Like a well written mystery novel, the Hudson Valley unfolds its secrets, luring people to historic mansions, huge cellars, and river islands. Fascinating tales come out during tours of these places, information worthy of a trivia game and in some cases, luridly interesting. If these walls could talk… and sometimes they do.
The Broncks were so fond of their family home, they kept it for 276 years. Eight generations were raised on the farm in Coxsackie until it was donated to the county. The Bronck Museum celebrates its 350th anniversary this year with tours of the oldest home in the Hudson Valley and the eleven buildings remaining on the property. Another early Dutch family also had a claim to fame. The Van Rensselaers could never have expected that a guest in 1758 would write one of the most popular songs in American history. When Dr. Richard Shuckburgh visited Crailo in Rensselaer (the Van Rensselaer mansion), he observed a group of Connecticut militia men practicing their marching formations. He found the sight so amusing that he penned the poem that became the song “Yankee Doodle.” Over 250 years later, the home is open for tours telling the story of the early Dutch inhabitants of the upper Hudson Valley.
When the Revolutionary War started, it was a rare family that would house opposing factions, but the Schuyler Mansion in Albany acted as a hotel for world leaders such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Not quite receiving the same hospitality, an unlikely visitor in 1771 was British General John Burgoyne, but not by choice. Phillip Schuyler kept him under house arrest after defeating the British general in the Battle of Saratoga. Even a raid by the Loyalists couldn’t free Burgoyne. The British didn’t have much luck further south, either. The easiest route north was by boat up the Hudson River. Since the Patriots didn’t have much of a navy, a creative way to control the river was by stretching a great iron chain across it from Constitution Island to West Point. It was enough to prevent the British from joining their forces further north, a strategic point in winning the war for the soon-to-be Americans. Today tours of the island show the remnants of the fort and the place where that chain was anchored.
Years after the Revolution ended, the disarray of war was still causing a flap in the Livingston household across the river at Clermont. Quite used to entertaining some of the new nation’s highest society members, Mrs. Livingston hosted Martha Washington for several nights in 1782, but her usual elegant style was severely compromised by the wartime reconstruction of the house and poor Martha had to sleep in a bedroom in the basement! Other members of the rich and famous didn’t need to be coddled, either. John Burroughs, the foremost nature writer of his time, built a rustic cabin in 1895 as a retreat in West Park. “Slabsides” was where he wrote and also entertained friends such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. A Mecca for nature lovers, the 170-acre John Burroughs Sanctuary is now open year-round for hiking, walking, and bird-watching. Another retreat has the distinction of being the only national historic site dedicated to a first lady. Built in 1924, Val-Kill served as Eleanor Roosevelt’s home and office. When her husband Franklin was in Washington, it was here that Eleanor escaped to write. Her public and social works made her one of the most influential first ladies of all time, and a visit to her home provides inspiration even today.
Along with First Families, the Hudson Valley has some of the oldest sites in the U.S. The Stony Point Lighthouse is the oldest on the Hudson River, marking the entrance to the Hudson Highlands since 1826. Tours of the building give expansive views of both the Hudson River and the Stony Point Battlefield interpreted through a museum and reenactments of the engagement during the Revolutionary War. Not long after the lighthouse was built, Brotherhood Winery began making their fine vintages and is now the oldest winery in America. The reason it holds that title is because during Prohibition it was allowed to stay open to make sacramental wines. Visitors today tour the largest underground wine caves in the country with a delicious ending in the large stone tasting room sipping the reds and whites the winery is famous for. Another “first” for the Hudson Valley is Playland Amusement Park in Rye. It’s the oldest amusement park in the U.S. and still entertains thousands of visitors every year. Designated a National Historic Landmark, among all the amusements and entertaining things to do there, Playland still boasts seven original rides that pre-date 1930.
Listen, do you want to know a secret? Interesting, funny, and amazing stories are related every day at destinations throughout the Hudson Valley. Oh, the tales these places tell! National Geographic Traveler has chosen the Hudson Valley as one of the twenty places in the world you must visit. Come get the inside scoop.
Additional information on the Hudson Valley Tourism can be found at www.followthehudsonriver.com. Hudson Valley Tourism, Inc. is the 10-county region designated by I LOVE NEW YORK to promote tourism for the area. Counties include Albany, Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester. Regional information can be obtained from any of the county tourism offices, or by calling 845-615-3860.