JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

News Squib#2


Digital tablet on newspaper concept for internet and electronicIt’s Squib Saturday. Time to share the best, most interesting (or most entertaining, or most outrageous) tidbit of information I’ve gleaned from all the stuff I’ve read this week. Today: Keeping Up With The Joneses



Most everyone has heard the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses.”  It’s a snarky idiom for those who attempt to match the lifestyle (usually upscale) of friends and neighbors in order to be as socially acceptable. Ever wondered how or where the phrase originated?

On 80-acre Estate

3-_largeI can’t say I ever wondered about it very much, but then the Wall Street Journal illuminated me. That set me off on a mini-Google search for more info about Wyndclyffe Mansion which was put on the auction block this week as a “three-story ruin of a historical mansion.” (Photo left)

The house was commissioned in 1852 by ultra wealthy Elizabeth Schermerhorn  Jones, a spinster (yep! that’s what they called unmarried women back then) who had made her money in banking. She was also the aunt of novelist Edith Wharton. When the mansion was built the following year, it sat on an 80-acre estate of terraced lawns and woods on the banks of the Hudson River at Rhinebeck, about 100 miles North of New York City.  It had a winding staircase, ornate terra-cotta chimneys, a Tiffany skylight, Italian marble fireplaces and “fortress-like architecture.” The mansion’s second owner installed pipes to deliver cold beer from the basement to the outdoor tennis courts!

The house came with a river dock, a boat house, a carriage house. It had 24 rooms including nine bedrooms, five bathrooms and four fireplaces. Not excessively big by the standards of some of today’s McMansions, but at the time it sparked a trend among Miss Jones’ wealthy friends to build their own mansions in the Hudson Valley. Thus, was born the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Auction Sale

bn-pv414_nyspac_j_20160914190029The house was abandoned in the 1950s. The estate was subdivided, and now the ruins sit on just 2.5 acres, one lot off  the Hudson. Large portions of the house have fallen in, and it has been fenced off because of its dangerous condition. The full extent of the dilapidation is sadly captured in a series of photos at

The mansion was put on the auction block this week by order of a federal bankruptcy court.  The market value of the property is assessed at $312,900.00. Annual real estate taxes are $7,311.83.  Reportedly, there were multiple bids, and the Trustee accepted a bid of $120,000. The auction house would not provide the name of the new owner, but that will be revealed when the deal closes in about 30-45 days.

Writers’ retreat?

img_0323_mediumNo word either on what the new owner plans to do with it.  At one time during its dilapidation, a plan was floated to restore it and turn it into a writers’ retreat. Which might not be such a great idea since Edith Wharton herself was not inspired by it, describing it as an “expensive but dour specimen of Hudson River Gothic.”

Photo Credits: Top left:;  Photos of Wyndclyffe Mansion: bottom left,Wall Street Journal; center & bottom right:


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