Mansions of the Hudson Valley
The Hudson River is so beautiful - The rich built their mansions overlooking it!
The Hudson River runs through New York State for over 300 miles, meeting the ocean at New York City. While the whole river is beautiful, an especially delightful area is the Hudson Valley between northern Westchester county in the south and Albany to the north.
It is in this area that many of the American elite built their mansions. If you have visited this area, or live here as I do, you would know why they chose it - close enough to New York City for business and culture, but distant enough to provide a tranquil haven, and the countryside with its view of the river and the Catskills beyond is just gorgeous!
Wouldn't You Want this View?
If you had lived in New York City in the nineteenth or early twentieth century and were rich and famous, or even just rich, wouldn't you have wanted to build a mansion with this view as your summer home?
I lived in New York City, and in New Jersey, before moving to the Hudson Valley and I can say this is a really wonderful change from the intensity and dirt of the city.
Even better, is that fact that it is less than 100 miles up the Hudson River from the city, so you could still visit in the fall to see the glorious fall foliage. That's exactly what they did. Many of the American rich and famous built the most wonderful mansions along the Hudson River.
Fortunately for us today, most of these mansions have been opened to the public so we can enjoy the magnificent view too. Usually they charge a fee to tour the inside, but many of them have wonderful grounds that are free to visit. So in good weather there are great views of the Hudson River, the Catskills across the river, and beautiful trees and flowers in the grounds to enjoy.
If you want to see how mansions were used in their heyday just revisit "Downton Abbey" (or see if for the first time if you haven't been a fan). Yes, it's set in England, but these Hudson Valley mansions had a lot in common with the way the British aristocracy lived. Mills Mansion is even offering "Downton Abbey themed tours"!
Downton Abbey on DVD or Blu-ray
The first season of Downton Abbey introduces the wonderful characters of Lord Grantham and his family, and their servants. A perfect "upstairs downstairs" community!
Season 2 continues the story with Downton Abbey used as a convalescent home for soldiers during World War I. Also includes The Christmas Special.
The amazing third season at Downton includes the shocking Season 3 Finale, "A Journey to the Highlands" - a visit to Scotland!
Season 4 continues the amazing series and Season 5 is promised to come soon!
The Hudson is beautiful in winter too!
If it rains, or it's winter and you get cold (yes, the Hudson does freeze over in the winter!), most of these mansions are fascinating inside. They offer tours where you can see authentic furniture and other furnishings, and really get a feel for how these people lived - definitely worth paying the fee. In December, many of these mansions are decked out in their finest for the Christmas season. Touring these "Great Estates" can be a wonderful holiday experience!
So, starting at the southern end in Westchester county, let's take a tour of these amazing Hudson Valley mansions.
Home of the Rockefellers in Westchester County, Kykuit, which means "lookout" in Dutch, is an amazing Hudson Valley landmark. For architecture, remarkable gardens, art, history, and spectacular scenery, Kykuit is almost without equal. This hilltop estate was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family, beginning with the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Sr., founder of Standard Oil, and his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr.
The imposing stone structure, fronted at the top with the Rockefeller emblem, is centrally located in a "park" of about 250 acres that is the Rockefeller family estate. Upon his death In 1979, Nelson Rockefeller bequeathed his one-third interest in the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation with the result that Kykuit is now open to the public for tours which include both the main rooms inside the mansion and the terraced gardens containing an exceptional collection of sculpture, the art galleries, and the Coach Barn with its collections of horse-drawn carriages and classic automobiles.
Open May through October.
Visitor Center at Philipsburg Manor opens at 9 am. Board a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to begin tours of the estate.
Tours available daily except Tuesdays.
"The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit"
With text written by Nelson Rockefeller's daughter, Ann Rockefeller Roberts, and photographs taken by her daughter, Mary Louise Pierson, this beautiful book is not just a wonderful account of an estate that exemplifies the lavish lifestyle of the very rich, but also offers details of their family life.
Sunnyside - Home of Washington Irving in Tarrytown
Washington Irving, author of such wonderful tales as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow lived in this Dutch Plantation style home, Sunnyside, in Tarrytown. Irving gave the building his own fanciful atmosphere, planting a wisteria that frames the entrance as well as the ivy that covers much of the building.
When you go inside Sunnyside, you can see the study where Washington Irving wrote his stories, even his writing desk. It's fascinating to imagine him sitting there writing about Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane!
The furnishings at Sunnyside are authentic, since many remained in the family. It is not a grandly furnished house, but it reflects the character and life of Washington Irving. Many of the numerous guests who visited Irving at Sunnyside wrote about their visit and even drew sketches of the property. As a result, furniture and object placement within the rooms has been maintained rather accurately.
Open April through October daily except Tuesdays
11 am - 6 pm; last tour at 5 pm.
November and December:
Open Saturdays and Sundays; Friday, November 27
10 am - 4 pm; last tour at 3 pm.
If you Plan to Visit - This is a great guide book!
Now in its 7th edition (goodness, my copy is only the 2nd!) this is a comprehensive and practical guide for anyone planning a visit to the Hudson Valley. Written by Joanne Michaels, who lives, works, writes, eats, and enjoys the numerous activities available in the region, this book covers just about everything you might want to know to enjoy your visit to the Hudson Valley.
Lyndhurst - Gothic Revival mansion
Lyndhurst mansion in Tarrytown, with its turrets, battlements, and tower has all the appearance of a Gothic castle. It was built in 1838 when William Paulding, mayor of New York City, commissioned architect Alexander Jackson Davis to construct the fortress. Later, when George Merritt bought the estate he hired Davis to make various additions, including a four story tower. Jay Gould, the railroad tycoon, was the next owner and he also made changes to the house and grounds. Following his death, the estate was maintained by his daughters, Helen and then Anna, until Anna's death in 1961.
Summer hours from mid-April through October:
Tuesday - Sunday, 10 am - 5 pm, first tour at 10:30 am, last tour at 4:15 pm.
Entrance gate closes at 4:00 pm.
Winter hours from November through mid-April:
Weekends only and Holiday Mondays through March 31.
10 am - 4 pm. First tour 10:30 am; last tour 3:30 pm.
Entrance gate closes at 3:30 pm.
Beaux Arts mansion in Staatsburg
Mills Mansion, located in the boundaries of Mills-Norrie State Park in Staatsburg, originated as a lavish remodeling of an existing mansion. In 1895 nouveaux riche Ogden Mills and his wife, Ruth Livingston of the aristocratic Livingston family, commissioned the creation of a Beaux Arts mansion of 65 rooms and 14 bathrooms that truly exemplified the Gilded Age of American success. With lavish furnishings, the mansion remains a showcase of elegant opulence.
If you thought the entrance hall was kind of grand, how about this spectacular fireplace!
April through October
Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday after Thanksgiving - December 31: 10 am - 4:30 pm for "A Gilded Age Christmas" tours daily.
January to March: Saturday and Sunday 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Now called the "Staatsburgh Historic Site", this property is also used for a variety of educational programs. School groups can learn about history, in particular life in the Gilded Age, as well as many programs dealing with the ecology of the Hudson River and the local environment.
On Sundays in December there are special "Holiday Whodunit" tours! Designed for children, there is a mystery to be solved and costumed characters from the Gilded Age - servants and guests at the mansion - are available for questioning. There is no extra charge, included with regular admission price but children must be accompanied by an adult.
For fans of "Downton Abbey" there are special tours that explore the role of the mansion's servants and their interactions with their wealthy employers and houseguests. These tours are offered at 1 pm, and require reservations.
"Hyde Park, NY On The Hudson"
Hyde Park is a small town on the Hudson River, yet it has been the home of such famous people as the Roosevelts and the Vanderbilts whose mansions still grace this location.
This book, with numerous historic pictures, offers a glimpse into the history of this little town, providing insights into life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for all its residents.
The Home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born at the Roosevelt family's Springwood estate in Hyde Park, and he spent a great deal of his life, even during his presidency, at this mansion. In fact, it functioned as a "Summer White House."
Buy at Allposters.com
In addition to the house, also of interest are several other features: The F.D.R. Library and Museum contain many historic documents and personal belongings of the Roosevelts. The burial site of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt is located in the rose garden, marked by a simple, elegant monument. A number of sculptures and busts of Roosevelt are also to be found in scenic spots around the grounds.
The grounds are open year-round, seven days a week.
Buildings are open 9 am to 5 pm. The last tour of the day is at 4 pm.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Val-Kill - Home of Eleanor Roosevelt
Built in 1926 on the Roosevelt family estate in Hyde Park, this fieldstone home became Eleanor Roosevelt's sanctuary from political life and refuge from the formality of the main house. Today, historical programs at the property educate visitors about the life and work of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most influential first ladies ever.
Following her husband's death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt moved to Val-Kill in Hyde Park, where she lived the rest of her life. Just as Eleanor was no ordinary woman, this was no ordinary Hudson Valley mansion! She had been encouraged by her husband to use this property as a place where she could put into practice her idea of an industry that could employ rural workers and women. This became Eleanor's home; the only residence that she personally owned.
Open daily May through October from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Open November through April with tours at 1:00pm and 3:00pm.
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
The grounds are open daily year-round from sunrise to sunset.
Eleanor Roosevelt's life in the Hudson Valley
Summer home of Samuel F.B. Morse
Locust Grove is a mansion I've driven past many many times, but didn't actually realize it was the home of Samuel F.B. Morse until recently. Well, to be more accurate, I didn't realize this was the home of the man who invented the telegraph and Morse Code!
This was another of the estates owned by the Livingston family until Morse bought it in 1847. He actually lived there for 25 years, transforming it into his graceful summer retreat.
The original house that Morse bought was Georgian in style, but together with his friend, architect Alexander Jackson Davis, he transformed it into a villa in the Tuscan style. Most notable among their additions were two wings that created an octagon, and the four-story tower structure facing the river. Morse also landscaped the grounds.
After Morse died the estate was sold to the Young family, prominent in Poughkeepsie, who further developed the house and grounds, and it is their furniture and collections that remain in the mansion today. In 1963 Locust Grove became the first mansion to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
Grounds are open year round 8 am to sunset daily.
The house is available by guided tour only.
May 1 - November 30, daily; April and December, weekends only.
Visitor Center Open 10 am - 5 pm.
Last tour starts at 3:15 pm.
Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park
This mansion was built by Frederick William Vanderbilt, the third generation of Vanderbilt millionaires, is a great example of the Beaux-Arts country homes built by wealthy industrialists during the Gilded Age. Vanderbilt purchased the property in 1895 for use as a vacation country residence. The best architects were hired and a 54-room mansion was designed, and completed in 1899.
The mansion is furnished with gorgeous European antiques as well as period reproductions. The main rooms are ornate and richly decorated; interestingly, visitors also can go downstairs to a large dining room provided for the numerous servants. I'd be happy with this level of luxury myself! The columned porch at the rear of the mansion provides a majestic view of the Hudson River. The grounds are wonderful, perfect for walks all year round, and the trees and flower gardens are just crying out to have their photographs taken. Definitely a place that can be visited many times.
Open seven days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm by guided tour only. The last tour of the day is at 4:00pm.
November through March tours are limited.
The Mansion is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Grounds open 7 days year-round from sunrise to sunset.
Wilderstein (wild man's stone) mansion in Rhinebeck was originally built in the 1850s in the Italian villa style by Thomas Suckley, a descendant of the Beekman and Livingston families both prominent in the area. The house was remodeled into an elaborate Queen Anne style country house in the 1880s. Three generations of Suckleys occupied Wilderstein until 1991 when the last Suckley resident, Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, died in her 100th year.
Daisy Suckley was a cousin and confidante of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and is known for giving him his black Scottish terrier, Fala. She was instrumental in opening the mansion to the public when she began the tradition of inviting the public at Christmas. This tradition continues with local florists and designers transforming the first floor of her home into a Victorian Christmas wonderland complete with mannequins in authentic Victorian dress. She also love to invite people for afternoon tea at the mansion - and this tradition is continued with the annual Yuletide Tea each year on a December afternoon.
May 1 - October 31 (Thursday - Sunday)
Open for tours Thursday through Sunday, 12 noon - 4 pm; last tour begins at 3:30 pm.
Winter Holiday Tours:
The mansion is open for holiday tours Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm - 4 pm from Thanksgiving weekend through the end of December.
Wilderstein on video
Montgomery Place was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing consulted on the gardens and grounds. Janet Livingston Montgomery built the house in Annandale-on-Hudson, on the grounds of a working farm. She did this to honor the memory of her husband, General Richard Montgomery, who had been killed in the battle for Quebec, becoming the first hero of the American Revolution. The estate was passed on through her Livingston relatives, who finally deeded the property to Historic Hudson Valley in 1986.
In 1988 the restored Montgomery Place estate was opened to the public. Further restoration of the mansion took place 20 years later, with this unique American treasure once more open for public viewing.
The 380-acre property remains an example of Hudson Valley estate life. From the mansion's terrace and north pavilion are the hallmark inspiring vistas of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. The grounds maintain their character, with woodland trails, and gardens filled with flowers and fragrant herbs. The orchards continue to be productive.
Mid-May through October:
Thursdays-Sundays, 11 am - 4 pm (last tour at 3 pm).
Grounds open daily year-round, from 9 am - 4 pm.
Montgomery Place Orchards
Montgomery Place Orchards has been a privately owned and operated small farm on the Montgomery Place property for over 20 years. Owners Doug and Talea Fincke grow a wide variety of fruits, and vegetables which are sold from their roadside stand.
The first Saturday of every month, from 9 am - 4 pm.
The Clermont estate was established in 1728 by the affluent and influential Livingston family. It was named Clermont, meaning "clear mountain" in French, for its clear view of the Catskill Mountains across the Hudson River.
The mansion was occupied by seven generations of this family. Alice Livingston, the last to live there, moved out of the main house to the gardener's cottage during World War II, and deeded the estate to the State of New York in 1962.
Robert R. Livingston, Jr., the mansion's most notable owner, was one of the five men who authored the Declaration of Independence, and he swore in George Washington as the first president. Although the first house was burned by British troops, it was quickly rebuilt and maintained for several more generations, being remodeled in the 1920s in Colonial Revival style. Today, visitors can enjoy the grounds, where many special events are held, and tour the house which contains the Livingston family's furnishings as well as a portrait collection and sculptures.
April through December:
Saturday and Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm (last tour at 3 pm).
Grounds open daily year-round 8:30 am to sunset.
Special for Halloween - Legends by Candlelight Ghost Tours!
Yes, Clermont offers spooky fun on Friday and Saturday evenings in October!
The whole mansion is decorated in 1920s Halloween style, so you can just visit the mansion during normal visiting hours. But the best is to take one of the Candlelight Ghost Tours! You arrive at the mansion after dark (first tour starts at 6:00pm) and are welcomed into a Halloween party complete with a spiritual medium and ouija board. The séance goes wrong and the house fills with ghosts from the mansion's 250 year history - some have funny tales to tell, others are scary!
Tours start every 30 minutes beginning at 6:00pm with the last tour starting at 9:00pm. Cost is $10 per adult, $5 per child. Reservations are encouraged.
Special for Christmas!
Clermont always puts on a great show during the holiday season!
The whole mansion is lavishly dressed up for the holidays, creating a Winter Wonderland in the style the Livingstons would have decorated. And this year the theme is "The Twelve Days of Christmas" with adjustments to fit the Livingston lifestyle! There will be a beautiful peacock in a pear tree to greet guests, five merino sheep, eight dogs awaiting (drawn from photos of actual pets of the Livingstons), and so forth.
The annual free Christmas at Clermont Open House is on Saturday December 15th, from 11 am to 4 pm.
Other weekends have different events, including Candlelight Tours and A Child's Christmas. Check their website for details
Olana was the home of Frederic Edwin Church, the most famous member of the Hudson River School of landscape painting. A student of Thomas Cole, whose home and studio at Cedar Grove are located on the other side of the Hudson River in Catskill, Church had interests that ranged far beyond the Hudson Valley. Thus, he named his house "Olana," after the Persian treasure house. And Church's Olana is indeed a store of treasures! The exotically decorated interior displays objects he acquired during his global travels, as well as numerous paintings.
Located high on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, the house is a mixture of Victorian and Persian styles. Both the house and grounds offer the most amazing view of the Hudson - no wonder Church painted it!
Grounds are open year round 8 am to sunset daily.
The house is available by guided tour only.
April - October
House tours Tuesday through Sunday and holiday Mondays 10 am - 5 pm; last tour starts promptly at 4 pm.
November - March
House tours Friday and Saturday 11 am - 4 pm; Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm; last tour starts promptly at 3 pm.
"Frederic Church's Olana: Architecture and Landscape As Art"
Olana on video
"Great Houses of the Hudson River"
This book by architect Michael Dwyer includes beautiful photographs of many of the mansions in the Hudson Valley. Not only photographs, though, this book has a wealth of historical information about the owners, the architects, and the history of each mansion.
More about Mansions of the Hudson Valley
© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe