When explorer Henry Hudson sailed up the Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk in 1609, he became the first of many of the world’s cultural, political and intellectual leaders to capitalize on the unique bounty found in the hills and pastures of the Hudson Valley. Since then the Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk (now known as the Hudson River, named after Henry) has been the epicenter of the country’s financial and artistic burgeoning, serving first as a route of commerce and trade, and later as a source of inspiration and aspiration. The Hudson Valley boasts the largest concentration of historic sites in the country. In the region, American aristocrats have been erecting sprawling mansions with intricate grounds for centuries, and the earliest estates are arguably the most adventurous and intricate; they set the bar vertiginously high for the seekers and climbers that would follow. Since the 18th century, politicians, businessmen and socialites have made the banks of the river their go-to retreat from the heady whirl of city life. Often, the figures who built the first manors that line the shores of the Hudson are as compelling as the homes themselves. Below, take a peek into the first golden interiors erected in the region and the cast of characters who built them.
The Livingston family counts among its ranks: Settlers of the American wilderness, insurgents fighting British rule, swearers-in of George Washington as the nation’s first president, signers of the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, judges in the Supreme Court and creators of the first steamboat (which revolutionized transportation and commerce for the whole nation). When your family’s resume is this thick with accomplishment and intrigue, the construction of a Georgian mansion on an intricately laid out 13,000-acres may seem only suitable. Torched by Brits in 1777 in retaliation for Philip Livingston’s role as a freedom fighter in the American Revolution, the house had to be completely rebuilt. The new structure, finished in 1782, became the home to seven generations of incredibly influential and accomplished Livingstons. The brick Georgian, with views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, was significantly remodeled in the 1920s and now stands as a Colonial Revival. The estate sits on reduced but still grand 500 acres and includes five miles of marked trails, forests, fields and formal gardens. In 1962 the home was sold to New York State, and in 1972 it officially became a National Historic Landmark. Each generation and family member left an imprint on the site’s architecture, interior and landscaping design; tours of the home provide detailed information on the acquisitions, remodels and collections.
Hours and fees vary, so check the website or call ahead before planning a trip. The main entrance is at the intersection of N.Y. Route 9-G and Columbia County Route 6.
Lyndhurst in Tarrytown: Commissioned and Owned by Avant-Garde Tycoons
The various capitalists who settled in Lyndhurst were as poetic and visionary as they were financially flush. Built in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the most influential architects in America, the mansion was — like many innovative structures that are later seen as masterpieces — considered an eyesore when it was first unveiled. Originally called the Knoll, it was nicknamed “Paulding’s Folly,” after the original master of the house. The Gothic Revival country manor on 184 acres abutting the Hudson River was viewed disdainfully, with its asymmetrical outline, fanciful turrets, four-story tower and limestone exterior receiving especially vociferous drubbings. New York City mayor and adjutant general (military chief administrative officer) of the New York State militia William Paulding, Jr., was the first resident. Born in Tarrytown, Paulding was the son of a leading local patriot in the American Revolution and the brother of James Paulding, Washington Irving’s literary collaborator. Paulding’s avant-garde aesthetic vision, while less heralded than his political and military prowess, allowed him to flout conventional taste. A decade after his death, the estate ended up in the hands of merchant George Merritt. Mr. Merritt, also heedless of popular opinion, in 1864 hired Mr. Davis to double the home’s size and renamed it Lyndenhurst, for the estate’s linden trees. He also hired Ferdinand Mangold to design the landscape, build the first steel-framed conservatory in the country and created rolling lawns accented with shrubs. The Gothic aesthetic of Davis’ original design — small rooms, narrow hallways, sharply arched windows and vaulted decorative ceilings — was maintained. In 1880,
Jay Gould, a leading railroad developer and speculator who is often viewed as America’s pre-eminent robber baron, bought the home and shortened its name to Lyndhurst (pictured above). In 1961 Mr. Gould’s daughter, Anna Gould, donated the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It now sits on 67 acres.
Hours and fees vary, so check the website or call (914) 631-4481, ext. 43237 for more information before visiting. Lyndhurst is located at 635 South Broadway in Tarrytown.
Boscobel in Garrison: Built by a British Loyalist and War Profiteer
Traitors have good taste, too. Boscobel was built in 1804 by States Morris Dyckman, a descendant of early Dutch settlers in Manhattan and a British Loyalist. Though jailed in Albany for his Tory activities and anti-American Revolution sentiments, Dyckman amassed great wealth in Manhattan due to war profiteering. In 1779 he voyaged to England. There, Dyckman often was paid handsome sums by quartermasters who were cleared of war profiteering charges after his biased “investigations.” While in Britain, Dyckman also amassed an invaluable cache of items with distinctly British flair. When he returned to the States in 1789 as a free man he toted a great deal of British booty with him, including a dinner service by
Wedgwood, that would decorate his home. Now considered one of the finest examples of Federal style architecture, Boscobel features an elaborate front façade with a Palladian-style pediment, decorative swags (including carved wooden drapery with bowknots and tassels), intricate neoclassical detailing and an intersecting central section with a second-floor balcony. About one-third of the front façade is glass. Inside, decorative arts abound, including Federal high-style furniture designed by
Michael Allison and
Charles Honore Lannuier, English china, silver, glass and lighting fixtures. About 1,000 period-era objects from Dyckman’s collection of English goods are maintained in Boscobel’s collection, the majority of which are on display. Boscobel’s original site was 15 miles away from its present location. Facing demolition in the 1950s, preservation pioneers ensured that it was moved and reconstructed exactly at its current site. The grounds, comprising 60 acres, include a 1.25 mile scenic trail, woodlands, an herb garden, a rose garden and views of the Hudson River.
Hours and fees vary, so visit the website or call (845) 265-3638 before visiting. The tradition of gathering wealth in the city and then spending it on spreads in the Hudson Valley has continued unabated. To get a peek at some of the newest additions, check out Southeby’s listings