He actively led the family's railroad empire, though in 1883 his elder sons assumed key positions. It was in his time that the Vanderbilts demanded recognition from the older but less moneyed leaders of New York society, centered on the Astor family, whom the Vanderbilts had now far outstripped in wealth.
William Henry Vanderbilt is perhaps most remembered for snapping "the public be damned" at an interviewer..in context, an irritated reaction to the other's suggestion that the New York Central system, which Vanderbilt controlled, ought to be operated as if it were a public trust. He was an active philanthropist as well as builder of opulent Fifth Avenue mansions.
his last home is on the left in the image linked at the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church article.