Mrs. Astor's Fifth Avenue Balls

The Astor estate at 840 Fifth Ave. It was built between 1891 and 1896.


Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor presided over America's high society in the latter half of the 19th century. Wealthy in her own right (her father was a prosperous merchant, and both parents came from colonial Dutch aristocracy), she became even richer in 1853, when she wed William Astor, grandson of John Jacob Astor [source: Brittanica].

The Astors built a multistory townhouse on New York City's tony Fifth Avenue, which became the site of numerous elaborate parties, including an annual ball. The couple limited their annual-ball guest list to 400, and members of New York's high society fought to be on that list [source: Just Luxe]. If you made the cut, you were always in for a treat.

Consider the Astors' annual ball of 1900, held Jan. 29. Guests began arriving for the affair at 10:30 p.m., decked out in their finest: velvet, satin, chiffon, diamond tiaras, strings of pearls. The evening began with dancing, followed by a dinner that included terrapin, pâté de foie gras en crouet, bonbons and champagne. Afterward, a cotillion was held in the home's ballroom, considered one of the most beautiful private ballrooms in America. The music was provided by Lander's Orchestra and the Hungarian Band [source: The History Box].