Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grand Estates Along the Hudson River

A view of the Hudson River from the Clermont Estate
On our way to another Habitat for Humanity build in Salisbury, CT, Tim and I planned to camp near Hyde Park, NY where the home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is found.  But first, we had to get there.

We left Washington, D.C. on Interstate 95, bound for upstate New York.  I knew we were in trouble before we even reached Baltimore.  My plan was to make a wide sweep on the interstates around Baltimore through Pennsylvania and further north in order to bypass New York City.  But Tim--and the GPS--had another route in mind.

So that's how we found ourselves on the George Washington Bridge leading across the Hudson River into Manhattan.  But all was not lost.  If we could endure the one-hour backed-up wait before the bridge, we could make it to Interstate 87 just beyond and all would be well.  We successfully steered across four lanes of almost stalled vehicles to turn onto the entrance ramp of I-87.  Whew!  I thought we were safe.

But the GPS led Tim to turn off the interstate in favor of the Taconic State Parkway.  We should have known this was a bad move when the school bus driver ahead of us noticed our left turn signal and waved us off the approach to the parkway.  Little did we realize that New England parkways are meant for passenger cars only, studded as they are with low overpass bridges.

We navigated the city streets, trying to find our way back to I-87.  However, with the obnoxious female voice on the GPS telling us "route re-calculated" as it tried to put us back on the parkway and with my perusal of the trucker's Rand-McNally maze of possibilities, we soon found ourselves hopelessly lost.

Then I saw what looked like the freeway and told Tim to take that entrance road.  Oops!  We were on the parkway with seemingly no way to get off.  The first stone bridge underpass noted a height of 10'10" in the right lane.  Yikes!  The Dawntreader measures 13'2" so Tim moved into the left lane and we ducked underneath.  We approached another bridge with similar heights and fortunately made our way beneath it.  Salvation, in the form of an exit ramp, laid just ahead.  We took it!

Once again we were swallowed up by city streets, but somehow, by the grace of God, we turned north on the King's Highway, later called the Albany Post Road and today designated as Route 9, a lucky choice that led us out of the city and through the agglomeration of small towns beyond.

And thus, we made it safely to the Interlake RV campground near Rhinebeck, NY, a quaint weekend get-away-from-the-city village that was established in 1788.  Tim and I wandered through its antique stores and other shops before we lunched at the Tavern of Beekman Arms, a tavern that first opened its doors in 1766.

Beekman Arms Tavern
After a good night's sleep, we were ready to explore the great estates of the Hudson Valley.  Perched atop the prettiest bluffs above the Hudson River are the homes of the nouveau riche titans of industry from the Gilded Age as well as the old money families like the Roosevelts and the Livingstons.

Vanderbilt Mansion

Despite our initial disappointment at learning it's in the midst of a six-million renovation by the National Park Service, we gapped at the gilt and marble of the Vanderbilt Mansion, an estate purchased in May 1895 by Frederick W. Vanderbilt, grandson of the railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt who once owned all the rails from New York City to Chicago.  

The extravagant 54-room home was used by the Vanderbilts for only two months out of the year, September and October.  A staff of 60 was left to care for the house and gardens for the rest of the year.  Our NPS ranger tour guide said this edifice was one of 43 estates owned by the Vanderbilt family, many located on Long Island and Bar Harbor, in Newport and of course, the Biltmore in Asheville, NC.  According to the NPS ranger, even the servants had servants here.  Over the top extravagance!

Springwood, FDR's Hyde Park home

By contrast, Springwood was the comfy, well-loved permanent residence of Franklin D. Roosevelt where his controlling mother Sara Delano Roosevelt reigned supreme.

Upper right: FDR's wheelchair
Lower left: Springwood's elevator

Owner of the home, Sara bequeathed it to her only son upon her death in 1941; thus, the only home FDR ever personally owned was his for just five years until he died in 1945.  Springwood, equipped with an elevator, enabled Franklin to live a full life despite his paralyzed legs, a result of his bout with polio.  Fearing a house fire in a home with few servants at his call, Franklin routinely practiced hauling himself by means of his powerful shoulders and arms down the length of the upstairs corridor from his bedroom to the lift. 

The social consciousness of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, led her to establish Val-Kill Industries, a cottage industry that revived handcrafts such as weaving and furniture-making to sustain the area's economically disadvantaged through hard times.  Later, the cottage became Eleanor's home away from home, a refuge from her mother-in-law.

Top Cottage

Another refuge, Top Cottage, high on a hill on the east edge of the estate was Franklin's retreat from what he called "the mob at Springwood."  Although the cottage was built with a small bedroom, Franklin used it for occasional naps; he never spent a night away from Springwood, except during his public life as President.


Completing our tour of great estates was the Clermont, another old money home and now a New York State park.  This estate's prominence stemmed from Robert Livingston, the Lord of Livingston Manor, who accumulated 160,000 acres, a vast area that stretched from the Hudson River all the way to what is now the borders of Massachusetts and Connecticut.  His son, also named Robert, began construction of the Georgian-style home around 1740.

Margaret Beekman Livingston

Though the home was burned by the British during the Revolutionary War, Margaret Beekman Livingston, the stalwart mistress of the house, oversaw its rebuilding, petitioning prominent people in nearby Albany for the funds to do so.  

Chancellor Robert Livingston

Her son, Chancellor Robert Livingston, a title he earned as the highest judge in the state, was one of the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence.  He had the honor of administering the oath of office to President George Washington and later served as President Thomas Jefferson's Minister to France where he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon.  He invested money in Robert Fulton's invention of the steamboat; thus, cutting a trip from New York City to the capitol of the state in Albany from two weeks of travel to a two-day trip.

I wish we'd had additional days to explore more estates; still, the three we saw gave us a good glimpse into the wealth and prominence of these families from three different centuries.  It was well worth the debacle of our trip to reach the Hudson River Valley.


  1. Navigating those roads sounds like one of my recurring nightmares. I'm glad that you made it out of there intact! You should stop by Minneapolis in June - I'm sure we could find some interesting things for you to check out!

    1. We'd love to see Minneapolis with you guys as our tour guides, but we've got to put some sweat equity into the family farm during June. Maybe another time, if our schedule could jive with yours. Enjoy your time in MN!

  2. I am afraid Randy & I wouldn't do well in that situation. I'm glad you were finally able to navigate your way to your destination. You are certainly having your share of adventures - some more pleasant than others!

    1. O, boy! That's the truth! I never want to have another day like that one.

  3. When we read this post, anxiousness to complete this story which reads harrowing brought relief. Scary and beyond words yet thankful God's provision navigating you both through is so amazing. We did chuckle as the story was like an "oh no" event. Praying continued safe journey. Love your stories❤️ Yasmin and Ralph

    1. Thanks, Yas! You've used the right word--harrowing--to describe it. I had to walk off the adrenaline when we finally arrived at the campground because it was still coursing through me. Yikes!