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Tuxedo Park America's First Gated Community

Updated on September 2, 2013

Pierre Lorillard

There had always been wealthy people in the United States, but during and after the American Civil War, great fortunes were made and suddenly there were thousands of millionaires. They tended to congregate on the East Coast and especially in New York City.

But these wealthy families didn’t want to spend all their time in the city, and Pierre Lorillard IV had an idea for an exclusive community located just 40 miles north of New York City. Lorillard was from a wealthy family that had made it’s money in tobacco and he found the exclusive gated community of Tuxedo Park.

Pierre Lorillard did not allow just anyone to buy into the community. He selected 700 wealthy, socially prominent New Yorkers and invited them to tour the little town. They all loved it and it was sold out almost immediately. Prominent members of the Astor, Goelets, Schermerhorns families all bought into Tuxedo Park.

Tuxedo Park Clubhouse

Tuxedo Park Cottage

The small community was built on six hundred acres of land in 1886. Tuxedo Park had 22 large houses, pretentiously called cottages, and many amenities. There was a boat house, trout pond, swimming pool, clubhouse, 4 lawn tennis courts and an ice house.

The Tuxedo Club was very popular with town residents; tea was served on the veranda every day and there were often dinners, concerts and dances. The Tuxedo Park debutante ball was very popular and exclusive. It was at the club , at the annual Autumn Ball, that a son of Pierre Lorillard IV’s, Griswold, first wore a dinner jacket, which was considered rather daring and informal. Up to that point all men’s formal wear had tails. This dinner jacket today is popularly called a Tuxedo. Lorillard may have been copying the Edward VII, the Prince of Wales, who had started wearing tailless coats on a trip to India.

Tuxedo Park also had within the community a grocery store, pharmacy, private police station and a private telephone exchange. This was in a time when they were just a few thousands phones in the United States so it was a great luxury.

The community had a large wooded area stocked with game with a staff of gamekeepers to manage them. The community was surrounded by an 8 foot fence with a gate to restrict access to only the right people. The residents usually stayed in New York for the winter social season and summers were often spent in other resorts, such as Newport. Tuxedo Park was really only fully popular in the spring and autumn.

For a time more and more communities tried to imitate Tuxedo Park, a community or at least a club restricted to what the members considered the right people. But Tuxedo Park didn’t stay completely restricted for that long.

After the turn of the century, some of the somewhat modest mansions were torn down in favor of much larger residences. However that was stopped by the time of the Depression. Today it is still a beautiful place, but the gate is no longer locked each night and anyone can live there. But for a time Tuxedo Park was the most exclusive community in America.


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