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Estates of the Hudson River Valley

By Taylor Smith 

Directly north of New York City lies the Hudson River Valley, an incredibly unique place that has inspired generations of artists and creative types. The art and history museums are numerous and could easily occupy a traveler for weeks, but there are also several dozen “can’t miss” Hudson River Estates, many of which are open to the public. Large mansions overlooking the lush, loamy farmland and seductive landscape of the Hudson Valley, these sites were once home to the rich, famous, and downright eccentric.

Philipse Manor Hall (Yonkers, NY)

This estate in particular is a wonderful place to bring children. With a working gristmill and costumed guides, there is plenty to stimulate a child’s imagination. The manor house was built in the 1600s by Frederick Philipse, a wealthy Dutchman who eventually became lord of a 52,500 acre estate. Since 1911, the manor has functioned as a museum of art and history. It is currently home to the Cochran Collection of American Portraiture.

Sunnyside (Tarrytown, NY) sunnyside

Washington Irving was one of New York City’s original commuters. In 1835 he moved into a farmhouse in Tarrytown that he re-named Sunnyside. Irving imagined that a home in the country would help him to concentrate on his writing while still being able to travel into New York City. Almost immediately upon moving in, Irving began adding ponds, gables, and new doors, almost completely remodeling the place. When the 17-room, wisteria-draped home was finished, Irving was said to have remarked that the home was “as full of angles and corners as an old cocked hat.”

Lyndhurst (Tarrytown, NY)

Lyndhurst was shaped over three centuries by three different occupants: former New York City Mayor William Paulding, merchant George Merritt and railroad tycoon Jay Gould. The rather dark and dimly lit Gothic Revival mansion was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1838. Much of the Gould’s art and furniture collection fills the house. Surrounding the mansion are 67 manicured acres of gardens and walking paths, but don’t overlook the romantic ruins of an enormous greenhouse that once housed a world-class orchid collection.

Kykuit (Tarrytown, NY)

Kykuit is Dutch for “lookout” and was only opened to the public in 1994. The home served as a weekend residence for several generations of the Rockefeller family. While the Beaux-Arts style home is beautiful, the tour really gets interesting when it descends to Rockefeller’s below-ground art gallery filled with works by Picasso, Léger, and Warhol.

Van Cortlandt Manor (Croton-On-Hudson, NY)

Van Cortlandt Manor was home to Oloff Van Cortlandt and his son, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, the first native-born mayor of New York City. At one time, the Van Cortlandt family owned land stretching from Croton, NY all the way East to Connecticut. The family was also very active politically. They were staunch supporters of the Revolution and played host to a variety of political figures including George Washington.

Locust Grove (Poughkeepsie, NY)

Although one of the smaller estates, Locust Grove has a fascinating history. The Italianate villa was originally the home of scientist-artistphilosopher Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph. The Museum Pavilion showcases early models of Morse’s telegraph. The exhibition also chronicles his lifelong love of art, showcasing paintings, portraits, and landscapes all created by Morse.

Roosevelt Estates (Hyde Park, NY)

Roosevelt was born and grew up here. He and Eleanor raised their five children in this home, and this is where they resided while Roosevelt climbed the political ladder from New York Governor to President of the United States. The home remains very intimate. For example, a dog leash for FDR’s beloved Scottish terrier Fala hangs from a hook in the foyer and magazines lay scattered in the sitting room.

Val-Kill (Hyde Park, NY)

Val-Kill was Eleanor Roosevelt’s escape. In 1924, she built the home as a weekend retreat, decorating the place with simple furnishings and photographs. After FDR’s death, Val-Kill became Eleanor’s permanent residence. Compared to the Roosevelt Estate, Val-Kill receives very few visitors. However, it is interesting to consider that Eleanor drafted the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in her living room.

Vanderbilt Mansion (Hyde Park, NY)

The Vanderbilt’s did not skimp on extravagance when building this mansion, two miles north of the Roosevelt homes. Be sure to notice the goldleaf ceilings and walls, hand painted lampshades, luxurious rugs, and Flemish tapestries. Nonetheless, the Vanderbilts only used this estate in the spring and fall.

Staatsburgh State Historic Site (Staatsburg, NY)

Staatsburgh State Historic Site was the home of Ogden Mills and his wife Ruth Livingston Mills. Ogden made his money by investing in newly established banks, railroads, and mines. He was also an enthusiastic thoroughbred racehorse owner. The 25-room Greek Revival style home stands on a hill overlooking the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. It also boasts 23 fireplaces.

Wilderstein (Rhinebeck, NY)

Thomas Suckley and his wife Catherine Murray Brown purchased the property Wilderstein when it was still a sheep fi eld attached to a neighboring estate. The name, Wilderstein (“wild man’s stone”), is in reference to a nearby Native American petroglyph found by the owners. The Suckleys envisioned their new home as a romantic getaway. Joseph Burr Tiffany designed the original interiors and architect Calvert Vaux laid out the grounds. Wilderstein stands apart from the other Hudson Valley mansions due to its appearance, which can be described as Queen Anne style.

Montgomery Place (Red Hook, NY)

Montgomery Place was designed in the 1860s by Alexander Jackson Davis. The home was constructed with classical revival style exteriors and sweeping views of the surrounding vista. The estate’s grounds are also worthy of a tour. Woodland trails (laid out more than 100 years ago) lead to the waterfalls of Saw Kill. Bountiful apple orchards border the estate and the produce is available in-season at the Montgomery Place Orchards Farm Stand. Herb gardens designed in the early 20th century give insight into the landscape designs popular during this particular era.

Clermont State Historic Site (Germantown, NY)

Clermont State Historic Site was built by Robert Livingston, Jr. between 1740 and 1750. A royal patent secured by his father ensured that the younger Robert had the privileges of a manor lord and 160,000 acres stretching from Germantown to the border of present day Massachusetts. Today, Clermont plays host to tour groups, school children, arts events, and even weddings.

Olana State Historic Site (Hudson, NY)

Olana was the home of Hudson River School landscape artist Frederick Church. The Middle Eastern-inspired palace was designed by Church with the help of architect Calvert Vaux. Church had just returned from travelling in the Middle East and was quite taken with the artistry of the region. Perisan rugs and lettering detail the home, along with paintings by both Church and Thomas Cole.

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