In centuries past, New York’s elite balanced city life with glorious respites in the Hudson Valley. You can, too, by visiting their historic country homes.
When it comes to touring historic homes, it’s hard to beat the Hudson Valley. Most of the region’s grand estates date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when tycoons, socialites, and literary types discovered that the banks of the Hudson River made an idyllic escape from the heat and dust of Manhattan. The following five gems offer visitors a taste of the sweet life in a bygone era.
Lyndhurst, 635 S. Broadway, Tarrytown
The stone exterior of this Gothic Revival mansion looks like the quintessential setting for a murder mystery party. Completed in 1838 by renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis, both the house and its contents have been well preserved by a series of illustrious owners, including railroad robber baron Jay Gould. Crafts at Lyndhurst takes over the estate September 13–15, with work by 275 craft makers, but tours of the 19 rooms and grounds are available anytime. Try the Backstairs Tour for a Downton Abbey feel.
Kykuit, N. Broadway, Rte. 9 Sleepy Hollow
Built for John D. Rockefeller in the Classical Revival style in 1913, Kykuit has lavish interiors, but its main selling point is an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures by the likes of Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. The formal gardens are immaculately kept, too, reflecting the fact that the estate was maintained by the Rockefeller family until it became a historic landmark. Tour-wise you have lots of options, including the quickie Timesaver Tour if you’re busy. If you go at Halloween, the neighborhood is chockablock with spooky activities, including several at nearby Sunnyside, onetime home of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving.
Wilderstein Historic Site, 330 Morton Rd. Rhinebeck
The wood-framed Wilderstein is the most homey Hudson Valley mansion. One glimpse at the back porch and you’ll want to settle in. Built for the family of FDR intimate Daisy Suckely, the estate was completed in 1852 and expanded in 1888. Mixing two styles, Italianate and Queen Anne, the house also holds the family’s extensive collections of letters, drawings, photographs, and other historic objects. What’s more, it’s in Rhinebeck, arguably the most charming of all the area’s towns. Check out the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival on the nearby Duchess County Fairgrounds October 18–19.
Olana, 5720 State Rte. 9G Hudson
There’s no more personal, artistic, and fanciful house in the Hudson Valley—or anywhere else for that matter— than the home of the famed 19th-century landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church. He considered Olana, on a 250-acre estate high atop a hill, to be his life’s work. The house, designed by Church and Central Park co-architect Calvert Vaux, has an eye-poppingly rich Orientalist interior and fantastic grounds for strolling.
Boscobel House and Gardens, 1601 Rte. 9D Garrison
The nickname of this striking Federal-style mansion, originally built at a nearby site between 1804 and 1808, is “the house that was saved.” It narrowly escaped demolition in the 1950s and was reassembled a few miles away. The new location is perhaps the best of any house on the Hudson River, with a majestic view toward West Point. The view is so stunning that the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival uses it as a backdrop for productions every June through September. The neoclassical antiques inside include pieces by the most famous New York cabinetmaker of the 19th century, Duncan Phyfe. It’s the total package for old-house fans.
—by Ted Loos