Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Hudson River Valley

About an hour north of Manhattan, and nestled just across the river from West Point, the quaint Village of Cold Spring-on-Hudson awaits hiking enthusiasts, antique lovers, and history buffs. Cold Spring [not to be confused with Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island], established in 1846, thrived economically from the West Point Foundry until about 1911 when it closed.

Rumor has it George Washington took a drink from the cold spring on a hot day and the name stuck. On the hot, humid mid-July day that I visited, the name was also appropriate. Cold Spring looks every bit as quaint and all-American as you would expect from a New York village with a small population. The stunning scenery to this gateway to the Hudson River Valley began an adventurous weekend tour of the Hudson River Valley ("HRV").

For the past three summers, I have visited the HRV: the first year to attend a wedding at West Point [Happy Anniversary to the Rogers]; last year for a forty-mile bike ride; and this year as an encore to the bike ride with an additional thirty [or so] miles.  Now, if you want to see the beautiful scenery and history of the towns along the Hudson River, you can opt to do so in the summer or fall, by car or bicycle.  If you want to be comfortable and relaxed on the tour, I do not recommend the hottest day of the summer by bicycle.  These are not fun bucolic rolling hills, and it is not a "dry" heat. [For the record, these are not mountainous hills, either; it's just that my native-Floridian-spoiled muscles prefer long, flat surfaces]. 

Despite the hills and heat, this area, full of charm and beauty, has a few noteworthy highlights: 

After Cold Spring, head north.  In 1678 a group of French speaking Huguenot refugees came to this area and settled in New Paltz. The aptly named Huguenot Street features seven authentic Dutch colonial style homes dating to the early 1700s.  Also, a former railway, now a Trailway, winds east from New Paltz, through a town called Highland, and crosses the Walkway across the Hudson to Poughkeepsie. This bridge allows only pedestrians or cyclists, and the views are fantastic.

Heading north of Poughkeepsie, you can visit some mansions of Hyde Park.  For example, Bellefield Mansion, on the site of FDR's home, dates back to the 18th century and is now the onsite headquarters of the National Park Service. Compared to some of the other mansions, it is modest, but its garden is a charmer. The garden was designed in 1912 by Beatrix Farrand, a renowned landscape architect at the height of her career. She not only created gardens for the Rockefellers, the Morgans, and Edith Wilson at the White House, but she also pioneered the concept of “garden rooms.” And, as a genealogical note, she was Edith Wharton’s niece.  You will also be happy to know that directly across from FDR's beloved home and property is a drive-in movie theater.

Moving along the mansion trail, you can see Frederick Vanderbilt's 600-acre estate that he purchased in 1895.  It is now a part of the National Park Service with stunning views of the Hudson River.

Next up is the Mills Mansion ("Staatsburgh"), owned by Ruth Livingston Mills, who initially inherited a 25-room Greek Revival home on this site. She was married to Ogden Mills, a financier, and they did a "little remodeling" in 1896 to transform it into a Beaux-Arts mansion of only 65 rooms and 14 bathrooms.

Traveling a little farther north, you can see many towns on the cliffs, such as Rhinecliff. [See church pictured to the right]  

Nearby, Bard College, has stunning architecture, old and new, including a theatre designed by Frank Gehry: 

From Bard, travel north to the town of Rhinebeck and cross the Rhinebeck-Kingston bridge into--no surprises here--Kingston.  Kingston was New York's first capital in 1777, but the British burned it on October 16, 1777, after the Battles of Saratoga. From here, take a leisurely ride south along the west side of the Hudson River, and enjoy the scenery.  There are a few wineries and some cute little places to stop along this route. Unfortunately, I was not in the mood to take photographs at this stage of the bike ride. Of course, there is always next summer...