Dowling College originated in 1955 when Adelphi College offered extension classes in Port Jefferson, Riverhead, and Sayville. In 1959, at the urging of community leaders, Adelphi Suffolk College became the first four year, degree granting liberal arts institution in Suffolk County, housed in an old public school building in Sayville. In January 1963, Adelphi Suffolk College purchased the former W.K. Vanderbilt estate in Oakdale and began developing as an important educational force on Long Island.
The Vanderbilt Era. In 1876, William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad magnate, purchased 900 acres, from Montauk Highway to the Great South Bay, on the east bank of the Connetquot River, on which to build his summer and holiday residence. The original mansion burned to the ground and was rebuilt in 1901 with the 110 room, graystone and red brick structure, designed by Richard Howland Hunt. In 1920, after the death of W.K. Vanderbilt, the estate was put up for sale by his son Harold K. Vanderbilt. After seven years, the mansion and its surrounding lands were sold to developers. The farm area became an artists’ colony while the large parcel of wooded land with its extensive canals became the residential community known as Idle Hour.
Pre-College Years. The mansion remained relatively untouched through a succession of owners. These included flamboyant characters of the Prohibition Era and a short term stay of a spiritual cult, the Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians. In 1947, when the National Dairy Research Council purchased the mansion and the remaining 23 acres of the original tract, extensive changes were made to accommodate laboratories in the Carriage House (now Curtin Student Center) and indoor tennis courts (now part of the Kramer Science Center).
Dowling College Era. In 1968, the College severed its ties with Adelphi and was renamed after its chief benefactor, Robert Dowling, a noted city planner, philanthropist, and aviator. In response to increased enrollment, the Racanelli Learning Resource Center was constructed in 1974 to house the library, cafeteria and additional classrooms. One month after the LRC opened, a devastating fire started in the mansion. The ornate ceremonial rooms of the College (the Hunt Room, the Foyer and Ballroom) were substantially damaged. A College committee, led by Dowling Trustee Alan Fortunoff, guided the restoration of the ornate woodwork, precious marble, and the elaborately carved stonework. While many of the fine details were lost, the grandeur and fine proportions remain. The building was named in honor of Max and Clara Fortunoff. The mansion was designed to be entered from the side facing the river where the Vanderbilts once maintained a floating mahogany dock for their steamship “Mosquito. ” Guests arriving by water would ascend the wide stairway from the river and cross the Great Lawn to the entrance guarded by ancient carved lions. Take time to cross the lawn and enjoy the view from the top of the marble stairs. The Restoration Committee for W.K. Vanderbilt’s “Idle Hour” continues to raise funds to preserve and restore historic and artistic elements of the Gilded Age such as renown sculptor Karl Bitter’s “Diana” in the Hunt Room.
In 2000 the campus in Oakdale was renamed in honor of Trustee Scott Rudolph.
Historic Images Of Oakdale