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View of the Hudson River from Kykuit: The Rockefeller Estate - Photo by Andrew Harper

Web Exclusive: Great Houses of the Hudson

By Andrew Harper

The Hideaway Report | September 15, 2014

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As New York thrived and businesses grew, those possessing wealth cast about for escapes from the city. Many settled on the east bank of the Hudson. To visit the great houses of the Hudson Valley is to delve into the history of the state, the region and the country.

The Rockefellers

“Kykuit” was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Once John D. Rockefeller Sr. had made his fortune in oil, he looked to build a grand house, a task he delegated to his son, John D. Jr. Completed in 1913, Kykuit enjoys a superb vantage point over the Hudson. (“Kykuit” is Dutch for “outlook.”) The six-story mansion is filled with exceptional art. Of note are the pieces of sculpture collected by Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York and vice president of the United States.

381 North Broadway, Sleepy Hollow (tours begin at Philipsburg Manor). Tel. (914) 631-8200.

The Rockefeller Estate’s Beaux Arts architecture - Photo by Andrew Harper
Inner garden and sculptures at the Rockefeller Estate - Photo by Andrew Harper
Rose garden at the Rockefeller Estate - Photo by Andrew Harper

The Roosevelts

“All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, betraying his deep affection for Springwood — as the estate in Hyde Park was then known — where he was born. He enlarged the house in 1915, adding two wings and a third floor, with an eye to using the property as a place to entertain a growing circle of political friends and associates. It was here, in 1939, that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt served the king and queen of England a picnic lunch featuring hot dogs, to the horror of Roosevelt’s mother. The FDR Library was the first presidential library, and Roosevelt, who opened it in 1941, maintained an office there. The exhibits cover a critical period in American history. I most enjoyed seeing the draft of Roosevelt’s speech to Congress following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The original typed line begins, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history …” and is amended in FDR’s hand to read, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy …”.

Route 9, Hyde Park. Tel. (845) 229-9115.

Exterior of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Presidential Library & Museum - Photo by Andrew Harper
FDR’s Oval Office desk on exhibit at the Presidential Library & Museum - Photo by Andrew Harper
FDR monument at the Presidential Library & Museum  - Photo by Andrew Harper

The Vanderbilts

Just up the road from the Roosevelts, Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, purchased land for a home in 1895. On it, he built a 50-room mansion. The interiors bear the mark of architect Stanford White, most notably the ornate carved ceiling in the dining room. No expense was spared, and the bedrooms are elaborate to say the least, filled with furniture obtained by White in Europe. The house required a staff of 60, even though the Vanderbilts were in residence only a few days a year. The National Park Service now owns the estate and gives an excellent tour that provides a vivid glimpse of life in the Gilded Age.

Route 9, Hyde Park. Tel. (845) 229-9115.

Exterior of Vanderbilt Mansion - Photo by Andrew Harper
 Sneak Peek

This article appeared in The Hideaway Report, a monthly newsletters exclusively for members.

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Andrew Harper Photo Our editors write under the Andrew Harper byline so they can travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who they are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.

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