America’s Garden of Eden: The Hudson River Valley
Peter's Reflections A monthly column by ICAA President, Peter Lyden
“Truly all is remarkable and a wellspring of amazement and wonder. Man is so fortunate to dwell in this American Garden of Eden.” -Albert Bierstadt, Painter
The Hudson River and its magical environs have always held a certain spell over me. The charm of the region comes from a special alchemy, a unique combination of its signature characteristics: the glowing light which the Hudson River School Painters treasured; the romantic charm of the grand houses that have fallen into a bit of disrepair and their overgrown gardens; the majestic views in all directions; the embedded history and remembrance of the region’s significance throughout the revolutionary, civil, and world wars (remember FDR gave the Queen Mum hot dogs at Hyde Park overlooking the Hudson River). While Americans seem to be so keen to visit and gush about the beauty of the Rhine, I personally think the Hudson is even more splendid than its European counterpart.
I have my own personal favorite places to share with you, a veritable classicist playground!
1. Edgewater, as a part of Classical Homes Preservation Trust
In my mind, Edgewater is a temple to the gods. The families that owned the house over the years, from the Livingston family to my personal hero Dick Jenrette (who currently resides there), created such a classically beautiful home right on the Hudson River that is a sight to behold. My favorite features of the house include its parade of perfectly proportioned rooms; its impressive collection of Duncan Phyfe furniture; its position on the Hudson River with the Catskill Mountains in the distance; and its lush collection of trees and English border gardens. I am delighted to give you all a little teaser that the ICAA will soon be working in partnership with Dick and his fine foundation on an upcoming project. Stay tuned!
2. Montgomery Place
To me, Montgomery Place is the most authentic, archetypal example of an ideal Hudson River home. Perfectly positioned on a bluff, overlooking the river, it is the jewel in the crown of this region. This is where I always bring my guests to show them a true Hudson villa, à la Edith Wharton. Montgomery Place is the joint creation of the architect Alexander Jackson Davis and the landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Both men created many memorable homes and gardens, but I believe this united effort resulted in a near perfect result.
3. Wethersfield Garden
Please travel to Wethersfield to see the gardens designed by Bryan J. Lynch and Evelyn N. Poehler. They have created a timeless, meditative garden that focuses on shrubs, water features, and stone walls with classical statuary. My favorite parts of the garden are the views of the valley below (particularly in autumn) and its flowering shrubs in the spring, especially the rhododendrons and azaleas. An additional treasure at Wethersfield Garden is its impressive horse carriage collection. Seeing the hackney ponies and driver out with one of the classic historical carriages is truly a beautiful sight.
In my opinion, the Greek revival home of architect Gil Schafer (former President and Chairman of the ICAA) stands out as one of the country’s most extraordinary examples of contemporary classicism. Middlefield is not only a stunning building on its own, but it is perfectly aligned with its natural setting. One would think Gil's house had been there for centuries! The exceptionally high standard of design, craftsmanship, and beauty are maintained not just in the architecture, but also in the landscape design and the interiors, all of which near perfection.
5. Drumlin Hall
How wonderful to see that the houses mentioned above have influenced the creation of Drumlin Hall, the contemporary regency villa designed by Peter Pennoyer (also a former Chairman of the ICAA). The gently arched porte-cochère was inspired by Montgomery Place. The interiors, designed by Thomas Jayne, draw inspiration from Edgewater, with its painted wood floors. Peter combines these various influences with perfect continuity. However, what I admire most about this house is its spectacular placement in the drumlins, the miniature hills caused by glacial deposits.
I would also recommend visiting the houses of Old Chatham and the drive down Route 13; the charming town of Kinderhook; Olana's grounds and spectacular views; and the horse properties of Millbrook, particularly Yellow Frame Farm. And I could go on; such are the treasures of the Hudson River! - Peter Lyden, ICAA President
* Keep an eye on the ICAA's Instagram this week to see more of Peter's favorite views from the Hudson River Valley.