Grandchild of Commodore Vanderbilt". The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  2. ^ Worden, Helen (1946). "Dowager Queen". Collier's. P. F. Collier. p. 29.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hamilton Twombly, Capitalist, Dead, The New York Times, January 12, 1910
  4. ^ MacDowell, Dorothy Kelly (1989). Commodore Vanderbilt and his family: a biographical account of the Descendants of Cornelius and Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  5. ^ a b "200 at Mrs. Twombly's Rites". The New York Times. 15 April 1952. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  6. ^ "ROCKEFELLER OWNS MOST OF A BLOCK; Latest Million Only Another to Keep Trade Away From His and Father's Homes". The New York Times. 30 December 1925. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  7. ^ "McAuley Hall". www.salve.edu. Salve Regina University. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  8. ^ Southern Methodist University: Robert Yarnall Richie Photograph Collection: Florence Vanderbilt and Hamilton McKown Twombly's Florham estate, Madison, NJ
  9. ^ Farleigh Dickinson University: College at Florham: History of the Estate
  10. ^ "Florham Campus: A History of the Estate". view2.fdu.edu. Fairleigh Dickinson University. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  11. ^ "2 MORE MANSIONS ON 5TH AVE. TO DIE; Former Twombly and Rice Homes at 71st St. Will Be Replaced by Apartment". The New York Times. 9 August 1957. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  12. ^ "H. M'K. TWOMBLY, CAPITALIST, DEAD; Brother-in-Law of W. K. Vanderbilt Never Recovered from Shock of His Son's Death. DIRECTOR OF MANY ROADS His Death Occurred at Florham Park, His Beautiful Estate and Model Farm, Near Morristown, N. J." The New York Times. January 12, 1910. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  13. ^ "DIED. Twombly". The New York Times. 1896. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  14. ^ "FUNERAL OF ALICE TWOMBLY; Many Dances and Entertainments Given Up on Account of Her Death". The New York Times. January 3, 1896. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  15. ^ "WORLD OF FASHION AT THE TWOMBLY WEDDING; William A.M. Burden Marries H. McK. Twombly's Daughter. FIFTH AVENUE IS CROWDED Ceremony at St. Thomas's Church -- Mr. and Mrs. Burden Will Go to the Far East on Honeymoon". The New York Times. 13 April 1904. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  16. ^ "W.A.M. BURDEN DIES OF STRANGE MALADY; Chronic Recurrent Fever the Only Name Physicians Can Give It -- No Remedy. AN ATHLETE AT HARVARD Married Miss Twombly, Granddaughter of the Late W.H. Vanderbilt, in 1904". The New York Times. 3 February 1909. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  17. ^ Times, Special To The New York (2 September 1954). "MISS RUTH TWOMBLY SUCCUMBS IN PARIS". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  18. ^ "H. M'K. TWOMBLY, JR., DROWNED IN SQUAM LAKE; Was Swimming Near Camp of Groton School Students. SEVERAL SAW HIM SINK Seized with Cramps He Disappeared Before Aid Could Reach Him -- The Body Recovered". The New York Times. 6 July 1906. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  19. ^ "YOUNG TWOMBLY'S FUNERAL.; Many Persons Prominent In Society Attend the Services". The New York Times. 10 July 1906. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  20. ^ a b Oral history, "Mr. Russel Myers on Miss Caroline Foster," by Sheila Sweeney, 1980. On file at Fosterfields Visitor Center.
  21. ^ "HAMILTON McK. TWOMBLY ILL.; Said to be Suffering from Kidney Trouble and a Nervous Breakdown". The New York Times. 3 December 1909. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  22. ^ Times, Special To The New York (5 December 1909). "H. McK. Twombly to Remain in Country". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  23. ^ "H. McKay Twombly Still Alive". The New York Times. 26 December 1909. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  24. ^ "H. McK. Twombly Dying. Might Not Live Till Daybreak, It Was Said at His Home Last Night". New York Times. December 25, 1909.
  25. ^ "Twombly," Palisades Interstate Park Commission, November 2009
  26. ^ Pace, Eric (11 October 1984). "WILLIAM BURDEN, EX-MUSEUM PRESIDENT, DIES". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  27. ^ "INVESTMENT FIRM FORMED; William A. M. Burden & Co. Plans to Handle Own Capital". The New York Times. 19 July 1949. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  28. ^ "Envoy in the Air Age; William Armistead Moale Burden". The New York Times. September 4, 1959. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  29. ^ Beaver, William S. (16 June 2002). "IN BUSINESS; Acres of Affordable Housing On Chappaqua's Drawing Board". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  30. ^ "Shirley Burden, 80, a Writer-Photographer". The New York Times. 5 June 1989. Retrieved 19 September 2017.

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